Are You Creating Social Media Scorched Earth?

“In too many cases, the “best practices” espoused by digital agencies are less about “serving the community” and more about driving a rush of new fans, without much thought re: how to keep those fans engaged on a LONG-TERM basis.” — Todd Defren

As corporate spending on social media-based communication continues to rise, I’m beginning to worry that many brands are inadvertently adopting a ‘scorched earth’ approach to their online activities.

What do I mean by scorched earth?

When an army advances using a scorched earth approach, it destroys everything behind it as it advances. So, while it gains territory, little remains of the territory it captures. Similarly, many companies are at risk of this when they focus purely on customer acquisition while neglecting engaging their existing fans.

One-shot social media accounts and short-term campaigns-focused approaches may eventually build a fan-base, but unless that is paired with activities aimed at engaging those fans, you’ll lose them. Worse, you’ll not only lose them at the time but you’ll also have to work that much harder to win those people back next time.

This is understandable to an extent, especially in a campaign-focused setup – retention plans aren’t as “glamorous” as new customer-acquisitions. As a result, it’s tempting for marketers to focus their dollars on the latter. You’ve seen this approach – the Twitter account that’s shut down after a month; the big-bang launch that’s forgotten by the next week; the multiple campaign-focused Facebook pages that the company launches and shuts down every year.

Agencies (and savvy corporate communicators) need to resist the urge to take this approach. It can be particularly difficult for agencies, where the client brief may not extend to long-term engagement, but good agencies should give clients the advice they need to hear whether they expect that advice or not. Make sure you dedicate sufficient resources to retaining your fans.

So, next time you’re creating a social media plan, stop and think: are you creating social media scorched earth, or are you engaging for the long term?

Have you seen this pattern, in your organization or with clients?

(Image: Steve Lacy)

38 Responses toAre You Creating Social Media Scorched Earth?

  • Dave,

    As a consumer I see this all the time and it pisses me off. If I’ve been a loyal customer for several years, where’s the love for me? This is a problem that many corporations have, not just with social media, but in all their communications with the world at large. Incentives, freebes and all sorts of attention for potential new customers and those of us who have been paying their bills are ignored or treated like dirt.

    Great post!

  • Dave – Scorched earth may be the best classification of some of the recent campaigns that companies have run. Oftentimes the mentality in acquiring new social customers is short sighted and with a no-holds-barred attitude.

    In the longterm, companies are better following the retention model. To me social media is more of a support the business tool and can build the lasting relationships with customers. When advertisers lose sight of that, the medium loses its strength.

  • Companies that do this are missing the forest for the trees (which are then being burned in your scorched earth metaphor). Part of it, I’m sure, is fighting for consumer attention in a world where consumers aren’t consuming.

    But it doesn’t need to be so hard.

    I don’t need brands to love me. I don’t need them to follow me on Twitter, or be my friend on Facebook. I need them to respect me.

    What do I mean by that? I need them to respect my time, for one. Don’t leave me on hold forever, don’t shuttle me around from one customer service person to the next, don’t tell me “that’s not my department, that person is on break” if I have a simple question. Empower employees to fix my problems. Respect my money, and make a good, reliable product or deliver a good, reliable service.

    The companies who set out respecting their customers’ time, money, and attention don’t need to accumulate social media fans. But they are precisely the brands that will have them.

  • Great analogy. I firmly believe that an abandoned social media presence is worse than none at all. For a business to be successful in the social media atmosphere, there are two main components that need to be developed before moving forward:
    1. An overreaching social media strategy
    If you don’t know where to start in developing a strategy, I would suggest speaking to a social media consultant. A strategy involves questions like – Why are we delving into social media? What do we want out of our presence online? How will we measure our investment? Who will develop, upload and maintain our presence? Where is our audience in the social media atmosphere and how do we reach them?
    2. An integrated approach to social media
    Traditional marketing methods should never be abandoned. Instead, work with your traditional methods to integrate new media. Include links to your social media presence in emails, on printed material and on your website. Develop marketing campaigns that evolve new media AND traditional media.

    The flexibility and easy adaptation of small businesses make them the most prone to the scorched earth metaphor. Larger companies are adopting changes at a slower, more cautious rate. Both corporations and mom-and-pop stores should consider the implications of a failed campaign before grasping onto the shiny new object principal to avoid a scorched earth approach.

  • Kristina Cummins
    ago10 years

    Well said. My favorite part was “one-shot social media accounts and short-term campaigns-focused approaches may eventually build a fan-base, but unless that is paired with activities aimed at engaging those fans, you’ll lose them. Worse, you’ll not only lose them at the time but you’ll also have to work that much harder to win those people back next time.”

    Companies have to continue to court their customers and keep them engaged. And they can’t just use and abuse them and then expect them to want to continue to engage/support the company. Always courting the customer.

    Thanks for the insight and well-written article.

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