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.”

  • Totally agree with your points on employee involvement and understanding that social spans many departments in organizations. I don’t agree that experience is lacking in social media, a lot of people who worked during the dot.com era have over a decade of experience with social technologies, the web, web2.0 and social media are a continuum. Also, it’s always been a joke in the ad world that 50% of your advertising dollars were wasted, you just didn’t know which 50% so I could see the same being true in social, except social does provide a lot more opportunities for measurement. Overall it’s social business, not social marketing, it just happens that the communications people were the first to embrace the technology so they have shaped the way we think about it to an extent. IMHO a more holistic way of thinking about companies and the social ecosystems they inhabit will emerge over time, but it’s going to take time. We’re only just realizing some of the predictions from the Cluetrain which was written in 1999 and in many ways we are still just at the beginning.

  • One word: AWESOME! (and I tweeted it too… so, thanks for this post)

  • Your comments about RC are where the post gets a lot interesting I think. Would that you might elaborate upon that part. For example, “social could very well be the least important thing you could do to maintain your shelf slots at retail” is an interesting assertion upon which no predication is provided.

  • Unfortunately, too many brands are guilty of violating more than one of your above commandments. They see social media as a new form of direct marketing. And, as such, they expect immediate results. Too many marketers proscribe the metrics of traditional marketing channels to social media. Sure, if you are Coke you have the budget to go large (and fail even larger). Smaller businesses have to adopt a more conservative approach and go into this for the long haul. I am most disturbed by the self-proclaimed gurus touting ROI as a basis for social media. Again, if you’re Ford and spending millions you do expect to move some cars. However, if you’re a small nonprofit or business your goals need to be more focused on building your local market. In addition, too many companies are wowed by You Tube. As I wrote on my blog (http://wp.me/p10rKc-5F) You Tube requires a commitment of both time, ideas and money to work. Just because it is the #2 search engine does not mean your business is equipped to play there. It will be interesting to see how this develops in 2011.

  • J.R.

    All great points but personally, I don’t think ANYONE truly understands the power or potential of social media.

  • Awesome post advising marketers to incorporate the right mix of social, I would like to know your thoughts about the coupon, and of course groupon craze. This I don’t think is a sustainable way to do business in continuous fashion, your thoughts?

  • Although I think there are some good ones. An although I am NOT a social media expert.

    I think nr 2 is a bogus reason:
    Firstly: who says malcom Gladwell is right…. how did he become the expert on experts?
    Secondly: bad news for you: Your calculation is wrong: if someone had been doing social since the beginning of 2006 they would be an expert by that calculation.
    And hey – you’re also forgetting that social is a lens though which you should look at online instead of a destination.
    And by that – looking at earned media (preferably through owned media channels) there was a lot of social already going on in 2006. Facebook to name but one….

    The places might have changed but the ways things work stay the same.

  • Furthermore – most of your arguments are based on the wrong people…. just put 1 point: you hired the wrong person – that’s nr 2, 7 & 8.

    nr 6: depends on what your goals are…. you definately do not need to get the whole business aligned from the start if you just use babysteps to go forward. You can align the business often after the first successes have been booked.

    While we’re at it: nr 9 states that the only idea you can have is one that comes from the social space? What BS is that? If that were true there would be no breakthrough products. Simply because no one had envisioned that.
    I don’t say that none can come from that space…. but not all ideas from SM are good, and not all that stem from non-SM are bad.
    Just be sure that the product you make really solves a problem or better even: multiple problems that people have with products within the category range you want to compete in.

    10 is a moot point. You’re focussing on place instead of on audience & goals. When you do that, the place to do this follows automatically.

    Nr 1,3,4 & 5 all valid points though.

  • Eric

    Sounds like you might be an expert, or know one or two. Please send them my way. I’d love to meet some folks who are experts in a space that’s at best 4 years old.


  • Eric

    If this was all basic, 50% of programs wouldn’t fail. I think that’s the who point. The list above are very common mistakes being made every day.


  • The only folks making money using Groupon are Groupon 🙂 The margins are just too thin. In my humble opinion I don’t think you can look at the ROI for Groupon based on a specific program, you need to look at it on a more lengthy timeline. For example, if the Groupon program is a buy one get one designed to expose the buyer to a new product, you’ll need to look at months of data to see if they become a repeat buyer.

