Last week I published an article dedicated to Marta Kagan’s excellent ‘What the f**k is social media? [one year on]’ slideshow. It’s a great overview of why brands should be embracing social media.

However, it made me think a little bit about what social media will not do for you. It certainly isn’t some kind of silver bullet that will immediately smite business problems and make everything better.

If you’ve got issues then you still need to deal with them, and it’s better that you do so before diving into the social media whirlpool.

So let’s take a look at what social media is not going to do for you.

1. Social media isn’t going to help you sell shitty products
The power of the network can have a huge effect on sales, but only if your products / services rock. 

Take BlendTec and the Will it Blend video series. It ticked a lot of the right boxes, but ultimately the company generated a five-fold increase in sales as a result of the campaign because the product is solid. You could tell simply by watching the videos.

The community can certainly play a huge part in driving word of mouth and recommendations, in order to generate new business and higher revenues. It can also help you improve your products, but if you’re prepared to invite consumer opinions then be sure to follow through with actions (otherwise your ‘engagement strategy’ will come across as hollow).

Takeaway: If your products / services have issues, then the network will only magnify the scale / market knowledge of those problems.

2. Social media isn’t going to revitalise your ailing company
If your company is struggling then it is more likely that you have bigger things to worry about than what to tweet about today.

It’s a question of priorities. We know that the crowd can do great things for your business, but the crowd won’t fix your problems for you. They might steer you towards a solution (if you ask them), but be careful about jumping into this space before dealing with any fundamental business issues that you may have.

Takeaway: social media may be a distraction you don’t yet need. If you can’t take action before embarking on a social media strategy then do you really think you’ll be able to afterwards?

3. Social media isn’t going to fix your crappy website
It seems a bit crazy to execute a brilliant social media strategy only to deliver a poor user experience to your new visitors.

Again, it’s a question of priorities. Make sure your website is well-optimised and working well to make the most of an increase in traffic from the social media sites. This is an ongoing task for all website owners, but it's best to start from a relatively stable position, as far as web performance goes.

Takeaway: Get your house in order and fix the ‘beautiful basics’ on your website before opening the door to more people.

4. Social media isn’t going to stop people from saying bad things about you
In fact, it tends to work the other way around. A problem with bad noise in the blogosphere five years ago is today magnified massively.

Sites like Twitter, Digg and Facebook are huge echo chambers, and you don’t need to have a blog to start shouting.

If you’re called out for failing in some area of your business then the best advice is to own up to mistakes (we are only human, after all), and then try to learn from them.

Takeaway: You can use social media to let people know that you’re listening, before trying to fix up the cause of the complaints.

5. Social media isn’t going to help you save customer service costs
And you know what: it might even increase them. There are no shortcuts with social media, given that it is labour intensive and requires people power (people talk to people, but they don’t talk to robots).

Make no mistake, social media is a people game, and it is best to spread the workload rather than appointing a social media overlord. Your staff are your best asset when it comes to dealing with your customers and prospects.

Social media sites will inevitably extend the reach of your customer service channel, whether you like it or not. It’s an opportunity, and if people prefer to reach out to you via third party website then a) deal with it, and b) take a close look at your existing customer service operations, which may not be up to scratch (why are people using Twitter to talk to you?).

Takeaway: Expect questions. Provide answers. Train your staff accordingly.

6. Social media isn’t going to turn a bad marketing strategy into a good one
A bad marketing strategy is a bad marketing strategy. You can’t simply add a dollop of Twitter and a spoonful of Facebook to make everything better. It won't work.

Social media sites can certainly help enhance and improve your marketing campaigns, but you must focus on producing great campaigns to start off with. Badvertising and lame virals will not benefit from the network effect, so stop wasting your money.

Sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are brilliant feedback channels. They can be used to measure the success of your overall marketing efforts. They are also amazing for driving community involvement (e.g. user videos, fan pages, new followers). They’ll really work in your favour if your campaigns are innovative and creative, and are geared up for these channels / consumer participation.

Takeaway: A joined up, well-thought out approach to marketing is the best plan of attack if you’re throwing social media into the mix.

7. Social media isn’t about push: it’s about pull
Well, it’s about both, but it pretty much leans towards ‘pull’ marketing. Social media is about service, interaction and user feedback. Using social sites as a platform only push marketing seems to be missing the point.

