Marcelo Salup: It’s Social, but is it Media Yet?

In this article, advertising and marketing professional Marcelo Salup evaluates social media’s effectiveness as an advertising platform, as a social platform and as a brand.
No phenomena has caught fire so quickly among “regular folk” as social media. After all, here’s an opportunity to stay in touch with long lost friends, ex-girlfriends, people in your industry… all of it with a certain degree of intimacy (you get to see pictures of their babies, their dogs, their parties) and free to boot.
No phenomena has so caught advertisers attention as social media. After all, here’s an opportunity to touch zillions of consumers in an intimate, unguarded moment with what would hopefully be a more impactful message. And, best of all, all of it almost for free.
Social media had three promises going in:
First, as a “regular folk”, it would allow me to keep in touch with people that I wanted to be in touch with.
Second, as an advertising professional, it would give me a platform from which to reach out to consumers in a more impactful way because it would be customized to the needs and wants of my target consumer.
Third, as a brand, it would give me an opportunity to interact with zillions of consumers in an open, friendlier environment 

So… what happened?
1. Social platform. 

In the past week alone, I learned that my ex-planner in New York just had a baby (Massimo Joseph), that the kid sister of one of my best friends just went through a painful divorce and that Steve Sternberg is in a 3-day Nielsen conference in Las Vegas.

Bottom Line: Solid Yes 

2. As an advertising platform.

In two different polls I conducted, barely 15% of all respondents reported clicking on any ad in a social network. The very size of the respondent base (less than 100 people) is, by itself a sign of the consumer interaction. Anecdotically, most of my friends and acquaintances also report low interaction with straight advertising in social sites. Historically, CTR’s (click through rates) have been sliding so that today we probably do not see even a 1% CTR across the board.
As a “regular guy”, I’m also apalled at the advertising I am served. Some of the jewels I’ve collected in the last 2-3 months:

  • New Power Link Generator: “Why do 99% of all Affiliate Marketers loose (sic) money…?”
  • Mafia Wars: “or you could wind up sleeping with the fishes (sic)”
  • From “Wanta (sic) know the truth” – “if your (sic) sick and tired”…

In addition to dozens of illiterate ads, I’ve also been served with: fat-burning snacks, “computer accelerating” downloads, services to “legally remove 80% of my credit card debt over $10,000”, a  cholesterol-blasting drug, a shocking new remedy for joint relief, an offer to sell solar panels, anonymous STD testing services, drug discount services, an overnight girlfriend service, an artery-clearing secret, quantum back pain relief and… no, no snake oil.  So far.
This is random targeting at its best. Indeed, when I created an ad for a photo product and decided to play around a bit with the targeting, this is what I got:

  • 254,220 people
      • who live in the United States
      • who live in Florida, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut or California
      • between the ages of 25 and 54 inclusive
      • who like photography, canon, nikon or photographer
      • who graduated from college

Bottom line: mixed at best. Definitely some targetting (a quarter million people might, after all, not only be a great group, but also influence another couple of million) but not all that great.
3. The acid test: Brand Interaction. 

This is, after all, what social media are all about. Right? Again: Mixed. 

Let’s talk size:

  • There are huge groups (pages) in Facebook: Coca Cola has 5.9 million fans, Pepsi Refreshes has 757,000 fans, Doritos has 849,000 fans, Nike has 2,248,000 fans, Ferrari has 959,000 and Louis Vuitton 1,088,000
  • Many of the groups, however, are so small that they can’t conceivably move the needle: Colgate Wisp has 3,738 people, American Airlines has 61,656 and Comcast has 6,349

Let’s talk environment now.
Many “fans” join brand pages or groups just to complain (and loudly). Others have the most inane comments ever. Among some of the comments I saw today: 

UPS – 8,371 people like this. 

  • Inger Elise Latterkrampå Ackles: UPS SUCKS major.
  • John Terry: I will now being using FedEx for all of my deliveries. UPS is
    giving $750,000 to La Raza, a racist, pro-illegal immigrant group
  • Patty Moraites Apkarian: I "liked" this just to post! Fedex is so much easier!
    Todya I got transferred 7 times while trying to figure out as to why I couldn't do an online shipment.

Colgate Wisp – 3,716 people like this.

  • Colgate Wisp: At the mall, at the movies, in the car after the drive-thru.
    When and where do you use Colgate® Wisp®? Tell us!
  • Tonia Tucker Kirven: All the time. I love them
  • Gabriella D'Innocenzo: While driving, after i eat, before bed
  • Melody Noemí Ramos: while traveling, specially when i'm on airplanes.
  • Anneliese Thyer: I would never consider using such a wasteful disposable item

SAMSUNG – 47,238 people like this.

  • Junaid Zaheer: I want info about SAMSUNG Air Conditioners prices in Pakistan.
  • Benjiro Weiss: I love the Home Theater Systems you guys make
  • Jarrell Prichard: Paul's Certified Appliance – Fresno won't honor their agreement w/ Samsung to fix my fridge w/o gouging me for +$105 (beyond what Samsung pays and I'm not required to)

In addition, many of the groups show a complete lack of activity. People “fan” them, but never come back, negating the social interaction component.
Bottom line: tons of small groups that don’t move the needle –can 3,000 people really affect Wisp sales—and where many of the fans join to loudly critizice the company with some great exceptions thrown in. Not great.
Being an extroverted, early-adopter, highly-active social media user who happens to do strategic planning and buy media for a living, it was inevitable that I would draw some conclusions:

1.   Social environments (e.g., Facebook) are here to stay. A zillion people can’t be wrong and every single piece of research I read points out towards two trends: increasing user base and more frequent use of social media

2.   I don’t think any advertiser has really cracked the code yet. For every
dyed-in-the-wool fan there seems to be 2 inane boring ones and another one that just wants to tell the company “you suck”. Evidently, some companies are doing well: Coca Cola, Nike, Ferrari… but go deeper into the walls and you’ll see that easily 25%-30% of the comments are really negative.

3.   People are selfish. Groups that attract fans, get them to interact positively and keep them coming back all give something, whether it is a preview of fluorescent shoes (Nike), the possibility of winning a $20,000 grant to follow your heart in a project (Pepsi), or winning a shopping spree for sharing their Father’s Day story (Pampers)

Social? Yep! Media? Not quite yet.

Marcelo Salup is a strategic planning and media expert with over 25 years of experience in the US, Latin America, Asia and Europe. He has developed integrated strategies for clients such as Porsche, DIRECTV Mas, BlueCross BlueShield and more.