Four Reasons Your Social Media Marketing Campaign Sucks

Listen; engage; develop.

That’s the three-step approach we recommend companies take when it comes to approaching social media marketing activities for their organization. While you’ll hear nuances in terminology and small differences in approach, you’ll see thought leaders in our industry take a similar approach. Brian Solis, for example, talks about “listening, observing and learning” as the bedrock steps in organizational use of social media in his book “Engage” (which I’m currently reading).

You know what you don’t see anyone recommending? Build, promote, abandon.

However, we’re still seeing social media marketing campaigns built with this implicit process. A few tell-tale signs when we encounter them:

  • A short-term focus, often manifested in a desire for “disposable properties” and a reluctance to sustain any kind of presence after the end of the campaign.
  • The desire for campaign-based tactics with no existing presence of any kind.
  • A one-way broadcasting focus, aiming to blast messages out to the target audience.

Granted, a campaign-based approach can work with specific influencer outreach, but it’s far more effective if the team doing it is able to reach out to those people consistently over a long period of time and hence is able to build a relationship with those people. In general though, the problems with this approach, and the reasons that you don’t hear anyone advocating for it, are four-fold:

1. It takes time or money to attract an audience

Social media tools don’t just let you flip a switch and reach thousands or millions of people. TV, radio and print advertising lets you do that; Facebook, Twitter and blogs don’t.

Social media lets you identify, create and tap into communities of like-minded people. However, this doesn’t happen organically overnight. So, any campaign that starts from scratch and aims for quick results needs to be supported by other forms of media in order to drive people to the social properties in the hope that people engage. This is often counter to the organizational goal of a campaign: driving to a single conversion point, requires resources to be diverted from the primary goal and in doing so reduces the ROI of the campaign.

2. You build an audience, only to throw it away at the end

As I just mentioned, it takes either time or money to build an audience through social media tools. By scrapping the properties you’ve developed at the end of the campaign, you’re throwing all of that investment down the drain. That’s like building an email list then deleting it as soon as you’re done building it.

A much better approach would be to drive people to a long-term property which you can adapt and tailor for short-term purposes, for example a long-term Facebook page or a corporate blog. That way you can foster and continue to engage your community over the long-term, with the benefit of increased loyalty, further conversions and improved perceptions of your brand. What’s more, next time you have an announcement or campaign, you’ll have a pre-established group of people there who have opted-in to receive your updates.

3. Social media is earned media, not paid media

Much of the problem stems from the mindset of the people who often drive the social media bus in corporations. If you think back to our social media marketing ecosystem and Forrester’s breakdown of media types, marketers are often most used to paid media – immediately scaleable and controllable.

Social media isn’t primarily paid media – it’s owned and earned media. Often these lines may blur – you may do interesting things with your owned properties (which are long-term relationship builders) while earning attention in other forms of media with your approach there.

Trying to fit a paid media approach to earned and owned media is akin to trying to saw a plank of wood with a hammer. You’re doing it wrong.

4. It’s one-way, not two-way

These campaign-based approaches still take the old one-way approach to engaging online – do something funny or interesting in the hope that it will “go viral” and reach thousands of people. There’s some value in doing that, but there’s so much more potential to social media that companies really only scratch the surface if they take a purely campaign-based approach to social media.

For example, where’s the potential for business process redesign, product enhancements or customer service improvements in a siloed promotional campaign? There’s very little – which means you’re missing the bigger picture. You can use these tools as one-shot promotional tactics, but you’re missing the forest for the trees if you do so.

Do you agree?

Simply put, campaign-based social media without the basic foundation of an ongoing presence to support it is, more often than not, doomed to fail.

What do you think?

110 Responses toFour Reasons Your Social Media Marketing Campaign Sucks

  • I do agree, I think a lot of the problematic accounts I see on Twitter or on FB include people that start up something only to abondon it within two or three months because they expected instant ROI. Twitter didn’t just ‘become’ the next big thing, it was a really slow build up. Same with all the social media sites and their fan bases…they came because of the sense of online community, not because they were interested in ad space.

  • you have to consider just how many of these FB Twitter and so on accounts are dead and how many are used on a regular basis

  • Hi Dave, nice post.
    One other type of effort I see are people trying to tack social media on as channels rather than baking them in from the get-go.

  • And maybe, it’s also because there’s no end game? Perhaps that’s not the right term, but rather we ought to ‘Begin with the end in mind’ instead of simply desiring a ‘social media campaign’ because we’ve heard we need one – with no real, hard, objectives.

    Just a thought.

    • Agreed. While campaigns often do have goals, they should be a part of every company’s approach to all communications activities.

  • David,
    Good info. It’s hard to believe so many advertising and PR agencies don’t understand this concept yet, let alone large companies.

    I think this switch is more profound than businesses realize however. They need to understand that the key to success in social media is opposite of traditional media in every way.

    It’s “cheap,” long-term and never ending, not expensive and short, as your post explains.
    It’s about attracting consumers because they want what you’re offering, not interrupting.
    It’s about hiring former journalists and PR types who can create valuable content to spread, not rehashing ad copy and 30-second spots that work well in traditional marketing.

    • Hi Patrick,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree, especially with your first two points at the end there. The question then is, how can we begin to effect that change within companies so they can start to realize some of the potential of these tools instead of writing them off after repeated failures?

  • Dave, I think it’s because some are stuck in PUSH mode, old school approaches that as you said, are scalable and easier to quantify like paid media. The time and investment it takes to develop these social relationships naturally and organically as you say, is often overlooked and underestimated.

    #4 is the biggie: it’s not just 1 or even 2 way. Like you mentioned, if the engagement is siloed into one-off campaigns, there is no point. It’s about having the marketing work with CRM work with tech support, work with PR, get feedback, turn that over to R&D and so on.. something substantive to build on. If you’re just promoting, talking but not listening, you are doing a disservice to the campaign and missing the bigger picture. FWIW.

  • David,

    May I venture to say that it should be a 4 steps process such as: target/listen/engage/develop.

    Listen isn’t a very scalable process ;-). You can talk to many people at once but listen only to one at a time. So may be one person can listen to 100 alltogether (i.e: they read 20 conversations a day coming from any of those 100). Thus a team of marketers can listen to several hundreds max depending on their time.
    So the question becomes: How do you choose those few hundreds? If you ‘monitor’ you gonna get lots of conversations from all over the place to listen to. One day you may listen to some from some folks, another day to others from other loose consistency in term of who you listen to.
    To us (here at eCairn), the trick is to cut through the clutter and find the few hundreds that matter, who are part of a virtual community that’s relevant to a brand and who aggregates 1000 times more alltogether.
    Thus the target/listen/engage/develop where the target becomes the few hundreds who matter.


  • One thing that people do or why their social media sucks is they spread themselves too thin.

    For a LOT of companies (even major corps) there are usually one or two people doing social media (and they also have other tasks), but for some reason they try to utilize 10 different social media tools.

    I always say, okay, lets pick one or two to start and do THOSE really well and then expand from there. Of course if you have more resources to start, start bigger.

  • I totally agree to the idea of instant gratification that most people have when starting with whatever is the “new cool thing”, be it twitter, foursquare, and the like. Also, it amazes me how people still believe those who actually sell “proven” formulas to achieve something (followers, traffic, etc) from thin air in a very short time. But good stuff…



  • Papa said, “Son, you’re just a slave to fashion
    If you don’t hunker down and blog with passion.”

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