08 October 2009

5 Reasons Why 90% Of Social Media Efforts Fail

image I got carried away over the last few days, commenting on a post at LinkedIn.

imageWhat’s below is from a ThoseinMedia discussion thread.  You have to join LinkedIn, join the ‘group’, blah blah blah in order to read it – so I posted it here (without permission). 

ThoseinMedia was conceived by Brent Willen. The initial post in the thread is from Andrew Ballenthin

5 Reasons Why 90% Of Social Media Efforts Fail

I've been researching and writing a book on social media monetization and have seen upwards of 90% of professionals failing to get results from little or significant online efforts. After looking at over 400 professionals / businesses in the social media space and reading hundreds of how-to articles there's huge gaps. Why?

1) Lacking Zing
2) Spread Too Thin
3) Not Contagious
4) Poor Consistency
5) No Plan Stan

Feel free to leave your thoughts on why social media does not work or feel free to disagree or leave your solutions. All discussion is welcome.

Hi Andrew - is the failure rate really that high - 90%?

That's very interesting and suggests to me that social media is a creative marketing environment - some work - some don't.

So, perhaps the trick is to be highly creative AND know when to kill campaigns that aren't working?



From my book:

When it all comes out in the wash, WOMM will be the best thing to happen to (silly retronym ahead) traditional advertising. Pretty soon, consumers won't believe anybody - even their best friends. They'll realize that they receive the most honest and straightforward information about a product or service from a TV commercial, print ad, or product web site. At least we don't lie about who we are and why we're saying what we're saying.

As far as all the claptrap about WOMM replacing advertising - people who are hawking that one have a slippery grip on history. Word-of-mouth marketing is nothing new. It's been around for a hundred years, since the beginning of modern advertising, always morphing into various forms. The latest morphs: online social networking and blogs.

There is plenty of marketing and advertising to be done on the Web, and who knows what forms they will take over the next ten years. We'll all be surprised. But word-of-mouth as the primary driving force of marketing? I think not.

Remember this:  Advertising didn't die with the invention of the telephone.

And this video explains it all:



So Chuck your argument is the reason 90% of social media projects fail is because it isn't such a great promotional device after all?

And that we all get carried away with the one that did work (like google) and forget all those that failed (like, err, can't remember all those dot coms any more).

Is that a fair summary?


That's fair. I love the web - but I'm not wild about social media for marketing/advertising.

Keeping an eye on social media is good so you can be on top of it all, good for research, good for some promotion - but it's not going to replace advertising. A great product/service site beats social media. Here's a funny and trenchant post by a friend of mine:


Thanks Chuck - just read your friend's blog - I'm with you both on this.

Another fad I see developing is non html flipping books software - everyone is now trying to shove their magazines into this super cool format - which is really just saying that if they built web pages that offer a forward and back scroll, then that would improve the user experience.

I reckon flipping book software will be dead within 12 months - we'll just get better web browsers and build better websites.

Perhaps the real impact of social media is to improve traditional forms of advertising too?

No kidding about the non-html magazine format. The problem is that mag publishers push the PDF button - which is fine for print (then you send it to the printers) but not necessarily for the web. Here's part of an email I sent to a client last week:

The issue is ease-of-use and readability. I don’t know much about the program you use to render the final (PDF?) layout into an online version. The problem is that it’s hard to read, hard to negotiate. A straight-up PDF is great – but it loses a generation or two with this fancy pseudo-magazine widget. Maybe the technology I’m envisioning doesn’t exist.

A program needs to be invented where it bypasses PDF, you can do a magazine layout and turn it into something that is more like HTML or better, and is specifically for the web so the fonts aren’t small and spongy. PDFs are for printing.

It’s great that ********’s layout is like a magazine, that you can turn pages, that you can hyperlink ads – but it’s so difficult to read. Assume that most people don’t have huge, state-of-the-art monitors. It probably looks great to your designer.

