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Facebook and Twitter have become powerful marketing tools for many brands. But where there are tremendous opportunities, there can also be serious risks.

I’ve watched with fascination as an increasing number of companies invest in social media marketing without pausing to think through the outcomes of this approach. This post reviews four good reasons why you should pause for thought as you embark on your own social strategy.

Take, for example, the fact that more and more Fortune 500 companies are closing their television and display adverts with a call-to-action sending users to the brand’s Facebook page with no mention of their own company site: “Check us out on Facebook” or “Follow us on Twitter”.

You’ve seen this, done this or recommended your clients do it. And it is a huge coup for both of these companies. Getting other firms to pay billions of dollars a year to build your brand is an amazing feat.

When I first saw this, I thought this had to be a mistake. How in the world would companies of this size feel comfortable doing this? This was an obvious sign to me that the market still requires much education about the opportunity with social media.

While everyone jockeys for budgets to maximise their social media potential, I thought it would be a perfect time to pose the question:

What are the reasons you DON’T need a social media strategy?

ROI is hard to quantify

We’re all in business to sell products or services. Are there consumer brands out there that can conclusively state that they’ve seen an uplift in their overall sales (besides Zynga) because they created a Facebook page?

So let’s take a step back and put it this way. When you do create a brand page and people visit or become your fans, what happens next? For the most part, the answer is “nothing.” Once you have X number of fans, it’s really just an ego number, with limited sales to show for it.

Your brand is out of your control

Brand protection is one of the biggest challenges with blind ad networks. How do I know my brand isn’t showing up next to some horrible contextual ad alongside negative publicity about my company?

Simply put, how do I know my brand isn’t being associated with porn, drugs, etc.? The answer with blind networks is you really don’t. We’ve all seen examples of adverts gone wrong on the FAIL blog. 

On Facebook, the relevant question that needs to be posed is “how do I know my brand isn’t being shown next to some kid’s drunk snaps from the night before?” Some may say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I’d bet many brand managers (and lawyers) would argue otherwise.

You’re handing over your hard-earned customer data and relationships

I find it amazing that companies give away the opportunity to own their 1:1 customer relationships. While intentions might be good, most brands don’t realise they’re spending money to build Facebook’s customer database instead of their own.

A good analogy would be the difference between paying rent on a real estate property (paying for someone else’s ownership), versus paying your own mortgage for a long-term investment.

Not only are these companies building someone else’s customer database, but they’re also missing out on the opportunity to leverage valuable analytics and insights from repeat, loyal customers.

For instance, when consumers return to your site, what specific products or keywords are they searching for, or what coupons are consumers most interested in? Do you think social media sites will give you that type of data? Also, would you be frustrated if these sites used consumer data from your brand page to targets competitive ads to your customers? Just ponder that for a minute.

You can’t protect your users’ privacy

User privacy can’t be overlooked. One of the comments from Facebook about why they haven’t gone public yet is because they still want to take a lot of risk (understandable, and I don’t disagree).

In fact, they’ve taken some extremely bold moves to export user’s data (see the most recent article on TechCrunch). The repercussions of some of these moves may be at the expense of some of their advertising partners (albeit unintended). Refer to: your brand is out of your control.


I recently met with an executive from a top five CPG brand who expressed interest in “getting access to consumer data” in order to build a relationship with his customers.

Now this company has its strategy in the right place, by asking the critical questions of “How do I leverage consumer data to create a long-lasting relationship with my customers?” and “How can I leverage their information (demo, personal preferences, etc.) in a way that helps me enhance that relationship?” If you’re sending your customers to your Facebook page instead of your site, you’re missing out on a wealth of data that can help you better serve your customers.

When embarking on the journey of social media marketing, be careful what you wish for. You may get that expanded social media budget, but in the process you may also forsake your relationships with your customers with no hope of future insights, spend money with little transparency on ROI, unknowingly sponsor a privacy scandal, or place your brand in a compromising situation.

Before you start, make sure you can truly justify why you can’t live without a social media strategy. 

Jake Bailey

Published 4 May, 2011 by Jake Bailey

Jake Bailey is Chief Evangelist at RichRelevance and a contributor to Econsultancy.

5 more posts from this author

Comments (28)

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Great post, well said in all areas. It's a shame when companies value social media over other more effective and trackable forms of advertising and marketing. You hit the nail on the head when you said that it's an ego thing - unfortunately for some, it's a game of "I have more followers than you, dear competitor" and ROI is almost seen as secondary.

over 5 years ago



A facebook page can be a stepping stone to a brands own destination. The idea being that a person likes and shares on his/her ROI can be measured too.

