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Social Media for business - “In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is King”

by  David Dwyer on  16/04/2019

A discussion on if you should maintain a social media presence

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.”  - John Wanamaker

Businesses are constantly being told that they need to have a social media presence, that this will:

  • drive sales;
  • increase engagement;
  • provide an unrivalled return on investment
  • increase brand loyalty; and
  • dramatically increase the prospects of return customers. 

Unfortunately, the enthusiasm for social media – often delivered via social media itself – is harder to quantify, which makes deciding what percentage of your resources to dedicate to it rather tricky.


More claims than an insurance company

There is no disputing the exponential growth in the reach and use of social media (SM).  Research by Avocado reported that 83% of adults use social media regularly, and whilst that can be interpreted as 83% of a company’s potential market, it does not necessarily follow as it’s dependent on demographics, geography, accessibility to devices, connectivity, etc.

However, what we do know is that without data you cannot interpret anything.

So where do we start?

  • understand what we want to do with the data
  • set parameters, goals and objectives around what we want to do with the data
  • assess what data we can access and where from
  • assess the data properties for it being robust, qualitative and quantitative, ie will it serve our purpose
  • start to build your own Data Mountain

To do this though you’d need to dedicate resources, both time and money to generate insights.


Standing on the shoulders of giants

There are those out there who have already done some of the leg work, some of it is fee-based and some free, see “social media market intelligence” and for fee-based see Social Bakers.

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King”

 “Social media presence increases customer loyalty!”

“Social media develops brand authority!” 

“Social media improves your Social Score element of the Search Algorithm which in turn improves SERP (search engine ranking placement)!”

“Social media allows you to easily share content!”

All these claims continue to be made in favour of increasing Social Media spend, but the evidence is not nearly as easy to find as the claims.

In a 2018 article in Forbes magazine it was claimed that “44% of businesses can’t measure Social Media ROI”.  

The Forbes report goes onto explain what options you have to track, then qualify and quantify your return. That businesses who invest time and budget in Social Media, but do not have any tracking in place should be a cause for concern.

Again building your data mountain, then mining it for information should then be a driver for action to ensure that investment is not only delivering a return but being continually adjusted to optimise that return.

The only claim above which really requires no investigation is the suggestion the SM provides an easy route to share content.  That is largely self-evident, the unasked question is what is the benefit to a business of users sharing content?  Where is the evidence that “improving reach” garners any benefits?


Scratching the surface to find the “Cart is before the Horse”

What research there is into social media interaction suggests that potentially the biggest problem facing businesses is not using social media, but properly understanding why consumers do so.  There appears to be a large perception gap between what businesses think is going on and what social media users are doing with the platforms. 

To give one telling example, in their paper, “From social media to social customer relationship management”, Baird and Parasnis discovered that while 71% of businesses thought that the most important engagement with customers was to inform them about new products, consumers were most interested (61%) in searching for discounts. 

While entirely understandable, those are vital differences as those two aspirations will pass each other as ships in the night, negating a large percentage of business SM spend.

Another favourite trope of the social media advocates is that the platforms engender a sense of engagement and belonging.  In the sample surveyed for the above paper, businesses were clearly listening to the ‘experts’, as 61% stated that their use of SM was to “be part of a community”.  A laudable goal, but not one shared on the other side of the divide where only 22% of respondents shared this goal.

“Do consumers of social media really share content?”

“Does this create a sense of ‘shared community’?”

Would perhaps this goal be better served by dedicated forums where user-generated content is shared between those who are genuinely interested in products or services? 


Intelligent Design

Intelligent design is necessary, here as elsewhere, to understand what consumers do and why they do it.  Only then can a business align its activity with the goals of its audience.  Failing to achieve that leads to poor return on investment, poor reach and little or no meaningful engagement.

