Children: Don’t Junk Those Social Media Marketing Jobs Just Yet!

I really thought I was done for a time with Social Media pundits’ periodic but ever-recurring announcements of X’s coming death — these follow anytime from within a few weeks to a year of the previous announcements that if you’re not “on” or at least investigating X, you yourself will soon be history, Social-wise. After all, I had already pointed to an entirely bogus Forrester Research “study” of Marketers’ supposed “fatigue” with Facebook; implored Marketers not to give up on Earned Media, despite Augie Ray’s prediction that that is exactly what they were going to do in 2014 (though, have they by now. mid-October 2014?); pointed out the big loophole in a pundit’s prediction that “marketing as we know it will end in 2016” — at least this guy gave himself a couple more years before it’s the end of the world as we know it doesn’t happen and he can be called out; and, finally, I had called out the ridiculousness of the Social Media Punditry Mutual Admiration Society’s prediction that Facebook would “fall out of vogue” for business use by December 2014, all because their hero, Scott Monty, had, OMG, OMG, left Ford: This is the End, My Friend: Social Media is Dead, Sort Of.

My work here is done, I felt, for Time itself would clearly and conclusively rebut boastful and wrongheaded predictions, although I fear it is not to be expected that their authors will issue the mea culpas that honesty and honest debate deserve. But then — you’ll excuse me for reviving one of the Godfather’s famous lines — Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in — i.e., when Augie Ray recently published his imprecation, Stop Social Media Marketing. Since it’s as well-written and fun to read as all his posts, I could have let this go as just yet another really-getting-old-now Social Media near-death prediction — if not for the fact that Augie also uses it to offer some unsettling and dubious career advice: “I predict that many CMOs will diminish their support for social media, content and earned media marketing in the next year or two, and when they do, careers will be adversely impacted. If your career relies on Marketing Department support for content or social media marketing, now is the time to take stock of the trends and consider some actions to protect your career.” That is to say, now is the time when, except under some (purportedly) very particular and rare circumstances, you should get the hell out while the getting is good. I think this advice is misguided, and I hope it will not be heeded.

But first, let me point to one contention upon which I think the two of us could not agree more or agree more enthusiastically: Unless you work for “the right kind of company” — the kind with superior or at least very good products; the kind with a valid and recognizable social purpose; the kind with exemplary or at least very good customer service — then, yeah, you probably should look for a job and career elsewhere: Because nothing you can attempt from a Social Media Marketing perspective ((let’s just abbreviate that for the rest of this post as SMM) can help turn around a dysfunctional or mediocre company. Whatever its presumed and, I believe, still largely untapped virtues and powers, SMM isn’t magic; it can’t rescue sinking or floundering ships. Any disagreements I have with Augie’s analysis — which are substantial — are effectively irrelevant if this essential point is denied. (That, of course, applies to Augie’s further arguments as well.)

That said — again, it’s the most important point in this whole debate — let’s get into the disagreements. First, Augie’s advice for SMM folk that they should get out now before it’s too late — which will be “in the next year or two” — is predicated on his assumption (or prediction) that while CMOs “still intend to rapidly double [their SMM] investment,” “I predict that increase will not happen.” This prediction, unfortunately, betrays a fundamental ignorance about how budgets are actually managed. If CMOs still intend to double their SMM investments — and if their budgets are approved, which they seem to believe, pace Augie’s research, will be the case — then the chances of those budgets being radically culled are precisely zero. There is nothing more perilous for any budget-owner than giving back allocated funds. Givebacks can mean either of two things: You more or less dramatically mis-conceived what you should be doing or you’re sure you can’t accomplish what you previously extolled as necessary. Either of these is a potentially fatal admission that you don’t know what you’re doing. (Moreover, even should the CMO feel safe enough to chance this risk — seems kind of unlikely given CMO tenure rates! — he/she also knows that givebacks can never, in all probability, be regained in the future.) However irrational it may be, this is how budgeting works today: So don’t worry boys and girls, Daddy/Mommy is not yet going to give back one plug nickel of the SMM budget and therefore your job is perfectly safe: Maybe not for that five-year forecast Augie refers to, for the long run — although, as Keynes said, in the long run we’re all dead — but for the short run, for “the next year or two,” you’re okay.

