Why marketing on Facebook may nothelp your business

social-media-truth

Time to read: 5 minutes.

Like many marketers, 1800Flowers is intoxicated by excitement over “social media” and the supposed revolution it’s creating.  But are you willing to bet your marketing dollars on customers shopping using Facebook?  Why?  The excitement and expectation around social media is too often illogical and dangerous.  Yes — it’s smart to experiment but yes it DOES cost real money to do so.  No — most marketers CANNOT  afford to fail using social media in a down economy.  Resist bloggers, trade media and “experts” in their rush to hail “all that is Facebook” as bold and innovative.  Here’s how.

Facebook changes nothing — yet

First, let’s quickly explore why we should catch our breath when it comes to Facebook.  Jim McCann and his otherwise brilliant team are jumping on the social media hype-and-spin bandwagon and, as I see it, failing to truly innovate. I see this use of Facebook is a gratuitous one based on what I’m observing so far.  Can you afford to follow?  Mr. McCann says…

“Facebook is redefining the social Web, a cultural and social phenomenon that has changed the way we connect with one another,” says 1800Flowers CEO Jim McCann as he whips the ‘social media’ hype engine into overdrive — blowing by rational thought.

Facebook cannot re-define the social Web.  Facebook isn’t doing anything that others aren’t doing — it just has more mass.  Secondly, the social Web isn’t a cultural or social phenomenon that’s changed the way we connect with one another.  The social Web merely makes what we’ve done for generations easier, faster and boarder-less.

The “Age of Conversation” is NOT now (yes, the book is wrong too!).  The “Age of Conversation” has existed since the beginning of human existence.  It’s how we’ve always engaged in commercial transactions — commerce, trade, barter.  In this reality-based context, Facebook changes very little for marketers — not yet.  Would you agree?

We’ve been there, done that — it didn’t work

The investment in a pop-up storefront on Facebook is a new idea?  Nope, it’s a seriously old one.  ePods, Affinia!, Nexchange, iMediation and a list of about a dozen other failed companies tried this and failed in the early 1990’s.  Nearly ever major publisher has tried to set up mini-storefronts using simple (affiliate marketing) to complex (drop-shipping) tech tools that link up sellers and publishers.  Fail.

“But things have changed, Jeff… this is the era of Web 2.0!”

Indeed, it is and we now have FAR more media on the Web being created by far more entities of all sorts.  “Consumers” spend FAR more time consuming and creating content than searching or buying.  So now things have changed… right?  According to their technology partner, Alvenda (a rather retro-startup providing those same pop-up storefronts) they have.

1800Flowers believes people are aching to engage in ecommerce away from their ecommerce site. Why?

What gives Mr. McCann the belief that this is going to work — that people actually WANT to shop from within Facebook?  I understand and respect the fact that consumers are busy NOT paying attention to ads and are ENORMOUSLY “engaged” by social media — distracted from buying stuff and only buying what they really NEED these days.  Problem.  Got it… but???

Beware: The ‘it costs next to nothing’ myth

Many of you have said, “but Jeff why not… what’s the opportunity cost… it’s next to nothing!”

I will continue to be accused of having an “anti-experimental” attitude toward social media.  I’m not anti-experimental.  I’m anti-silly; anti-illogical; anti-flash-in-the-pan-voodoo marketing.  I’m pro-reality.

It absolutely costs real, hard-earned dollars to experiment with social media.  Time is money!

Add up the costs of all that time we’re spending experimenting on social media pet projects that are designed to fail.

“But, Jeff, I’m putting a college intern on it…”

Beware: The ‘they’re young, they get it’ myth

Ok… but in real life when you put someone with NO experience on a project you FAIL.  Somehow, with social media, MY thinking on this is the failure — based on the belief systems of most marketers I talk to.  Many marketers believe that the key to success is…

Putting someone young on the project and paying them nothing actually increases the odds of success — they “get it.”

Somehow the experience they get with immersing themselves on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  changes everything.  Their experience is valued — to the extent that we can afford to experiment and hope that remarkable business outcomes happen.

