October 13, 2014

The First Rule Of Social Media

Like most companies, you are probably spending time, energy, and money trying to become a social media success.

You have been told that it is an inexpensive route to business prosperity and that if you can get it right, you can build waves of loyal customers and years of smooth sailing through the roiling waters of marketing and advertising.

You've read about the millions of followers this brand or that person has and you think that if you can create some "compelling content" you, too, will be a social media winner.

I'm afraid I have bad news.

It doesn't matter how "compelling" or "engaging" your "content" is, for the most part it's likely that nobody gives a shit about you.

The first rule of social media is this:

People on line are interested in the same things they are interested in off line.

They are interested in celebrities, sports, movies, pop music, television, their hobbies, and their friends. It is highly likely that they are not interested in you.

They are not interested in frozen chicken strips or dishwashing liquid or floor wax or pencils or salt. They are not interested in toasters or light bulbs or umbrellas or mayonnaise or paper clips or toothpaste or soap. In fact, they have very little interest in most of the stuff they buy every week.

Consequently, if you are in the 97% of product categories (made-up number alert) that are not interesting off line, you will have a strong tendency to remain not interesting on line. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is.

The thing you need to keep in mind is that every company, organization, dry cleaner, cub scout pack, sorority house, interest group, charity, alumni association, and poker game now has a social media presence. There are a billion of 'em.

If you are not in movies, sports, TV, and music, or if you are not a "prom queen" brand (Apple, Nike, Coke or one of the other brands that have spent billions of dollars establishing themselves with traditional advertising) the probability of your social media program being powerfully effective is quite low.

This is why social media continues to struggle as a sales builder.

Yes, it is true that some unsexy companies sometimes break through on social media. And it's also true that some people win the lottery.

But buying a lottery ticket is a very dubious business strategy.


Samuel Scott said...

I'd suggest that the first rule be: "Always remember that "social media" is just a set of new communications channels." And communications channels can be used for any communications or marketing purpose.

Bob, I really respect all your writings, but you always focus the topic only on consumer sales. Yes, social media is typically bad at mass-market sales. But it can be used well in many other contexts. Facebook and Twitter are great for customer service. Twitter is good for PR and media relations. LinkedIn can be great for B2B lead generation (especially in sectors with long sales cycles).

I could go on. Just wanted to throw that out to be contrarian to the contrarian. :)

Cecil B. DeMill said...

This isn't the Customer Service Contrarian, the PR Contrarian or the Media Relations Contrarian. As such, I don't think your comment is entirely relevant (however true it may be). Cheers!

Alex P said...

sorry for being dumb smuck, but I must be missing something. Isn't this entire blog "content"? I come here every week, read the articles, forward the odd funny one to colleagues/friends, and then seriously contemplate buying that #1 book (still on my wishlist) and remind myself if I ever see Mr AC at a conference I sign up without delay.

Steve M said...

Have you noticed that those who would dare call into question anything about the digital landscape are now being called 'traditionalists' (can you smell the whiff of condescension?) It's a classic Ronald Reagan move, "There you go again" with your talk about building sales.

ChrisPollard77 said...

True - social media CAN boost customer service. But as a sales tool, it sucks. The issue here is there are a bunch of "social media gurus" (all self-proclaimed, naturally) out there selling small businesses on the miracles of social media, taking their inflated conference attendance fees, and hitting the road. Meanwhile, said businesses, believing what they just paid for is the holy grail of 21st century marketing, pull their traditional ad budgets, throw it all at Facebook, and watch their sales decline. Know what a GREAT social media strategy for small business is? Create a Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc ... go nuts throwing money at it, then, not seeing ANY returns on your dollars, let it wither and die. So when someone accidentally (or worse, purposely) happens by it, they see a two year lapse since your last update and assume you're no longer in business. Seen it happen. Most of them realize the folly before it's too late though. Exclude the inexplicable edge cases - the "viral" successes and please, give us an extraordinarily long list of social media marketing success stories. A lot of people would be interested to know if any actually exist. Myself included.

Edwin Vlems said...

I believe your statement works in a B2C market, Bob, but for B2B it is very different. Professional purchasers are very often not interested in the products they buy personally, you wouldn't believe how boring these can be (nuts and bolts?). But yet 70% of them start their buying process at Google for these products, which means that they are 'interested', even when they are not 'interested'.