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What’s holding social media back

POSTED BY Damian Bazadona 14 September 2011 8 Comments

Is it just me or is the whole discussion surrounding “social media marketing” getting more and more annoying? “The consumer is in control”, “It’s quality, not quantity”, “Listening is everything” – it feels like one big broken record of lofty statements that don’t truly advance the marketing discussion. When I first jumped into the business ten years ago, these were the same exact things being said then. “The consumer is in control because they now have 24/7 access to your brand and your competition is just a click away…” and “it’s the quality of your web traffic, not just the quantity that matters…” and “consumers click, brands listen – it’s the blueprint of success.”

I don’t think there are many marketers on the planet that question the influence and impact that social media has on their customers. If these people do exist, they are either about to change their tune or be extinct as the data clearly highlights continued increases in social media usage among all age ranges.

The question marketers struggle with aren’t with the theory of the potential of social media but in the practice of it. How do I fund it? How do I view performance? Who manages it? How do I “sell it through” to management? What is the decision tree of engagement with customers?

Can we please get past the theory and move the discussion to practice? Can we get rid of these goofy statements that are essentially hollow in substance?

So, as I type away on my train ride to work, let me outline three statements I hope I never hear again.

The consumer is now in control

Really? Yeah, my electric company will really be more responsible in the future since they heard my anger and pain of my power being out for a week after Hurricane Irene. AT&T – yeah, they’ve completely changed their business practices after I have complained a million times over how their reception is no different than the bunny ears on my parents old television set. Yeah, our government really shaped up with the consumers voice of change.

“The consumer is now in control” inherently sounds like a threat and it’s simply not true. Supply and demand are really what’s in control. Smart, successful companies understand this and embrace social media in this context.

Sure, there are stories of consumers having a collective voice of power over brands but let’s not kid ourselves – that is the minority. The fact remains that the consumer is in control of smart brands that want to hear what customers have to say and have the organizational structure to evolve with their customers. This has been true long before Facebook opened its doors for business.

It’s the quality of your social connections, not the quantity
Really? What brand doesn’t want a million followers? I will speak for Marketing Directors all over the globe – quantity matters in the social media discussion (especially getting funding for it)! This is what really stinks about the current popular social networks – your popularity is clear, transparent and easily comparable at the most superficial level. Boards, investors, management teams, donors – they will judge a book by its cover and how can you blame them? They have a million things to worry about in this economy and we all know that when times get tough, numbers shine brighter than ever. A friend and Marketing Director once said to me, “have you ever sat in an hour long presentation about social media statistics with a room full of people you are asking for money who don’t even have a Facebook account?”

Nobody would disagree in theory that quality trumps quantity but the practice of boasting that is much more challenging than most realize when it comes to funding social media in both time and resources. My recommendation (beyond doing what you can to increase your quality follower count) is to create ways to track metrics through social media that are customized to your organization and can be compared across other facets of the budget like cost-per-engagement, impression-to-sale, time-of-engagement and cost-per-acquisition. Frame the conversation away from simply social media follower counts to metrics that can be seen in context with the other marketing initiatives. Aim to get to an apples-to-apples evaluation when possible.

Listening is everything
Really? I am yet to meet a Marketing Director that covered their ears and said “I don’t want to listen to my customers.” Their greatest, rational fear continues to be “how do I act on what I’m learning?” They realize there is a commitment to engagement and a responsibility to act based on what is being heard. This has hard costs, soft costs and political costs that will involve their entire organization. We have clients that have 1,000+ mentions on social media a week – that’s a lot of listening and a lot of corresponding action that is required!

Marketing Directors know that to listen and act may very well may require the hardest thing in the world to implement within their organization – change. The whole concept of change is like a trip to the doctor’s office – painful, expensive and always takes way longer than promised. But, when you’re finished, you feel a lot better for doing it.

Thank you for letting me rant. BTW – I admit, I too have used the above statements many times over the years but today, I promise, no more. :-)

We’re hosting a great event this coming Thursday as part of our EVENTS @ SITUATION SERIES where my rock star social media team and an incredible panel may hit on many of these topics.

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  • Mark Stevenson said:

    Great post! Selling social to midsize businesses is at a crossroads. They know they want it, but just don’t get it. Like early days of the Web, prices are all over the map – outdone only by performance claims not spoken in their language.

    We get frustrated (when sent a link one client recently asked why we had password protected his company Facebook page) and they get frustrated by the lazy phrases you point out here.

    Maybe we need a Social Dogma Manifesto?

  • Damian Bazadona (author) said:

    Thanks Mark. Agree!

  • 121. Tweeting Up with the Joneses | Turning Fails into Wins said:

    [...] that the buzz words and phrases we use to talk about social media interactions and management are basically fluff and mostly speak to the exceptions, not the rules (few as there are). (Of course, when I say “people,” I mean people like me, who pay [...]

  • Jim Royce said:


    So wise, so smart, so right. More than half of every conversation is listening. That’s what makes social networking a pleasurable media.

    There is one trend in advertising that, I believe, has benefited from social networking: people are willing to spend time reading more than just a snappy copy line. That gets us closer to the customer than ever before.

  • Damian Bazadona (author) said:

    Thank you Jim! Awesome to hear from you!

  • Lore said:

    Congrats for the post! Very well said :)

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