Hoo-bloody-ray. It turns out I am not the only social media sceptic in the marketing world. Professor Mark Ritson had a good old rant about the over-hyping of social media in a recent conference speech
in Australia. Mark's speech reinforced many of the key points I've blogged about for the last few years, since I asked "Does Twitter really matter?" here
, back in 2009.
I've said that I feel like a lone voice trying to be heard over 15,000 fans at a One Direction concert, all screaming "Social Media, we loeve ya!" At least now there's two old farts shouting, not just one.
Hype and hysteria
Mark showed that social media accounts for only 5% of marketing spend in Australia but almost half of the marketing mix coverage in the press. This is backed up by the results from our global research with marketing directors (below), which showed the key reason for brands using social media is "Keeping up with trends". And not only is social media over-reported in terms of column inches, the coverage is overwhelmingly positive. Mark and I are amongst some of the only people sounding a warning about the over-hyping of social media and the enduring effectiveness of "traditional marketing".
Social media is …. a media for socialising!
Mark recognises that social media has changed the way we communicate, but echoes my view that it is primarily for doing what the same suggests: connecting and communicating with people, not brands. This is shown by data from our research (below) showing that this keeping in touch with friends and family is three to four times more important than connecting with brands. Mark shared some new Australian data to ram this point home:
– 64% people don't follow any brands at all on social media
– of those people that do follow brands, 83% follow less than 7 brands
People follow people
Mark showed that the top 40 followed Twitter feeds in Oz are from people, not brands. I illustrated this same point here
by contrasting the number of Twitter followers for several brands versus the CEOs of these companies. This showed that the CEOs were followed by many times more people than the brands themselves. For example, a whopping 2.4 million followed the CEO of US retailer Zappos, Tony Hseieh. This was almost 200 times the following of Zappos.com at 13,000.
Social media has limited reach
Mark rammed without mercy how limited the reach of social media is for brands. He took the top 8 consumer brands in Australia and showed that the active Facebook follower base for these brands reached less than 0.5% of a brand's user base.
The viral lottery
Mark also used the Oreo Super Bowl tweet ("You can dunk in the dark") that I posted on here
, showing how only an estimated 0.02% of Oreo's user base may have actually ended up clicking through to the ad. He contrasted this with a conventional Budweiser Super Bowl ad that reached c. 100million people.
Now, Mark didn't mention that whilst the initial reach of the Oreao tweet was small, the media hysteria that followed amplified the reach many times over. Also, the media/production costs for the Oreo ad were minimal vs millions of dollars for the Budweiser ad. However, even for these two points there are counter arguments:
– Media amplification: for every Oreo's tweet that makes the headlines there are probably 99 or even 999 that don't go viral in this way. The issue here is the "un-plannable" nature of social media. It's a lottery versus the guaranteed reach of conventional media
– Cost: the Oreo's ad was cheap to make and free to place. However, Mark explained that there was a social media "war room" set up by Oreo's during the Superbowl. Social media is not free as often suggested. It's just that the costs are fixed costs for editorial content creation.
Digital is bigger than social
I share Mark's doubts about social meda, and endore his view that digital media in a much larger sense is vital for brands. He shows some great data illustrating the importance of online search, the less sexy but more effective digital cousin of social media, during the Xmas online shopping season. This showed that search was 36 times more important as a source of buying customers than social media.
Tv ain't dead yet
Another myth that Mark helped me kick in the balls is the one about TV being a dead media for dinosaurs. Tv viewership in Australia has been pretty steady in recent years, the same as in the UK, as covered here
. And despite all the growth in 2nd and 3rd and 4th screen (laptop, mobile, tablet ) good old TV accounted for c.90% of video watching.
In conclusion, social media is one small part of a much bigger digital landscape that every brand needs to take into account. But I will continue to try and cut through the hype about the role it plays in brand building.