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Social Media: Gold Mine or Fools Gold?

It was 2010 and I was at a networking event. It was a small gathering, but the buzz was large…and distinct.

Facebook.

Twitter.

“They’re going to replace everything!”

“There won’t be TV advertising anymore.”

“There won’t be Radio advertising anymore…billboards, direct mail. All gone!”

“It’s all going to be Facebook.”

Somewhere Mark Zuckerberg was gloating.

I was a tad less enthusiastic, reminding folks to pump the breaks…at least a little. I said that, “Sure…social media is going to be a factor in a lot of marketing plans from here on out. Absolutely. But TV was supposed to replace Radio. It didn’t. Rather, marketing media evolved. New media have entered the space constantly with the threat of replacing this or that, but they evolve together. Social media will evolve, too. It will find a place in the mix–but not necessarily replace the mix.”

Fast forward to 2023 and I look like a prophet. Mind you–that’s not my ego talking. No…not at all. I don’t say that out of pride or ego. Humbly said, I am superior to no one and equal to all. It was just an opinion based on similar circumstances in history.

While Social Media hasn’t made other media extinct, it has evolved into a force.

Maybe more of a force than what it should be…at least culturally, where it requires serious measures of reform.

Certainly in the medium’s early years and to an extent today, business owners often view Social Media as a Gold Mine in the making, yet the reality moves quickly toward Social Media being more Fools Gold than a profit center.

After all, ‘likes’…’friends’…’fans’ and ‘followers’ do not often equate directly to a plus in revenue. Sometimes that isn’t the goal, I understand, but if indeed, X investment needs to yield Y revenue, Social Media quite often appears to resemble Fools Gold.

On the surface in the restaurant sector, with couponing and special offers such strong possibilities on these platforms, you might think the industry is cleaning up with Social Media. But…not so fast…at least according to one survey.

One annual study from Nation’s Restaurant News showed that only 8 percent of consumers ‘follow’ a restaurant on Facebook. Yet, more than 60 percent of restaurant owners have a Facebook site and invest heavily in it. Further, only 15 percent of consumers anticipate following a restaurant in the future; however, 78 percent of restaurant owners said they expect to beef up (no pun intended) their budget toward the medium.

Those numbers don’t necessarily add up.

The same survey reported the following: It’s worse on Twitter. Only 3 percent of consumers follow restaurants on Twitter, yet 53 percent of restaurants use the medium extensively. Only 9 percent of consumers expect to use restaurants more in regard to Twitter, yet 66 percent of restaurants expect to escalate their investment in the medium.

So…Gold Mine or Fools Gold?

Sure. I see great possibilities with the medium. Primarily, it continues to show great potential to connect with consumers. When used properly, it is a great way to showcase different elements of your brand and, specifically your brand’s personality, in a ‘social’ environment that is much more geared toward connecting than selling. The selling can certainly happen within the context of that relationship on the backend.

But to answer the question posed above, each business needs to reconcile that based on their unique situation. First, Accountability is a must for any marketing program. Resources should be allocated based on performance. Remember, it is results that matter. Accountability should ring true with each and every aspect of your marketing mix.

If you are one of the restaurant owners above–take a look at where your customers are tracking. If 60 percent of them are coming from other media and 5 percent are coming from Facebook. Don’t invest heavily in Facebook–unless that five percent of responses are so valuable that they are strongly driving revenue. Which, admittedly, might be the case. If not, look at what is working and adjust your budget accordingly.

Resources should be allocated based on performance.

As for Social Media Reform? It’s true. I am not a fan of Social Media personally. It has long gone unchecked and evolved into a major source of mis- and dis-information. Anonymity brings the worst out of humanity and so many accounts operate in the ‘dark’ where no accountability exists. Just a couple reasons it needs major reform. However, I’m not someone who points out a problem without providing at least a suggestion that does, indeed, point to a solution.

Here are just a couple of must-haves as a starting point for Social Media reform:

First…verify accounts and link them to physical addresses. In the same manner that Google or Bing business listings require verification, so too must ALL social media accounts. No more anonymous accounts–all accounts need to list an actual person and publish a physical address to ensure anonymity is eliminated. Accountability begins with an absence of anonymity. Put a real and verified face to every account. Platforms will hate it. Their numbers will drop drastically, but perhaps they need to, right?

Second…fines and suspensions for passing along potentially harmful misinformation and disinformation–for both the user and the platform. The First Amendment is designed to further the pursuit of truth, not to spread knowingly false information in the name of free speech. As John R. Vile points out in his article entitled False Speech, the First Amendment may not protect individuals engaging in slander or libel, especially those who display actual malice by knowingly publishing false information or publishing information “with reckless disregard for the truth.” Something seen often with political candidates and politics in general.

For many, Facebook and other platforms have replaced credible news sources. It’s actually disturbing. Gone are these consumer’s exposure to actual “Sourced” articles. It’s been replaced by Uncle Ned’s take on whatever topic and linked to some moronic conspiracy theory or minefield of misinformation.

Social Media users are publishers. It’s one of the best things about Social Media. Anyone can create content! Unfortunately, it’s one of the worst things about Social Media–anyone can create content!

But alas, Social Media users are content creators and as such, publishers. They need to be held accountable for the accuracy of that published content. The penalty? Misinformation…one time? Fine based on the numbers of ‘followers’. Two times? Double the previous Fine and an account suspension. Three times? You’re out.

It’s just a start, but major reform is needed for Social Media. Will reform happen? Probably not any time soon. After all, the people who have the ability to create such policy…well, they are the ones benefitting most from the spread of misinformation and disinformation. And they are in no hurry to stop.

So again…Gold Mine or Fools Gold?

Social Media has such great potential. It really does.

Many point to its original intent of connecting with loved ones, but…uhh…I have to point out that was not its original intent. Actually, “Facemash” was created by a jilted college kid in his Harvard dorm room for classmates to rank and compare women based on their appearance–hardly a noble cause. Its purpose, however, did evolve into something more marketable.

And yes, maybe it has proven to be a far more anti-social media than a tool for connecting, but the potential for the latter is there.

From a marketing perspective, just be very clear about your objectives. Fans and Friends that don’t translate into Dollars and Sense are not worth an abundance of resources.

If your brand is fun, lively and can easily connect with these ‘followers’ in a way that will turn them into loyal dime-droppers…well, I’m on board. If your industry is a tough one to follow socially (translated as ‘BORING!’), then you might want to limit your resources.

A presence? Sure. If it fits. If you know your Target Audience well and that ‘Who’ is active on Social Media, it may be a fit. But allocating thousands of dollars to something just because ‘everyone is using it’, isn’t the best use of your marketing dollars. It can actually be more wasteful than profitable.

Rely on your own credible data. That will help point you in the right direction…and your data might suggest it to be quite profitable. And yes…from a marketing decision-maker’s perspective…I’m all-in on any media that helps you connect profitably with customers and prospects.

As for my personal opinion (Marketing perspectives aside)? Right now…considering the damaging effects such as cyber-bullying…misinformation…weaponized use of these platforms to stir discord among Americans by foreign powers…and so much more…well, I’m voting for Fools Gold at this point. Actually, I wish ole Mark would’ve hit the books that night instead of coding Facemash–it’s something I wish could be dis-invented.

By Scott Trueblood, of BrandVision Marketing. BrandVision Marketing is a full-service marketing agency based in Knoxville, TN.

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