Baby, Bathwater, and the “Social Media Fantasy”


This week, the Ad Contrarian blog put out a provocative post entitled The Slow Painful Collapse of the Social Media Fantasy.

There are some interesting points in there and I’d urge you to read it if you haven’t. But, as is typical with any single article, headline, or tweet, we often overstate our case.

And regularly throw the baby out with the bathwater, either intentionally or inadvertently.

The crux of the post is that social media has been oversold, particularly as a way to generate sales. And there’s a legitimate angle discussed. But lest people get the idea that social media as a whole is a total waste, let me re-title that post to reflect more accurately what it’s actually saying:

The Slow Painful Collapse of the Fantasy that Social Media Marketing will Likely Lead to Measurable Immediate Transactional Sales Results for Some Large Brands.

Now, let’s think about the rest of the business world.

No, social media (and social media marketing) is not on a death spiral. But if we are to understand what success looks like, we can’t just look at immediate transactions, large brands, and measurable customer acquisition.

My friend Tom Martin, in yesterday’s Twitter #DayChat, posed a topic question that led to this exchange:


The thing is, there are multiple ways that social media can be effective and useful, whether the purpose is transactional or not. It’s not all about customer acquisition for big brands.

So, here’s an example from just last week. I stayed at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston. Being overly digital-geeky, I decided to use on-line platforms and people to find a good local restaurant. Hello, Steve – the concierge desk is right in the lobby! Nonetheless, this is what happened…


I was already a “customer” in that I was staying there (for the first time). But now am I going to have a bias toward the Park Plaza because of this kind of “presence” and helpfulness in the realm where I like to reside – social media? Of course.

And now, you might too. I put on my marketing hat and think: win! (Davios was a very nice restaurant, by the way. My Boston food expert, Lou Imbriano, confirms! Win for them too…)

This is social media marketing for the long haul; and when you look at measures of effectiveness such as reputation, customer-helpfulness, gaining attention – it’s a win.

Be careful of those who dismiss social media marketing because a specific success measure, for a specific type of client, during a specific period of time, has a questionable ROI. There’s a whole lot more to this baby than immediate sales transactions!


Related blog post: A Customer Service Story with a Gaping Void in the Middle of it

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  1. Rich Nadworny says

    Steve, I liked both your post and Bob’s contrarian one. You’re both right!

    I do agree with Bob that social media has not even come close to living up to its promise. I think the example you gave (very personal, high listening quotient, quite helpful) is not typical of what we see in social streams. Compare this with the typical fill in the _____ post, or cute pictures and captions that have nothing to do with the brands.

    The type of action you show, the type of action that works, is hard to scale and difficult for most organizations to care about. Social is turning into just another advertising channel and one that doesn’t always work so well.

    I’m glad you’re still optimistic. Me, less so.

    • Rich – thanks for stopping by! Actually, I’m not so optimistic about “mass” reach by large brands using social media. I think the real success will be in smaller, niche businesses – like a hotel. Those that are willing to actually CULTIVATE an audience/tribe (long term) will win.

  2. Steve

    Great points. There is ROI in social… maybe not at the scale that many professed it would be… but certainly you can make more than you spend. And it’s highly trackable.

    Your restaurant rec’d above is a perfect example. Our restaurant client here in NOLA (GW Fins) routinely listens for that exact tweet here in NOLA. Then they respond directly to the person… usually with something about “heard this place is good…with link to Fins’ site” often we’ll put a wink or a joke about bias… just to let them know that yes, we’re “advertising” but hey, you asked… so we’re answering.

    We routinely track thousands of dollars each month in reservations back to this simple Twitter tactic.

    Not sure about the Ad Contrarian… for our clients, if we can show that are efforts generate $1 more than they cost the client they’re happy because they get all the ancillary brand exposure as well as recapping every dollar of marketing spend.

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