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Social Media Isn’t the Problem…It’s You!

Note: This article originally appeared on LinkedIn and has been shared with the author’s permission.

Over the past year I’ve been fortunate to speak with several leaders of among the largest, well-funded marketing and digital advertising teams in the country. We discussed the state of social media, how its implementation varies from business to business and the challenges facing organizations. The consistent theme throughout every conversation was that they could not figure out how to be successful with social media. This is quite unfortunate considering their significant investments and impact on media perception. After considerable thought and an overwhelming sense of responsibility as a social practitioner, I’ve decided to go out on a limb and just say it: It’s not social media, it’s you. The reason why social media isn’t working really isn’t with Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, but rather with the organization and the people running the social media practice. Here are a few excerpts from conversations to prove the point.

 Scenario 1: A $25B B-2-C company has multiple business units (4+ at any given time) buying on Facebook to drive the same audience to the same microsite with the same conversion goal. The spend is well into 7-figures and is admittedly riddled with “waste and duplication.” The complaint raised is that Facebook is inefficient but the company’s siloed ad buying behavior won’t be broken down due to “executive politics.” (yes FB is trying to help them sort it all out but to no avail) Sorry, this isn’t a social media problem; this is the business’ problem.

 Scenario 2: A $20B+ CPG company launches new products almost every month with mega marketing blitzes across several channels spending millions over 2-3 days. The campaigns generate a mere 5,000 tweets. The complaint is raised that Twitter “isn’t effective” for their highly visible and mobile-oriented business; though, admittedly, their competitors have somehow figured out how to harness the power. The same execs endorse the notion that “process is the antithesis of successful social media activities.” Sorry, this isn’t a Twitter or social media problem…

 Scenario 3: The CMO of one of the most downloaded apps in the world believes that every business unit is tasked with a singular goal, no more. So she asked what mine was, to which I replied, “drives sales, manage the brand (including customer support) and provide actionable insights to specific teams in the company (there’s three). We tether business goals to specific business units and social is cross-functional, it reports out as such.” This response was overwhelming unacceptable and mocked. To which I replied, “Why would one assign sales goals as the core KPIs of customer support?” Based on her expression, you could tell she hadn’t really thought of it that way before. I’ve had this conversation at least 50x in my career.

Scenario 4: The digital leads at a prominent international cosmetics company and a $20B+ mobile company simply “don’t believe in social technology…it’s never accurate and we can’t find one that does everything we need so we won’t invest – no clear benefit.” One of them has 40+ dedicated always-on social customer support reps using TweetDeck (a fine tool but not enterprise caliber) and the other mostly “eyeballs performance based likes/shares/comments, etc., Facebook Insight reports have too much info.” Not even sure where to begin with these, speechless every time I think about them…still not a social media problem. 

The truth is social media does work. How fast, how well and to what extent all vary, but it works. It can change the perceptions of thousands of boyband-crazed teens, the image of an entire pro sports league or a political movement in a faraway land. Social can effectively drive sales of sweaters, sneakers, plane tickets, hotel reservations and computer software…yet, the nascent industry still has a long way to go, especially with the c-suite, and that’s OK. Though it’s interesting that when it hits the fan, social becomes the go-to for real-time info and a response to, “OMG, what are people saying?!?!” Just like any other industry, social has room to improve and there are certainly individuals who get it and those who don’t. When it comes to the deniers, remember that people thought the internet was a fad and compact discs would reign supreme. The earth was flat for a hot minute too. 

About the Author: Joe Nolan is a thought leader on social media, integrated marketing and technology based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Content and opinions expressed in this post and on are his own. Feedback and suggestions for future articles should be directed to or @JosephJNolan.

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