Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Why Your Social Media Initiatives Will Fail In 2011

50% of marketing lead social media initiatives will fail. Merry Christmas to you too! That’s the sobering statistical prediction from Gartner. As bad as that 50% figure sounds, at least it’s better than the 30% success rate for IT lead social media initiatives.

Social media has become a self-propelled hype factory. After all it was in 2006 that Time declared the person of the year was YOU! Now, only a few years later, Mark Zuckerberg, the czar of Facebook is this 2010’s person of the year.

Every day it seems we have a new social platform (remember Tumblr?) to chase after, understand and then manage against. Frankly, as marketers we’ve done poor job of making social work hard because we’ve been too busy drinking the social media kool-aid and chasing every new, bright, shiny object. We love to chase bright shiny objects; from fourSquare to Gowalla, Groupon to Scavngr, Facebook to Genie. We collect, we harvest, we test, we test some more and then we get bored. We start proclaiming the death of Facebook and the rise of the sexy competitor du jour.

For every success story like The Ford Fiesta Movement there are 1000s of failed social initiatives. I promise you, there is no secret formula for finding success in the social space. If there was, I’d be selling it ☺ That said, there are some clear things worth avoiding to help set you up for success. With that in mind, here are 10 reasons your social media initiatives will fail in 2011.

  1. You think of it as social MEDIA. When, in fact, it’s about social business. You can’t flight social. You can’t pull it. You can’t day-part it. And even though you can measure it against with impressions, you probably shouldn’t. If you don’t tie your social initiatives to real business drivers, you’ll never see the return you’ve dreamt of.
  2. You’ve hired a social media expert or guru. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he identifies 10,000 hours as the amount of time needed to reach expert status. If we take Gladwell’s data to be true it would take someone approximately 5 years to be an expert at social media marketing. So if we have “experts” today, that would mean someone would have been practicing social media marketing since 2004. For all intents and purposes that’s impossible. The concept of social media marketing is roughly 2 years old. Most of the tools and platforms, like Facebook, weren’t even around in 2004. So how, can you be an expert? The amount of snake oil salesmen out there is immeasurable and everyone is trying to take your money. The minute you outsource in a hands off approach to one of these gurus you’re starting down a slippery path to social failure.
  3. You forgot to spend money to promote what you’re doing. Great Initiatives + Weak Awareness = Weak Results. You’ve got a great Facebook page, a killer app and you’re doing groundbreaking things on fourSquare. That’s fantastic…except you have very little participation from your audience. One of the biggest mistakes your organization can make is to think that you don’t need to support your social initiatives with some type of media buy. One of the reasons the Pepsi Refresh project has been so successful is the amount of money put into TV ads to promote the program. Yes, TV can still work! Social does not equal viral nor does it equal free.
  4. You forgot about your own employees. I’ve seen this scenario happen too often. Your biggest evangelists are your employees. You need to think about how to arm them with information and access. Too often organizations offer no internal communication plan and in a situation I experienced at ConAgra Foods, they revoke access to sites like YouTube and Facebook. Think about that? You want to be social with your customers, but you won’t allow your employees to be social on a daily basis. As a client of our agency once said, “we trust these people with a phone, a computer and an email account. Why wouldn’t we trust them to be on Facebook?”
  5. You copied someone else’s social plan. Raise your hand if you’ve looked at another company’s success and said, “why aren’t we doing that.” The challenge of course is that, even though this is a copycat world, you shouldn’t be copying what Dell does if you sell Teddy Bears door-to-door. Your business, your category, your culture, your product and your budget are unique to your company. Copying another organization’s model in theory sounds smart, but in practice can set you back months, if not years.
  6. You forgot that social is a team sport and requires multiple groups in your company to be involved, engaged and accountable. Many organizations believe social belongs in Communications or PR or Marketing. Some even believe it belongs in IT. While you definitely need one leader to herd the cats, you’ll need more than one person for success. One of our clients as a cross-functional social business team that includes Marketing, PR, Loss Prevention, Category Management, Customer Service and a variety of other business units. If you want to go fast, travel alone, but if you want to go far travel together. It’s not just a proverb, it’s a fact in the social business landscape.
  7. You entrusted your social business strategy to someone with no experience, right out of school, because “they understand” the space…after all they grew up on Facebook. This is a classic mistake being made by companies large and small. Would you hire a customer who’s been drinking your product for 20 years to run the marketing for the product? Of course not. So why would you do the same thing with social?
  8. Just because you shouldn’t hire someone with no experience, doesn’t mean you should simply hire someone with a lot of experience. In fact, your social business initiatives might fail, simply because you’ve been hiring the wrong people. You need to rethink what a job description looks like and look less for at the years and degrees and more at the core skill-sets you want. Your ideal candidate needs to have a great balance of marketing and technology.
  9. You didn’t mine the social space for insights. The social landscape is a rich data set; it’s the largest data set of consumer commentary that has ever existed. While, it’s easy to simply rush into the social space and “launch” a campaign, you need to apply the brakes and think about social as a research tool first. By leveraging social as a research tool you’ll be able to uncover opportunities you didn’t even realize existed.
  10. You only focused on the big players, like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Social is so much more than those 3 players. Depending on who your audience is, the product you sell, the category your in and your competition, you may find that a site/platform that you’ve never heard of is the best place to invest your social dollars. Keep this in mind, could you really imagine a scenario where customers are willingly to publicly “Like” on facebook genital wart medication ☺

At my agency, we field calls all the time from clients (current and prospective) asking us for how to leverage social to make their business work hard. It’s a great question. As an innovator who loves being on the cutting edge, it’s often difficult to temper my enthusiasm and desire to be on the bleeding edge.

To sober myself up, I often ask myself this question, “If you were RC Cola, how, if at all, would you leverage social?” Think about it. If you have the type of money Coke has, you can afford to make a mistake in social (see Coke + Mentos as an example). But, if you’re RC Cola, you can’t. In fact, social could very well be the least important thing you do to maintain your shelf slots at retail.

You can void these mistakes. You can set yourself up for success, but you won’t be able to guarantee success. Step 1, put down the social media kool-aid and switch to a glass of “social business.”