The lie of the social media conversation

Social media conversation

Over 10 years ago, The Cluetrain Manifesto gave us the phrase “markets are conversations,” and with the advent of social media, we stretched that to imply that both individuals and brands should be conversing, but despite well-worn examples of some brands conversing with their customers, I’m not convinced there really is a social media conversation for brands.

Brands don’t want to converse with their clients. They want to sell more stuff. For every @ComcastCares, Zappos, or Microsoft help channel, how companies completely ignore online engagement opportunities? I, myself, have written about Comcast, Logitech, Men’s Wearhouse, and Sandals customer service only to have not one of them even acknowledge the posts, and in the case of Men’s Wearhouse, I was praising them, which would have been a softball for any of their customer service representatives monitoring blogs.

Social media is complicated

via wizgd

Individuals engaging in social media feels normal. It’s a lot like talking to friends, or at least people you have something in common with. Brands engaging in social media feels odd, but we want it to be right. If brands can talk to you through social media, they should. Shouldn’t they?

Valuing social media is really hard.

The problem is that we expect brands to respond to tweets, Facebook Page complaints, blog posts, and more, but they don’t want to, and they have to justify spending time on paying attention to you in social media, which is hard to value properly, rather than a plethora of competing channels that are significantly easier to value:

  • On-site.
  • Telephone.
  • Email.
  • Website.
  • Advertising.
  • Broadcast.
  • And more.

I worked specifically on social media measurement for 2 years of my career and have spent a large portion of the following 3 years continuing to work in this space, and while social media is measurable, it is difficult because we don’t always have comparable cross-channel metrics and sometimes have to set company-specific conversions or valuations. For example, in every social media channel, you can value activity partially by the users driven from those channels into your website, phone system, or other more traditional channels. If X spend $X in salaries, tools, or vendors on Twitter and Y number of twitterers visit your website and buy products or service worth $Z, you have an easy ROI calculation.

BUT that’s not everything. How much is customer service on Twitter worth? Well, if you spend $A answering questions that help B number of twitterers that do not call in and use up employee time answering their questions individually, just look at how much money you spent answering those questions on Twitter and how much you saved by not answering them individually.

Now, how about the branding, awareness, goodwill, and all of those other fuzzy things?

Cat got your tongue

via BarelyFitz

Cat got your tongue?

Thought so.

You get buzz metrics from social media, but that doesn’t make branding, awareness, or goodwill any more measurable. Rather, it just means that we get tough-to-measure metrics paired with still-somewhat-foreign media, and that equals out to a reluctance to budget marketing dollars toward these channels.

And, so it comes back to markets.

Whether you like it or not, brands value markets they can measure first, markets they understand second, and only then markets they’re told are supposed to be valuable third, and social media in most cases falls into that third category.

So, next time Frigidaire, or Dairy Queen, or your local dry cleaner does not pay attention to your social media praise or hatred, don’t be shocked. You have been sold the lie of the social media conversation, and they make decisions based on dollars.

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