  • I completely agree with your comments about YouTube. It would also help if we focused on the other 50% of the video consumption/distribution world. Too often we forget about Metacafe, Vimeo and others.

  • Thanks Barbara. I did mean flight. Unlike media where you can specifically control the placements, you can’t do that with social. It might start on Facebook, but end up in my inbox!

  • A great colleague of mine wrote this post after we discussed RC Cola one night: http://kaseyskala.com/fighting-an-uphill-battle-is-it-worth-it/ I think he does a great job of capturing the essence of the idea.

  • very good article. We have had FB campaign recently and result was astonishing zero, nada, zip. To be honest I personally never ever clicked on any FB ad. Or YouTube ad. It’s distraction for me while doing what I usually do there.

    We obviously believed some social self-fulfilling gurus with their weird (i.e. not down-to-earth) arguments and expected small wonder. After all those experiments, TV campaign is still far more fruitful. Social and online mktg has a long way to go to become relevant marketingwise. And it needs to become mature, while what we have now is ‘forced marketing’ – website becomes popular and then they start to thing how to make money (by forcing unnatural mktg models)


  • Anonymous

    Great stuff! the only thing to add- make sure you are taking it offline!

  • I would agree. Coupon commerce needs to refine business proposal, because sellers are quite discriminated for now. Margins for a grouponer are too high, they force sellers to have too high discounts ets. This situation won’t last for long, because sellers are confused with new mktg channels and accept their model without healthy dose of skepticism. When they start to do their math, they may give up massively (if someone doesn’t come with better model in the meantime).

  • 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.

    Uh….forums and boards are social media and have been around much longer. Usually you’re spot on Adam…but Social Media is not new 🙂

  • Sure. I don’t dispute that social tools have existed for roughly 20 years. But the classification of the genre, “social media” and what we mean by it is roughly 2-4 years old.

    Sent from my iPad

  • BAM! That is BAM number two for me today! Nice work Adam. I do believe the 10 points cover a good portion of the landscape we are looking at. One point I would like to add is technology yes everyone needs to get way more comfortable working with and developing realistic implementation of technology. Believe this is not isolated in marketing. On the marketing side of skill sets and or roles, the marketing folks may want to look outside of their current profession to find some raw talented marketers that may not have a degree but have the passion, desire for learning and curiosity. Add these folks to the social business team and it will be a good mix of professionals making the whole business work for the employees and customers.

    Since ya in 2011, I hope!

  • Outstanding. This is a breath of fresh air compared to the drivel usually written about social media. Thanks for writing this.

  • I love this blog post. “Social Business” is a great term.. anything but “Social Media” is good with me 🙂

    Every point on this is terrific, and I’ve been working through much of this with a client in recent weeks. To summarise numerous points in the Top 10 list of this post, you need to know who you are as an organisation, who your people are, what they are best suited for etc. If you don’t, you risk rushing headlong into social-based marketing and dooming yourself to failure.

    Instead, we’ve focussed first on assessing their core indentity attributes and mining for the hidden gems of talent and passion for social engagement among the team before moving forward. We’re now putting together a strategic plan which uses concepts such as some of those in this post.

    You know what I love best, though, and what tells me our process is working ? The owner of that client business was the one who sent me the link to this post !

  • I suspect the biggest reason why social media campaigns will ‘fail’ in 2011 will be that they’ll likely have been sold based on such convoluted, nonsense ROI claims that nobody will be able to prove their “success.”

    Social is nothing new. Pretending that it is qualifies as the Big Idea. Maybe in 2011 we’ll figure out that the key to effective selling is selling effectively, social or otherwise.

  • I do not think that it will dramatically fail, maybe it will be on a limbo stage, then skyrocket once more. Social, meaning, it is a trend nowadays, however, like fashion, this trend will surface once more. Besides, it is the easiest and less expensive way to market products and services. 🙂

  • Great article, Adam. You have no idea how many Social Media Snake Oil Salesmen I’ve found here in Cancun,Mexico. What amazes me is that apparently people keep hiring them! Maybe they don’t have the knowledge to run a basic background check? Anyway, any article like this that I find, I re-publish at each of my social channels, with the hope of “educating” the market and preventing said charlatans from thriving.

