The 4 Fail Whales of Social Media Marketing

[Editors' Note: As a public service, CRM's editors promise that nothing on the destinationCRM.com Web site dated 1 April 2009 is an April Fools' Day prank.]

SAN FRANCISCO, April 1, 2009 — Three of the biggest names in social media research spoke at the Web 2.0 Expo at the Moscone Center here Wednesday morning on the topic of -- you guessed it -- social media. Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang, Altimeter Group's founder Charlene Li, and Peter Kim, an enterprise social-technology researcher, all once worked together at Forrester, but they shared a stage for the first time during their "Why Social Media Marketing Fails" panel. The analysts outlined four key reasons why social media marketing often fails to deliver and also proposed solutions for strengthening social initiatives.

1. "Social media doesn't match up with our corporate culture."
Social media participation requires change management, Li told the crowd, adding that any effective change management process takes years. Marketers often expect social initiatives to work right away -- and that's rarely how things pan out. Owyang said that social media involves a different model, one that most corporations aren't familiar with: It's a transformation from the classic top-down business model with the CEO at the top to a "bottom-up bubbling" with customers driving ideas and actions.

The transformation won't happen overnight -- especially if senior management isn't involved. "If you want cultural change, you have to get the big guns involved," Li said. "And the only way they'll see this working is if it's aligned to corporate goals."

Kim posed the question of whether it's a good idea for an organization to appoint a chief social officer to take on the pains and sole responsibility of social media marketing. Li said no. The burdens, she said, should essentially be collective and no one particular person should own social media. "That's the most thing dangerous to do, [to say] 'It's not my problem, it's someone else's,' " she said. "It's everyone's responsibility."

2. "My social media marketing campaigns aren't working."
"The biggest problem is using the word 'campaigns,'" Li emphasized. "This is not a campaign - it's a relationship with a customer." Owyang pointed out that a campaign implies a short-term effort. Social media, he said, needs to be long-term. Without long-term goals for social media, projects end up looking like interactive marketing with a social presence. With that in mind, Li brought up companies that often have Facebook fan pages that resemble press releases. The information is vapid and unchanging and there's little conversation.

For conversation to occur, Li said marketers must recognize a shift from "interruptions" to "collaborations." Kim expanded on that notion saying businesses need to change relationships not only with customers but with employees and external constituents, as well. "The way organizations are structured ... and the way they relate in an ecosystem has to be transformed in how we build relationships," he said.

3. "I don't know how to measure this stuff."
Kim said this is probably the biggest fail for marketers in general. Owyang agreed saying that most marketers are measuring social media incorrectly. "They are focusing on the measurements of yesteryear with click-throughs and page views," he said. Yet conversations are occurring in places where those metrics aren't available like on Facebook or on external blogs. "You don't have access to server logs on Facebook or blogs where the conversation spreads," he said. "Even if you have that, it's not effective enough to tell  you what's happening."

Owyang relayed that things like page views and the number of comments don't measure emotion or the depth of discussion. He provided a nice automotive example of marketing metrics. "Measuring based on a dashboard is typically the way marketers measure," he said. They look at basic stats. "Instead," he said, "you should be measuring based on your GPS system -- it tells you where have you been, where are you now, and where you are going." In other words, Marketers need to begin listening, rather than just recording numbers.

Li contended that although it's tough to know what to measure with social media, you have to measure against other marketing metrics -- otherwise, it's going to get cut from the budget.

4. "I'm not sure social media matters, anyway."
Owyang made an interesting point in reference to the Motrin Mom ordeal that exploded on Twitter and the blogoshere in November 2008. For kicks, he asked the crowd who hadn't heard of the Motrin Mom occurrence -- a marketing campaign that infuriated moms and blew up on Twitter. Surprisingly, many attendees hadn't heard of the controversy. Owyang made the statement that despite the temporary reputation tarnish, the kerfuffle, essentially drew more people to Motrin's Web site and led to more searches for the brand. Did it lead to fewer purchases of Motrin pain reliever? Probably not. Li stated that at the core of Motrin Mom is the fact that Motrin didn't respond in a timely manner. What's important is that customers wanted to engage with Motrin at the time of outrage, but they couldn't.

The Motrin Mom campaign can be written off as a "social media fail," but that might not be a terrible thing for the brand. In fact, Owyang pointed out Dell's tremendous success now in social media, which essentially sprouted from many failed attempts. It's been a similar strategy for mega-brand Wal-Mart, as well, Li added. Wal-Mart, she said, has kept at it for years, picking itself up after failures and coming ahead stronger with its buyer blogs and mom communities. Kim summed it up by saying that social media might not have the implications on a brand that one would expect -- but it will -- and soon.

Within the conversation of social media fails, Owyang revealed what he sees to be as three main ways organizations interact with social media:

  1. The "tire": Social media comes from the edges of the company and is authentic because there are key stakeholders who are interested and invested in furthering social media efforts. However, Owyang said, one side of the tire has no idea what the other side of the tire is thinking or doing -- and that can be a problem.
  2. The "tower": This approach occurs when management wants to centralize social media. On the upside, this means that employees will have common strategies and resources. However, it "tends to look like rehashed press releases," Owyang said. It's not authentic and customers can tell.
  3. The "hub-and-spoke" model: This is when people from different parts of the organization come together under a centralized goal, but they all link out to different business groups. It's cross-functional, yet not exactly centralized.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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