Push marketing (think paid search, advertising, email campaigns, direct mail) is great for acquisition, but pull marketing is consumer-centric, and as such is better for cultivating relationships, building loyalty, brand favourability, and word of mouth. Social sites are well geared up to pull marketing.

Takeaway: Create great content and participate in order to generate demand for your updates, and ultimately your products and services. People pay more attention when they tune themselves in.

8. Social media isn’t going to work for you if you aren’t a people person
This is sort of obvious, right? Signing up to social media sites and then not saying anything isn’t going to do you any favours. A dormant or near-inactive account is an exercise in pointlessness. There's more to life than an RSS-based Twitter account.

Takeaway: You can use feeds to push out your content (as we do) but remember to mix it up and get personally involved with the community.

9. Social media isn’t necessarily going to increase customer retention
Ok, a curve ball here, because social media should help you keep customers for longer. Why? Because it’s all about engagement, and that leads to customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to reduced churn. But other factors are at play.

You need to manage and surpass customer expectations if you want to keep hold of them. You need to build a great brand. You need to prove that your products and services (or service levels) are better than those offered by your competitors.

It’s no good being brilliant at social media but shipping late, or sending too many emails, or being uncompetitive, or generally annoying / frustrating your cherished customers.

Takeaway: Amaze and delight your customers and live up to your promises. Don’t try to fake it, as you’ll be found out in public.

Chris Lake

Published 7 August, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (15)

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Presumably it's not going to help you do a numbered list with a 3 in it either?

almost 9 years ago



Foiled by a swift edit! Good catch!

almost 9 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Dammit Rich!

almost 9 years ago



LOL @ Rich

Can we also clarify missing point 10 that social media isnt just writing "10 things you didnt know" articles?

almost 9 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

Good article.

I am so tired of hearing over-the-hill agencies ham fistedly trying to wedge social media into their offerings.

almost 9 years ago



This is a great post. While i love what social media can do, I'm weary of clients overlooking what it can't do. I'm certainly planning on pointing them here. Thanks.

almost 9 years ago


Akash Sharma

Brilliant article accroding to me twitter is just about treating your customers like friends, which needs a lot of loyalty to be offerd so that they can believe in you and your services and yes Pull and Push marketing differnce was awesome given above.

almost 9 years ago



OMG ! Great Article !

almost 9 years ago

Doug McIsaac

Doug McIsaac, CEO at Social Traffic

Great, post I agree that social media like all things has it's strengths amd weeknesses. In fact, I like to look at social media as a tool. A tool that can be very powerful when used properly in the right situations, but like most tools isn't good for every job.

As marketers we need to have enough tools in our toolboxes to work with our clients and help them understand the strengths and limititation of social marketing. Then we can help our clients develop campaigns that can be successful.


almost 9 years ago


Shitij Nigam

Nice stuff. Loved the point about customer service, it really does help businesses reach across to their customer. Airlines especially are a perfect example of this I think, they've been the fastest to adopt to Social Media any way.

Brilliant article. Loved it.

almost 9 years ago

Simon Newsam

Simon Newsam, Account Director, New Media at Effective Communication

Good to see the balance redressed. To me social media is undeniably a very useful arena but it's not for everyone or all circumstances. It's just a matter of common sense but too many people leave that behind as they are dazzled by the bright lights of the latest attraction.

almost 9 years ago


Rob Silsbury

Nice to hear some commonsense in what is rapidly become a sea of false claims and hype. Unfortunately it's rapidly becoming victim to the web 2.0 syndrome with people simply making up their own versions of what it is at the core.  Social media is about being social, and if you (or your business) aren't, then it won't work.  We all hate people that talk 'at' you rather than 'to' you and this is no different.  Points 3 and 6 are particularly key methinks!    

almost 9 years ago


Jovan Hackley

Incredible posts, especially #3 and #1. I think we can take it a step further and say NO MEDIA will accomplish any of these tasks. Good business is good business and good communications/media strategies are born of good business models, management skills and great hires. IMHO

almost 9 years ago



I'm a student looking at developing a social media strategy as part of an internship. It's refreshing to see an article on what social media can't do as opposed to the millions covering what it can do. Thank you really useful information!

almost 9 years ago



Great article, straight talking and to the point.

almost 9 years ago

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