Don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook/Twitter basket, marketers

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Businesses publicizing their products on Twitter and Facebook might actually be better off without investing all their time solely into these social networks, according to a study by market research firm Forrester.

Entitled “Social Relationship Strategies That Work” the research reveals how little return on investment these networks actually offer.

In a finding that might surprise many marketers, Facebook posts have reached just one-fiftieth of brands’ fans  via Pages, and that figure is set to tumble another six per cent over the next year.

About one-half of one per cent of top brands’ Facebook fans are interacting with posts, adds Forrester.

“Too many businesses have wasted time on Facebook and Twitter. They are not now, nor ever were, magic bullets. They are tools that you have to know how to use properly. Most are using it ineffectively,” says Sarah Zeldman, social media consultant, and Internet marketing expert.

It’s all about the strategy and the machine behind it, she adds.  “If, on the one hand, companies have hired marketers who are completely trained in social media and relationship marketing, putting in their best efforts and not seeing returns, it’s time to stop.”

If there’s little strategy behind the campaign, however, it’s self-evident that the social media efforts will flop. “What I suspect is that these companies are not using Facebook to build relationships. What they’re doing is posting their promotional deals, or make posts to ‘like’, comment and share, but not related to their company.”

Mitch Joel, partner and president of Twist Image, a renowned digital marketing company, concurs.

“These platforms were meant to connect with people. But brands come into the channel and see it as if it’s a great substitute for advertising.”

The personal touch works better, Joel. “A billion people on Facebook is a big reach. But what you really have are a myriad of small interconnected networks. In a crude way, they’re thinking that if they drop a bomb, everyone will be hit. It’s more about hand to hand combat.”

Thus, the “branded community” should be the new wave, a trend we are seeing in line with the rise of content marketing budgets.

Micro-sites that work

“Branded communities look like the early forerunner of social media, that is internet forums, where people gathered around and discussed things,” says Zeldman.

Examples include Sony’s GreatnessAwaits.com microsite for the PlayStation 4 which attracted 4.5 million visits, and Red Bull’s various site for thrill-seeking athletes.

B2B marketers like Analog Devices and Tyler Technologies have also enjoyed successes with branded communities, according to Forrester.

“I’ve always said that, even years ago, if there’s a forum – like LinkedIn or Google+ – where your target customers are hanging out, you should be there. You shouldn’t be on Facebook just because it’s big,” says Zeldman.

To top it off, marketers using Facebook will see bigger hurdles coming their way: they’ll have to now pay to promote their wares, while fewer promotional posts will appear in people’s news feeds, announced the social media giant.

Digiday believes this was Facebook’s plan all along. “Some have speculated that inducing brands to spend more was Facebook’s central motivation for decreasing brand reach. Facebook has argued that the decrease was actually meant to protect its users from the scourge of bad brand posts and also the natural result of brands posting to Facebook so often that users’ attention has been diluted.”

That’s not to say social media doesn’t have its place, however.

Red Bull has leveraged it, and their results were absolutely staggering. All they’re doing is building events and the experience. This brand is globally known and respected,” explains Joel.

In other examples, Lego, he says, just surpassed Mattel as the largest toy manufacturer, primarily through digital channels. “It happens when you’re very strategic and leveraging the right channels to do the right things.”

And don’t dismiss email marketing in an era where social networks may be dominating our spare time. As Nate Elliott, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, writes: “Your emails get delivered more than 90% of the time, while your Facebook posts get delivered 2% of the time—and no one’s looking over your shoulder telling you what you can and can’t say in your emails. If you have to choose between adding a subscriber to your email list or gaining a new Facebook fan, go for email every time.”

Photo via Flickr user Howard Dickens

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