The power of social media is evident everywhere, from the way Donald Trump’s tweets send millions of people into a lather (regardless of party affiliation) to the speed with which sexual harassment allegations have upended the careers of powerful people in entertainment, the media and politics.
For marketers, however, the belief that online “conversations” about a brand are an indication of real consumer interest is turning out to be much harder to prove.
Bob Hoffman, an eminent authority and gadfly on marketing, recently published a post about a new study from a firm called EngagementLabs, which “throws about an ocean of cold water on this belief.”
Week by week over the course of a year, they compared online chatter with real talk – “the conversations people have in person with family, friends, colleagues at work” – for 500 brands. They measured volume (the amount of talk); net sentiment (positive talk minus negative talk); content sharing; and influence (do these people’s discussions matter?)
• Volume: “the findings were mixed… But for all practical purposes, the association was not sufficient that a brand marketer could reasonably assume that one is a mirror to the other.”
• Sentiment: there was “no meaningful correlation at all.”
• Sharing: “…the correlation for brand sharing was essentially zero…it is fair to conclude that consumer engagement with brands’ marketing content works entirely independently offline and online.”
• Influence: “On this metric there is a slightly negative correlation.” In other words, the more online, the less real-world influence.
“While positive word-of-mouth is a valuable asset to marketers, this study is pretty damaging to the theory that social media is related to real-world word-of-mouth,” says Hoffman. “Like so many other social media fantasies, the idea that social media chatter is the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of consumer interest is turning out to be another marketing delusion.” In short, lots of online talk (and money to spend) doesn’t translate into marketable action.
Chat vs. ads
In another post, Hoffman discussed how MediaPost selected BBDO as “Social Media Agency Of The Year,” even though the agency recommended utilizing Facebook “not as a social network, but [as] a ‘media channel.’”
“Apparently BBDO woke up this year and told its clients to stop wasting their money on ‘conversations’ and ‘sharing’ and start running ads on Facebook,” Hoffman explained.
Hoffman has been squawking for years “about the infantile delusion that social media marketing is based on the silly idea that consumers want to have conversations with and about brands and share their brand enthusiasms with the world.” Now he has data and BBDO’s reckoning as proof.
“Anyone with a pulse and an IQ above 20 knows that social media marketing is largely a pile of horseshit and the only way to get any value out of Facebook is to buy ads,” he says.
Whatever your experiences with social media marketing, Hoffman raises important considerations for communicators. Chief among them: Don’t just assume the conventional wisdom is correct. If you’ve got something important to communicate, find out, for yourself, the most effective way to spread the word to increase consumer interest.