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Deflecting the Assault on Social Media

by Jason Falls  |  
November 8, 2012

If you believe in Gartner's Hype Cycle, we've entered the Plateau of Productivity (when a technology is widely accepted) for social media marketing. It's no longer a shiny new object. With more understanding and security than ever, businesses are adopting social as a communications channel. More and more businesses are using it for practical---if not strategic---reasons.

But we're only beginning to see the plateau, and the skeptics are still afoot. B.J. Mendelson is the latest to come out with guns blazing in his new book Social Media is B.S. (You'll have to spell out the naughty word to successfully find it online.) In his book, he proposes two hypothesis. The first is that small businesses can never succeed like big businesses in social because the only way big businesses do it is with massive advertising budgets or celebrity endorsement to anchor social success. The other is that social media consultants are all unqualified, snake-oil salesmen trying to line their pockets with your hard-earned dollars.

On Friday, Nov. 16, as part of the two-day Explore Portland event, I'll personal debate and interview Mendelson to hold his perspectives to task. I'd love for you to join me, and MarketingProfs can get you a nice discount to attend. (More on that later.)

While Mendelson's book has some salient points and isn't just a diatribe of doubt, he misses on many points. I'll point those out in Portland and hold him to task, but the general attack on social media marketing made me think it might be a good time to fortify our arguments for any folks that might join the naysayer courses as we continue to fight for our budgets and staffing.

Good Social Is Integrated Social

Mendelson's claims that big social successes are not social successes at all is just sleight of hand. The Old Spice "The Way You Wish Your Man Smelled" campaign was a tremendous success and used elements of television, print and direct mail coupons, public relations, and social media. The social elements were high buzz drivers and given a lot of credit for the campaign's success. But instead of saying, "They used other mechanisms, therefore it isn't a social media success story," we should say, "It was a well-done, integrated marketing campaign."

Social media played a part. As it should for many of your brand's campaigns. Thinking social alone will drive your brand is like applying for admission to only one college. You'd better hope you get in.

Small Businesses Don't Have to Be Big Businesses

The main flaw of Mendelson's arguments are around the notion he is looking out for small businesses but showing examples of how big businesses leveraged opportunities besides true social media to be successful. There are no real examples or attacks on small businesses doing and using social in his book. This apples-to-oranges comparison, coupled with the fact that dozens of small- and midsize-business case studies and B2B case studies can be found with a simple search, shows us that social media marketing does work. Ask Miss Shirley's, a Baltimore-based restaurant, which saw an 18% increase in sales over three months by simply integrating Foursquare into their communications platform.

Not All Social Media Consultants Are Alike

Are there snake-oil salesmen out there? Certainly. But lumping all marketing consultants or agencies into a bucket of scum just because you've run across one or suspect another is professional prejudice driven by ignorance. I've never cared for the social media "expert" criticisms because if the client of that person or company is happy with their results, who are we to criticize? Mendelson seems to infer that business owners like you are foolish enough to hire snake-oil salesmen to handle your social media marketing. If you are, you'll learn quick. But I think most business owners and clients are savvy enough to tell the stuff from Shinola. After all, the only group of people you don't hear complaining about snake-oil salesmen are the clients.

Social Media Marketing Isn't Easy

The people who proclaim that social media is B.S. or that it doesn't work probably fall into two categories: They either know nothing about it and are projecting their own fear or ignorance to avoid change or learning something know, or they have tried and failed. But failure doesn't mean the whole thing doesn't work. It only means you've not found the right formula yet.

Mendelson tried to raise money using social media a few times and failed. He tried to leverage social networks for a few clients and failed. According to his book, he went at it for … wait for it … six whole years. And he is now expert enough to tell us that it doesn't work. At all.

Too often today, marketers are looking for an easy button. We're too busy, have too much noise and not enough signal, and we just need someone to take X or Y off our hands, so we can focus on being successful. Because of the seemingly free and easy access and droves of audience members available, marketers have often transferred that easy button solution onto social media. That will save us!

But it won't. And if it does work, it won't be because it was easy. It will be because you put in the work and made it happen for you and your brand.

Don't let the naysayers stop you now. Social media isn't B.S. Especially for those who don't want it to be.

Jason Falls is the CEO of Social Media Explorer and host of Explore Portland, Nov. 15-16 in Portland, Ore. MarketingProfs members get a special discount. Register at and use the discount code MPROFS for 50% off the ticket price.
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  • by Richard Massicott Thu Nov 8, 2012 via blog

    Anyone have actual ROI with social media programs not calculated on correlation only?

  • by Tim Thu Nov 8, 2012 via blog

    Under your last point you said, "It only means you’ve not found the right formula yet."

    This is something I took out of reading Mendelson's book. There were assertions he made and I think sweeping generalizations that really didn't strengthen his book, but the big picture idea I did take away from it was that it is time to step back...

    I hope this does heat the dialogue up a bit, as I responded to the SMM facebook post, I'm a student and it seems very "full speed ahead" to me...the book was refreshing in that aspect...

    I obviously won't be able to attend the debate, but will be on the look out for some kind of coverage.

  • by Jason Falls Thu Nov 8, 2012 via blog

    Interesting question, Richard. To produce that, you'd have to market in a social media vacuum. Consumers encounter your brand in various touch points, so calculating ROI on specific channels requires isolation from other channels (not smart marketing in most cases).

    But, there are plenty of case studies out there (many profile here on MProfs) that show ROI calculation through social. One of my favorite examples is Miss Shirley's in Baltimore, Maryland, which only added Foursquare promotions to their marketing mix in 2010 (changed nothing else, to my knowledge) and drove an 18% increase in sales in three months. Technically, this was correlation though. You can sell on Foursquare. (But that's getting too granular.)

    To be fair, I think most case studies are based on correlation, but when social is the only element added to the total marketing mix, you can get a strong indication that the correlation is accurate.

    If you sell products (or capture leads) online, however, you can isolate the sources of the inbound traffic in your analytics software and know X came from Facebook visitors, Y from Twitter, Z from your blog, etc.

    Does that help?

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