Also, user behaviour is different. People trust Facebook. They are familiar with it. Brands want to leverage that as its hard and expensive to build communities.

Your points are valid but there are many benefits too. And its certainly worth experimenting a little to start with.

over 5 years ago


Copywriter London

A rare and welcome call for some reflection and common sense. I too think that there is an inherent weakness in the logic of social media marketing when it comes to hard-core lead generation (as opposed to general buzz and brand awareness). If the whole world is on Facebook (including your competitors) all talking simultaneously amidst a see of random photos and status updates streamed through a noisy news feed, doesn't your message get fatally diluted?

Sure, good, attention-grabbing content helps, but only to a point. It is the built-in diseconomies of scale which leads me to believe that social media is useful, but only to the extent that it provides another means of communication for those customer segments that choose to use it. Does it require a lead-generation "strategy" on the back of an expensive investment? I'm not sure - I would think twice about the lack of decent ROI. Should companies put all their eggs in the social media basket? Certainly not.

over 5 years ago


Scott Wilkins

Wow, can you please post this at the end of the article right now: If you have any concerns or questions regarding this article entitled "Why your best social media strategy might be not having one" please don't hesitate to reach out to us on twitter, facebook, or blog (see the top of this website page).... give me a break, if you're company isn't investing in social media marketing you're being left behind.

over 5 years ago


Paula White

It's natural in a world where budgets are stretched and there are not enough hours in the day to do the essential business tasks, never mind all the 'nice to have's' that people are looking for the answer to 2 main questions: "What is the ROI of Social Media" and "Which of my many other marketing / advertising / communication activities does it replace?"

Sadly the answer to the second question is that it doesn't really replace any of these as it holds very little value as a stand-alone business exercise. And the answer to the first question is about being clear what it is you hope to achieve. What are your goals? New audience, wider recognition, increased sales, more followers than a competitor? Only when you know what you want, can you tailor your activity to help you achieve it, and then measure it.

It doesn't need to be all consuming or expensive. Little and often is better than a big hit and then neglect. It's also wise to remember that Social Media is not just about talking but about listening. Do you know what you clients are saying to your prospective clients about you online today...?

over 5 years ago


Ed Han

Jake, very refreshing look at SM engagement strategies. Do you still think there's such a rush now as there may have been previously?

over 5 years ago



There is only one reason why companies shouldn't have a social media strategy, plan, and execution ... they don't want to build, foster, and strengthen relationships with existing and prospect customers. The points you make here show that you treat social media as a separate thing as opposed to something that MUST be integrated with other marketing and customer service endeavors.

Social Steve

over 5 years ago


K.C. Donovan

Interesting approach to question the pitfalls of Social Media to be able to generate clients for your business.

Any marketing executive that is enabling the Social Web Platforms to dictate the positioning for their brands is in the wrong the job... Most if not all of these platforms are merely tools to collect, influence and deliver customers to brand pages. If you are not using these sites as vehicles to export potential customers to your own playing field you deserve to experience much of what Jake describes...

The game has drastically changed - no longer can we rely on push techniques to build brand loyalty and sales - its all about "engagement" and if you are not doing everything you can to engage with your customers NOW - your competitors will, and regardless of market share those who ignore this fact will get run over...

over 5 years ago


Colin Mercer, Social Media Manager at Bright Digital

The ROI of social media activity has always been one of the major barriers to entry to many companies. However, methodologies for tracking, calculating, and analysing ROI are ever improving and it’s not unfeasible to think that in the not too distant future the ROI expectations of the most skeptical companies will be met.

Not sure I agree that having a call-to-action on a TV ad sending viewers to a Twitter account is “handing over the 1-1 relationship”. Ok, agreed you may not instantly get all of the search data and analytics that you would from driving traffic to your own site, but is this really a relationship? Twitter is a great way to engage with your customer base on a 1-1 basis, thus allowing you to form a real inter-personal relationship with the customer. To be a valuable relationship it has to be felt both ways, holding analytics on a customer does nothing to evangelise them to your brand.

over 5 years ago


Nick Stamoulis

Social media marketing comes with potential pitfalls, but so does every other form of marketing. You could argue that a producing a Superbowl commercial is a waste of time and money, but companies think it's worth the risk because of the potential for success! No, you can't jump headfirst into social media without having some kind of game plan, but that doesn't mean it can't be incredibly useful. Social media is here to stay, whether we like it or not.

over 5 years ago


Gareth O' Neill

Great post! It's about time people do a reality check instead of jumping on the bandwagon with little thought as to what impact Facebook spend is having on their business.

