Is All Our Time Spent on Social Media for Naught?

Earlier this week Gallup released the results of a survey it conducted that basically boils down to this – social media holds no influence on consumer’s purchasing decisions.

This news may be a bit upsetting to brands that have spent years building up their social media presence. In fact, Gallup says that in 2013 U.S. companies spent a combined $5.1 billion on social media advertising. That’s a pretty significant amount of money to spend for very little return.

Now I’m sure the Gallup poll was focused on B2C brands, but I think there are some good lessons learned here for B2B and B2G companies as well.

Over the years there has been a rush by almost all companies – whether they are B2C, B2B or B2G – to make sure they are represented on every social media platform out there. Some companies ran contests to increase their number of “likes” or “followers,” and others were quick to jump on each and every social media platform in an effort to be where there customer is.

So what went wrong?

First, many companies did not take into consideration how their audience is using these platforms. Per the Gallup survey, 94 percent of respondents said they use social media to connect with friends and family while only 40 percent said they use social media to find out information about a company or organization. Also, as many learned over time, Facebook likes, Google +1s and Twitter follows don’t always mean much of anything.

Long before Facebook and Twitter realized they needed a way to make money and allowed brands to advertise, they were all about connecting people. I can’t think of anyone who joined Facebook or Twitter for the sole purpose of following a brand. I know I joined both to follow and connect with friends.

Second, in my opinion, companies jumped on every social media platform out there without much thought about how to effectively use it or if it even made sense. As soon as Facebook allowed companies to create pages it seems like many followed the lead of those around them and did so with little forethought about if it made sense. It was the shiny new toy in the digital world and just seemed like the place to be.

Over time, as social media platforms have needed to come up with a plan to make money, ads have been incorporated into almost all social media platforms. Now, along with running company pages and accounts, companies can promote a post or buy an ad and target it right to their audience. Makes sense and some of you reading this probably even advertise on social media, but be honest, when was the last time you clicked on a Facebook ad? For me the answer is never.

So what should brands do when considering implementing a social media strategy, especially if they want to attempt to influence purchasing behavior?

The first step is to consider not only what the options are – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. – but also to consider who is your target audience. Twitter may be great for news outlets as a way to quickly disseminate information to a large audience. Facebook might be good for retail brands that want to announce special sales just to those who have taken the time to “like” them.  In most cases – and this is just my opinion – Facebook is best left for B2C companies.

For most of our clients here at REQ that are B2B or B2G, I’d probably tell them they don’t need a Facebook page. If my clients truly think about their target audience, I would argue that they aren’t following you on Facebook and depending on what kind of product or service your company provides, Facebook might be a bigger headache than it’s worth. Of course there are always some exceptions to that rule but on the whole, I believe there are alternative social media platforms that should be considered.

The two social media outlets that to me provide the most impact for a brand – and I’m talking specifically here about B2B and B2G companies – are Twitter and LinkedIn. I would argue that every company should be on Twitter if for no other reason than to listen. Twitter provides a great listening post for what people are saying about you and your company. And, when you’re ready, if it’s appropriate, it’s a good opportunity to engage directly with your audience.

LinkedIn is another platform I’m a big fan of for B2B and B2G companies. More so than Facebook, Twitter and Google+, LinkedIn is a platform designed for the working professional. For my clients that use it, it has become my favorite platform for sharing their news and for positioning them as thought leaders. I find that the feedback to what is posted on LinkedIn tends to be well thought out comments from a group of people who are truly interested in what the company has to say. People who maybe, just maybe, could be influenced to make a purchase by what they see on social media.