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Does social media marketing get more scrutiny?

by Frank Strong

Social media seems to withstand more scrutiny than other marketing channels.  That was a great question I heard today at the PR News Social Media Measurement conference.

Is it true?  Yes, I think it is.

General Motors spent $4.2 billion on advertising last year.  They spent $10 million on Facebook ads, which they later pulled for lack of effectiveness.  Sure Facebook is social, but paid media is still paid media, and millions barely earn a hash mark on billion dollar budget graph.  So what do they spend on earned or shared media?  I’d bet my paycheck it’s not even close to their previous spend on Facebook ads.

It’s one example, but it’s an illustrative example, and I’ve seen enough anecdotal evidence to make a not-so-bold assertion that earned and shared spending pale in comparison.  Yet these mediums get more scrutiny when it comes to budgets.

What’s the ROI of social media?  That’s the hard question proposed for a measly few dollars to spend on social. Can it be answered?  Of course it can, with time and patience.  Social media like PR is a marathon, not a sprint.  Companies must invest time in engagement and relationship building for long term returns – and those that do – I can tell you from experience will see twice the conversion rate…if they are tracking where, when and how customers are engaging content.

Is the scrutiny social media receives is disproportionate to the spend? Yes.  At the conference today the general consensus was marketing, generally, did not make the same business case demands of TV ads, billboards, display placements.  So why does social media get the hard treatment?

1. It’s new.  Actually social media is not new, but companies have tip-toed into the space so reluctantly, that planning, best practices, and measurement might as well have the perception of newness.  It’s far easier to go with Big Blue rather than assume the personal, and organizational risk, of straying from the course.

2.  Old habits die hard.  People are inherently programmed to resist change.  Unfamiliarity breeds uncertainty and uncertainty is uncomfortable.  Blessed are those that are comfortable with change, because it’s far easier to take the path more traveled, to do what we have always done, because that’s what’s been done before.

3.  Instant gratification.  Microwaves set us up for impatience.  A couple decades ago we could get instant oatmeal in a matter of seconds.  For those that can’t remember boiling water for a hot serving of oatmeal, expectations have only risen.  We demand instant gratification on-demand:  we bank instantly online, we can purchase products instantly, we can date, find events, nearly anything we want can be found instantly online and so we’ve become more and more conditioned for instant gratification. Generally, social media doesn’t work that way, any more than walking into a physical networking event and passing off a business card will lead to an instant sale.

Social media indeed gets more scrutiny, though logically, and by comparative budget analysis, it should not.  Be patient, invest wisely and slowly but surely scale your efforts.  If your organization is going to spend vast amount on advertising, it is well worth the time and money to put some serious effort into social media. After all, you get what you put into it.

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