The loyalty argument doesn’t seem to stand up to scrutiny either:

“Of the executives surveyed for this study, almost three-fourths (70 percent) believe reaching out to customers via social media will help them increase customer advocacy.  However, consumers are divided on this issue. Only 38 percent feel social media interactions with a business will have a favourable influence on their loyalty to that company, 28 percent are neutral and as many as a third (33 percent) say their social media interactions will not make them feel more loyal to that business” (Baird & Parasnis)

If these examples are in any way accurate, there is a huge divide between what the self-appointed social media experts are saying and what the users of social media are actually doing.  A failure by business to appreciate this divide will blind them to the true value of SM, if indeed a value can be found.

The paper by Baird and Parasnis is relatively rare in that it attempts to quantify social media use rather than relying on perceived truths.  While you should be professionally sceptical of any survey, an instance where methodology, sample size etc. is clearly laid out, warrants some attention.

Even then we need to be mindful of the context: Mark Twain when quoting Disraeli said: “There are three kinds of falsehoods: lies, damned lies & statistics”, not because statistics can be manipulated but that statements without evidence are just unfounded assumptions.

Herein lies the crux of the social media dilemma for businesses: they are constantly being told that social media is the most dynamic route to reach and engage with their customers, and to grow that customer base; those much-sought-after customers, on the other hand, do not seem to have got that message and are busy searching for Groupon vouchers…  How do you square that circle?


Realigning expectation

By ‘realigning expectation’ we are suggesting nothing particularly novel; rather the importance of good business practices in a rapidly changing world.  Social media is unlikely to go away, but before you can derive benefit from it, you must understand what the users of social media are after. 

As Baird and Parasnis state, “Actually, most (customers) do not engage with companies via social media simply to feel connected. It turns out, customers are far more pragmatic. To successfully exploit the potential of social media, companies need to design experiences that deliver tangible value in return for customers’ time, attention, endorsement and data”.  In short, being your friend is not what they are after, consumers of social media are looking to satisfy a need from their engagement, or to put it more crudely “what is in it for them?”.

One of the problems that flow from this is determining what that benefit may be.  It could be fleeting and very personal – information or entertainment, or it could be cold, hard cash in terms of discounts. 

Such evidence as is available suggests that to focus on the fluffy; the feel-good, the laughs and to imagine that this alone will magically translate into increased sales is delusional. Here’s an example of exactly this situation from an e-commerce business owner, https://ecommerce.shopify.com/c/ecommerce-gallery/t/lots-of-impressions-but-no-sales-413788

Planning goals and how to achieve those goals is as important to a business using social media as it is in any other aspect of their overall strategy.  Unless you just like posting stuff because it makes you feel good about yourself as a business, a failure to understand what you hope to achieve will result in a poor return on investment.

Despite being exciting and shiny, social media is no different from any other aspect of business – it must work for you in some way to be worthwhile.  Like so much associated with the internet, it has been hyped to the point that it is difficult to determine whether it is a fad or the potential cure for mortality.  Deciding where it should rank in your online priorities can be difficult, that’s where we can help.

It is critical that you factor the following into your approach to social media:

Do you understand:

  • The purpose of having a social media presence?
  • Who your audience is?
  • The intelligent design of your social media strategy?

Once you have achieved that you need to have:

  • Clear strategy for using social media
  • Clear, well-understood, SMART objectives
  • Regular monitoring of your social media effort


There are many social media management tools available to companies to help them manage their social media presence and crucially analyse the results and effects of their strategy.  How can you fix something if you don’t know that it isn’t working?

With years of experience and a proven track record, Inspire can help you sort the wheat from the chaff without resorting to hyperbole or unicorns. 

A successful online presence is the result of hard work and informed decisions.  If you are unsure where to begin, or you are unhappy with your current strategy, talk to us to discover how things can be done differently.


Brand Management, CLV, CRM, Customer Experience, Customer Lifetime Value, Customer Relationship Management, CX, e-Marketing, Facebook, Facebook Ads, Google Analytics, Social Media Ads, Social Media Management, Social Media Tools, Social Proof, User eXperience, UX Design, Web Consultancy
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