Somehow the (often narcissistic) immersion of young folk QUALIFIES them to get the job done and supports our belief that something meaningful will emerge in social media.  Really?  Really.

‘Branding’ & social media: Re-defining failure as success

“But Jeff, there are countless examples of successful companies that have used college interns or inexperienced talent to net REAL results on Twitter and Facebook.”

Yes but how do many marketers define success?  How many times have you heard a marketer re-define a failure?

“This campaign didn’t achieve the sales/sales lead goal but it was a BRANDING success.”

When marketers’ campaigns fail to actually create tangible business outcomes we often fall back on that comfy space — “branding.”  Somehow marketers get away with this re-setting of the goal-post (for decades now) but research indicates that this won’t last much longer — not in this tough economy.

Too often we hear marketers define success in terms that are un-acceptable to the C-Suite (CFO’s in particular).  Here are a few popular ones:  Twitter followers, Facebook friend count, “engagement.”

How to avoid becoming a social eCommerce failure

The 1800Flowers Facebook storefront is one of two things:

  1. A failure to actually innovate (propped up by the belief that there’s no cost involved in trying) or
  2. A failure to create brand value to customers and prospective customers

Why is the company investing in social network marketing?  Because it needs to innovate — that’s a core expectation of its many investors.  Why did Amazon acquire Zappos?  Largely based on market expectations.  Yet I believe 1800Flowers has given up on innovation or is simply too large to innovate (which is what many are now saying about Google).

More importantly, I believe Mr. McCann’s crew have failed to create enough brand value among customers to keep their attention.  If a company cannot rely on its database of happy customers, it’s Web site, it’s catalog — everything that it traditionally relies on — what CAN it depend on?

I see the company’s social media pipe dreams as a scream for help in a tough market… I’ll admit.

When it comes to social network marketing we need to act responsibly in this new economy.  The first step in doing so is to realize that many bloggers, trade media and “experts” are irrationally rushing to hail “all that is Facebook” as bold and innovative — automatically and based on faulty reasoning.  I admit this reasoning is quite popular… yet this supports my point.  To rise above mediocrity a company must think strategically — resist following the lead of others tactically.  Think first, then act.  What do you think?

Comments

  1. says

    Great piece. If you look at Social like just another channel of revenue into your company and put some real effort and resources (i.e. time and money) behind it like they seem like they are doing, it can only be a good thing exposure-wise. All companies need to be doing “more” with their social media, just what that is isn’t clear. I like companies trying things like this, we can learn from it and do it better ourselves. But good luck to them with it. I think Facebook has definitely opened up a whole new channel of Internet advertising that needs to be leveraged for all it’s worth just like search, ppc, affiliates, etc..and that only comes with good managemant and money to grow it…

  2. says

    “the social Web isn’t a cultural or social phenomenon that’s changed the way we connect with one another. The social Web merely makes what we’ve done for generations easier, faster and boarder-less (sic).”

    That is sort of like saying the automobile did not change the way we travel. It just made it easier, faster and expanded horizons. Those things in and of themselves are changes, in addition it impacted how populations migrated, cities collapses and grew, suburbs for better or worse grew. The impact fundamentally goes beyond the most easily grasped tangible elements of the innovation. Trying to unravel the answer of the automobile as a mass produced vehicle for human travel needs as Oldsmobile began “mass” production in 1902 would be a coin flip.

    Look there is without question a ton of “hype” regarding social media and its influence on society, but breaking it down to speed is a bit disingenuous.

    There is waste in Facebook and Twitter, just like there has been and continues to be waste in Television, Print and Radio. Like in any media platform you have to find opportunities and develop strategies for success. Just having it does not make it golden egg.

    • says

      Patrick…
      Thanks for calling bull on me a bit :). Your candor and critical analysis is refreshing. I’m confident that you see my point — re: the hype and spin and the need to end it… so we can progress with the finding “opportunities to develop successful strategies.” By engaging in unbridled hyperbole we’re actively doing ourselves a dis-service. I think we’ve been able to afford that for decades now (all the waste). Moving forward in this economic climate we simply cannot. The new economy we live in demands far more of marketers. It demands they become BUSINESS-minded scientists not artistic guesstimators.

