Facebook and Twitter have become powerful marketing tools for many brands. But where there are tremendous opportunities, there can also be serious risks.
I've watched with fascination as an increasing number of companies invest in social media marketing without pausing to think through the outcomes of this approach. This post reviews four good reasons why you should pause for thought as you embark on your own social strategy.
Take, for example, the fact that more and more Fortune 500 companies are closing their television and display adverts with a call-to-action sending users to the brand's Facebook page with no mention of their own company site: "Check us out on Facebook" or "Follow us on Twitter".
You've seen this, done this or recommended your clients do it. And it is a huge coup for both of these companies. Getting other firms to pay billions of dollars a year to build your brand is an amazing feat.
When I first saw this, I thought this had to be a mistake. How in the world would companies of this size feel comfortable doing this? This was an obvious sign to me that the market still requires much education about the opportunity with social media.
While everyone jockeys for budgets to maximise their social media potential, I thought it would be a perfect time to pose the question:
What are the reasons you DON'T need a social media strategy?
ROI is hard to quantify
We're all in business to sell products or services. Are there consumer brands out there that can conclusively state that they've seen an uplift in their overall sales (besides Zynga) because they created a Facebook page?
So let's take a step back and put it this way. When you do create a brand page and people visit or become your fans, what happens next? For the most part, the answer is "nothing." Once you have X number of fans, it's really just an ego number, with limited sales to show for it.
Your brand is out of your control
Brand protection is one of the biggest challenges with blind ad networks. How do I know my brand isn't showing up next to some horrible contextual ad alongside negative publicity about my company?
Simply put, how do I know my brand isn't being associated with porn, drugs, etc.? The answer with blind networks is you really don't. We've all seen examples of adverts gone wrong on the FAIL blog.
On Facebook, the relevant question that needs to be posed is "how do I know my brand isn't being shown next to some kid's drunk snaps from the night before?" Some may say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but I'd bet many brand managers (and lawyers) would argue otherwise.
You're handing over your hard-earned customer data and relationships
I find it amazing that companies give away the opportunity to own their 1:1 customer relationships. While intentions might be good, most brands don't realise they're spending money to build Facebook's customer database instead of their own.
A good analogy would be the difference between paying rent on a real estate property (paying for someone else's ownership), versus paying your own mortgage for a long-term investment.
Not only are these companies building someone else's customer database, but they're also missing out on the opportunity to leverage valuable analytics and insights from repeat, loyal customers.
For instance, when consumers return to your site, what specific products or keywords are they searching for, or what coupons are consumers most interested in? Do you think social media sites will give you that type of data? Also, would you be frustrated if these sites used consumer data from your brand page to targets competitive ads to your customers? Just ponder that for a minute.
You can't protect your users' privacy
User privacy can't be overlooked. One of the comments from Facebook about why they haven't gone public yet is because they still want to take a lot of risk (understandable, and I don't disagree).
In fact, they've taken some extremely bold moves to export user's data (see the most recent article on TechCrunch). The repercussions of some of these moves may be at the expense of some of their advertising partners (albeit unintended). Refer to: your brand is out of your control.
I recently met with an executive from a top five CPG brand who expressed interest in "getting access to consumer data" in order to build a relationship with his customers.
Now this company has its strategy in the right place, by asking the critical questions of "How do I leverage consumer data to create a long-lasting relationship with my customers?" and "How can I leverage their information (demo, personal preferences, etc.) in a way that helps me enhance that relationship?" If you're sending your customers to your Facebook page instead of your site, you're missing out on a wealth of data that can help you better serve your customers.
When embarking on the journey of social media marketing, be careful what you wish for. You may get that expanded social media budget, but in the process you may also forsake your relationships with your customers with no hope of future insights, spend money with little transparency on ROI, unknowingly sponsor a privacy scandal, or place your brand in a compromising situation.