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Another study on social media’s failure to live up to expectations



The headline on yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article on social media says social media has “fail[ed] to live up to early marketing hype.” True enough, but the situation is even graver than that innocuous header implies. Readers will encounter a litany of social media ills so extensive that the article reads more like the autopsy report of a particularly horrendous car crash than a dry little analysis on the front page of the “Marketplace” section.

Here are the sad bullet points:

–       “Social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies hoped they would be,” says Gallup, whose report on this topic the Journal got an advance copy of.

–       More than three-fifths (62%) of consumers Gallup polled say social media has “no influence at all” on what they buy. Ouch.

–       Gallup: “Consumers are highly adept at tuning out brand-related Facebook and Twitter content.” (What, you thought you were the only one who manages to ignore them? So does everyone else!)

–       Then there’s Nielsen, which reports that “global consumers trusted ads on television, print, billboards and movie trailers more than social-media ads.” Considering the skepticism with which consumers see all forms of advertising, this means the level of trust in social media ads is less than zero.

–       Brand advertising on Facebook is increasingly unsuccessful. “Brands reached [only] 6.5% of their fans with Facebook posts in March [2014], down from 16%” a year earlier.

–       Small companies, including family-owned wineries, are frustrated with the results of Facebook ads. “[T]he return is really disappointing,” one restaurateur said. “Unless you spend to boost a post, you only reach 300 to 400 people.”

–       The dislike social media users have of anything that smells like advertising or marketing has reached new heights and seems irreversible. More than 90% of social users say they use social media simply “to connect with friends and family.”

–       As for piling up fans, “friends,” “followers” and the like, which has been the Holy Grail for companies, “Researchers [now] say many fans are fake, or automated.” One researcher found it cost him 42 cents to buy 700 retweets.

Statistics and anecdotes like these won’t be enough to seal social media’s coffin permanently, nor should we be overly quick to criticize social media for what it cannot do. As an ardent social media user myself, I’d hate to be without it: it has changed my life, and for the better.

But there can no longer be any doubt that social media (as I wrote six, five, four, three and two years ago, and again last year) is not, and cannot be, the alpha and omega of brand marketing strategies. That’s not what social was created for; it’s not what social users want; and the only reason why anyone continues to believe in the marketing value of social media is because a cadre of social media consultants insists (still!) that it works to sell stuff.

If I was a winery, would I be doing social media? You betcha. But I’d be careful to avoid any hint of puffy-fluffy PR, which turns people off. To sell wine, you need to do it the old-fashioned way: shoe leather, personal relationships and—yes!—scores, which still count.

  1. Bob Henry says:

    A bibliography on the subject of social media and Return On Investment:

    MIT Sloan Review: “Can You Measure the ROI of Your Social Media Marketing?”


    Harvard Business Review case study: “Increasing the ROI of Social Media Marketing”


    Harvard Business Review: “Social Media — What Most Companies Don’t Know”


    Here is the link to the full text of the social media study from Harvard Business Review:

    From the summary titled “Why Social Media ROI Can’t Be Measured”

    Link: . . .

    . . . is this excerpt of The Atlantic article titled “Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong”


    “There are still things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t even know we’re missing in terms of social media measurement.

    “For proof, look no further than The Atlantic, which shook the social media realm recently with its expose of ‘dark social’ – the idea that the channels we fret over measuring like Facebook and Twitter represent only a small fraction of the social activity that’s really going on.

    “The article shares evidence that reveals that the vast majority of sharing is still done through channels like email and IM that are nearly impossible to measure (and thus, dark).”

    An excerpt from The Atlantic article itself:


    “On the first day I saw it, this is how big of an impact dark social was having on The Atlantic.

    “Just look at that [pie chart] graph [see online — Bob]. On the one hand, you have all the social networks that you know. They’re about 43.5 percent of our social traffic.

    “On the other, you have this previously unmeasured darknet that’s delivering 56.5 percent of people to individual stories.

    “This is not a niche phenomenon! It’s more than 2.5X Facebook’s impact on the site.

    “Day after day, this continues to be true . . . dark social is nearly always our top referral source.”

    Bob’s summary: The majority of the interpersonal communication and “sharing” is via e-mail and Instant Messaging . . . outside of the sphere of influence of Facebook or MySpace or Twitter or LinkedIn.

  2. Bob Henry says:

    What we need more of is evidence . . . not anecdotes.

    Harvard Business Review: “Evidence-Based Management”



    The book spawned from that HBR article:

    “Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management”


  3. I wish I had a dime for every time that article was sent to me :). My reaction: it confirms that many, many, MANY brands don’t know how/where/when/why to use Social Media effectively. Which, well, we already knew, right?

  4. Bob Henry says:


    Please refresh my memory on where I mail my two Mercury (Winged Liberty Head) silver dimes to.

    (A better financial investment than wine?)

    ~~ Bob

  5. Bob, I’ll front you this time around 🙂

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