Budgets aside, the real crux of Augie’s argument depends on his very specific view of SMM and of Marketing as such, each of which he equates (disdainfully) with advertising. Real, true SMM should not “include paid media” — i.e., advertising — “on social networks.” (“Go ahead and invest in advertising on Facebook and Twitter, just do not call it ‘social.'”) This is a quite Puritanical, one might say extremist, view of SMM, one that is not argued but rather simply stipulated. It’s all the more surprising to then see retweets and likes (presumably fans, followers, and shares, as well) excoriated as SMM “fool’s gold.” OK, yeah, these have been often naively overvalued but, good Lord, aren’t they about as purely, natively “Social” as you can get, unlike (at least in the good old days) Facebook ads? Didn’t marketers get so overexcited by likes and retweets, etc. precisely because they were born with Social and unavailable to traditional advertising? But here is when surprising turns into the bizarre: If I must ignore fool’s gold, to what then should I be paying attention and giving credibility? Well, according to Augie, the solid measures of SMM effectiveness are actually “changes in consumer attitude or behavior such as greater in [sic] awareness, consideration and purchase intent.” Sound familiar? Of course they do, for these are the classic “metrics” of traditional advertising — aided awareness, unaided awareness, propensity to consider, propensity to buy — and specifically of TV advertising! (There is a reason for the endless recycling of Wanamaker‘s famous quip, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” — and my guess it’s due to fanciful traditional advertising “measures” of propensity to buy, etc.) But what explains why Augie — otherwise hellbent on purifying SMM from the filthy lucre of paid media — shoos away advertising with his right hand and then cuddles it back into his pocket with his left? That’s not a rhetorical question: I have no idea what the logic, if it indeed be logical at all, of this reasoning is.

Under what conditions then does SMM as defined (or purified) by Augie, work? I won’t quibble too much here: It works in select verticals — Sports, Entertainment, and Style; it works for “brands with a purpose”; and it works for brands with “better products and services.” (FWIW, I might add SMB as a fourth category, as so many reported “successes” on FB have been of the small business variety. Are these outliers, exceptions that prove the rule, or still largely untapped opportunities? Whatever, they don’t hold the marketing positions under dispute here.) Apparently it does not work for brands outside these verticals or lacking these particular characteristics, although by including USAA within the “brands with a purpose” category, I suppose that opens the door theoretically to at least other insurance and banking brands. (After all, USAA shares the same basic “purpose” as all other insurance and banking brands; it has a unique niche, yes, but hardly a unique purpose.) But there is unquestionably an important deficit here, for if in Augie’s eyes your brand doesn’t fall into the “magic intersection” you’re not only out of luck but, worse, you’re doomed to “stumble with unwelcome, heavy-handed, embarrassing, brand-damaging posts on Facebook and Twitter.” Wow, talk about SMM Puritanism; now we add Calvinist predestination! Your brand’s best and most conscientious attempts to be accepted in conversation, to be lucid, uncomplicated, and helpful are doomed to fail. You can’t play to win; you can only play to fail and land in SMM Hell. I expect many brands will beg to differ.

Minor point (well, maybe not so minor): In the third category of Augie’s “Earned Media Venn Diagram,” I was dismayed to see Apple yet again dragged out as the poster child of “Brands with better products and services.” Really? Are Apple’s “products and services” really “better” than, say, Samsung’s today? I think the consensus conclusively betrays that as historical fiction. Granted, Apple doesn’t bother with SMM, and judging from its history of corporate arrogance toward its customers, as well as its concomitant Social tone-deafness, so ably demonstrated by the Ping #fail (“sort of like Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes” said Chairman Jobs) and the truly epic Impersonal Marketing with U2 #fail, well, they really shouldn’t! What Apple does bother with, of course, is a virtually Stalinsque PR operation — Question: What is the difference between Stalin’s Show Trials and Apple’s Product Events? Answer: Nobody faces an armed firing squad after an Apple Product Event) — and massive, ubiquitous traditional advertising. Could these have more to do with the bleating of the sheep at Apple Events and outside/around Apple stores than “better products and services”? In any case, highlighting Apple as a Social Media Marketing star, whatever else you might feel about the company, is bizarre and embarrassingly wrong.

Augie quotes research reports throughout this piece, a couple zeroing in on the apparent flightiness and incompetence of CMOs. We’ve already dealt with their supposed foolishness for “doubling” their SMM budgets so I won’t rehearse that. But some attention is in order here because it will lead us to what is really the heart of the matter here. “74% of CEOs think Marketers focus too much on the latest marketing trends such as social media – but can rarely demonstrate how these trends will help them generate more business for the company.” And: A “mere 15% of CMOs say they have proven the impact of social media quantitatively. Another 40% ‘have a good qualitative sense of the impact, but not a quantitative impact’ and a whopping 45% have ‘not been able to show the impact yet.'”

