Social Media is BS

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That’s right, I said it. Social media is BS. You might be asking yourself, “Why would she say something like that when she’s active on Twitter and probably gets most of her blog traffic from social media?”

Good question. It’s true that I get most of my traffic from social media. But when it comes to ROI, social media is BS.

I’ve been ruminating on this topic for a while. Back in December, Social Times ran a piece titled The Future of Social Commerce. I saw the post on – you guessed it – Twitter, and I was intrigued. I thought, “Finally! Someone is measuring the ROI of social media!”


Take a look at that post. Take a really close look at this part of the ridiculously humongous infographic:

social commerce infographic
OK, so I’ve editorialized here. But look at the circled text: they’re equating “having a presence” with driving sales. Really?

Back in the day, in another life, I did outside sales for traditional media. I can tell you right now that “having a presence” in a client’s place of business sure as heck did not equate ROI for me. Walking into a store or office won’t guarantee sales, and neither does “having a presence” in social media. People do not buy from you just because you’re there.

As for the comment “Meteoric rise of Pinterest demonstrates that Curation is the future of Social Commerce” – that’s just crazy talk. I’ll admit – Pinterest is cool, and I’ve seen several companies using it effectively. A few might even be making money from it. But because a bunch of scrapbookers and people with time on their hands have adopted Pinterest means it’s the “future of Social Commerce”? Give me a break.

I could go on and on. But what sparked me to finally write this post was a great post over at Search Engine Watch by Nathan Safran titled Can We Please Stop Hyping Social as the Marketing Messiah? Indeed. As of this writing, the post has garnered 55 comments. I don’t know how many comments the average SEW post gets, but as a regular contributor I can tell you that in 5 years of writing for them, I don’t think I’ve gotten 55 comments TOTAL. It’s a hot topic for sure.

Social media is also a nice shiny object. People are attracted to it because it’s new and exciting. But new and exciting doesn’t equal sales, either.

What do you think? Is social a bunch of hooey, or is it the future of commerce? Or something in between?

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  1. Oh Melissa…

    You Speaka the TRUF!!! 🙂

    I have sat here listening to people pushing facebook, twitter and other social media arenas for soooooo long and it’s refreshing to hear someone look at it without the hype. I do believe if you have the right kind of business that there is potential to make some money from social, but for your average business, where ROI (true ROI with real dollars and stuff!) matters there is simply not enough return to make social media matter so much.

    It is simply too hard to go to the C-Level people and say “Well…no “actual” sales, but I got 25 facebook likes!” …my job matters too much to me for that kind of conversation.

    I think there is value to social…there is always value in branding and getting your name out there…but if a business that sells “things” – especially higher dollar “things” – is looking for social to be the “future of commerce” they are going to go broke pretty quickly.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Completely agree Jeff. There absolutely is value in branding, and social is a great place to interact with influencers who can help evangelize your brand. But your example of “we didn’t get sales but we got likes!” is spot on. I’ve had that conversation too many times and it’s embarrassing. It’s time to call social what it is – a branding and interaction channel, not a “commerce” channel.

  2. You are right. Social is a branding and interaction channel and impossible to determine true ROI in the same way you can PPC, BUT that doesn’t mean it doesn’t equate to sales.

    At least 20% of my agencies total revenue over the last 5 years has come from social media (including Linkedin). A few of my current highest paying clients come from networking online.

    I had a client (they sell photoshop actions) that is mom and pop that gets 100% of their sales from Facebook (over a million a year in sales). Their likes over 100k, have definitely meant sales for them. We tried helping them get PPC running and producing ROI, which it did, but they couldn’t stand paying for such a small boost in sales compared to what they were getting totally free from Facebook.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Cool case studies, Stu. Social is indeed a new form of networking and it is huge for relationships and business. I got my current job partly because of social media. I just have a hard time recommending social for businesses who need to demonstrate ROI right away – social takes time and tons of human effort, more so than PPC in many ways, and it’s hard to demonstrate or prove ROI at scale. I’ve heard from too many businesses who want to leap into social because they saw posts like the Social Times one and think social is low-hanging fruit because people “have a presence” there.

  3. Social media strategy and results will and should vary on a case by case basis. That is for sure.

  4. I don’t think social isn’t a bunch of hooey and branding and interaction can lead to new customers, increased loyalty and retention of current customers and higher life time value. But good luck measuring and attributing actual revenue. The first thing to do when proposing or being asked to launch some social campaigns is agree on the metrics and the goals, period. Engagement, fan acquisition, etc. What are you really trying to do because you are not going to see last click atributable orders….Do not spend a dime until this discussion happens; it only leads to disappointment.

    The one success I had actually selling stuff on Facebook was with a screaming Black Friday deal where conversion rates were through the roof that weekend anyways, and people didn’t mind actually leaving FB wall of Happy Thanksgiving!/Be Thankful posts to go buy something.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Great comment, Lisa. Very good advice. I’ve said many times that it comes down to goals, and in social especially it seems that conversation gets skipped a LOT. As you say it leads to disappointment and frustration all around if expectations don’t align with reality.

      Oh, and nice job seeing through my link-bait-y headline. 😉

  5. There are certainly circumstances under which you get a buttload of ROI from social (can I say that here?) But they usually require a loooong time building authority where you’re not getting any direct ROI. Most businesses don’t have the time for patience for it. Understandably.

  6. Mel – very brave topic to tackle. 🙂

    If it’s possible to agree and disagree with you, then that’s where I am. I agree with you (and Meg) that short-term ROI is unlikely. Most people who cash in Facebook’s free $50 advertising coupons as first-time social advertisers are likely to end up thinking the whole effort was a waste. Until the industry cracks the multi-channel attribution nut (I believe your other blog topic this week?) – attributing ROI to social channel activities may be challenging.

    Where I think many organizations can begin to see a “ROI” for social activity (organic and paid) is when it’s primarily utilized for retention purposes. Our mutual friend Scott Gillum wrote an article maybe 18 months ago on his blog,, where he eloquently lobbied for organizations to go the social CRM route and judge success through that lens.

    I’ve read two books on social media analytics, and both left me thinking there’s a lot of work yet to be done.

    Good post!

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