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Social media, as a channel, is hard to hate, and despite the fact that companies are still grappling with ROI, brands continue to pour larger and larger sums into social media initiatives and industry observers continue to show the same interest in highlighting and analyzing them as they did when social media first started to go mainstream.

But don't let any of this fool you. Investment and attention don't mean that social media initiatives are effective, or serve a useful purpose. In fact, many of them are arguably downright pointless.

For brands hoping to make social a productive channel, this presents a challenge: how can we tell if the initiatives we're creating are worthwhile?

That isn't always easy, but your initiative might be pointless if it...

Is only designed to acquire more fans or followers

100,000 followers isn't cool. You know what's cool? 1m followers. Or something like that.

Yes, it's natural that companies want to grow their audiences in key social channels, but designing good initiatives intended solely to grow your fan or follower counts generally produces less-than-compelling results. What's worse: because those fans and followers really aren't owned, their value going forward is not always clear and can easily diminish.

Asks customers to promote a purchase

Chances are you've never run into a person wearing a "My purchase went viral" t-shirt, but that may come as a surprise to all the companies that waste no time in asking their customers to tweet about their purchases immediately after they click Complete Order.

Obviously, it's not unreasonable to expect that a satisfied customer might eventually choose to share his or her experience online in one or more social channels, but asking users to tweet "I just purchased Glide Comfort Plus Dental Floss, Mint, 43.7-Yard Dispenser (Pack of 6)..." isn't the foundation of a solid social strategy.

Offers a lame prize

For lovers, Valentine's Day is supposed to be a romantic time. But unless you and your significant other love pizza more than you love each other, Pizza Hut's Valentine's Day Twitter campaign, in which Twitter users are encouraged to tweet the #LastMinuteLovers hashtag for a chance to win "one of 24 daily limited edition Last Minute Lovers Packages" containing, amongst other things, an Eau de Pizza fragrance, is probably not what Cupid ordered. Or ever will, on any day.

When it comes to using social media to run contests, less is sometimes more. And nothing is often better than less.

Makes doing something that should be easy seem more complex

Social is cool and sexy, but making something social for the sake of making it social is an approach best left in 2009. Take, for instance, American Express' latest initiative with Twitter. Here's CNET's Daniel Terdiman explaining how it works:

Amex cardholders first sync their card with Twitter. Then, when they come across products that are eligible to purchase under the plan -- products that American Express will promote through a Twitter feed -- they simply send out a tweet that includes a special hashtag. Amex will then send them an @-reply with a confirming hashtag. Finally, the buyer has to send out a second tweet with the special hashtag within 15 minutes.

The goal of this? Unless it's to see just how much unnecessary difficulty can be injected into the process of purchasing something, there would appear to be none.

Doesn't create lasting value

Oreo and its digital agency, 360i, deserve credit for their quick thinking during the Super Bowl. The company's blackout tweet was, to put it simply, clever. And obviously well-timed.

But was all the attention lavished upon it afterward really justified? From an analysis of the tools Oreo and 360i used to monitor Twitter chatter to claims that Oreo "won the Marketing Super Bowl," the harsh reality for brands is that when the media lavishes its attention on your social media prowess, and not your products and services, you're probably not creating lasting value. Especially when you shelled out millions for an official Super Bowl commercial to boot.

Patricio Robles

Published 12 February, 2013 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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