And STILL “CMOs expect to increase social media marketing spending 128% in the next five years!” What fools these mortal CMOs be! Indeed, if this were the whole story, I’d have to agree that this is foolishness on a gargantuan scale! But maybe the very gargantuan scale of such foolishness should lead us to, I don’t know, consider the possibility that this isn’t the whole story, that there is something else going on here. Just a thought.

I wonder: If we were to ask these CMOs if they really felt it was either fair or sensible to be tasked to prove ROI from SMM, what would they say? Okay, stop laughing, I know you think the question is ridiculous and the inevitable answer would be they’d unanimously disclaim responsibility for SMM ROI. And that, indeed, would probably be the case! In fact, I dearly hope so, because, remember, what Augie’s researchers looked for here is for CMOs to prove ROI for SMM as a discrete channel, in isolation from all the other digital activities that said CMOs are responsible for, as well as those other digital activities they aren’t responsible for, that in fact belong to other Executives in IT, Corporate Communications, Customer Service, Sales, and god-knows what nether-regions of the corporation.

If we were to ask CMOs, a title that covers a multitude of sins, as Augie might say, why they can’t prove the ROI of SMM, how would they respond? Uh, It’s too soon to tell? Um, We don’t really have the right toolset to figure that out? My guess is that some tiny percentage of CMOs would, unfortunately, resort to such subterfuge. My next guess would be that you’d hear answers like these:

    Of course we’re not booking any sales from Facebook. for goodness sake! Why on earth would you think we would be? That’s not why we’re there.

    Yeah, I read Augie Ray and all those other guys, too; I know that likes and retweets and shares are squishy soft and they aren’t directly generating any business for us, but what am I supposed to do, pretend they don’t exist, that they somehow don’t mean anything?

    Look, we’re sending a ton of traffic to our Web site and they’re making out like bandits over there, but guess what? I don’t own that. Jimmy and Jenny take credit for that!

    You know, I can’t prove any of this, because I don’t control Search here, I got nothing to do with what they’re doing over there in the businesses, but I’m pretty sure there’s a bunch of people coming from our [SMM] campaigns going to Google and clicking on the PPC ads. I don’t know, I can’t prove a lot, I can’t know what happens then, but I bet a lot of that’s happening ’cause the guys there are always crowing about their PPC success.

    One thing I know for sure is that our mobile site’s getting a ton of traffic — that’s what IT keeps reporting — and the mobile site’s what’s converting best for us nowadays.

    Hey, we’re referring a ton of people to the Customer Service guys, and we get the thank-yous later on on Facebook for the great work those guys are doing. There’s re-ups and even a bunch of new sales coming from that but all I can prove is that I sent people on over to Service. And Service, god bless ’em, could care less about sales.

    I wish I owned our Social properties — but I don’t. The best I can do is make sure we put the little Twitter and Facebook and Instagram logos on the last frame of our ads. And, yeah, we add the hashtags, too, when there’s a campaign going. We’re as supportive as we can be, when we can be, but, you know, I’ve got my own stats to worry about.

    Look, I own so-called Earned, and just like all the experts have been saying, it’s getting harder and harder to earn much of anything anymore but, guess what, I don’t own any Paid except for what I spend on the social sites, and I don’t own Owned, either. What do you expect? Trying to prove ROI for Earned is a mug’s game.

OK, so I made all this up, that is, I made up all those words, but I didn’t make up the realities that those words quite accurately (if not always articulately) depict. I didn’t make up the fundamentally dysfunctional organizations that our CMO operates in (along with his/her peers, the CIO and Chief Customer Service Officer and CTO and Head of Sales…) The reality is that most CMOs are incapable of demonstrating SMM ROI not because they’re shortsighted or lazy or traditional advertising dinosaurs — though some are certainly any or all of these things — but because they are organizationally precluded from being able to do so.

It’s been, what, about two and a half years since Jeremiah Owyang published his Converged Media Imperative report, arguing for the integration of Paid, Owned, and earned Media into, in effect, one huge project. He even called it POE Convergence — yet another proof that you can take the boy out of Forrester but you can’t take Forrester out of the boy — but I’d stress that he offered this precisely as an imperative, as something that should be done, not as a description of what had been done or was, except for some largely trivial examples, being done, in corporate America. Again: POE wasn’t, isn’t a done deal; it was, is, a goal. (Nonetheless, it was declared dead within a mere few months of the original Owyang publication! Sound familiar?) If and when marketers own all of (at least digital) POE — and, of course, work all this together intelligently — then you can legitimately demand ROI for marketing spend. So long as these responsibilities remain fragmented within protected silos, however, only a few of them will be able to “prove” themselves in hard dollar revenue (and, ultimately, in profit, another thing altogether); for all the rest, it is, as stated above, a mug’s game.

