10 Reasons Your Social Marketing Initiative Will Fail

The vast majority of marketers say social media is important to their business, so why do so many initiatives fail?

A 2012 study by the Social Media Examiner found that 83% of marketers said social media is important to their businesses. These folks have almost all initiated social marketing initiatives to connect with customers, prospects, and influencers via social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and LinkedIn. But if these initiatives are so important, why do so many of them fail to bring value to their organizations, while siphoning valuable resources that could be used better elsewhere?

Here are ten main reasons a social initiative falls flat on its face:

  • Poorly-defined (or no) success metrics or goals. The number of followers or "likes" are not marketing goals, particularly when they bring the wrong sort of followers. The goal of social programs need to be built around developing a two-way engagement with the people who can impact your business. The people you want to connect with are engaged customers, recommenders, analysts, press, and others who "care" about what you have to offer…and who can influence others.
  • Hiring a "professional" social community manager to be your company’s voice. Many companies figure they don’t understand social, so they hire a recent college graduate and hope they can spread the word. This fails because real engagement needs to come from people in your company who are passionate about your offering and are natural members of the community you are trying to build/join. Insiders can smell a phony a mile away.
  • Hiring a professional expert to be your company’s voice. Other companies figure they can buy an instant following by hiring someone within the target community to be the company’s voice. But professionals who have built up a reputation in a community are not eager to jeopardize their market cache by appearing to sell out to the highest bidder. The result? You pay big bucks for someone to promote themselves (and occasionally you). Look forward to frustration trying to manage these folks as well as to losing a colossal pile of cash.
  • Lack of executive participation. Very few operational executives participate in social media. Case in point, a 2012 study that found only 10% of Global 250 CIOs have a social footprint. These folks are generally too busy or uninitiated in the ways of social media to get involved. What other critical aspect of your business does not have executive participation? Bingo.
  • Viewing social as a marketing silo. On a related note, leaving social activity to marketers misses the point. Social activists need to be people who are product and service experts or have deep business relationships with your target community. Otherwise, it is hard to develop a meaningful dialogue key members of the community. Traditional marketers’ mindset is "one-to-many," meaning getting the word out to the masses. Social marketing is a much more of a "one-on-one" or a "one-to-few" relationship. Different mindset, different skills.
  • Looking at social as a one-way, "push" messaging model. "Fire and forget" doesn’t work in social. By definition, social implies a relationship with others. So blasting out messages without paying attention to feedback is a losing proposition. When you ignore what others are saying about you (or to you), you anger them….and you lose the opportunity to influence them.
  • Pushing product or service incessantly. Sure, you can get people to "like" or follow your brand if you give them coupons or discounts, but so what? The minute a competitor drops their price, your customers are gone. Plus, too many ads or promotions annoys people. At best, people will ignore you or unsubscribe from your updates. At worst, they will tell their friends how annoying you are. Either way…you lose.
  • Having nothing valuable to say. The flip side of over-pushing product is posting nonsense. How many "stuck in line at the airport" or "another sunny day in Denver" posts will people endure before they drop you? In this case, follow the advice of Abraham Lincoln who said, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, rather than speak out and remove all doubt…"
  • Inconsistent level of activity. Do you know folks who send out 50 tweets a day and then disappear for two weeks? It is hard to build a relationship with someone who is only intermittently engaged. People will gravitate to other, more stable contacts.
  • Implementing a "one size fits none" strategy. Since products and services are unique, each one should have a customized social strategy. For example, consumer goods with a high degree of emotional engagement need a different plan than complex commercial products. Each offering has a unique combination of social values and associated channels. Trying to implement a cookie cutter program of Facebook page, blog, and corporate Twitter account is not enough…or appropriate. You need to connect with people in the places they spend their time online, with the appropriate messages.
A future post will provide some practical solutions for being successful with your social initiatives. In the meantime, share the reasons you feel that companies fail so miserably with social initiatives in the comments, or tweet me at @dlavenda.

Learn how to improve your social media marketing in the Fast Company newsletter.

—Author David Lavenda is a high-tech product strategy and marketing executive. He also does academic research on information overload in organizations and he is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology. He tweets from @dlavenda.

[Image: Flickr use Neil Melville-Kenney]