7 Reasons Marketers Fail To Embrace Paid Social Media


"A Facebook page with no Fans can drive greater visibility with $500 of investment than a page can achieve organically with 90 Million+ Fans." This quote from Wes Finley (who drives Coca-Cola's global digital operations) summarises the stark reality of social media advertising and the need for paid media support behind every piece of content.

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Paid promoted posts launched on Facebook at the start of 2012, and earlier on Twitter, and instantly opened up the true potential scale & impact of those platforms to marketers. The fact that 3 1/2 years later many are still clinging to false promises of free ‘organic’ reach has gone past being a strange curiosity and is beginning to be something of an embarrassment - what would we make of marketers who made TV ads and only showed them to their friends? Here are some of the factors I see holding the industry back:

1. 'Lack' of ROI/evidence

This is an easy get out clause, and indeed many small businesses who haven't put big investment in social yet probably don't have any internal evidence to prove it works. Truthfully they may not have independently verified the effectiveness of TV either, and the tools are certainly out there to do both if they want. Take it from me there's a lot of evidence behind closed doors - Mondelez publicly revealed Facebook ads had matched TV for driving purchase at a fraction of the cost way back in 2013, and their continual doubling down on global media partnerships isn't a multi-million gamble but reflects the internal research they see every day. One business I've worked with has a global short term TV ROI of less than X1, whilst digital is closer to x3 - in your business you may have to take a leap of faith to have enough scale to be able to prove it in the first place.

2. Engagement/organic agendas

A lot of people made money from the early days of social media - not very many marketers sadly, but plenty of 'gurus', measurement firms or engagement tab builders. Many of those businesses have managed to adapt & pivot to add real value to marketers in the modern social world, but others have instead simply tried to find ways to justify their continuing existence. There's a steady stream of sponsored research telling marketers when to post, how to post, what to optimise & more to continue driving meaningful organic reach. Sure you may be able to 'transform' organic reach from 3% to 8% but with a paid strategy we're talking 10,000% - such discussions add to the confusion of marketers or justify them sticking to their old strategies.

3. Marketing media's false narrative 

We all love a moan and seemingly we all love to read stories bemoaning the latest social media tweaks or reach decreases - the marketing media is certainly quite quick to run them! There's a fairly established narrative which each piece builds on, that social platforms lured marketers with their big audiences and then stung them by starting to limit reach and charge to maintain it. It is in effect a complete falsehood - early social marketing activity had negligible reach compared to what we can deliver today and the biggest factor limiting reach is the sheer weight of content being put out by consumers, brands and publishers alike. This narrative has stuck and is a stumbling block for many awaiting the next sting in the tail.

4. Difference between earned and organic 

There is some truth in the notion that you can get more than you pay for through digital media - unlike traditional channels people can indeed pass on your content for others to see and earn you free eyeballs along the way. If we're truly honest only a small amount of brand content gets widely shared and even traditional media channels can 'over deliver' on what you pay for, but fair enough. There is however a big difference between paying for a million people to see your content and earning a couple of hundred thousand views extra along the way, and just hoping that by putting your content out there organically to a few fans those thousands will still end up seeing it somehow. Viral digital effects are very much a small percentage on top of paid rather than a strength in themselves, and creative agencies do themselves no favours in the long term if they suggest otherwise.

5. Senior management

Often the blame falls on these guys, so 'stuck in their ways' they can't look beyond TV and traditional media. There's occasional truth there but most senior marketers are just very passionate about doing the right thing for their brands and are often actually excited by new opportunities, if they're right. In some ways we pitched them too early, trying to get them excited when social channels were only talking to a handful of fans - dismissing them at that stage showed a good grounding in business reality rather than a negligent understanding of the changing media landscape. Unfortunately senior marketers often miss out on the training more junior ones receive and there is an important need within organisations to ensure they are aware of the scale & opportunity social media now offers if approached appropriately.

6. Skills & training

Yes the landscape has and is continually changing so of course marketers need some degree of training & updating to have a fair chance of staying on top of things. The trouble is that many out of the box digital training programs jump straight into crazy details about CPMs, formats, click through rates and more which totally baffle marketers and have little reality on their day to day jobs. It's important to train a bigger picture view of digital and social which shows how it fits in with wider channels and which tailors the education for people who are ultimately focussed on ways to drive business results and creative storytelling. And then make sure those senior folks can participate too! Give me a call if you need some help ;)

7. Thinking Too Small

Even marketers who 'get it' can fall for this trap - as the initial quote said even a (relatively) small investment can go a long way, but big businesses need to recognise that they need to move budgets a lot further than that. We don't plan social media budgets on a post by post basis but look at what realistic percentage of the total available audience we need to reach over a campaign or each month to have an impact. On a platform like Facebook that can mean trying to reach over 50% of the total audience 4-8 times a month, every single month. Of course that means spending more than $500, in fact in most markets that means tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, but in most cases it's easy to justify shifting that spend from traditional media for the additional measurable reach & impact it produces. The boldness to shift budgets in this way needs to come from clients & agencies alike... And sadly all too rarely does.

Perhaps the ultimate reason is just budget, even in businesses which have clearly adopted a 100% paid media social strategy there are always hold out brands or markets adamant that they can still deliver meaningful results from their organic content, or unwilling to move spend from elsewhere - reaching tens of thousands of people for free may look good on paper but the effort going into producing, approving & posting that content just seems pointless if you truly acknowledge the impact such content could have. Ultimately you either need to be willing to move media budget, or you should stop wasting time & money on content no one ever sees.

I'd be interested to hear from those who strongly disagree with my view on this, and also from those who've seen other blockers to adopting a strong paid media approach!

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