There are several ways of putting this, but I think Dave Morgan said it well in a recent article that distinguishes Media Outputs from Business Outcomes. Dave lists some Media Outputs and I’ve added several to the list: These are likes, fans, followers, shares, and retweets; TV GRPs and print pages and printed coupons; but also “engagement” customer advocacy; and search queries and Web traffic. They are all proxies — differing greatly in value according to any number of factors unique to their channel and to companies and their various goals — for the “provable contributions” they make to Business Outcomes, which are sales leads and sales; revenue and profit; new customers and retained customers; recruiting leads and new recruits; employee/partner advocates and customer referrals. The important point of this differentiation is succinctly stated: “Outcomes are channel-agnostic (and usually interfaith). Media delivery metrics are by definition unique to each and every media channel. Outcomes aren’t. Leads generated are leads generated. Sales are sales.”

See what we did there? This pinpoints the, IMNHO, always-misguided attempt to provide hard ROI for SMM earned media: The metrics appropriate here are indeed specific to the media themselves, and sadly they are not likely to be direct leads and sales. What they are likely to be are such soft stuff such as likes, retweets, search queries, and Web traffic — the latter of which in particular, however, can (should) start you talking very seriously about leads and sales if/when your Web sites are oriented to producing leads and sales! In a nutshell, the business outcomes marketers look for may never show up directly — but only indirectly and circuitously — from discreet media outputs, and this is particularly true of those produced by SMM.

Social is a channel and it can and certainly should be looked at discretely when you’re crafting its strategy and tactical implementations, when you’re figuring out how it can work with the rest of your digital activities, and when you’re determining success or failure — actually, it’s normally success and failure — of strategy and tactics. But we happen to live in a multi-channel world and any marketer worth his/her salt has been, or should have been, busy building a digital portfolio that also includes (minimally) Web sites, search, video, and mobile. It is only a complete digital portfolio that at the end of the day should be held accountable for ROI, not its channels individually, and certainly not SMM individually. That 45% of marketers have “not been able to show impact yet” from SMM is a bit disquieting, because there are lots of unfairly-libeled things that indicate “impact,” but it is certainly a good thing that, despite the by-now hundreds of superficial and misguided articles teaching us “How to Prove Social Media ROI,” those teachings are roundly ignored.

Proving ROI is hardly rocket science and it’s certainly well-understood by anyone with a marketing background. The formulas are there, but you’ve got to know what you’re looking at when you employ them, and looking at SMM as a channel somehow isolated within our multi-channel world, impervious to, untouched by all your other digital activities in it, just doesn’t work.

So my advice to SMM professionals: Hang in there and, however you can, help effect the most desirable and effective Digital Convergence possible within your organization. And if that’s simply not in the cards, then, indeed, make a move — perhaps to a better-positioned SMM operation.

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4 Responses to Children: Don’t Junk Those Social Media Marketing Jobs Just Yet!

  1. I was unsure how to proceed based on Ken’s post, which I found unnecessarily personal in its criticism. Perhaps I am taking things too personally (and Ken and others are free to say so), but I have been writing my blog for six years (not to mention publishing Forrester reports), and this is the first time I recall feeling attacked in this manner. I actually quite enjoy people criticizing my POV–I learn from them and do so enjoy a good debate–but Ken’s post seemed to take aim at me rather than simply the ideas I shared in my blog post. (And I would suggest in doing so, he often failed to convey his own perspective.)

    At first, I was not going to respond, but then Ken sent an email suggesting he would soon write about “the inherent difficulties in separating our own views from our own self, ​and of course criticism of another’s views (and of course) the way those views are expressed​, without intending to impugn the person (personally!) presenting them.” In order to assist Ken, I thought I might share why I reacted the way I did (and perhaps refute some arguments along the way.)

    EXAMPLE 1:
    How you criticize a person’s ideas, not the person:
    “I believe Augie may have overlooked the way the budgetary process works.”
    How you criticize the person, not the idea:
    Augie’s “prediction, unfortunately, betrays a fundamental ignorance about how budgets are actually managed.”
    Suggestion:
    To encourage dialog, beware of “red letter” words. “Ignorance” is a good example. “Fundamental ignorance” is an even better example! If you are going to call someone ignorant, do not expect them to react positively. If tempted to use a word like that, stop and reconsider if there are better ways to phrase a criticism focused on the idea, not the individual.
    Response:
    CMOs believe that social budget will double in five years. I suggest that will not happen (at least exclusive of paid media) (but more on that later). Ken suggests the CMO is somehow locked in and would have to give up money to alter their spending. I disagree–over the course of five years, the CMO can change all sorts of decisions and priorities. Moreover, even within a year, Marketing leadership can clearly opt to shift budgets based on how media is performing. I am sure Ken has seen this done quite a lot in his career. Woe be to the Marketing leader who does not allow current and new information to affect spending , regardless of the plan at the beginning of the year. (And, as someone who has managed P&Ls, served Fortune 500 firms and worked within four Fortune 500 companies, I can assure Ken that I am not ignorant of the budgeting process.)

