Thanks to marketer interest in social media, we’re quickly learning what social media is capable and not capable of. And by in large, it’s capable of doing a lot.

Case in point: it appears that Old Spice’s critically-acclaimed YouTube/Twitter campaign has indeed boosted Old Spice Body Wash sales — by a whopping 107% in the past month according to Nielsen. This is ‘success‘ by any definition. But just what kind of success is it?

One of the biggest challenges any marketer has in the world of social media is finding a way to sustain a campaign. After all, there is plenty of fierce competition for consumer attention on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and just about every major brand is doing something in these channels at any given time. With billions of video views, status updates and tweets, social media is really as cluttered and chaotic as it is powerful and inspiring.

Which begs the question: when marketers shoot for social media win, should they be aiming to create campaigns that deliver long-lasting results, or should they be happy with a series of short-term victories? It’s a somewhat difficult question to answer.

While it is too early to measure the impact of the Old Spice campaign over the long term, for instance, it seems pretty clear: this is a campaign that will eventually fizzle out. The setup probably is not sustainable, and in any case, it seems quite likely the initial hoopla will die down and we’ll all become a lot interested in watching the Old Spice guy’s videos. In other words, his shtick will wear off. Yes, there may very well be ways to extend the core concept and themes, but Old Spice is not going to see continued month-over-month sales increases of over 100%.

Perhaps it doesn’t need to. There’s a good argument to be made that shooting for sustainable performance of any one campaign is a fool’s errand in the realm of social media. But on the flip-side, there are a number of challenges for marketers looking to string together a series of one-hit wonders:

  • Most people don’t win the lottery twice. Old Spice, for instance, is probably not going to be able to immediately follow up its ‘Smell Like A Man, Man‘ campaign with a campaign of equal or greater impact.
  • Short term results don’t a long term business make. While few marketers will complain about short-term sales spikes,
    they’re not necessarily as beneficial to a business as marketers would
    like to believe. In some cases, they can even be detrimental because they fool a company into making long-term decisions based on short-term results. This is especially true for marketers pushing newer products and services with less brand recognition.
  • A hit or miss mentality can be tough to maintain. The idea that you can ‘fail early and often to succeed quicker‘ is nice in theory, but it can be somewhat problematic too. After all, if your strategy is to run lots of campaigns and hope that a few succeed wildly, a low percentage of successes may be more discouraging than encouraging.

At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s a good answer here. Although social media has certainly matured to the point where it’s no longer okay to say “this is so new let’s not worry about ROI“, there’s still a lot to be learned about how social media is best applied to produce said ROI. That means marketers should probably worry first and foremost about finding ROI, and then they can worry about if and how to sustain it.

Photo credit: bobster855 via Flickr.