Does The Emperor Have Clothes?

I have written a number of blog posts on the subject of social media. The general message in all of my writing has been to consider the channel as experimental and invest in it with a “seek to understand what works” mentality. I know many people will push back on my counsel, and have pushed back publicly. But, typically these people fall into one of two categories – 1) they are consultants seeking to make money by advising clients on how to structure their social media efforts, or 2) they are people working for a company and investing somebody else’s money rather than their own.

This week I had a conversation with friend who recently led a training session on the use of social media in place branding, and I asked him if he had any specific examples of where social media delivered a confirmed ROI. He had one potential example and that was the role Twitter may have played in convincing Fernando Aguirre to relocate Chiquita’s HQ from Cincinnati to Charlotte.

If you are not familiar with it, in an attempt to convince Fernando to stay in Cincinnati a Twitter campaign called “No Cincy Banana Split” was started. Fernando is an active tweeter and complimented the creativity of the approach. Charlotte responded with a campaign of their own asking residents to tell Fernando why they love Chiquita bananas. The “Queen City War” (both Cincinnati and Charlotte claim the designation Queen City) was picked up by the press and given some airtime. The Washington Post ran an article titled “Chiquita’s new world headquarters in Charlotte decided with help from a Twitter war”.

With all due respect to the Washington Post, my take is the Twitter campaign had minimal effect, if any, on the decision to move Chiquita’s HQ. It is the kind of “pop news” the press glamorizes to appease readers. In my opinion, it is also the kind of situation that has the potential to turn into an urban legend. Frankly, I will not be shocked to see social media consultant presentations with a Chiquita case study slide as definitive proof of the power of social media in place branding. But, other than being seen as an opportunity to endear Chiquita to the residents of Charlotte and maybe as a way to increase consumer sales in the MSA, my guess is the Twitter war had little to no impact on Chiquita’s actual business decision.  In fact, in an interview with Cincinnati’s Business Enquirer, Fernando didn’t cite it as a reason at all even though he was asked specifically about his interest in Twitter.

My friend also said something profoundly more interesting.  He confessed that he wonders if social media may turn out to be a case where “the Emperor has no clothes” and nobody is willing to admit it. I think his concern may in fact be valid if the wrong expectations are set for the media. And that is my greatest fear.  I have no doubt, like every other channel, social media will be a good business choice for some situations and a bad business choice for most. The key, in my mind, is to experiment and learn so you can discern when it is right to leverage and when it is not.  We need to learn our way to success and avoid blindly investing in a media because we think we may be missing out on something if we don’t.

In an attempt to help foster a sense of purposeful experimentation, I have summarized a few of the more interesting recent reports I have read recently about social media effectiveness.

Insights into Social Media ROI

2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report authored by Michael Stelzner

  • 3,813 marketers responded to the survey.
  • The belief is social media delivers business value – 83% of respondents indicate social media is important for their business.
  • Video marketing is growing in interest – 76% of respondents plan on increasing investment in this area.
  • Impact on sales is unclear – 60% indicated social media has not helped improve sales; the #1 benefit of social marketing is thought to be business exposure (85%) followed by increased traffic (69%) and providing market insight (65%).
  • Social media is time intensive – most marketers spend 6 hours or more per week (59%) and a third (33%) invest 11 or more hours.

MarketingSherpa Social Media Marketing Benchmark Survey (2009 B2B results)

  • 2,317 respondents
  • Engagement is the #1 challenge of social media – 64% of respondents indicate “getting target audiences to engage and participate” is the most challenging problem; second is “finding the time to perform social media programs” (56%); third is “converting followers, fans, etc into paying customers” (47%).
  • Confirmed ROI remains elusive – only 7% of respondents indicated “social media is producing measurable ROI”.
  • Advice – Define objectives. When possible, align objectives with metrics traceable to financials like ROI, cost-per-lead and sales conversions rather than qualitative measures. Select platforms by their tactical effectiveness, don’t just select today’s popular social platform.

How to calculate the ROI of social media authored by Dr. Natalie Petouhoff.

The details of her approach may not be appropriate for your specific circumstance, but the logic definitely is and, in my humble opinion, well worth your time to review.


I have been working on developing a visualization to connect place branding tactics to the marketing funnel as a way to illustrate how to think about delivering an ROI. It is not “ready for prime time”. But, I would love to get your reaction, thoughts, and/or suggestions for improvement.



