When JetBlue wanted to celebrate its 10th anniversary, it decided to
sell a limited number of tickets for $10. That’s a tall order, so for
help with the difficult task of convincing consumers to buy $10 airline
tickets, it turned to TBG, a London-based digital agency that
specializes in Facebook marketing.

The result: JetBlue saw amassive
response from TBG’s Facebook ad buy, revealing the secret of social
media success.

That secret: giving away stuff for free or at a significant discount is a great way to ‘engage‘ consumers on social networks.

I apologize in advance for the sarcasm here, but it increasingly seems that a growing number of marketers have decided that the fastest way to achieve ‘social media success‘ is to:

  1. Give away or significantly discount product.
  2. Promote the free or significantly discounted product on sites like Facebook or Twitter.
  3. Publicize the warm consumer response while acting surprised that consumers were interested in said product.

If this social media marketing ‘strategy‘ seems absurd to you, that’s because it is. Unfortunately, it seems to be a growing trend amongst marketers.

Just the other day, I wrote about several of the marketers that were early adopters of Twitter’s new ad platform, Promoted Tweets. Like JetBlue and TBG, they promoted dubious successes. Virgin Airlines, for instance, touted that it was able to sell 500 airline tickets at a 50% discount. Something, of course, that it almost certainly could have done using just about any advertising platform. It also touted the media value of being associated with the Promoted Tweets launch, something that also seems to be in vogue for marketers looking to justify their social media campaigns.

The big problem with the giveaway-discount model is, of course, that it’s not sustainable. Obviously, JetBlue isn’t going to maintain a profitable business selling airline tickets for $10, yet according to TBG CEO Simon Mansell, his agency’s “main goal is to develop Facebook into an effective sales channel for JetBlue.” Needless to say, running a once-in-a-JetBlue-moon $10 ticketing promotion is hardly the foundation for building an effective sales channel on Facebook.

This is not to say that giveaway-discount promotions don’t have a place in a marketer’s toolkit. They absolutely do. But use that is excessive or not strategic can defeat the purpose. At the very worst, such use can devalue a company’s products or services. And because giveaway-discount promotions are one of the most effective ways to reward your best existing customers, using them haphazardly with non-customers can be problematic. After all, if promotions for non-customers are often the best you can muster up, it makes it harder to run attractive promotions that target existing customers. For this reason, companies should think carefully about who they’re rewarding with promotions, and why. In many cases, I think they’d find their promotions target the wrong people.

In short, instead of attempting to build scalable, sustainable and creative social media marketing campaigns that are strategic in nature, it appears that many marketers are far more comfortable going the giveaway-discount route and proclaiming success because (gasp) they were able to move product for free or at a hefty discount. That, in my opinion, is unfortunate. Despite the fact that social media ROI is still often a tricky subject, social media has the potential to do more than this. Marketers can, and should, set the bar higher than giving away the farm.

Photo credit: Amanda Govaert via Flickr.