    EXAMPLE 2:
    How you criticize a person’s idea, not the person:
    “I am not sure I understand Augie’s logic, but here is my perspective…”
    How you criticize the person, not the idea:
    “I have no idea what the logic, if it indeed be logical at all, of this reasoning is.”
    Suggestion:
    To encourage dialog, retain focus on the opinions and assertions, not the thought process used. You may agree or disagree, but the moment you suggest someone lacks logical reasoning, you cross from debating the idea to passing judgment on the individual.
    Response:
    The fact I believe Social Media Marketing should be measured using traditional marketing metrics (“awareness, consideration and purchase intent”) and that those same metrics also apply to paid advertising, hardly makes the two the same. For example, I can measure the speed on my bike in MPH, but that metric is traditionally used for cars; nevertheless, I don’t believe that means bikes are cars or vice versa. Moreover, I am unsure why this matters to the main point of my blog post, which was about the value of content/earned media marketing. Go ahead and include paid media in your definition of “Social Media Marketing,” Ken. I disagree, but that hardly matters when evaluating the impact of investments in content posted for the purpose of garnering organic reach and of earning (rather than paying for) media. My definition of SMM is irrelevant, I believe, to the point being made about the declining reach (and, I suggest, value) of organic content to the marketing department.

    EXAMPLE 3:
    How you criticize a person’s idea, not the person:
    “I believe Augie offers a strict and inflexible viewpoint when a more open approach may be appropriate and more productive.”
    How you criticize the person, not the idea:
    “Wow, talk about SMM Puritanism; now we add Calvinist predestination!”
    Suggestion:
    Avoid sarcasm or use it sparingly. Sarcasm tends not to encourage dialog but shuts it off. And avoid exaggerating people’s point of view–if you have a legitimate criticism of someone’s ideas, then their words need no exaggeration and your opinion should be stated simply and directly. (I wonder if I will be accused of being Puritanical, once again, but exaggerating someone’s words and feelings to then knock down the inflated concept you have created is a straw man approach that undermines one’s own arguments.)
    Response:
    I am not sure how to respond to being accused of being Puritanical or Calvinist (and unsure why I should have to), but I did not say that brands without a “magic intersection” will be “doomed” to make SMM mistakes; I pointed out that brands without a “magic intersection” do, in fact, tend to stumble. Given a lack of overlap between the content people want from the brand and what drives brand value, brands too frequently overstep.

    The exaggeration and sarcasm in this post did not really address the very frequent examples of brands that must suffer backlashes, criticism and PR damage because they (for example) spammed a hashtag dedicated to discussing domestic violence or pasted their brand logo over a picture designed to commemorate Patriot Day. I suggest that brands without a “magic intersection” tend to post boring things that few people see or engage or end up overstepping bounds in an effort to garner the engagement they otherwise lack. I stand on that contention, and Ken’s response has not convinced me otherwise.

    EXAMPLE 4:
    How you criticize a person’s idea, not the person:
    “I think Augie is wrong to cite Apple as having better products, and here’s why…”
    How you criticize a person, not the idea:
    “Highlighting Apple as a Social Media Marketing star, whatever else you might feel about the company, is bizarre and embarrassingly wrong.” (Oh, and be sure to italicize the words “embarrassingly wrong,” since those apparently are not strong or insulting enough without further reinforcement.)
    Suggestion:
    Do not ascribe presumed embarrassment to someone else’s words or ideas. If you have a point to make, make it, and let the other person feel embarrassment because you have made the stronger case. Insinuating others should be somehow ashamed for their ideas puts the focus on the individual, not the idea. If your intent is to encourage dialog rather than insult someone, avoid suggesting the level of shame they ought to feel and focus on differences of fact or opinion.
    Response:
    I think you make a good point in this case, Ken. Unfortunately, it is so slathered with the language of contempt (more for Apple than for me, thank heaven), that the point gets lost. In my opinion, a stronger case would have been made without the constant use of sarcasm, which tends to get tiring to read (or at least that’s how I felt after the seventh lengthy paragraph of ridicule and scorn.) In this single paragraph, you included language such as “corporate arrogance, “concomitant Social tone-deafness,” “#fail,” “virtually Stalinsque,” a comparison of “Stalin’s Show Trials and Apple’s Product Events,” “armed firing squad,” “bleating of the sheep,” “bizarre and embarrassingly wrong.” Ken has a great grasp of the language, and I would suggest he may better make his points without the almost poetic levels of negative, snide language.

