Breaking News on Social Media – New Study

In past posts, I’ve tried to make the case that social media is a communication channel and that you need a sound strategic reason to consider adding it to your mix. When I was a Brand Manager I lived through the introduction of the Internet and websites. The early phase was marked with great optimism and everybody jumped on-board with the philosophy that they couldn’t afford not to participate. However, when the dust settled and the investment was subjected to rigorous financial evaluation the conclusion was that investing in a destination website was not a right choice for every brand.

A quick review of history would have saved many companies a lot of money. Radio was believed to be a “must use” communication channel when it was introduced in 1922 (Remick’s Music Store). But it turned out not to be right for every brand that used it. Then television was introduced in 1941 (Bulova Watch). It was also thought to be a “must use” channel. And? You guessed it, investing in advertising on television did not deliver a positive ROI for every brand.

Each experience reinforced that the basics of branding always apply. You always need to have a sound strategic reason for adding a media channel to your mix to have a right to believe a payout is possible.

Study Finding – 90% of Social Media Efforts Fail to Deliver an ROI

I recently read a pre-publication summary of this landmark study. It is the first study of its kind I have reviewed.

The summary provides a list of 7 key reasons for failure. They all center around the lack of proper strategic planning and having unrealistic expectations.

The study does not say social media won’t work nor does it say you should not invest in a social media effort for your community. The study does suggest you need to approach this new channel with the same objectivity and rigor you apply to investing in other communication channels.

“Plan to win and Prepare to win before you expect to win.” Zig Ziglar

While the study was not conducted in the field of economic development, I believe the learning is applicable and should be taken into account as you manage your community marketing investment.

I have no doubt you will continue to hear in webinars, lectures and seminars about the power of social media as a tool in place branding. My best counsel is to listen objectively and seek to understand the methodology used for asserting that a given program was successful. In many cases you will discover that the conclusion is based primarily on judgment (e.g. number of likes or tweets) versus a financial assessment of return on investment.

There are no shortcuts, no magic solution, and no guarantee of success. You need to invest the time to understand social media and have a sound strategic reason for including it in your overall communication plan. If you do the planning and the preparation, then your program has a shot at being part of the successful 10%. If you do not, then the odds of being in the 90% go up dramatically.

By the way, don’t be surprised to see the dialogue shift to apps and tablets as the next hot “must use” trend in communication. I can already see it coming.

For more insight into the use of social media, review some of my earlier blog posts on the subject.


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