Social media? I wouldn’t bother.

In the 18 months since I went freelance, I’ve spoken to a lot of people and worked with quite a few different companies, including a fair number of PR agencies.

And what have I learned? That the state of social media is pretty much exactly as it was when I first became a social media type, over three years ago. Except it’s worse. So, I’m going to make it all better, right here and now.

When I started there was a vague notion that something called a blog might be quite a useful communications tool. This was before Facebook and Twitter had started to loom quite so large. I told people how useful I thought blogs could be, but no one listened. I made it my job to find out about these developments and eventually moved on to pastures new, where there were tactics a-plenty but no concept of strategy, measurement, value.

Eventually I decided to go freelance so I could do things more how I felt they should be done. I’ve since developed what I would call fairly nifty ways of monitoring, measuring results, developing strategies. But time and time again I come up against the old problems:

  • You develop a strategy that considers all the angles – the people, the message, the brand, ownerships – maps it onto what a business does, sets targets. You’re sure it will work. It’s beautiful. There is a lot of excited waving of hands. And that’s it. Six months down the line, it’s dead in the water. Why? Because, I think, people are too busy to be bothered with it. They got along fine before it, they’ll get along fine after it. They don’t really need it.
  • Clients make unreasonable demands of social media because they’ve heard of it. They want you to do things with it, right here, right now. You want to explain to them that it’s not a tap you just turn on. But they’re too busy to care. So you get unsatisfactory results because you’ve been using the wrong solution for the wrong problem.
  • You find yourself siloed because people don’t want to know. Part of your social media strategy is that people all look after different parts of it. But they don’t because they’re too busy. You just cannot sustain this position because social media is content-driven and you cannot be the expert on everyone else’s content.

Can you see the thread here? People are too busy. They’ve got their heads down working and social media is something they’re prepared to pay lip service to, but no more. It’s nothing malicious. They’re just too busy.

I have a very clever friend who once looked after the marketing for a prominent occupational psychology firm. When I met him recently I asked how things were going. He replied sadly “No one listens to me.” Of course they don’t. They’re too busy for marketing. So it goes, they’re too busy for social media too, it would seem.

But get this: things are worse now because a lot of people have sorta kinda heard about social media. So now they feel extremely smug when they say they’re not sure about it because they don’t know how it generates ROI.

ROI? Gimme a break! How many companies know the ROI of anything they do, let alone comms?

For example:

  • What’s the ROI of your website? How much did it cost you to put together, and how much have you made from it? If you don’t know, then why did you put one together in the first place? What would be the effect of taking it down?
  • What’s the ROI of your PR or advertising? How many leads did you make out of it? What was the value of those leads? If you just increased brand awareness/value/sentiment, how do you quantify this?
  • What’s the ROI of your intranet? Has it reduced development time? Has it reduced time to market? Has it helped retain knowledge? If so, how much do you think you’ve saved on the cost of recruiting and training new staff?


The real problem here is that people have no idea of how their online efforts are doing because a) they don’t measure them and/or b) they never measured them so they have no benchmark. And c) they’re too busy to worry about this anyway.

So, my advice?

I once saw a programme about some men who spent time in a monastery. After several weeks one of them had what he classed as a spiritual experience. He went a bit ‘funny’ and couldn’t quite explain what was going on. The monk he told this to just said, in a very calm, soothing voice: “I wouldn’t bother.”

It felt nice. Nice and reassuring. Calming, some might say. Absolving, even.

So, if you’re worrying about social media, I wouldn’t bother. You’re too busy. It sounds cooooool but really, if I put a strategy together for you, you won’t follow it because you’re too busy.  So I wouldn’t bother. If you want it to do something for you, here, now, then that won’t work because that’s not how it works, so I wouldn’t bother. And if you’re suddenly overly concerned about ROI – which you never were in the past – then, again I wouldn’t bother because if you didn’t measure anything before, you won’t do it now.

There now. Doesn’t that feel better?

15 thoughts on “Social media? I wouldn’t bother.

  1. In every social media strategy we offer to our clients, we make sure to warn them that it takes a lot of resourcing, especially time resourcing needed to create content. However, I have to disagree with you, Brendan, and argue that I don’t think that being busy should stop them from commencing a social media program. Your point is well taken about ROI, however, and we’re huge proponents of measuring your marketing activities to determine what’s working and what’s not…

    There are many ways that busy businesses can participate in social media. One trend that I am beginning to see is the training of staff to use social media effectively for business, instead of blocking social media sites for fear of interrupting work time. Along with our strategies, we are now offering social media support to clients. We will do the heavy lifting for them – finding the channels in which to participate and the people to connect with – to help them engage with others through social media. Do you think that these methods could help businesses work a successful social media plan into their busy schedules? We generate authentic content for our clients in a range of other channels – ghostwriting articles that are published under executive bylines, for example – what’s so different about social media? Can this process not be effectively outsourced? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this approach.