I haven't heard of any direct ROI success stories. People should not be trumpeting fCommerce as the future. It is a good idea to do Facebook integration on your site but don't let Facebook replace your site. We are still in a recession so surely it is more important than ever to get direct ROI. You won't get that with social media.

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Interesting points though I think these networks offer plenty of opportunities to engage consumers on their terms, in an environment where they are already hanging out and familiar with. That makes it easier - in some ways - for consumers to respond and to share brand messages.

ROI - it's not purely about sales. What about brand metrics? Just because it's hard to quantify something (e.g. TV advertising) doesn't mean it isn't worth bothering with. Correlations should come into play.

Brand - again, the same thing applies to TV. Most advertising is not remotely targeted. Shotgun marketing remains at the forefront of lazy media planning.

Data - agree that this is something brands need to think very carefully about. Who owns the data? There are trade-offs aplenty though. And really this is just another task to be filed under 'conversion' (i.e. transferring Facebook fans to registered users / customers on your own site).

Privacy - not really a brand issue, more a Facebook (etc) issue IMO. Like a theme park ride, you use these platforms at your own risk.

PS - it's also worth noting that Google has been the single biggest uncredited beneficiary of TV advertising in the past decade.

over 5 years ago


George Chubinidze

After the initial buzz with social media, one could expect the post like this ('not everything is gold that shines'), but I think its a one side of the story.
Without questioning the point in the article, its true as well that social media world did not stop and one way or another it increasingly drives sales (even on the expense of brand control, CRM control and so on). Companies would still pour billions into their marketing budgets, because if they don't, competitors will and then its all about public opinion - they'll be considered as the ones loosing out.

So, question on the other hand is: what counter-measures could be taken so that to avoid the traps mentioned in the article while simultaneously taking the full benefit of the social media?
Another post about that would be fantastic. Excellent article, though.

over 5 years ago



To further flush out your point highlighting "You’re handing over your hard-earned customer data and relationships" At what point does Facebook or Twitter begin to sell back to YOU the information they are tabulating via your fan page? And, as you mentioned, you might also be interested in buying the data regarding the fans of your competition. It's not just about what's on FB, it's what's behind FB.

over 5 years ago



WOW as a coupon mom I loved the Extreme Couponing series it is awesome my five cent for extreme couponing is the place called "Printapons" you will love it

over 5 years ago

Anuja Aggarwal

Anuja Aggarwal, Online Marketing Consultant at DoRightMarketing

Great insights. I believe, if your customers are there, and if your competitors are there, then you should be there too.

For many B2B companies, social media does not make sense, but for many B2C companies, social media helps in creating a buzz. I am still not convinced about the lead generation aspect of social media.

over 5 years ago

Peter McCormack

Peter McCormack, Founder at McCormack Morrison

Brilliant article, I totally agree with the point on data and made it to NMA last year http://www.nma.co.uk/opinion/industry-opinion/brands-need-to-be-careful-about-joining-the-social-media-bandwagon/3008948.article.

I don't know many experienced digital marketeers who have any faith in social media it is being pushed by ad agencies and inexperienced clients.

Fad fad fad fad fad!

over 5 years ago


Zoe Bosward, Experienced Online Marketing Manager, UK at Job hunting in Derby UK

At last! The voice of reason.

over 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Interesting comments all.

Obviously given my job title I'm convinced that there is value in social media, and as Anuja points out, if both your customers and competition are in a space, then it makes sense to maintain at least a presence so you can be contacted.

However, I've always very much felt that there is only value in social if you take time to choose the correct platform and have a strategic approach to it, with a targeted audience in mind.

It's true that in the recent past we've seen many companies leaping onto Facebook (and particularly Twitter) with nary a thought for their long-term approach there.

For B2Cs in particular, social platforms can be extremely useful campaign drivers, for B2Bs.. there IS value, but it can be harder to find, and there's the rub.

I see social as much a way of plugging gaps in your exisiting marketing efforts, and reaching out to demographics who you may otherwise be unable to reach as it is a content hub or primary revenue driver.

The danger (as with any marketing approach) arises when companies blindly follow the advice of inexperienced agencies (not to say that all agencies are inexperienced -far from it)or the ubiquitous self-proclaimed gurus out there (who thankfully do now seem to be a dying breed).

I also agree strongly with Jake's points about data ownership -Facebook's data is it's most valuable asset, and it pays to think carefully about which data you reveal when building a page. In many (but not all) cases, a Facebook page should be composed primarily of new customers with the focus on migrating them to your owned website, rather than as a closed ecosystem.

