The short answer has got to be no. Right?
Social marketing as a discipline has lost its halo and is struggling to come to terms with itself in a post digital world.
Excuses have been given and countless studies have been published, but the nagging doubt of performance remains. Yes, of course ‘paid social’ works – it is a very effective and efficient buy. But social as a channel, as a thing, as an approach, as a marketing investment remains in doubt.
Last year we saw the notions of brand community, organic social and brand inspired amplification seriously challenged as credible strategies. Making impact even more elusive to come by.
But what is impact really? And can social deliver in a way that stands up?
According to IPSOS 80% of most marketers are still tied to soft metrics like engagement and according to Forbes only 15% cited they have been able to prove impact quantitatively with hard business metrics. Sound familiar?
Admittedly social gets a tough assessment in the funnel. It can and does act as a powerful ‘assist’ to lots of decision points in the buying journey, but is rarely afforded its fair share due to the way performance is attributed by most marketers.
Commentators are revelling in this post adolescent angst of social.
Forrester broke ranks recently and advised brands that they are wasting precious dollars on Facebook and Twitter and should focus on email marketing instead. Whilst WARC insisted that social can positively contribute to the long term growth of a brand, but done in the right way of course. And along the way you have bloggers like the wonderful Bob Hoffman who categorically admonishes social media marketing as a massive failure.
The harsh truth is, if marketers are honest with themselves, too much focus and investment has been allocated on something that, whilst important on many levels, in the grand scheme of ‘what a CMO worries about’ is a small contributing factor to overall brand performance, that occasionally (and sometimes spectacularly) punches above its weight.
The fact is social delivers an inflated expectation compared to the reality of what it can achieve.
And yet despite all this investment in social marketing remains strong, social network usage is increasing and consumer appetite for social content experiences is healthy.
But. There is an upside.
If brands want to drive real, meaningful and tangible impact in social then they will need to reset their approach.
Those brands that do well in social tend to be the same brands that let their purpose earn the attention of people through their actions rather than their advertising.
They see social as a natural extension to how their brand behaves in the modern world. Exhibiting participation brand behaviours that allow them to be present and relevant in the flow of people’s lifestyles. Earning impact through culture, innovation and collaboration.
The brands that do this well understand that their ‘social strategy’ is their brand strategy at the speed of culture. Crafting adaptive strategies that work to build cultural traction through the expression of a brands passionate purpose. Creating value for the consumer through celebrating shared interests and being useful.
Patagonia, Chipotle, Beats and GE come to mind. These are brands that understand the value of this long game. Earning attention, rather than just buying it.
Ultimately the measurement of all marketing activity has a deadline. Timeframes can decide careers. That’s why short-term impact is always a tempting instant gratification for marketers.
Yet, long-term brand growth is the real measure of social impact.
To prove this requires effort and commitment. Frankly, most marketers do not have the time to wait around for the payback.
That’s why brands like GE just get it. They have invested the time to find out what works and it’s paying off.
According to Linda Boff, Global Executive Director of Digital Marketing at GE, ‘for every $1 we spend we get $1.25 back in value when we layer in social and earned media’. They shout louder than they spend. And their own brand tracking studies suggests their efforts in social have helped to improve positive brand sentiment. How does all this square up? More mid west moms buying GE shares of course.
We still have a long way to go to isolate and attribute the value that social can play in building long term value for a brand.
Let’s get on with it shall we?
(Image credit: Charles Petillon)