We all count the likes. It would be unnatural not to.
It’s how we learn. Put something out there and feel the reaction. Intensive learning and the stakes only get higher with practice. Apply marketing to that and your strategy starts to reflect human valuations of success. It’s not about sales anymore but about how people react. It feels good. Create, publish, observe, refine. “Vanity Metrics” put a gauge on performance, always with the suggestion that you could be doing a bit better. A healthy strategy done in the name of a good end. The question is: is this the measure of success that we want?
Few contrarians these days will take the stance of “social media won’t help your business”. That’s a hard story to get behind. Convenience gives you the opportunity. The opportunity allows money to be made. This is the hunch upon which every year more and more money is poured into Marketing budgets, often with very little analysis of return. The reason that the counter-narrative doesn’t get a fair hearing is that at some point, we conceded that it was enough that every else was doing it. There must be some reason why 88% of the B2Bs are using Facebook. You count the likes and start again, and that’s enough.
As it stands, there isn’t an awful lot of insight beyond that. Any hard data on whether or not Facebook makes you money is buried under the pile of ‘how to’ lists and click-bait correlations posing as if the answer is a matter of common-sense deductive reasoning. There’s the assumption of intrinsic worth to online performance blows any hope of clear thinking out of the water. It’s no longer a question of how it helps you, but how it looks.
I’m not saying that these platforms don’t help, either. It’s that they’re focusing it on the wrong things. Social media provides great exposure for unknown brands — but is exposure enough? The research would have you believe that as long as the thumb of the crowd falls the right way, your performance in the arena has been good. Why? The modern business isn’t condemned to bankruptcy for an under-performing Tweet. That happens when you’re not making enough money. The point I’m making is that if the value of social media is tied to numbers (and not making money), 10 good leads is much less desirable than 100 easy likes.
What’s followed is a system of research that doesn’t bother to assess how good social media is for ROI. Many of the surveys and reports available freely online ask participants what they think of their current operations, and use that to justify the claim that it works. How do you think your marketers are doing? Do you have plans to spend more? Well, that should be enough to go on. This mentality isn’t the fault of the lazy researchers; this happens because social media is inherently difficult to use as a gauge of success. In the same way that I can’t derive that I am popular with my colleagues if 63% of them like my profile picture, it’s hard to draw solid conclusions for business when stuck with baseless numbers and opinion polls.
The above Forbes source attempts to overcome this by making a leap for some kind of reason. People prefer things that cost more money. Ads cost more money. Therefore, people will prefer your channels if you pay for ads. Among all the nonsense does exist a gesture towards rational inference and proper investigation. The problem is, it’s meaningless. If you measure online effectiveness by asking people how they feel, you’ll find that most shrug a neutral ‘fine’ because that’s what people do anyway. We’re bound by our research methods, but also by the kinds of questions we ask. Either we accept that 63% doesn’t mean anything, or we double down and do a better inquiry into how we’ve got here.
I’m saying that you can use the likes as a suggestion, a success if you can prove that they mean something. It’s a problem when you stop asking questions once the numbers start rolling in. The majority of marketers consider a Facebook like a marketing success, whereas only 35% hone in on actual qualified leads. Here’s your problem. How do you trust that social media will have instrumental value to your business when its value is presumed inherent?
But as long as we place our faith in likes, it will keep happening. Reportedly, social media spending has increase 234% in the last 8 years, bringing it up to between 11.7% and 15% of total marketing budgets, depending on who you ask. 15% of your marketing budget to count the likes. 15% to feel good. Having justified that budget in a survey, 77% will then turn around and say they want to learn how to measure the effectiveness of social media. 58% of B2C content creators will say that they are still looking for a better understanding of what social media content works, and what doesn’t.
The reason we all still play the social media game is that it lets us feel like we’re winning sometimes. All good games need that. You always pass ‘GO” just after landing on Mayfair. It’s the numbers that quantify and validate us. And so, you end up with 1,000 connections on LinkedIn looking for endorsements with absolutely no intention to ever purchase your product. It happens. Look at the weight we give to exposure. Social media puts you in front of more people, finds a new study. It’s a perversion of value.
What I’m moving towards is a rethink of the use we ascribe to social media. Having access to the private pages of your target market allows for analysis, which can then be acted upon. 85% of US consumers are on social media. This is your in. A space in the public sphere also allows you to choose how you present yourself to visitors. Put something out and measure the reaction. Create, publish, observe, refine. Knowing that (B2B research) 24% of people would look you up on Facebook before making a decision on a purchase is useful information. If you really can identify causation between social media and improved search rankings — great. But one should be careful interpreting what people mean when they say, “Social media is the most effective channel for any business”. Well, what do you mean ‘effective’? And according to whom?
There is research out there to suggest that social media creates living, breathing customers, but you do need to be careful. The bulk of research falls inline to say that social media just works, and if you’re not getting results then that’s your problem. Some neutral research claim “consumers follow brands on half as many platforms as they expect them to be active on” gets twisted into “most brands don’t do a good job on social” elsewhere. Likewise, ‘52% of referrals are ruled out before anyone speaks with someone in that organization, and by the way, social media might help‘ becomes “52% rule out a services firm before talking to them due to limited social media presence” on another site.
This isn’t the start of some great conspiracy that you, the reader, are unknowingly being conned out of your 15% by a mischievous marketing team, or crafty journalists. On the contrary, I agree that social media can be useful. But I think it’s high time we understand what we want from it. What do we mean when we ask ‘is this working?’.
As with offline marketing, the key is to close that gap between prospects and leads, likes, and engagement rates. Identify causation where you can, and find tips that give targeted advice.
I think that’s it. By all means, count the likes. Ask other people what works for them. But don’t make this the basis of your faith.
Know what you can expect from social media before using it. Used well, it’s a great window into the complicated lives of existing and potential consumers. Used poorly, it’s as much as a distraction at work as it is at home.