[Initially this post was going to be a response to this post What Makes a True Social Business Strategist? from Business 2 Community – but it got a little bigger than that.]

Results: I have posted the results of the massive traffic boost this post has given me this week: Breaking Down the "Value" of a Viral Hit on Social Media

Update: I just noticed what’s missing from this entire post and the graph below. MOBILE. You’d better get your mobile theme and apps ready, cause indeed mobile is taking over the entire online space, for good, bad, and ugly.


It’s hard to figure out what to call this job. Online marketing is about as boring as it gets. But let me show you a few illuminating numbers.

Screen Shot 2013 04 02 at 1.13.23 PM Death of the Social Media Strategist: Overselling & Underperforming from the Start

Okay, do you see the problem? If all we talk about is "social media" we’re talking about 8% of the total marketing budget. There are plenty more ONLINE channels that could fall into our bucket, (email, seo, online ads) but as a line item, it’s easy to see how social is often not the first priority.

There are also some recent numbers that support the idea that social is a lot more effective at certain types of marketing.

Screen Shot 2013 04 02 at 2.43.07 PM Death of the Social Media Strategist: Overselling & Underperforming from the Start

But the bottom line is this, social media is PART of the MIX but it is not the solution. AS A SINGLE CHANNEL, social will deliver very little in terms of ROI. Here’s the good news, as part of a coordinated program (where social feeds email, and seo, and online ads) social media can be the "accelerant" that takes your ho hum program into something worth cheering for. But that’s the long story. The short story is this.

  1. Facebook ROI is some of the biggest mythology in online marketing
  2. Twitter as a lead or demand generation tool is greatly exaggerated
  3. Google Analytics can not tell you why visitors to your site chose to buy or not buy your product
  4. The entire mix of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogging, LinkedIn) still only accounts for 8% of the marketing budget

And the next piece of logic is this. If you are a social media strategist, you are expected to make that 8% jump through hoops, perform miracles, AND deliver ROI (which you must demonstrate with excel driven accuracy). It can be done. Well, part of it can be done. But without the total ONLINE MARKETING MIX working together, it’s like Tweeting randomly into the cavernous world of social media. You MIGHT get a RT or a tweetback response. But you are unlikely to get anything resembling success.

So we’ve set ourselves up to fail by cordoning off the most exciting part of the online mix, the part that has NEW STUFF to write about, and we’ve isolated ourselves from the other stakeholders who hold many of the keys to our success.

  • A landing page that underperforms will not convert better simply by throwing a new 100,000 visitors to the page.
  • An offer in the marketplace that isn’t being accepted isn’t going to be SOLD by building up LIKES and RECOMMENDATIONS on City Search or Yelp.
  • If your seo sucks, your page rank will suck and your social ads will not perform up to snuff either. Who’s in charge of your content?
  • Social media is about telling stories. If the only story you have to tell is, "Hey, green weenies are 25% off today." you’re not really adding much to the conversation. In order for social media to be social you have to have some content to socialize.

Activity is NOT an accurate measurement of social media success. Nor is Radian 6’s famed "share of voice" measurement. IF they are talking about you, great. If they are saying mainly good things about you, even better. IF they are NOT buying your product, the CEO and CFO will fire your ass, and they will be right in doing so. No matter how great your Google Analytics dashboards look. (Disclaimer, this scenario in no way resembles any previous engagement with any previous or future clients of mine. Ever.)

The questions are the same questions we ask of any other marketing program.

  1. What does it cost?
  2. How many potential customers can we reach? (calculate cost per customer)
  3. How many customers did we activate? (how many came to our site as result of the offer/program/tweet // calculate cost per reach)
  4. How many customers clicked the BUY NOW button. (pre-conversion metrics, so they expressed interest in your product // calculate cost per lead)
  5. How many customers PAID YOU and COMPLETED THE TRANSACTION? BOOM. The golden measuring stick of ROI. DID THEY BUY IT? (calculate cost per conversion)
  6. Finally, how much did each new customer cost you to acquire?

Without these numbers the CEO and CFO will crap all over your pretty charts and graphs. Some of the "measurement" PowerPoint decks I saw at Dell, about Christmas Online Campaigns would make me cry or laugh depending on my dependency to that specific project. If you don’t have ROI you’re not a real marketing program. If you can’t justify the cost per transaction, you need to start looking for a new line of work. (Perhaps social media strategy blogger is a better use of your expertise. I kid. I don’t make any money off Uber.la, I make money by doing a wizbang job of using Online Marketing to drive demand and ultimately sales of a specific product of service.)

So, the next time someone labels you a Social Media Strategist, tell them… Dang, I don’t have this answer yet. Tell them, "Social media is part of the work I do."

I need to go look at my LinkedIn profile right now and change the language of my expertise.

Social is cool, new, hip, and YES: powerful. But social alone is worth nothing. Without a landing page, a transactional opportunity and successful completion, social is worth much less than 8%. Social for "activity" and "share of voice" is worth applause and kudos, from your friends, but not the guys in the upper offices who are cutting the checks to Facebook and Google for social ads. You’d better get your ROI model firmly in place and justified so you can SHOW them why your program, position, project exists.

