Do you feel left out because your business doesn’t have a Facebook page? Do you yearn for people to follow you on Twitter? Get over it, experts say! Social media is great for socializing, but as a way to increase a bottom line it’s only a great way to waste money.
“If you think growing a following on Twitter or Facebook is a sign of great commercial success, think again,” says Patricia Vaccarino, managing partner of Xanthus Communications.
Most businesses with high social media numbers actually buy those numbers, Vaccarino explains. Most of their “followers” live in India, China, and other faraway places and have zero knowledge about or interest in the business they supposedly like or follow. They are merely names delivered by software robots for a price.
“One self-styled SEO guru offered to get me 87,000 fans on Facebook, if I paid him $2,500,” Vaccarino says. “Having 87,000 fake fans on Facebook isn’t going to build anyone a business. What is the point to having lots of followers if no one is really listening to what you have to say?”
Vaccarino’s skepticism about Twitter and Facebook followers is validated by eBay, which currently lists 89 products ranging from domain names their sellers’ claim will draw more traffic to your Twitter feed to offers to tweet to 1200 people on your behalf for a mere 99¢. eBay sellers are active with Facebook products as well: You can buy the computer code for a Facebook “like button” for 99¢ as well.
Tweet for business intelligence, not for sales
Vaccarino says she has had only one client who appeared to increase sales through social media. When the client, who owned an ice cream truck in New York City, began tweeting the truck’s arrival a few minutes in advance, sales went up a bit. The same result might have been accomplished by installing a louder bell on the truck.
Though Vaccarino considers getting followers on Twitter a waste of time when it comes to increasing sales, she believes that monitoring what the competition is doing there an excellent way to gather business intelligence. “You can get verifiable information on Twitter that you cannot get anywhere else,” says Vaccarino. “ Just make sure the numbers are real.”
Social media is free, but to use it effectively you have to pay a steep price, according to Vaccarino. “Many of the top brands such as Disney and Coca Cola appear to be growing buzz on social media, but they have people dedicated to doing nothing but tweeting and posting who are getting paid over $100k for this full-time gig,” she says. “They are actually listening to all of the chatter out there to see if there is any real trending that is impacting their brand.”
No way to correlate results
That there is at present no way to correlate social media exposure with changes in a business’s bottom line is “the big, dirty secret nobody wants to address,” says branding expert Rob Frankel. “Though companies pay huge amounts of money to social media ‘experts, to develop Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, at the end of the day there’s no discernible revenue or business increase from it because these guys don’t know how to convert followers and ‘likes’ to any sort of tangible business metric.”
The problem is, Frankel explains, that companies don’t know how to transform followers into real revenues. “As a news and gossip pipeline, social media is great,” Frankel says. “Where else can one fan the flames so that millions of viewers can sit before their devices mesmerized by some stupid cat video?” he asks. “Social media is really little more than the old-fashioned party line of the Not So New Millennium, where everyone simultaneously jumps on the phone to spread the news about everyone else.”
That’s all fine and good, says Frankel. If it’s entertainment you seek, by all means, have at it. In fact, if raising awareness for your cause is your thing, social media might be the right tool for you.
But the minute you let marketing people into the party, things start to spoil faster than three-day-old flounders. And by the time they’re done with it, social media will likely endure the same fate as so many other digital hula-hoops.
Social media is just that—social
“While there’s no question social media links people together 24/7, it really only does it for social reasons,” Frankel says. “Keeping up with your boyfriend, your Uncle Ned, the Class of 2006—whatever—is perfect for sites like Facebook, Vimeo and Picasa.”
However, when marketing people try to leverage social media for business, the results aren’t quite so good. “Sure, you’re going to hear a lot of advertising and marketing people hawk the virtues of social media, but if you look really, really closely at their claims, you’ll see why it’s called social media and not business media,” Frankel says.
It’s a major mistake to assume that connecting with people will change their buying behavior, according to Frankel. “I’m a branding guy, and getting more people to evangelize my brand is a good thing,” he says. “On the other hand, having a million people ‘like’ my brand’s Facebook page doesn’t add anything to the bottom line.”
“The truth is that marketing has devolved into a science of excuses, fraught with first world problems that have no real significance in the marketplace,” Frankel continues. “Engagement? Really? Have we drifted so far from the purpose of business—making money—that entire campaigns can revolve around efforts, which have no direct relationship to revenue generation?”
“Is ‘an uptick’ in the public attitude of our brand” going to have any bearing on next quarter’s sales? I think not.”
Frankel says he has nothing against social media. In fact, when used for the right jobs, he thinks it’s terrific for communicating about social issues.
“When I hear marketing people attempting to leverage social media for business purposes, though, I always ask the same question: ‘What kind of real, bottom line results can we expect from this?’”
“To this day, I haven’t heard an answer.”
Article by Julie Crawshaw