    EXAMPLE 5:
    How you criticize a person’s idea, not the person:
    “Augie comes to a conclusion on the value of SMM, but I think there is more to the story.”
    How you criticize a person, not the idea:
    “Maybe the very gargantuan scale of such foolishness should lead us to, I don’t know, consider the possibility that this isn’t the whole story, that there is something else going on here. Just a thought.”
    Suggestion:
    Avoid snide asides. The use of “I don’t know” and “Just a thought” are needlessly sarcastic. They intend to convey something so obvious that the person being criticized should have had the intelligence or good judgement to come up with it themselves. Once again, sarcasm does not encourage interaction but instead discourages response. Stick to your points and make them shine rather than, I don’t know, resorting to contemptuous language. Just a thought. (Seems a bit personal and disapproving when that sort of language is directed at you, doesn’t it?)
    Reply:
    I believe I have made a rather cogent argument citing many factual studies. My logic is:
    – Marketers demonstrably care most about acquisition, conversion and traffic
    – Social/earned/content is demonstrably failing to deliver these
    – Organic reach is demonstrably shrinking

    Ken, If you disagree with one of those points, please cite your research and data. In fact, this is what I encouraged you to do–I suggested you respond to my post and cite data in the same manner I did. You did not do so; instead, you imagine what CMO might say. They might say those things, or they might not.–it’s hard to tell since it’s just conjecture.

    If you care to disagree with the metrics the CMO values, be my guest (and I would tend to agree with you), but if you are going to criticize me for failing to imagine that the CMO might care to invest in social even though it is delivering declining reach and engagement, poor inbound traffic and miserable acquisition and conversions, then you need to do more than simply presume the CMO’s point of view. My challenge still stands–find evidence that CMOs recognize the diminishing reach, very poor acquisition and terrible conversion from social but nevertheless remain happy to increase their investments. My suggestion is that CMOs are not yet aware of the facts and will change their plans as earned media marketing’s limitations become evident (regardless of omni-channel attribution, if anyone ever gets that right). If you care to prove me wrong, it will take more than creative and imaginary statements from hypothetical CMOs.

    Ken, I could go on, but I feel my point has been made. Time and again, you chose to focus on me–my presumed embarrassment, my lack of logic, my Puritanism–rather than the ideas. And time and again, you fail to cite data and research–something I believe I did to validate my point of view.

    Others are certainly welcome to comment here. If I am being sensitive, if my logic is flawed or if my analysis is erroneous, I am certainly open to hearing it. I just hope it is done with less sarcastic language that attacks and focuses on the ideas, not on me.

    Like

    • khittel says:

      Augie, I’m happy you decided to reply. I remained convinced that our disagreements are substantive and not personal, and so perhaps after your comments and mine in turn, those disagreements will be better clarified and thus better-prepared for a more proper and fruitful debate including others. I choose never to argue with the village idiot, but rather only with those who have real credibility when they speak. My disagreements with you are a measure of the respect I hold you in.

      Certainly, however, I apologize that so many many of my circumlocutions — many, admittedly, quite sarcastic — offended you. That was not my intention, which rather was to vividly highlight where we really differed. As to sarcasm, I admit it is a characteristic — perhaps a characteristic flaw — of mine. I’m not sure there is much I can do about that at this late point in my life, nor that I really should. There is still so much nonsense, bullshit, and plain inaccuracy in these matters that we variously go back and forth on, that I remain convinced that a little bit more heat than politeness is called for to produce also and as a consequence a little bit more light. You’ll have to continue to cut me a little slack here — just think, oh, goodness, there he goes again!

      That said, I’m surprised that you did not react to what I very explicitly identified as, in my opinion, a fundamental grounding of agreement between us, your notion (admittedly in my words) that, at the end of the day, “unless you work for ‘the right kind of company’ — the kind with superior or at least very good products; the kind with a valid and recognizable social purpose; the kind with exemplary or at least very good customer service” — then pretty much everything else you (and I) said, is irrelevant. This, to me, was the most important lesson of your post, and I agree with it implicitly and explicitly. All the rest of this is really splitting hairs. (Not that hair-splitting isn’t a lot of fun, or neither of us would spend so much time and effort doing it.)

