‘Social Media’ Is a Useless Idea

Sometimes it seems like the whole thing is a big, distributed CRM vending machine. But it’s not one thing. Social media is in fact many things, and they’re not really that similar.

Social Media TrendsI talk about social media A LOT these days.

That’s not because “likes” are some great indicator of marketing success. It’s because the interaction model of marketers and customers/prospects on social media is one of the most interesting and quickly changing fields in communications today. Things that a few decades ago had to happen in person or by mail now happen instantaneously with people you never even see, and many of them may actually be computer programs.

Sometimes it seems like the whole thing is a big, distributed CRM vending machine.

But it’s not one thing. Social media is in fact many things, and they’re not really that similar.

That’s why “social media” suddenly seems a useless idea. And perhaps it always was.

In the world where most of our interaction is happening online, are Facebook and Twitter really any more similar than mail and TV?

I don’t think they are. The strategies, creative and interaction on both of them are completely different, not to mention the advertising. Facebook is a gathering place, Twitter is a micro broadcasting platform. Instagram is for sharing your pictures, Pinterest is for sharing images you find around the Internet. LinkedIn is how you want to be remembered, and Snapchat is for the stuff you don’t want to remember.

It’s time we stopped talking about these different media channels as the same thing simply because they emerged from a vaguely similar time frame and technologies. Each one takes the kind of individual attention you give to executing your email program.

And if that’s the case, the singular idea of social media really isn’t useful anymore.

Like the traditional media channels, you don’t need to be on all of them. But the ones you do use must be respected as the unique platforms they are.

Author: Thorin McGee

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

21 thoughts on “‘Social Media’ Is a Useless Idea”

  1. To me there is some value. Facebook ads generate leads and sales for my online publishing business. LinkedIn is great for getting a job or finding potential clients. But POSTING on Facebook is largely a waste of time. Jon Kremer knows how to make Pinterest work, but most of us do not.

    1. But they’re each different, right? Trying to apply what works in one to another is useless.

      That’s why I think we need to start talking about them as separate media, and not lump them all together as “Social Media.”

  2. Thorin, I tried to email your excellent article to myself at my two long-standing email addresses and the program responded demanding that I enter a ‘valid’ email address. Can you get your techies to fix that? Thanks.

    1. Thank you, Peter!

      Did you enter an email address into the “from” line as well?

      You need to fill in both (even if you use the same email for both) so the email being sent is coming from someone.

  3. I understand what you are saying, but to me, that’s semantics. I do feel that social media is hugely overrated and produces a poor ROTI (return on time invested) more often than not.

  4. Thorin, you make a valid case here. No different than, say, the type of list purchased or TV channel/network, etc. Would you be interested in being interviewed for my upcoming podcast and an article I’m writing on this topic?

    Jim Raposa

  5. I completely agree, Thorin! More often than not what we are seeing is the same message syndicated across multiple platforms, regardless of audience or intended site usage. HootSuite (and similar tools) are great for saving time, but are they really useful? The message you post on FB should be tailored to that audience, in the same way that what you put on LinkedIn or Instagram should be geared toward that audience.

  6. I live in the center of Chicago – I can walk down the street naked today and nobody can notice because all of their eyes are buried in some screen trying to absorb the firehose of information blasted at a daily

    I can see the total lack of enthusiasm marketers have due to the overall lack of efficacy with social media.

    Couple of things I’ve learned – you have to treat social media as organic product. If you want to talk to your audience with robots like HootSuite it will damage your engagement we tested for this extensively.

    Facebook has become the king of “unintuitive” In the early part of 2014 before the pay to play debacle our Facebook page was ranked the third most engaged page in the e-commerce space (on Facebook). We were reaching 3 million of people a week organically. but sales did not follow regardless of what I did.

    Nobody and I’ve had one on one’s with several of the top talking heads in social media asking them why my website converts at 5% while my Facebook traffic converts at 002%.

    The typical answer wass something akin to “how about them Cubs?” Nobody had an answer

    Funny thing though, here I am 18 months later posting 2 to 3 times a week (to Facebook) versus 60 times a week (when Facebook told us we were on fire) with a current whopping engagement of about 60,000 fans weekly and yet our sales from Facebook traffic are 3000% to 5000% higher than the spring of 2014

    We both are now adopted unique approaches to Pinterest and unique approaches to twitter (and seven other social media platforms)

    The biggest eye-opener was when I removed all the social media icons from our website we saw almost a half a percent conversion bump – by not sending visitors away – DOH!

    Moral of the story is we don’t need social media social media needs us

    1. So does that mean the Facebook engagement you’re getting is more meaningful after the paid reach “debacle”?

      It sounds like it’s working out better for you, and with less effort. Or am I getting the wrong impression?.

      1. you’re right on Thorin – we share highly relevant content with big beautiful images and it takes 5 – 10 minutes to post across 3 or 4 SM platforms.

        Our weekly “Sunday Birdie Brunch” (newsletter – old school social media) which pushes 2 original blog posts with each deployment has become a real revenue driver accounting for almost 20% of our web income

        So now I’m devoting about 20 hours a week to creating content and pushing the blog/newsletter out which was how much time I was spending on FB – It’s been a great trade off

    2. Mitch, great comment. I would love to hear what you think of (Clock Zero: I’m not my social feed by Annymous) and whether you have read it? There seems to be a growing push back against social media lately.

  7. Thorin writes: “In the world where most of our interaction is happening online, are Facebook and Twitter really any more similar than mail and TV?”

    I entirely agree with this. And it is a very good point.

    None of the social platforms should be treated as if they were the same thing.

    The channel metaphor doesn’t even apply, viz. radio, tv.

    (Of course, you are going to kill the social media dashboard industry — which would be a good thing.)

    1. I’m curious, why do you feel the channel metaphor doesn’t apply? Do you feel like radio and TV are more similar than Facebook and Twitter?

      1. Thorin, yes Radio & TV are closer than Facebook is to Twitter.

        Advertising in print, radio & tv followed a logical progression; see Cynthia Meyer’s A Word from Our Sponsor.

        No social platform has a clearly defined & distinctive advertising model.

  8. Love this article — and the ensuing discussion.

    You’re dead on Thorin… the term ‘social media’ is merely a descriptive way to lump together a collection of online tools that allow users to generate content to their followers.

    But for marketers, each tool represents a different engagement opportunity… and must use different strategies and tactics to leverage them successfully.

    1. Thank you! When I saw your post today, I thought they went together very well. It’s almost like we planned it! Hah (Which of course, we didn’t.)

  9. Spot on. There are many different channels of marketing and we carefully denote them as such, TV, Radio, Direct Mail, etc. Social media channels are just as varied.
    We learned very quickly that not every “social media” outlet is for every business and it’s OK to reject one channel in favor of another more suited to your message.
    As a consumer, I am fascinated by the interaction between the customer and customer service when a company is called out on Twitter for some gaffe or some kudos, no matter how small. CS response is lightning fast. That’s interesting in terms of how those issues might have been handled in years past with a letter or phone call and I wonder if it’s better or worse for the company.
    Again, spot on analysis. Just like you might choose direct mail over TV for some campaigns and radio for something else, each channel of SM should be carefully evaluated for its potential effectiveness of communicating your message.

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