      I hope you will consider lingering here and keep my comments focused and balanced. It’s the only way I can learn and serve the best purpose!

  3. says

    Not calling you out, engaging in a great conversational topic you have started.

    We are entirely in agreement that there is a high degree of hyperbole.

    As users or proponents of any goods, service, technology or communication tool we should always be careful to not over sell its value without an underlying premise of how & why, the essence of strategy and sound thinking.

    I think the lesson is what worked for packaged goods companies when TV first became a mass communication vehicle most certainly has crumbled as an easy solution today. The early efforts of the likes of JetBlue, Dell, Zappos and your example of 1800Flowers recent foray are all great in the moment stories of social media marketing. But it warrants serious consideration how quickly their current models of using social media will last for them, and what is on the horizon. It is easy to have a “page” on Facebook, it is not easy to keep your fans engaged. It might be fun, but not easy.

  4. says

    Not to belabor the point but I’d also like to add that “engagement” is the new “branding” in my opinion. We hear a lot of branding executives (you know, the guesstimate folks) jumping ALL over social media “engagement” simply because it’s so much like un-tracked, un-metered/un-measured “mental states” they’re trying/hoping to create among customers.

    I’m more interested in talking to guys like Paul Rosenfeld of Fanminder (who agreed to be interviewed, bye the way, so stay tuned!) who measure Twitter against business metrics — like lead QUALITY.

    See comments here: http://budurl.com/kwew

  5. says

    If brand managers try to dumb down “engagement” to hey we have a Facebook page we engage, they are going to be feeling some serious pain in trying to defend integrating social media into their mix. “Engagement” must be real and has to lead to tangible results. Whether that is assisting a customer in resolving a problem, or turning a problem into a moment of advocacy, engagment can’t come down to hey we feel your pain.

    Look forward to seeing the interview, quality is where it needs to be at, and if it can get down lead quality all the better.

  6. Michael Brucker says

    Jeff,

    Great article on keeping social media hyperbole & goal-setting in check.

    I’ve been digging into appropriate metics to set and measure SM campaign success against. Look foward to your future articles.

  7. Jason Stone says

    Jeff,

    Just wanted to send you a quick note of thanks. This article is just the sort of piece I want to read. I had the misfortune of attending a social media event on Friday where one of the panelist’s expert insights to every SMB owner in the room was, “Get on Facebook!” We need to see more arguments like yours. My hope is that sooner than later we will return to efforts that start with sound business strategies.

    Jason Stone
    St. Louis, MO
    @stlwebmarketing

    • says

      Hi, Jason…
      With pleasure. Perhaps equally if not more refreshing is this insightful piece from Mark Drapeau http://is.gd/aDF5I who has the audacity :) to suggest “I honestly don’t think that social media is that revolutionary. And I think that thinking that it is makes everything overly complicated.”

      Which is precisely what I’m lecturing on lately — on speaker circuit. I’m also writing a book on the subject. How to overcome the urge to continue to be suckered into this stuff — believing that we don’t actually have the answers already. We do!

      Check out what Morton’s is bragging about today. http://budurl.com/6cvn Anything new here? Roger Drake is proud to suggest that the goal for Morton’s when using the social Web is “to get the message out.” When asked if he’d actually be interested in organizing around customer behaviors — so that he can prompt them in more reliable ways he responds:

      “Our whole strategy with putting information up and anything to do with our social-networking pages is to keep it organic and not make it too mechanical.”

      I’ll take that as a “we love mass communications just the way it is” no.

      The moment marketers are asked to actually organize and operationalize the Web they flake out. But somehow they also get to say how effective social media is for them??!! And nobody calls them on it… it being a gratuitous use. Posting pictures of family celebrations at their restaurant as a desired outcome for Morton’s business? I’d hardly call that meaningful or relevant. Unfortunately, it’s par.

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