Is Social Media Marketing a Waste of Time? 14

MarketingProfs community manager Beth Harte started me thinking about this with her discussion in the MarketingProfs group at LinkedIn where she referenced a post by Social Media Explorer Jason Falls who said…

"I’ve got news for you. In the world of business, all that [social media] talk will get you exactly nowhere. Conversations do not ring the cash register. Engagement does not sell more product. Talking with people just means you have to take time to listen which prevents you from spending valuable time selling more product."

A short while later I came across a post by John Jantsch who suggests we should stop wasting our time with social media. He said…

"In short, without a plan, one that’s steeped in your overall marketing strategy, any tactical form of marketing, including creating a Facebook Group, will be a waste of time." 

What's the common thread between both discussions? Is it that social media is a waste of time and that we should all grow up, forget about this "markets are conversations" meme and get back to the real work of marketing? Not at all! 

Both Jason and John tout the virtues of social media engagement, but wisely discern that there are limits. It's not a panacea, not a nirvana, nor a replacement for other forms of marketing. Social media, in and of itself, is a marketing approach that needs to be integrated with other forms and help drive revenue to the organization.

"If you don’t stop selling the fluff and start driving the bottom line, you’re going to have to go back to whatever you were doing in 2005," said Jason. "Make your company blog drive search results to the keywords you want to win. Present calls to action that lead your Facebook fans to buy your product. Entice Twitter followers to subscribe to your e-mail newsletter where you can present similar calls to action for purchase."

John's emphasis is on the need to begin by crafting a marketing strategy of which social media may be a part. "In short, without a plan, one that’s steeped in your overall marketing strategy, any tactical form of marketing, including creating a Facebook Group, will be a waste of time," says John.

John suggests you start with strategy and let tactics follow. And he sees social media as a tactic, not an overall strategy. 

One person who has this down pat is Chris Baggott, founder and CEO of Compendium Blogware. Take a look, for example, at his own blog:

There are no less than five (count em, five!) calls-to-action associated with the blog, one in the header, three in the right-hand column and one beneath the post itself. While that may seem a bit like overkill, I think Chris does it to artfully emphasize the need to associate informational content-oriented marketing (i.e. a blog) with direct response, lead generation approaches.

In closing, here are my responses, first to Beth's discussion question, then to Jason and John's post respectively: 

"My mantra is that of the Cluetrain's, markets are conversations, therefore, participation is marketing. However, that being said, it doesn't ring quite so true down the hall with the sales staff. They want to see the cash register ring. To get that they need leads and plenty of them. (I find the CEO tends to side with them as well. Something about the balance sheet, P&L statements and EBITDA) 

"The onus up.on me now is to prove that social media works in real-world business environments. The blog posts I have on my edcal involve very pragmatic content, designed to prove the case for social media engagement."


"In 2005 I was doing the same thing I'm doing today, just with a different and more limited set of tools (blogs mostly), and that's proving the case for new media. 

"I'm a purist, but enough of a pragmatist to know that social media is not the begin-all/end-all. It's part of an integrated marketing effort that involves an emphasis on calls-to-action, lead generation and bottom-line differentiation. 

"One of the largest deals we ever signed at the company at which I work came as a result of my participation in the blog and social media spheres. You're right, it's the longer road, but it can and does lead to a payoff. 

"Chris Baggott just testified to the positive effect blogs are having. How long have they been around, more than a decade? Give Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter et al time to mature. Each will find its place in the marketing mix. As you noted, it already is."


"I'm with you on this one. Any form of marketing engagement must begin with a focus on strategy. To do otherwise is to take a shot in the dark. Social media can and does work, but, as a form of marketing, it is subject to the same rigors and scrutiny faced by any other form.

"And while I'd love to suggest that conversations in and of themselves are sufficient to drive results, without and end game, they often do not. At least, that's been my experience.Lead with strategy and the appropriate tactics will follow."

Leave a Reply

14 thoughts on “Is Social Media Marketing a Waste of Time?

  • Karenswim

    Paul, excellent points and very cogent discussion. One of my ongoing pet peeves with "gurus" is the emphasis on tactics rather than strategy. My own approach with clients has and always will be is to have a vision, develop a strategy and then implement the tactics that achieve the goals. Thanks for contributing balanced insight and providing a platform for discussion.

