Telling it Like it Is: Social Media Edition

by David Heitman

For most organizations, social media is unquestionably too big to be ignored, but by that same definition, is too big to fully grasp. That’s a dangerous combination unless you have unlimited cash reserves…and a crystal ball. (If you have either, or preferably both, please call us…we’d like you to hire us.)

There is a lot of pressure from business leaders to monetize their social media’s ROI. That’s only natural. It can get expensive in terms not just of hard costs, but in terms of time spent (wasted?) or reputation gained or lost through the free-range, user-generated world of social media. But quantifying ROI can be an elusive quest for a moving target.

According to eMarketer, “Nearly nine in 10 companies in the U.S. will market on social media this year…indicating that the channel has become almost a requirement for most brands. But measuring success beyond soft metrics like “engagement” is still far away for many, according to research. (You can read more at )

This lack of certainty is partly due to how many new social media platforms continue to appear, threatening to supplant the previous ones that were supposed to be the next big thing. The pattern goes something like this:

  1. New massively impactful platform emerges.
  2. Everyone recognizes its potential without really knowing what that means.
  3. Experts arrive onto the scene claiming to be able to monetize it.
  4. Advertisers start spending because a) everyone else is doing it; or b) anything this big must deserve funding.
  5. Large quantities of time and money are spent and no one knows exactly what was achieved.
  6. Rinse and repeat…

This is not to say we here at TCA are either bullish or bearish on any particular social platform. We try to take an agnostic approach, with no preconceptions, in order to see what truly makes sense for each individual client based on the bandwidth and budget they have to support it and the audience segment they are trying to reach.

We’ve seen some good successes among our diverse clientele: leveraging social media for building a sense of community among clients and prospects; building and reinforcing their brands; augmenting PR and SEO; promoting events; connecting prospects with satisfied customers; and driving engagement with their websites.

But with so many social media platforms and so many tactical reasons to use them, hard-and-fast rules are hard to come by. It may make sense to invest heavily in social media. Or it might best be avoided altogether. Usually the answer lies somewhere in between, with a healthy injection of humility, admitting that social media as a marketing platform has many unanswered questions.

That’s why I enjoyed Baratunde Thurston’s candid assessment of the situation in a recent Fast Company article:

Today, the platforms you “need to be on” change every few weeks. Facebook Groups are out and Pages are in. No, Pages are out and Subscriptions are in. Tumblr is the new black, and email is actually the best social network. Tom from MySpace has returned . . . on Facebook. And what on earth is your Pinterest strategy? Oh, you don’t have one? Congratulations, you just unlocked the Irrelevant Businessperson Badge on Foursquare.

Even figuring out your platform of choice doesn’t provide much comfort or stability because the platforms don’t want to share all their rules and methods out of well-placed fear that some of you will abuse that knowledge. Or, maybe they don’t even know themselves. Social media services seem torn between protecting their users, empowering their users, selling out their users, and annoying everyone.

Now, try measuring that. What is success? Impressions? Clicks? Mentions? Sales? Viewers? Some new unit based on a dopamine meter and backdoor API installed in the user’s hypothalamus? Yes! Let’s call that metric “feelies.”

For a conversational medium about which there is so much conversation, social media offers so little clarity.

Through the voices of the CMOs, brand managers, business-development execs, ad-agency ninjas, and others on the social front lines every hour of every day, we present what we hope is the beginning of a better, dare I say, more authentic conversation about the social media business today. So please, read it all, and if you like it, well, then “like” it and retweet, reblog, +1, pin, stumble, forward, print, and fax it to all your “friends.”

You can read the full article at:

Obviously, no company can afford to overlook social media, even as difficult as it is to quantify and monetize. It’s just that you’ll need a good dose of skepticism along with a willingness to learn by making mistakes. Admitting that much—very much—is still unknown is the first step to clarity.