  2. Being busy is all about stopping people from pursuing a social media programme. Ask anyone. It’s one of the major reasons people give for not doing it. As I’ve said before, the two conflicting positions are: 1) What ROI will I get from this? and 2) I have no resource to put into it. Nothing in, nothing out. It’s absolutely central to most of the concerns of people I talk to.

    I disagree that you do the heavy lifting. Finding the sites and setting up a strategy is the easy bit. The long haul – the really heavy lifting – is maintaining that effort and seeing tangible results come in.

    However, I’m glad that you’re doing things right, and I’d love to hear more about the ghost-written content you’re creating for your clients to use in their authentic, transparent social media efforts.

  3. Pingback: Social Media Stratergy « Todd Lyden

  4. Ha! Thanks Alastaire. I think I’ve presented a fairly negative viewpoint, but someone’s got to provide a bit of balance to the hyperbole I see all around me.

  5. Social media is a useful part of the integrated marketing mix that only works if it’s all done together. In isolation, it’s a PR tool and if you don’t do that already, as you say, why do it just because it’s cool.

    Sound advice as always B

  6. @Nick – you have no idea how simple your sentence was to articulate, and how much commonsense it holds, and yet how difficult it is to make that work in practice. People do still tend to regard social media as a switch you flick or a tap you turn on, and wonderful things ensue. It’s just another way of communicating, and it takes a lot of time and effort.

    @Lola – thanks! Keep on rocking! 😉

  7. Brendan, good post.

    Part of the problem is that people think they are specialists first, and marketers second. Given the way we have all been educated, I don’t blame them. If there was a shift in the way people worked, and more thought of themselves as marketers first, and specialists second, then there would be more success with social media and all other marketing activities for that matter. The key reason would be that people would have greater appreciation of the various channels for communicating the value of their products or services to prospects and clients, and stop seeing any form of marketing as a simple add-on to their core specialism. Incorporating social media into the day-to-day activities would then be easier – or outsourced but with a greater appreciation of the impact on the bottom line if done properly.

    It is not just social media that suffers because of the lack of time – it is any form of marketing.

  8. Hi Eria!

    That’s a good point. I think the more you understand marketing, the more you understand the principles behind what you’re trying to achieve with any communications. It’s bit like understanding maths to understand the principles behind physics, I guess.

    I think that’s a frustration for a lot of PR people. They sometimes need to fight to get to the heart of what it is they’re trying to communicate. That’s why I think a lot of PR concentrates on tactics rather than strategy, because that’s what they’re expected to ‘do’. “We’re all about tactics” is a phrase I’ve heard before, and I’m not sure it’s one to be especially proud of.

    And yes, any form of marketing suffers from time. So does everything, I guess. But without it – without any way of tailoring what you do to the market you serve – means that you’re working more with luck than judgement.

  9. What’s the ultimate aim of a social media campaign? I guess it’s to increase visibility and desirability – to be seen, to be liked and to be followed. We follow people we like. We want to hang out with them. And social media is used to make a brand seem more attractive by attempting to say the right thing, at the right time, in the right place. Makes sense. It’s PR.

    But what happens if what the brand doesn’t quite live up to the hype? What if all the traffic you manage to drag to your website for example, is disappointed in some way when it arrives? It will leave. And it won’t come back. And it’ll tell it’s friends not to bother.

    Social Media is the most wide open source for word of mouth there has ever been. And there will only ever be one winner – the best in the business.

    Social Media is often regarded as part of SEO. It’s all part of the marketing strategy to bring the right type of people into a sales cycle. To keep it simple, let’s say Social Media aims to drive more relevant traffic to a website. More relevant online presence and links mean higher Google ranking. So let’s get back to basics. Google exists to promote the best – to put the best at the very top of its search results for a particular search query. And over 70% of its decision of who’s best is based on links. Why links? It’s a matter of reputation.

    Prepare for a rant.

    If you ARE passionate, really and genuinely passionate about what you do, you will succeed. And the encouraging news is Google is governed by one basic principle above all others: your reputation will decide your fate!

    If you are wholeheartedly into what you do you will bring life to it. If you are doing what you were put here for, if you have found your niche, your vocation, you will be the very best at it. Truly. That’s the way it works. Always has, always will. If you consistently deliver something outstanding you will build something real – a solid reputation. You will ‘create a brand’. And you will have word of mouth on your side.

    Real word of mouth is the most powerful weapon there is in the social networking arena. And in a competitive world, this is where Google looks for assurance. And every time Google’s algorithms get refined, they reflect the real world of reputation ever clearer. Google is being developed to safeguard its own reputation. The only way it can do that is by consistently backing the best. It needs to be the best at promoting the best or it will die, because its own reputation will be shot.

    So if your brand IS the best solution. If you ARE the best answer to someone’s search query, it looks like you’re destined to be number 1. Yes, you’ll need the right web help to develop your site and its content as the best resource in the business. Just make sure you employ someone with the same passion as you.

    SEO and Social Media are reactive. Give the real people what they want. Content and usability win. It’s what’s inside that matters.

  10. Pingback: Information Overload | Freelance Copywriter, London, UK

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