Why It’s Time To Get Real About Social Media

Since 2007, Americans have bought a lot less chewing gum

15% fewer packets are bought every year to be exact. The US Government has called chewing gum ‘the black plague’. Singapore and Seattle have banned it. Mexico City has found 40,000 kinds of bacteria in it, including E.coli, Proteus and Salmonella.

If chewing gum brands are to grow again, they need to get real about how to sell more gum,  and think differently about how it impacts society.


Why Social Media is a bit like gum

Our attitudes to social media need to get real too. Over the years I been part of and read enough social media case studies to reach a conclusion: what social media generally delivers best is awareness and consideration. 

I have found it much harder however to find evidence of conversion to sales or leads. Yes, they do exist, but most social media campaigns do more for raising awareness than for actual sales or lead conversions, in my experience.


Today, even raising awareness isn't easy

With Facebook’s and Instagram’s new algorithms, we have to pay for advertising to get attention. If you don’t pay for advertising, you’ll be reaching a tiny number of followers. And these are followers who already know about you and need less convincing to buy from you.


What I’ve found from years of research

I have looked at the traffic data for big brands (Nike, Apple) and small businesses alike. It's shown me that 0%-7% of traffic comes from social media channels. 

I have seen charities who have used paid-for advertising generate a lot of buzz, but few donations. 

I have seen how expensive paid-for advertising can be for startup brands who want to grow quickly.

And I have seen how entrants’ use of social media at the Cannes Lions Ad Festival has dropped from 40% in 2016 to 4%-8% in 2017. That’s over a 32% drop in 12 months.


Yes, social media works

But we need to get real and think differently about the role it plays in our marketing to make it work better for us

In this article, I want to talk about:

1.         What are the real problems with social media

2.        Why paying to play is your only real option

3.        How social media can work best

Let’s deal with the first one.


So what are the real problems with social media?

When I go to Cornwall, there is a beautiful patch of beach that only appears when the tide is out. If you get stranded on that beach and the tide comes in, you can shout for help, but nobody’s going to hear you. 


It’s a bit like that with Facebook and Instagram

Since these social media giants changed their algorithms, only a small percentage of your followers will see your posts.

A good friend who works in social media advertising in a top London agency told me that the number of people who see a Facebook post without advertising is now down to around only 2%. 

So, if you have 100 followers, that means only 2 people will have the chance to see your post.


And that's pretty poor because this is still just a chance to see your post!

There’s no actual guarantee of seeing your post. Customers might scroll past your post in a rush, which means the pressure is on you to create outstanding posts time and again to get people to stop. 

And remember, it will still only be seen by a handful of people if you aren't paying for advertising.


Social media is extra challenging when you look at the science of brand growth

If you want a brand to grow year on year, you need to reach new customers. It’s that simple. If you read the book 'Viral Marketing', you'll see that existing customers are the ones who follow your brand. They’ll be the ones that like, comment and share your posts. 

But if you're posting only to existing customers, you're not talking to new customers. 

And that's a problem if you want to grow.

Yes, you need to stay top of mind with your existing customers, but you don't need to overdo it and forsake reaching new customers.


Instead, we must reach new AND existing customers

Yet to do this with on Facebook and Instagram, you only have one choice. You have to pay to play. You have to pay for advertising. 

The same works if you are on Twitter or LinkedIn too. If you want people who aren’t followers or customers to know about you, you have to pay to get their attention. 

And that leads neatly to my second point:


Why paying to play is your only real option nowadays

Have you ever received one of those free betting vouchers to spend on an online betting shop? A betting brand will give you ‘free credits’ to bet on a race or match. And whether you win or lose, you still get a free taste of what it’s like to win. It hooks you in so you want to go back for more, but next time you’ll need to pay for it.

And the same works with social media. If you post something organically, you get a taste of what it feels like to post and get lots of likes, comments, and it gives you a buzz. 

But to get more of this attention, you’ll have to pay. You have to pay a social media network to put your posts in front of more customers than you would be able to by yourself. 


Yet, when you are paying, there is still no guarantee of people seeing your posts

What you are paying for is an opportunity for customers to see your posts. But there are no guarantees of customers actually seeing your posts.