I think tying tactics, including social media, to the marketing funnel will encourage a cause and effect discussion that at least will underpin investment with a reasonable strategic logic. If you can’t articulate why an investment should be expected to deliver an ROI, then it probably won’t.

What Are Your Suggested Improvements?

What is missing in the visual? What measures would you suggest be looked at for each tactic? Are the tactics in the right “bucket”? Are you aware of other visuals like this one that may be helpful in illustrating the point I am trying to make? Do you have case studies that may be instructional that you can share?

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4 Comments so far

  1. Heather Mosher

    April 23, 2012

    I agree social is hard to measure. Aligning it with business objectives is the best way to control the strategic direction of your growth in the social space. It’s time consuming to maintain, monitor and measure multiple channels. For awareness campaigns, ROI is elusive — especially with long sales funnels. How can I attribute a sale today from something tweeted six months ago?

    With social, once you’re in, you’re in. The trick is to find the combination that works, as you say. My observation is that the “trick” is tricky and often shifts from channel to channel.

    I don’t believe for a second that Twitter made the sale for Charlotte, no more than I believe businesses would make multi-million dollar decisions over the phone. It still takes a handshake and a relationship. Social simply spreads awareness and makes connections that create opportunities for handshakes.

    For your funnel, I would add Research. It may not be a communication tactic, but it does drive social targeting and monitoring for place branding.

    Great stuff, I”ll be back. 🙂

  2. Mark Stegman

    April 23, 2012

    One important area to watch in the formulation of ROI for social spend is the importance that the search engines give to social links in a websites ability to rank in the organic algorithm.

    Social Media In Action:
    I found you on LinkedIn, I read your blog that pertains to my niche, I leave a blog post comment that links to my businesses website, Google sees this link and that it is relevant to my niche and trusts that my website is a good fit for similar searches in my niche, thus ranking my website higher for social media related terms.

    How much is it worth to you that the next time I am asked about people who know what is going on in social media I may refer them to you? How do you know that I will do this? How do you know how much of an impact your blog and your Linkedin post had on my perception of you unless I post it somewhere on social media? I am leaving a blog comment, that says something.

    Because perception and the individual consumer’s judge of quality plays a role in the success of a social campaign there are variables at each step that need to be accounted for or could only be accounted for in a variance of accuracy. I.e. Results +-10%

    In the buying process a consumer will visit your website and social media many times before becoming a client. Determining what role the social campaign played in their perception and thought process will be necessary to determine the value of social media. It would be great if all businesses got better at surveying their clients to determine how they found them (the business). Businesses need to be tracking their conversions by tracking phone calls, forms filled out, PDF’s downloaded, etc. and knowing where their converting traffic is coming from.

    The real problem is that as soon as social media ROI can be calculated the game will have changed.~

    I look forward to following this conversation on your Facebook page, Twitter page, and I discovered you on LinkedIn; what is all this worth? Let’s figure it out!


  3. Andrew Hill

    April 27, 2012

    I doubt very much that Social Media will be anything but a peripheral tool in clinching an actual deal, both now and in the future. Social Media is a global introductory advertisement asset, which has the ability to introduce, re-invent or reinforce a message depending on the scenario(s) or environment(s) it is being sourced too and from.

    The flexibility and speed of Social Media to spread news, products or brand awareness is there for all to see and witness. How one measures that in a away that actual computes to direct sales, without ancillary software or constant monitoring through feedback surveys etc is another thing.

    The sheer burgeoning number of Social Media outlets will become a ever increasing issue, as certain Medias become fashionable or wane. Social Media requires some hefty time input in terms of both your message and the monitoring of any responses (especially malicious ones).

    Keeping your Media up to date and relevant could prove distracting from the ‘real important work’ you need to do. However neglecting it completely (especially again any malicious posts/comments) may see the ‘real important work’ dry up. It’s a balancing act that many firms are finding hard to quantify because as mentioned earlier the results themselves are hard to quantify!

    In terms of search engines and the various spiders/bots that roam the Internet, the more you Tweet, Blog, FB or Linkedin you do, the better your chances of improving your ranking. We saw our company ranking move from the 3rd page to the 1st, and within the first 5 to boot on that page. How that transmit’s into actual sales/growth I have no idea but the bottom line is that it cant harm it.

    Regards Andy

  4. Ed Burghard

    May 11, 2012

    Great article by James Glover on the 7 C’s of social media –

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