If a print mag puts up a version of their magazine on the web using this software – fine. It’s secondary, for convenience. But if you only have an online magazine, it has to be pristine and the layout has to be specifically for the web.


yep with you now - thanks Chuck - really useful comments

"Contests" of user-generated work are almost ALWAYS disappointing to brands in my opinion. On our team at Behance, we have been discussing this a lot! We are starting to think of the Behance Network (behance.net) as a source for pre-populating a "sponsored gallery" for the purposes of brand engagement (as an alternative to a disappointing spec-like contest). Examples of the concept: typographyserved.com, fashionserved.com

Your 5 points are the reason why "contests" (a common "social media effort") often fail...


Have to disagree with Chuck's comment about people ultimately concluding that more honest/useful info comes from ads. Word of mouth from people you REALLY know and trust always has been and always will be the most effective tool.

That said, while social media has the potential to expand the circle of influencers, most people will still be influenced mainly be the ones they know, not by the fake posters.

For me - I like 'word of mouth' in the form of comparison reviews of a product/service/organization by sites I have grown to trust and value and as a consumer of an incredible amount of trade journals and magazines - I hate the page-flipping formats that have become all the rage. As others have observed - I don't need to spend time working with clumsy navigation formats. And for social media - I think it comes down to an individuals bandwidth. Some social media portals/tools demand too much time to fully engage in and currently the selection is still very broad - too much waffle is usually just too much.

Love this discussion. I’d have to say I’d flip the order of Andrew’s list and place #5 at the top. I think failure often occurs when we become enamored with the tactic and forget the plan. When considering a social media effort as part of a marketing mix I think we need to ask ourselves the following:

1) Are our customers and prospects using social media or are we just putting something out there because we, as marketers, are engaged with it?

2) How does social media fit in context with the overall strategy and to what extent do we think a social effort will help achieve our business goals? Most importantly, how are we going to measure success?

3) Are we willing to commit the resources necessary to do it right?

I think there can be some real value in a social media effort as part of the marketing mix. But for me it still comes down to the basics -- understanding the consumer and how to best engage them in the media they use in order to meet our marketing & business goals. Social media is just another tool in the toolbox and must be strategically integrated into the overall mix in order to be effective.

Excellent points, Lori. Personally, I'd put #2 at the top. But maybe that's just my world!

If 90% failed, does that imply that 10% succeeded? According to what success criteria or objectives? Aren't we really talking about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Where are the concrete numbers? How many $$$ spent on a social media initiative resulted in how many contacts, or sales, or...

How did this compare with other communication programs and what were the tangibles that resulted?

Personally, I'll go with 74 angels.

Sorry I haven't been around, present research and writing on the book has kept me away for a bit. Thanks everyone for sharing such excellent challenges, insights and personal views. This post has generated over 2,000 page views on the blog and some 50+ comments from LinkedIn members since its posting on Monday morning.

If you go to the full blog post there will be over 40 comments which have expanded on this topic as this discussion topic was meant to do http://bit.ly/bnypg . My goal was not to give a definitive or empirical list but to engage your views and to be of any assistance if possible with what I’m discovering during my book research process.

To address the 90% question a few people have asked. What I've seen during my research is that the 90% are putting significant/insignificant time into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks and the medium is consuming time with negligible or no returns for their effort. The 10% that are receiving value are in some way coming close to an ROI that validates the effort invested.

I take a common sense old school approach to success criteria - if you were to invest the same hours and effort into another public relations, sales or advertising channel would the results be acceptable? I'm seeing in most cases the answer is no, the results are not on par with what other in person networking, offline strategic alliances, good old fashion promoting and sales calls achieve for the same hours and effort (social media like offline networking seldom delivers quick wins).

Thanks again for a very lively, challenging and sincere engagement with this discussion. I'm learning lots from everyone. I do strongly believe social media is a valid communication channel, we just have a long ways to go to understand it as well as other communications channels we use in business. Seldom is the pursuit of excellence conquered over night.

"Word of mouth from people you REALLY know and trust always has been and always will be the most effective tool."

I'm a bit confused by this statement. A tool for what? By whom? A tool you use personally as a consumer? A friend buys a product, likes it, and tells you about it. That’s great. But what does that have to do with professional marketing/advertising?