    Again, great article and keep up the great work. Regards from Cancun,Mexico.

    http://www.cancunissafe.com 🙂

  • Great post, but you really got it wrong on #2. Social media in its current form has been around for about 3-4 years. However, the Internet has always been social and some of us marketers out there have been using it since the late 90s (or longer even).

    I’ve been participating in forums (and using conversation marketing to that extent) since 1995. We might not have called it social media back then, but we did call it marketing and it was social.

    That said, there are indeed a number of social media “gurus” out there who have read a few blogs, are great at regurgitation, and are even better at convincing people that they’re a guru. I actually like these people because once they fail (because they don’t actually understand marketing and they’re doing too much #5), they come to me…a marketing/pr expert with more than 8 years experience under my belt.

  • “I actually like these people because once they fail (because they don’t actually understand marketing and they’re doing too much #5), they come to me” – HAHA, loved this! Same here. You have no idea how many “experts” have asked for my advice, or worst, for me to do their work for free. Ah, the humanity. 🙂

    That said, I agree, we’ve had “social” tools way way back before they were called “Social Media”, and funny thing is that most of them are unknown to the people just coming to Social Media. But I think Adam meant “Social Media” as the more popular tools/platforms of today, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.

  • Anonymous

    Glad to meet you then. I have been running my company, focused on social media’s impact on business since October 2005. I actually thought I was late to the game back then because of the various people that I learned from that we consultants in the field. It is important for you to understand the history of social media better to really understand what is at the core of it’s success in business.

  • Anonymous

    In 2004 blogs were the big deal that was getting a lot of press. I saw the trend and started my company in Oct 2005. We used to present a number of case studies on the power and influence of bloggers, and won our first two clients in Jan 2006 based on the influence of blogs. But we also focused on wikis as a collaboration tool and helped one client set up a social media press room (yes that was in 2006 – long ago). We also focused on the communities developing in Flickr and on social bookmarking tools such as Digg and Delicious. This was the time when social media was more about the power of the network and less about marketing. It has been hijacked over the years by people who do not understand the history of why and how social media got it’s start.

  • Anonymous

    I forgot to mention the big “fad” which I believe will come back in new form soon that we were playing with waaay back in 2006…. Second Life. Yep. organizations such as the American Cancer Society were already having fundraisers in world long before brands like Coke heard of it, and people like Chris Klaus was already looking to the future of trying to blend the interface of Myspace, which happened to be relevant in the day with Second Life through his platform Kaneva.

  • It looks like you’ve got it all figured out. Good luck in 2011.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks – it has been a great 5 years already.

  • Sharona Work

    Hi Adam,

    Where in Gartner’s report does it mention 50% fail?I loked through their website and could find no mentiion of it.

    Perhaps you got the figure wrong?

  • Sharona

    It’s a prediction from Gartner, not a fact of real world data. Some of the info is here: http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1293114 hope that helps.


  • Oh my goodness! I just read this blog via an email I was forwarded by a mentor, and then I came here to see other comments and the first one was yours! I’ll just copy/paste exactly what I said to my mentor about 2 minutes ago:

    “What a great article!

    Though in reference to #2, I definitely know that I’ve been doing “social media” waaaaaaaay before 2004. In fact, I wish I could remember the sites, but when I was a freshman in high school at about 12 years old in 1996, I was constantly socially networking on the internet. I often think about that these days. There was one site in particular that was my favorite but for the life of me I can’t recall it. I even have a friend of 13 years now whom I till see quite often that was made via the interwebs during that time when I was socially networking with platforms that probably could be considered “social media”, it’s just that not a lot of folks were doing internet then.

    Now if only I had there wherewithal to have started a Facebook or Myspace. 🙂

    Always room for more learning! (This coming from the daughter of a rocket scientist).

    Happy Socializing!”

    PS: I think I first started using the internet in 7th grade if I recall correctly… Of course most of the things I did online in 7th grade were downloading and printing quotes from The Simpsons.

  • SEO

    I agree that social media marketing is just as important nowadays as SEO.

    By raising your social media presence you can make more sales and build your brand.