  • John Mark Troyer

    It has to come back to your business goals, but yes, you do have to show business value if you're doing social media work for a business! Some of our platforms are more community-based, and their goal is NOT to create leads, but to make our customer technologists more successful. However, some of our platforms are aimed further up the funnel, and for those, integrating appropriate calls to action is fine, and even appreciated by the people stopping by to read/comment. As you say, both tactics have to fit in to your overall social media strategy.

  • Paul Chaney

    Thanks for your comments Karen. You hit the nail precisely on the head!
    One of my greatest concerns is the constant focus on tactics on the part of the client. It's the job of the "guru" to refocus their attention on how such ties to business communications and marketing objectives. Otherwise, they only contribute to the syndrome.

  • Paul Chaney

    Thanks for the comments John Mark. I appreciate your mention of the funnel. The book Groundswell did an apt job of describing the place where social media fits within it in relationship to advertising/marketing. The key is, it has a place.
    I'll trade you five "let's throw it on the wall and see if it sticks" tactics for one well-conceived, comprehensive marketing strategy anytime!

  • Gregg Morris

    Very nice sir! You have provided some sound navigational skills for folks in what have been very turbulent seas churning in reaction to Jason's and John's posts as well as Beth's discussion thread.

  • Paul Chaney

    Thank you Gregg. I think if we're all determined to make this work, we can and will. The benefits are self-evident in my view.
    Now is not the time to question social media's efficacy from a marketing standpoint (and I'm not suggested either Beth, Jason or John did), but to embrace its native value and figure out how to incorporate it into a strategically-focused, revenue-generating marketing strategy.
    There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest it works. More to come as well!

  • Christopher Shallow

    Social media marketing must be part of a PLANNED integrated marketing communications strategy, not a 'stand-alone'. Every tactic must, as you write, be part of a planned, co-ordinated strategy; social media marketing is no different.

  • Chris Baggott

    Thank you so much for the call-out. What people seem to forget here that this is the web. What's spectacular about the web compared to other media is the ability to test and measure. We didn't start our blogs looking like this, but we did have a goal. We wanted to engage and convert. The content engages, but as Jason points out, that doesn't necessarily help anybody really.
    Conversion shows real engagement and we are continually testing our blog templates.
    Each week we test a different combination of elements. That top banner was a big risk and we had a lot of internal discussion about it….but in the end, why discuss? Just put it up there…if it shows a negative result we pull it down…no harm no foul.
    The reality is that our conversion rate went from about 3% to almost 10%. That tells me that this page is making people happy (consider the average website converts about 1.6% according to WebTrends)
    Bottom line is that our blogs and the blogs of our clients have a job to do. Attract searchers, engage them with content that's relevant and give them a clear path to move forward with the relationship.
    Again, this is basic Web Marketing 101 that seems to have been forgotten in the 'buzz' around social media.

  • Paul Chaney

    Thanks for the explanation of your use of CTAs on the site. Regarding testing, I suspected as much. You have certainly proven one case for the use of social media to drive leads. Now, we've got to codify how socnets like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can do it. I'm sure that work has already been done, I just have to find where it's documented.

  • Ira9201

    I agree 100% WITH John's emphasis on strategy. I would go one step further it needs to be an integrated media strategy that includes social media, traditional advertising, online and PR. It needs to be seamless by design and include ROI> Most of the hype on social media is on the tactics. WE need to get tee shirts with a bid "S" ( Strategy) on it and walk into a client letting them know that "S" is the first step not whether to use Twitter or FB.

  • Silicon Beach Traini

    Playing games and chatting with friends will not profit business at all, and why should business pay for time spent socialising. On the other hand Social Media is essential for businesses today to compete in the market, but there is a big difference between using social media to promote a business, offer great customer service, increase brand awareness, engage with customers – and using social media for your private life. We at Silicon Beach Training use Social Media every day but everything we do is to improve service and attract customers.

  • Paul Chaney

    Spot on. That's how it should be used, though I disagree there is no room for marketing via shared interests, which is how I see some people using social media, and seeing results from a business perspective.
    I think it's too early in the game to be too restrictive about what works and what doesn't. There's still room for experimentation. New tools such as foursquare and other location-based social network applications open up a whole new channel for game playing-type activity that has a business aim.
    In whatever way someone chooses to use social media, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Social media is a means to an end, that of business development. It's okay to have a little fun along the way.
    BTW, I removed the hyperlink as I prefer commenters not use my blog to promote their services. On-target comments about the topic, like the one you submitted, are welcome, just not self-promotion.