      On to our disagreements: Example 1: Of course budgets are to a degree fungible but I will stick to my contention that CMOs will not be presently noticeably cutting back on budgets they already have and which, according to your cited research, they plan to increase 128% over the next five years. Yes, five years is a ridiculously long timeline, minds can and will change, and budget adjustments big and small will be made, but I think it is exceedingly unlikely that currently employed SMM folk need to worry about their jobs now and thus, as I said, “for the short run, for ‘the next year or two,’ you’re okay.” So, I still think your advice to these folk to run for the hills from SMM — except under very particular and restrictive conditions — is alarmist and wrong.

      Example 2: You believe SMM should remain pure (hence my use of apparently quite annoying use of “Puritanical”) Earned Media. I believe that virtually all SMM budgets have always had some share of Paid Media, even in the halycon days of Facebook’s freeium model, and as you, I, and many others have been pointing out for the past year at least, the freeium model is a thing of the past — thus the lion’s share of that budget must increasingly shift to Paid. I simply see no problem with that, and I expect most all CMOs feel the same way — hence their intention to double their SMM budgets. I don’t disagree at all that “earning” attention in SM — as opposed to “paying” for it — has become one hell of a lot harder, but I also don’t foresee marketers abandoning their Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts to do nothing but pay for advertising on those platforms. I’d be happy to see a timeline put to that and a decent study identifying what, if anything significant, actually transpires in re: Earned Media activity. Till then, I’d suggest nothing is really helped by pining for the good old days when SMM was unsullied by Paid activity (which never really existed anyway and which, as you know, isn’t about to recur).

      And I still don’t understand why Earned Media should be judged by “fanciful” advertising measures — I’ll hold to that
      adjective — that have never really helped advertisers much — hence my invocation of the time-honored Wanamaker quip — and which are simply incongruent with native Earned measures, soft as they admittedly are. I still fail to see the logic behind holding Earned Social to Paid Advertising metrics. (And I said only that your argument here appeared to me illogical, not that the real-life whole person Augie Ray was illogical.)

      Example 3: Is there really a significant difference between my reading of non-Magic Intersection companies being “doomed” to stumble into mistakes and your contention now that such companies “do, in fact, tend to stumble”? I think not, especially if you go back and reread your original statement of that likelihood, which read to me a lot stronger. In any case, I think this is a good example of what Aristotle identified many moons ago as a distinction without a difference.

      Example 4: Calling out presenting Apple as a SMM star as “embarrassingly wrong” is not just a “good point,” as you now concede; it’s really the only thing that can be said about that particular move. Of all companies that could have been so featured, Apple surely ranks last on the list; in fact, it really could never be put on such a list, and that is ultimately why I found it embarrassing to see it so highlighted. Yes, I have real problems with the Apple model — the Hotel California model, actually, where you can always check in but you can never leave; but my animus towards what that company stands for doesn’t change the fact — as close to an indisputable fact as I can imagine — that Apple is about the last thing from a SMM star as can be imagined. Laud it as a great advertsing and PR operation with some really good products if you like, but, please, not as a SMM star.

      Example 5: No, I don’t disagree with your points about Earned or Organic Reach, which is why I made no effort to do so or to argue with your cited research. I do remain puzzled, however, about why those particular points are sacrosanct while research saying CMOs expect to double their SMM budgets is summarily dismissed without a word of argument: Oh, they only think they’ll be increasing budgets, but they’re wrong; eventually they’ll process the news that I — and Ken Hittel and many others — have been propagating.

      Here, however, is where I felt I was making a real contribution to this debate, in suggesting that the current hardships of Organic Reach in SMM have been discounted by CMOs and that their real concerns most likely stem from their inability in this Omnichannel world to organizationally bring together Paid, Owned, and Earned Media under their purview. I think the worries about Earned Social ROI are trivial (and irrelevant, anyway compared to the bigger picture, compared to the dysfunctional organizations that effectively prevent most all CMOs from creating and then proving bottom-line ROI. This is what, I think, we should be talking about, not the months-old news that organic reach is approaching near-zero — only more-or-less true depending on what companies you’re talking about, what strategies they’re pursuing and, most relevantly, what CMOs can’t accomplish in digital given their all-too-limited “ownership” of digital marketing.

      Yes, I resorted to “creative and imaginary statements from hypothetical CMOs.” Which is to say, I resorted to argument rather than research. I don’t have that research, I don’t believe it has been done, and I know I can’t pay for it! Would it do my argument any good to say that I’ve hear such laments and that I really just didn’t make them all up? Not likely, and nor should it. But what about my “imaginary statements” seems wrong? incongruous within the larger discussion of digital ROI? I really wish we could move the debate here.