With Instagram, there is a time limit. Instagram will charge you to play a 2-5 second video. For photos, Instagram will charge to show your ad if at least 50% or more of it shows on the screen for at least 2 seconds.

And it's not only Instagram. Facebook got into trouble for charging for video ads when they came onto a screen, even if the ad didn't actually play. 

Facebook also had a problem with carousel ads on mobiles too. A bug in their software didn't let customers expand the mobile video ads to view them. Instead, the bug redirected people to the advertiser’s website.


But if you ‘play to play’, you’d still expect a lot of traffic to your site, right?

Well, no.

I have done my own research to see how much direct traffic comes from social media.


And the answer is not as much traffic as I thought

Look at the charts below. They are screen grabs from SimilarWeb that show traffic sources leading to a website. Look for the words 'social'. Look at the traffic that comes from it. Compare it to other traffic sources, like Google ads. See which perform better.



I have done the same search for a few small business clients too

The patterns are the similar: social media drives, at most, 1 in 10 visits. Often, it's 1 in 20 or 1 in 50. This is fine if social media is where you spend, say, 10% of your marketing efforts. But you might be better off considering to spend the majority of your time exploring other media channels to get more customers.


I was working for a global software brand recently

They put a lot of money behind social media advertising. And I can say that the social media numbers weren’t impressive. This is despite have a talented team of seasoned marketers and copywriters working on the project.

Instead, what worked much better for them was email marketing. Which is why they spend 70%-80% of their marketing efforts on email.

As previously mentioned, at the 2017 Cannes Lions ad festival, social media was no longer the lead channel for most entries. In 2016, 40% of entries used social media as their lead channel, yet in 2017, it was only 8%, a drop of 32% in a year. I know I’m repeating this point, but it’s a point worth repeating.


But this is not to say that Social Media is hopeless!

Far from it, as it's actually very useful as a supporting channel.

Which leads to my third point...


How social media can work best for small businesses

Social media can be a strong channel if used in the right way. I have a friend who uses Facebook for highly-targeted advertising. Instead of targeting too broad an audience, he focuses his efforts on a specific audience and makes a small budget go a long way.

And he has another trick up his sleeve. Instead of spending all his budget over a few days, he spends a smaller amount, drip fed over many days. It gives him a better quality of targeted audience who see his ads. He knows just how much to spend to target just enough of the right people.


Social media also has another useful purpose: use it as a testing ground

If you can only reach a small audience with organic posts, why not test your content on these few people, such as photos, videos, messages, new products ideas or styles of image?

See what traction you get with a small audience. So when it comes to reaching a larger audience (and your testing phase is over), you can promote your best performing content with paid-for advertising. In the end, you’ll know more about what works, without having risked too much.


You can also use these images or videos for other pieces of marketing

A video posted on social media can be used at an event or for a presentation. A killer photo can go into a brochure or on your website. If you use social media as a testing ground, you’ll be doing well.

But use social media as the lead, money-making, customer-growth channel for the long term and disappointment might knock on your door…


But what about all those flashy click-bait articles promising high follower numbers? 

Yes, they have shreds of truth in them (although often over-egged to get you to click on them). But often, these articles have poor sales claims attached to them. If indeed they have any sales stories attached to them at all!

As mentioned previously, it’s still hard to attribute sales to social media, especially over months and years. Even the big brands still struggle to make conversions as they chase awareness.

So, provided you want more awareness and have a media budget, social media is a wonderful channel. If you want sales today, every day, social media will be useful as a supporting channel.


So, don't be like those chewing gum brands and ignore reality

We’ve talked about the problems of the algorithms, and getting enough reach.

We’ve talked about why paying to play is your only real option if you want to get new customers.

We’ve talked about how social media can work best – as a supporting channel for testing posts and for short bursts of hyper-targeted advertising.


What should you do next?

I wrote this article because all too often I’ve seen clients waste their precious budgets on ineffective social media campaigns and I care about helping businesses put their money to better use.

So, if you want to pay to play, test it with a small budget. But be 100% focused on why you are doing it. (i.e. is it to drive leads, sales or drive awareness of your business). 

And remember all the other marketing channels too(email, direct mail, events etc.), despite not seeming quite as sexy as social media.

Thanks for reading. For now, over and out, tally ho and toodle pip  :o)

Simon | The Chief Brain