Good luck, I’m right in there with you, every day.

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

permalink: https://uber.la/2013/04/social-media-strategists/

The Essentials of Social Media Marketing:


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  • http://www.facebook.com/john.mcelhenney John McElhenney

    David, thanks for your comment. We’re all trying to get better at determining a baseline and improving from there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.mcelhenney John McElhenney

    We are definitely in a learning phase for businesses. Both as an employee (for Dell) and as a consultant we are in the business of educating business executives on what they can expect from social programs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.mcelhenney John McElhenney

    The point I am making is the same across all size of businesses. Social does not stand alone. WIthout the mechanics of the rest of the site and marketing work, social will have a limited effect. As for your numbers, I’m looking at the information in the report as my baseline. Yes, large B2B brands have a very different focus in what they are trying to accomplish with social media. But "branding" won’t directly contribute to your ROI which is usually what businesses base the performance of any campaign on. No ROI no additional or ongoing budget.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.mcelhenney John McElhenney

    Ash the link didn’t work. We’re not talking "digital" we’re talking social alone.

  • http://CreativeJourneyman.com/ Nando

    Thanks again for putting out there, loudly, the voice of reason.

    I’ll take Robert’s point in the comments (“A 20 minute conversation generally reveals that want they’re really asking for his help with marketing strategy and leaping into social without focus on the "basics" just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”) further: What many small businesses need is traditional marketing strategy, as in help with their Product, Price, Place, and Promotion, not just Promotion, which is what most of them have in mind when they call.

    We get referrals “for websites”, “social media marketing”, “SEO”, etc. and the conversation always ends up (and of course, at this point, we lead into) the need for a systematic approach to online marketing, in the context fo the business’ overall marketing. You know, the whole “marketing mix” thing. The education process can be exhausting, so much more because of all of the mis-information scattered around by ninjas…

  • Ash

    I agree with the point about these numbers. I checked the recent eMarketer numbers on digital spend and came across this (http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Digital-Account-One-Five-Ad-Dollars/1009592) article. The digital constitutes around 20%-25% of total ad spend. The chart above grossly overestimates it.

  • http://twitter.com/davidmartinez David Martinez

    I think there’s a baseline understanding for the core items, email marketing, online ads, seo, etc. – but client’s are going through an educational process. Shit, even I don’t know what the hell the baseline process is for great Social Media. Too many variables, articles and moving targets. Taking something like email marketing. Easy to understand, easy to sell, easy to consult on. I can understand my ROI on that easily…

  • http://twitter.com/nivcalderon Niv Calderon

    great post my friend! loved it

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=586578147 Jon Burg

    While I agree in many cases, I found this analysis somewhat lacking.

    My primary concerns is the lack of focus. Is this about small businesses, start-ups, or big brands? Having worked extensively in the "big brand" and now the "start up" space, the spending behaviors and expected returns are very different.

    Big consumer brands want to connect with customers better and more often. Yes, in this regard social helps sales. They are MANY CPG case studies on this one. There is ROI in the same sense that TV generates ROI (attribution modeling), but not the raw attribution we see in online banners. Not all returns are direct sales.

    Big B2B brands should be using social very differently. This is a wide open space where social has incredible but very different value. In B2B it’s more about providing relationship capital, and depending on the size of the target market, fostering the right dialog. This is even harder to prove, and while this has been demonstrated in case studies I do not believe we have cracked the B2B space.

    Startups on the other hand, are generally looking for PR and new users. The measure of ROI here is likely the size of the community and the discussion generated. In this case, many startups are using social highly effectively with strong returns.

    In many cases, the information presented is accurate. But this is far too broad a brush for far to detailed an analysis.

  • http://profiles.google.com/shava23 Shava Nerad

    The basic message is, the emperor has clothes and it takes a whole crew of valets to dress him. That’s how he gets to look so good.

    If you just want to go out in your scivvies and tie, you won’t get the right reaction from the public. 😉

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  • Maarten Bresser

    Great story! And we all get it. But do the companies we work for? In other words, will they understand social media are just one means in a whole host of them and let us combine them? Or, realize that social media (if you do not advertise) are for branding and communicating, not sales, and adjust their expectations.

  • https://uber.la jmacofearth

    Great point Robert.

  • http://twitter.com/robertlendvai Robert Lendvai 

    I get a lot of phone calls from companies wanting help with their social media strategy. A 20 minute conversation generally reveals that want they’re really asking for his help with marketing strategy and leaping into social without focus on the "basics" just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

  • https://uber.la jmacofearth

    Thanks Alexis. I know what you mean. We can do this and do it better.

  • http://www.smallbizcounseldaily.com/ Robert Rogers

    Ultimately, it comes down to knowing your audience. Know who you want to reach and figure out where they are ‘buying’ your product/service. Get your message there. Great summary here!

  • http://twitter.com/alexisrodrigue alexis rodrigue

    Great article and reminder to us all as social media strategist… well, you know what I mean.

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  • Adam of Dallas

    Excellent. You hit this straight on.