Are People Overvaluing Social Media?

In August 2017 I wrote a post about people overvaluing media coverage. My point wasn’t that media coverage is overrated. It was that when compared to the value seen from some other marketing tactics, such as social media and email, it’s not always the best avenue for meeting your objectives. If your goal is conversion, for example, social media and email provide much more precise data to show you how a single post or email is contributing to your sales funnel.

Today, a year and a half after I wrote that post, I find myself asking if now social media has become overvalued.

That isn’t to say it has no value. It still can have a lot of value - if used properly.

When social media first emerged as a marketing tactic it was great. Companies could use it to speak directly to their audiences, bypassing the media. It actually made some believe that there was no need for PR anymore (more on that in a bit). The biggest bonus for brands, especially those just launching, was that it was free. There was no barrier to entry around cost. In fact, the only barrier to entry was understanding how to use each platform. A lot of companies saw huge marketing success from social media. Startups were killing it, using social media to put much larger, more established competitors on their heels. Social media could be used to increase awareness, engagement, conversion, loyalty, and for providing stellar customer service.

Then the social media networks realized they held a lot of power in their hands and monetized.

Paid social media emerged. Algorithms were put in place - then changed, then changed again. That still continues today.

The outcome, as it stands today, is that it is much harder to see success from social media without investing budget into paid programs. Though they can still be helpful for increasing loyalty, the social media networks’ algorithms have severely limited the reach of organic posts (those with no money behind them), making it difficult to see success from programs aligned to awareness or conversion. Less people seeing content = less clicks, shares, likes = less visibility in feeds.

Sure, social media experts can find ways around this without spending budget on paid programs, but not every company has the budget to hire social media experts.

You might be reading this thinking, Instagram has been pretty successful for us. Instagram has been the one exception. But Instagram is owned by Facebook. They’ve already implemented paid programs, and now it’s just a matter of time before they start messing with the algorithm meaning all our organic, non paid posts, will soon be devalued.

So is social media a dead end, a marketing tactic I’m saying we should abandon? No, quite the opposite. It can still have value - as part of a larger marketing program.

A common mistake I see in marketing is the tendency to put all our eggs in one basket. When something works, we base large parts of programs around it. For years we saw it with PR. We’re in the midst of seeing the same thing with social media.

A successful, sustainable marketing strategy uses many tactical elements to address different parts of the buyer’s journey. We became conditioned to using social media to address all parts of the buyer’s journey. Now we need to think a little differently about it and better incorporate PR, email, influencers, websites, and events, rather than relying predominantly on social media.

I often compare PR and social media against each. Longtime readers have probably noticed that. In the past I’ve frequently made the point that social media can serve as a better driver for engagement, conversion, loyalty, advocacy, and even at times, awareness, than PR. However, PR still had value, but given cost considerations, in a lot of situations it made more sense to use social media.

Now I think that we’ve leaned into social media too much as an industry. Think about your market. Are your social media feeds delivering content that’s all that different from your competitors? Social media has become so busy and homogenous for some industries, that when combined with the cost factor, in many cases it’s not providing more value than say, PR.

I mentioned earlier that when social media was emerging, some believed it spelled the end of PR. We’ve come full circle now, with many again recognizing the value that PR holds in helping to spread broad awareness. That’s largely due to the limitations we’re now seeing from social media. It’s kind of a rebirth moment for PR.

Every marketing tactic has value. It’s just about knowing how to use each tactic to get value out of it. And to really see programmatic, business-driving value from your marketing efforts, you need a balanced approach using multiple tactics.