Social Media Conversation, Engagement & Sales Suck Say Nitpickers
There is a new trend in social media expert circles: nitpickers declare all the social media basics we take for granted to be nonsense or choose to ignore them.
I haven't finished college but while attending it I was a social anthropologist to some extent. These social scientists are dealing with small groups of people and their behaviour. Unlike statisticians who mostly count people and their traits we didn't practice sociology. Instead we were dealing with the people directly. We performed interviews and were mingling with the people we studied. It was the perfect preparation for social media in a way.
Many people on the Web seemingly mistake statisticians for scientists.
You get statistics shoved in your mouth all the time and they are meant to prove or disprove something. A recent statistic says that only 1% of online purchases "are influenced by social media". I have no idea how they measured that but I have seen other statistics that proved the exact opposite, saying things like 74% of purchases are influenced by social media.
Statistics are not scientific. They in most cases just prove a thesis by those who performed them. Also in social science there is no objectivity. The scientists themselves influence the statistics with their bias by asking the wrong questions, the wrong people or looking at the wrong metrics. Even Web analytics are not really trustworthy. That's why you need to have at least two of three tools running to compare the numbers. So a statistic is no more than a hint.
Just imagine a scientist who would have taken a statistical approach to prove the importance of social media or rather the lack of it in 2000.
The study results would be clear: there is no social media and 100% of people don't need it. Unless of course they would have counted mailing lists, web rings and forums as social media. You see statistics can only show you part of the picture. They never show you the why.
For example you could assume, like many racists do, that African Americans are born criminals, just take a look at the prison statistics in the US. There is a significantly higher percentage of "black" people among inmates. In case you don't ask why you can just victimize them once again by stating that obviously it must be the colour of their skin. Never mind slavery etc.
In the current issue of Search Marketing Standard, a publication I really value, self proclaimed social media scientist Dan Zarella of Hubspot (full disclosure: I have worked for Hubspot in the past) declares that social media conversation and engagement suck. They are just clichés and any serious business person has only to measure dollars and cents.
It's true, social media conversation and engagement are not key metrics to find out how your campaigns perform.
They only show a small part of what is considered the ominous social media ROI. Can you drop them altogether then? No. They are the foundation of any other activity on social media. Without conversation and engagement you are just using social media like TV. Why not give it up altogether then and stick with TV?
Dan Zarrella goes on to say that you can't deal with "superstitions" about social media. The "social media science" allows him to see the underlying truth. What he means by that is that he looks at statistics and tries to interpret them. That's pretty subjective don't you think? Let three different people interpret the same statistic and they will draw three different conclusions. Returning to my example from above:
- The racist from Arizona will clearly state that blacks are evil and natural born criminals.
- The historian from Harvard will tell you that due to the desolate history of the US population of former African slaves the crime rate is higher.
- The social worker from Chicago's inner city will tell you that due to the disproportional poverty among African Americans crime may seem the only way to earn money to many.
We learned this during one of the first seminars in cultural studies. There is not even one truth. All of the above interpretations have some truth to it, even the racist one. When people live in catastrophic conditions for centuries some things they learned can even become part of their genetic heritage. Also children learn early from the adults and when they see crime as a way of life they will adopt it. So it may seem as if they were born criminals.
On the Internet there is a lot of prejudice as well.
I don't mean the "unicorns and rainbows" theory of Dan Zarella though. My theory states the opposite: there is wide-spread prejudice that everything which is not measurable in dollars and cents is a waste of time. Still it applies only to some things not others. Nobody seems to question the ROI of web design these days but the ROI of social media is the number one topic for business people.
Still I haven't seen a study or even statistic that can prove the fact that social media engagement or conversation doesn't deliver results.
We do not even have the tools to measure the influence correctly. Social media is not a sales channel, it's an awareness channel. Nobody can buy your product if s/he doesn't even know it exists. People won't find out about it through search in most cases. They will buy it after they search for it though. So unless you buy a lot of TV advertising and the likes these people must have read or heard about your offer. Most probably they did online or more specifically on social media.
You can measure or test awareness though.
Just make up a new product with a unique name and only spread the word about it using social media. Then after a while run a survey and ask people from your preferred audience whether they are aware of it. If they are they know it from social media.
Now let's take a look at engagement and conversation, the "unicorns and rainbows" of Dan Zarella. Imagine a real life store. A potential customer enters and asks a question. The salesperson does not react. After all engagement and conversation does not pay! There is no direct ROI in it. Why should s/he reply? So the only thing the sales person does is opening the cash register and taking the money from those customers who enter the store, take what they want and pay immediately. All the others get ignored. Is this a good sales person? Of course not.
The one that engages the potential customer, convinces the yet undecided one in a conversation is the good sales person.
The one that converts the people who are not yet sure whether they want to buy something. The other customers do not even need a salesperson. An automated cash register or card reader is enough.
So unless you have a complete surveillance system that allows you to track the complete sales funnel from first touch and to payment and you are able to attribute the conversion the the several factors that have impacted it you have to listen to your gut feeling that says customer service and also engagement and conversation are needed.
So do not listen to nitpickers and statisticians who pose as scientists. In social science there is no one truth and no statistic can express it.
You need to care for your customers even long before they pay you or they won't care about you and your product. In case you don't your competition will. You may have a higher ROI because you invest less but the others will have more sales and customers.
* Creative Common image by George Hatcher