While social can occasionally be a magic bullet, it only functions properly with some strategic, long-term business goals in mind, and a clear view of what you want to gain from it -once those are fixed, you can start to measure returns and value.

over 5 years ago


Coral Summers, Account Manager at Tempero

I agree with Lawrence. Facebook Pages are excellent in terms of building relationships with consumers - both existing and new. Used appropriately, Pages can generate excellent consumer insight and can help to build trust. Often this is not possible through a brand's own website (unless the technology exists). And even if this was the case, some consumers may not feel comfortable posting directly on the brand's website.

It goes without saying that, Pages can also help to direct traffic to a brand's website. Where I work, Facebook is the top referring site to my company's website.

over 5 years ago


Paul Hedgeland, Director, European Operations at One to One Connect

As has been said strategy is all important. Too many companies in B2C think a single page is a viable way to communicate all that's good about themselves to the world.

Segment and target your audience using multiple Facebook pages, keep it relevant and provide a good experience driving people to your shops / on-line stores.

Facebook is a widely adopted free to use infrastructure to enable multimedia communication, why would you not want to use it?

over 5 years ago


Sandy Begg

great food for thought - there are definately a number of aspects to consider. What I found amusing given some of the concerns about your brand being out of your control is that this article was positioned next to a report about how to create amazing facebook pages - point made I think

over 5 years ago


Leigh Beckett, Consultant at Creative Source

There does seem to be a 'what-happens-here-stays-here' mentality, particularly where Facebook is concerned.

Unless you are intending to sell directly from Facebook, which for most businesses is not recommended, engagement should logically drive Fans to your website or get them to opt-in to your mailing list. Both of these actions allow you to continue the dialogue without the 'noise' of Facebook.

This way, the relationship with Facebook becomes more of a partnership as the data and its benefits are shared. Brands and page owners provide the content while Facebook is the enabler and provides the platform. Sharing the investment and the benefits seems to be not only fair but also critical to Facebook's ongoing success.

While there has been and continues to be a frenetic learning experience as Facebook evolves, the bottom line is that unless businesses are able to justify their involvement, like any other marketing channel, they will ultimately turn their backs on Facebook.

over 5 years ago

Craig Brewster

Craig Brewster, Founder at your mum

It’s great that businesses are using social media to drive brand awareness and promote brand advocacy but I am worried many are doing it just because they can. Where’s the thought about how the activity actually benefits their business?

I've recently posted something on our blog abouth this subject: http://tinyurl.com/3z5395f

My biggest concern is about the amount of budget and time that I see being thrown at social media and what is being sacrificed in return. Marketing coffers are not bottomless so something has to give. That something may be more appropriate for the audience and may generate a better return for the business.

Ten years ago businesses were saying “We must have a website” when they didn’t need one. Now they are saying the same thing about Facebook pages.

In this ever-increasing mulit-channel digital world we should always clearly understand the objectives before we decide which channel provides the best results and the best value for money.

over 5 years ago

Justin Hayward

Justin Hayward, CEO at Make It Rain

This is one way of looking at it but a very narrow-minded view.

Think about why companies are using social media.... it's becoming more of a necessity than a nice to have. Their customers and potential customers are using these channels more extensively than ever and moving away from the traditional channels of one-way advertising communication.

It's never been best practice to ignore your customers thoughts, opinions and their power of influence over their peers, should we really start now?

over 5 years ago



It is true that there are lots of companies jumping on the social media bandwagon without thinking it through. However there is another major reason for engaging with social media outside marketing – customer service. Customers are already on social networks, talking about you and your brand – being able to monitor and respond using this customer service channel is vital, as is making sure it links to the rest of your customer service strategy and tools.

over 5 years ago


Kay Ross

You suggest that one reason not to have a social media strategy is "Your brand is out of your control." That's very naive. Whether brands like it or not, people ARE talking about them (and their competitors) on twitter and Facebook. Brands need to participate in (or at the very least, monitor) the conversation.

over 5 years ago


Michael Follett

Every business should consider the advantages and disadvantages of social media, before devising a strategy. A more appropriate question is not whether a business needs a social media strategy, but whether they should implement social media. You make some good points, especially the one on advertising a URL like facebook.com/companyname instead of your own one.

Avoiding any buzz words, social media can make a business more accessible to its customers or potential customers. The benefit of this to the customer is that it will reinforce their faith in the good ones and expose the bad ones.

over 5 years ago

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