My confusion is probably due to confusion defining concepts. Word of mouth is simply consumers talking amongst themselves about products and services. We've all been doing that since the beginning of modern advertising, for over one hundred years. Actually, it's been going on since the creation of civilization and trade - for thousands of years. It's nothing new.

Now there's something called Word of Mouth Marketing where 'citizen marketers' march into the ether and other places and, for baubles and beads and often more, create clumsy illusions that they're giddy over some product or service.

Why any advertiser would want to mess with good ol' honest word-of-mouth is beyond me.

So your product or service is getting some sort of positive response from users/consumers? Maybe a cult is forming. Or something. People are talking.

Take advantage of this. You'd be stupid not to. Bring in the PR professionals, the marketing people. Reference it in advertising campaigns. Support this grass roots excitement.

But trying to create buzz out of nothing? Paying shills to hand out lipstick and gum, paying bloggers for their so-called objective opinions?

I often wonder who's really being taken to the cleaners with Word of Mouth Marketing. Consumers … or advertisers?

But don't believe me. This is just some social media site, and I'm just somebody leaving a comment. Who knows if someone's paying me to trash word-of-mouth marketing ...

One thing's for sure: *You'll* never know.

Hi Chuck,

I'm totally with you about paid, veiled, WOMM. My point was that I suspect that most (many? Don't know if it is most yet) people who are likely to buy things based on web-based recommendations are by now sophisticated enough to know not to trust everything they read online. So the effective WOM (from the viewpoint of building trust and sales) is that which comes to a prospective customer from someone they actually know and have reason to trust.

In terms of bloggers and "review sites" I think that people are unlikely to trust reviews that merely say "Try it; it is great!". They look for reasons to try it. That's why it is so powerful when sites like Amazon have people rate the usefulness of reviews. So if someone is being paid to promote a product, they at least need to be able to come up with reasoned arguments for WHY the product is good. If the product is a piece of garbage, they will have a harder time doing so, and will thus not be very effective.

That said, I've always thought media literacy is a crucial subject that needs to be taught in schools. Now we need to extend that to online media literacy, to ensure that people DO realize that much of what they read online is paid, veiled advertising.

"Word of mouth is simply consumers talking amongst themselves about products and services." Correct. Where social media has impact is merely in that it makes it easier for such talking amongst themselves to be among many more friends than previously. I wouldn't call a friend in another city to tell them how delighted I am with a paritcular product or service, but I may well post my reaction on a social media site, with the result that all my friends hear it instead of just those I see regularly.

Laugh out loud at your comments Chuck...

Andrew, my role life seems to be the summariser - so to summarise you are saying that social media is great for research and forming opinions about ideas and service - but pretty rubbish at everything else?

If so, we are the lucky ones - using linkedin for research and networking - the advertisers and perhaps the social media companies themselves are unlucky and investors should keep their money away from social media...?


90% Failure Rate?

Based on what measurement? Social media is unique to the user. "One size fits all" simply doesn't apply.

It's the first communications tool that:
1. We get to invent as we go along.
2. Is continually evolving, shifting and changing.
3. It's a tool where we can learn more from something that didn't work, than what worked.
4. That said, "What worked" is based on your needs, not the measurement of others.
5. Finally and most important, there are no, repeat NO experts on social media.

I think we're still using analog measurement for a very digital medium.

If you're adding up the score, make sure Google is categorized under traditional advertising/marketing.

Google search is the new Yellow Pages. Paid Google search is like a half-page ad in The Yellow Pages. It has nothing to do with social media. It's the big boys playing with the big boys - good ol' fashioned big business.

And, of course, you would want people to click on an official web site for your product or service. An official web site is traditional media/marketing, not social media/marketing. It's a professionally produced marketing tool. Sure, you can incorporate a bulletin board (archaic for social network site), and that would be social media marketing, maybe even WOMM - but it's of secondary or tertiary or ... fourthindary importance to the site.

Minus Google from the social media results and you have a 99% failure rate.


Posts of mine that have to do with WOMM:

Harris Poll & Advertising & Social Networking

A Smart Approach

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