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      • Thanks Ken. Your comment about changing your sarcasm this late in life made me laugh.

        I would suggest, when engaging someone by criticizing his or her ideas, you might want to use a little more caution when your language shifts from the idea to the individual. That may be more a style preference, but I’m USED to getting criticized and still reacted to the tone and language in your post. (I think–perhaps incorrectly–that I have thicker skin than most, since I regularly have to defend the ideas I share publicly.)

        I won’t really continue the point-by-point analysis, except to say this: While your omni-channel attribution argument clearly has a great deal of merit, I still think you are missing the forest for the trees. If organic reach shrinks to zero–and there is plenty of evidence it is close to doing so–then social can contribute little to nothing to any cross-channel attribution. Regardless of the state of the science of attribution, I think we can agree that a message that reaches no or few eyes cannot add to any attribution model, no matter how good.

        Facebook will be zero or effectively so within a year or two. (Some would argue it’s already there.) And, as noted in my post, Forrester analysis indicates Twitter is proving barely engaging for brands, delivering an engagement rate much lower than even banner ads. (I didn’t think it was possible to be less engaging than banner ads.) Plus, as someone who monitors corporate blogs, I can tell you few get any level of significant traffic. (Of course, there are exceptions–the “magic intersection” brands–but those are the exception and not the rule.)

        Arguing that social will hold value if only we could get omni-channel attribution right seems like arguing that graffiti placed down a dark, untrafficked alley could contribute to acquisition and purchase given the right model. It could, but it is not likely, is it?

        So, that leaves us with paid. Philosophically, I think paying to get content in front of people’s eyes isn’t social media marketing, but I won’t continue the debate. In the end, the point of my blog wasn’t to define (or you may argue redefine) “social media marketing” but to point out that content/earned media marketing, absent advertising, is dying.

        In the end, no matter where either of us sits on the definition of social media marketing or the state of cross-channel attribution, I stand by the final (and main) point of my original post:

        – If someone works in content/earned-media marketing,
        – Within a marketing department that measures its success in terms of acquisition and conversions,
        – And they do not control the paid budget,
        – Then their career is in danger and they ought to think about options.

        For all of your criticisms and sarcasm, I suspect we agree more than we disagree on these points, which still leaves me wondering why our agreements rather than our disagreements aren’t the primary subject of your post.

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        • khittel says:

          Augie, I’m going to try zero sarcasm this time. (Wait, my left eyelid is twitching uncontrollably — okay, it’s better now.) But if I’m denied sarcasm, let me at least embrace irony, for I find your “forest for the trees” line to be delightfully ironic: Without using that trope, that’s exactly what I thought I had argued about your argument!

          And, yes, I argue completely with this:

          – If someone works in content/earned-media marketing,
          – Within a marketing department that measures its success in terms of acquisition and conversions,
          – And they do not control the paid budget,
          – Then their career is in danger and they ought to think about options.

          I thought what I had argued was that:

          – SMM legitimately comprises both Earned and Paid activity, but that
          – it’s a non-starter to expect SMM to pay for itself by itself, i.e.,
          – SMM ROI is a mug’s game. However,
          – SMM, as a part of a Digital Portfolio holding Owned Media (chiefly Web sites) and other Paid Media (chiefly Search PPC),
          – most definitely can show legitimate, bullet-proof ROI.

          I know that conclusion to be true — we did it at New York Life. (And if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere…)

          Yes, this assumes a model that is far from universal, still an exception, unfortunately, not the rule. That is precisely why it seems to me no longer worth our while bemoaning the increasing ineffectiveness of SMM organic reach. While I don’t believe that marketers have to lie down for 0% organic reach at all — nor that they are doing so — I also don’t believe that 100% organic reach would have ever, could have ever, by itself, shown real ROI. That was never in the cards. SMM ROI is as oxymoronic as Telephone ROI or Desktop Computer ROI or Lunchroom ROI.

          What I think is worth our while, however, what I think is the real challenge for marketers, is bringing together Paid, Owned, and Earned under one budget, under one ROI control. Looking at all this activity microscopically just doesn’t work, and it’s illegitimate because all this stuff is going on anyway and will continue to do so. Some of it — like telephones and computers and lunchrooms — and, yeah, Web sites and Facebook pages and Twitter accounts — is simply a business cost of doing business. It’s the individual trees that tell us very little; it’s the forest that matters.

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