Should social media be part of your RESEARCH budget?

Nice post from Byron Sharp suggesting that social media is yet to be proven as a viable advertising medium. He recommends that we "Use social media as research (into media), but you can’t justify it as part of your advertising budget*."

*Although in many cases the "budget" is more to do with talent and peoples' time, as the idea of most social media is that you "earn" the media space rather than paying for it.

I myself have got caught up in social media hysteria. But taking a step back, here is why Byron is right to suggest that social media should be seen as research.

1.The effectiveness of social media is unproven.

As Byron says, "There are a few success stories that get a lot of attention while the (many more) disappointing case studies are swept under the carpet". Also, he's right to point out that "Just because successful companies are doing it does not make social media marketing effective."

For example, many brand teams are fanatical about Facebook. Yet very few brands get a meaningful number of "likers" who follow the brand, as I posted on here. Even when they do, interaction levels are low, with less than 0.5% of followers commenting on a typical post by the brand. And whereas there are sophisticated methods to show the ROI of TV advertising (such as split panel households to show the effect on purchase of people exposed or not to the ads), I've seen nothing like this for social media. 

2. Social media is un-targeted

The one huge issue with YouTube and viral videos is that the audience is completely un-targeted, as I covered in a recent post. Even if you are one of the handful of videos that "goes viral", you have no way of knowing who those million views are from. Which age? Which market? Same people lots of times, or lots of people once?

And whereas there is lots of research on how people consume TV, there is little or nothing about how people consume YouTube videos. Do they watch them all the way through, for example?

3.The decline of mass media is over played

Byron's also right to flag that "There are plenty of social media marketing zealots, who say ridiculous things like 'TV advertising is dead'', many of whom have a vested interest (in social media)."

I posted this year on why TV is such a powerful medium, in terms of reach, impact and effectiveness. Also, many of the viral video successes were ignited by initial use of good old TV during big "event" programming: Old Spice's viral video was premiered during the Superbowl and Yeo Valley's rapping farmers video was first aired during the X-Factor.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that social media is a cultural phenomenen everyone in marketing needs to be aware of and do research on. However, good old fashioned TV, press and outdoor are still the most viable, well researched media channels to build your marketing plan on.