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Has social media broken its promise?

lbfl ConsultancySocial MediaHas social media broken its promise?
8 October 2017

Has social media broken its promise?

10 years ago, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) convinced the world traditional advertising was dead. He’s no doubt about to tell us that the same is about to happen again..

Back in 2007, Facebook generated $153m in annual revenues, a figure that it today makes every 48 hours. In 2007 many analysts were impressed with Facebook’s audience size but were uncertain that the company could turn it into profit.

What Mark Zuckerberg told the assembled executives that day laid the foundations for a system that would surely become the biggest advertising business the world has ever seen.

Having said that, the actual content of Zuckerberg’s pitch that day, turned out to be almost completely false. The new concept, ‘Facebook Ads‘ as he called them, was billed as a “completely new way of advertising online”. The old model of advertising that had dominated the last century, in which advertisers force-fed messages to consumers, was about to become outdated and replaced by a sexy advertising model in which advertising became “part of the conversation”. It was to be a new kind of ad system to spread messages virally.

Immediately after the announcement the first 40 big brands – including Coca-Cola, Sony, Dove and Blockbuster – launched the first corporate pages onto Facebook and the dawn of social media marketing began.

Social media’s target audience.

Social media use

Absolutely, the target audience is huge. But before taking this at face value, just ask yourself two simple questions –

  1. How many brands do I follow and when was the last time I revisited that brand?
  2. When was the last time I shared a brand’s post, and how far did that go?

Now pause for thought.

The Oreo Tweet.

The ‘Oreo Tweet’ at the 2013 Super Bowl was heralded as massively impactful! It did in fact barely reach a fraction of 1% of the target market. Here’s the tweet:

Oreo tweetThis was the tweet that became known as ‘the tweet that was heard around the world.

Well here’s the thing you won’t know, what was the CTR (click though rate)? Has anyone sat you down and ever told you anything about CTR’s? I thought not. Well here they are for 2013:

Twitter CTR 2013

At that time Oreo had 65,000 followers so let’s take a look at the numbers.

  1. 65,000 followers.
  2. We’ll allow a generous CTR of 2%, although it’s actually 0.45%.
  3. 1,300 followers opened the link.
  4. Re-Tweeted 15,000 times. Often referred to as amplification.
  5. x 208 followers (US Average) – 3,120,000+
  6. x 2% (not 0.45%) CTR.
  7. 62,400 followers.

Let’s follow the logic through, we have 1,300 (opening the link) + 62,400 followers giving the total of 63,700 total tweets – “the tweet that was heard around the world.”

In the US; at that time, Oreo had 40,000,000 customers of which 64,300 saw the tweet, that’s 0.02% of their target market.

At the same time, 108,000,000 were watching the Super Bowl on TV in the US. 47% of those were ad viewing (eyes on screen), so if you had a TV Ad running it would have be seen by 50,000,000 people.

I’m not saying that social media is bad, but on which planet do you have to live to realise that the TV Ad always beats the Social Media, for reach, impact, engagement, etc.

BRW - OreoBut according to Wired and BRW; amongst others, the tweet beat the ad.

This is poor, sloppy journalism that gives marketers a completely false impression of the market place.

The Oxford English dictionary defines Social Media as:

Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.


Let’s examine what goes on in the world of Facebook. Remember that the global target audience – 2.789 billion and it’s still growing.

I decided to look at the top UK brands in 2017, which are listed at Interbrands. This gives me a list of the top UK brands of 2017. I then did some follow up research into each brand, particularly at the number of likes versus the customer base and the number of followers/likes for each company in a recent month – September 2017 (at the time of writing). This reveals something that few; if anyone, ever discusses when you might be considering social media as a serious business tool.

CompanyUK LikesVisitsSeptember likesMonthly follow/likes

Draw your own conclusions; the like percentages are extremely small and remember that social media is just another marketing channel.

I’m not advocating that you or your business need not use social media, I just wanted to give some context in terms of social media’s ‘Big Brand‘ reach.

TV is dead, long live TV!

I’m sure that we’ve all been told that the days of TV and Radio numbered, and that they’re no longer useful for advertising. The fact is that both are doing well, and this is borne out by the latest viewing figures:

  1. For the first time, Thinkbox reports 2015 figures for all TV viewing in the UK on any screen.
  2. The average viewer in the UK watched a total of 3 hours, 51 minutes of TV a day in 2015.
  3. Average viewer in the UK spends 4 minutes a day watching TV on devices such as tablets and smartphones.
  4. 16-24s watch over twice as much TV on other devices as the average viewer.
  5. TV accounts for 76% of video consumption in the UK.
  6. YouTube now accounts for 4.4% of video viewing.
  7. SVOD services, including Netflix and Amazon Prime, together account for 4% of video viewing.

Source: Thinkbox

Whilst we all think that TV’s dead, it’s far from it. Okay, I accept that Youtube viewing figures are up a few percentage points, but does it deliver? How many times do we wait to ‘close’ a Youtube advert – 5 seconds, certainly not much more? There are some Youtube adverts that cannot be ‘closed’ – you have to sit through the whole thing before you can watch the video, often minutes at a time. I suspect that this will eventually detrementally impact on Youtube viewing figures.

Lindsey Clay, Thinkbox CEO

“What is remarkable is that in the last decade, when so many new technologies and services have arrived that could have disrupted TV, TV viewing has remained so dominant.”

How many times are we told by social media companies that TV is finished. These very same companies; who promised us a new route to market – a ‘promised land,‘ are now to join the broadcasters!

In May, Amazon unveiled plans to expand its TV ambitions by adding 40 TV channels to its UK streaming service, including ITV and live sport such as Grand Slam tennis and the Olympics. Earlier this month Facebook launched a new TV-like rival Watch, and Google-owned YouTube has a TV channel service as well as subscription product Red.

Kettle and pot spring to mind. The same is also true for SEO and PPC ( paid search), these too were about to be replaced by social back in the day.

How Search Beats Social

First, let’s look at the reasons why you might want to choose search engine marketing over social media marketing.

Think about your own habits. Whenever you are looking for something, from a local garage company to a zumba instructor, where do you go first? Most likely, you will go to a search engine – Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, AOL, or one of the many other search options available.

A recent report (by Econsultancy) found that 61% of consumers use search engines to help them in product research before making a purchase. This means that if you want to get discovered, you will want to rank well for your target keywords.

Paid search.

Here again, this was another area in which social, if you believe the hype, was supposed to be consigned to the bin. The simple truth is however, from paid search (PPC) experience, that although paid search and SEO may cost more to deliver, the results are far better, measurable and quantifiable, just like good old fashioned direct response channels like – ‘junk mail.’

How Social Beats Search

Now, let’s look at where social media marketing meets or beats search engine marketing.

Peer Recommendations Happen with the Click of a Like

In the same report by Econsultancy, they found that 75% of people in the 18 – 26 age group (around 11% of the UK population in 2016 – ONS) used recommendations on social sites in product research before making a purchase. One of the nice sides to social media is once you have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, peer recommendations will happen when someone likes your page, mentions your Twitter handle, or tags your brand name. When someone takes these actions, their connections will see them which may help your business get discovered by others with that perceived seal of approval.

But then again look at the statistics shown in my top UK brands table (above) and ask an obvious question – just how many likes do I expect and what’s the CTR? Then ask your agency for the CTR.

Food for thought.

As I said earlier, I’m not advocating that you should abandon social media as a marketing tool, but rather question the result that it’s likely to deliver, and how this might best fit your marketing arsenal.