Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Getting Back to Basics: Why Brands are Getting it Wrong in Social Media

Question: What is your #1 advice for social media strategists and managers?

Answer: Stop talking about social media

Type “social media” into a Google search bar and you’ll find roughly about 4.7 billion results in .30 seconds. Next, try “social media conference.” You’ll see something along the lines of 1.2 billion results in .25 seconds. Social media is important but I’d argue we aren’t celebrating it for the reasons we should. Instead, we are forcing social media to conform to traditional thinking and processes rather than adapting business philosophies and supporting methodologies to meet new opportunities.

Every day, I hear about how social media strategists and managers are frustrated with the lack of executive support. Yet, many aren’t doing themselves any favors. Executives don’t speak the language of social media. They speak the language of the C-Suite and their audience are shareholders and stakeholders…not necessarily customers or employees or “people” in its most human sense.

So, in the face of skepticism or fear, the best advice that I can offer you is to learn the language of the C-Suite when making the case for what it is you believe is the right thing to do. Making the case for social media has less to do Facebook or Twitter or Likes, views or Retweets and more to do with using these networks to glean or introduce value. To earn the attention and respect of the C-Suite and ultimately customers is the ability to connect the dots to the very things that every stakeholder values and communicating it in a way that is approachable and appreciated.

This takes a thoughtful approach to rendering value in a contextual means that hits home with different people their way.

Altimeter colleague Charlene Li and I conducted a series of research interviews and surveys over the last year on this very topic…how social today’s social media strategies align (or do not align) with business goals. We shared our findings in a newly released report, “The Evolution of Social Business Six Stages of Social Media Transformation.” Needless to say, we found a significant gap And, it is this gap that makes communicating value to executives difficult if not impossible.

Charlene and I found that only 34% of businesses felt that their social strategy was connected to business outcomes and just 28% felt that they had a holistic approach to social media, where lines of business and business functions work together under a common vision. A mere 12% were confident they had a plan that looked beyond the next year. And, perhaps most astonishing was that only one half of companies surveyed said that top executives were “informed, engaged and aligned with their companies’ social strategy.”

In the early days of social media, emergent networks changed how people connect to one another and the information that’s important to them. With each update, shared experience, and event, the world shrank. People were and are becoming increasingly connected and as a result they are more informed. With information and connectedness comes the reality of increased customer expectations. Value, engagement, entertainment, personalization, people must takeaway something meaningful from the exchange otherwise there can be no relationship. A relationship is after all a mutual exchange where all parties believe that connectedness is beneficial.

Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and every network thereafter are merely communities, ecosystems, and platforms where information is exchanged and relationships are formed and abandoned. How you make the case for engagement and how to deliver or extract value isn’t directly tied to the nature of the environment as much as it is the facilitator of the way and the weight that value is defined, expressed, and measured.

If we’re not providing solutions we may in fact be contributing to the problem. See, social technology isn’t the answer; it’s part of the answer. Yet social strategists are often caught up in a socialized ecosystem of catch-up and that’s part of the challenge and the test. There’s always going to be a new network or another shiny object. There are always new case studies or expert theories flooding blogs, conferences, and books.

Again, the best advice I can give you is to stop talking about social media as a means to an end and start thinking about how social media becomes a means toward triggering meaningful activities or outcomes that align with business priorities or objectives and customer expectations.

This is the time to get back to basics. This is the time to take a step back.
Social media is not the crux of you argument. It is an enabler. This is your opportunity to lift the conversation from tools to value and to translate the promise and opportunity of social into an emissary of meaningful engagement that aligns business goal, social media strategies and customer value.

The story continues…

Connect with me: Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Google+ |Youtube

This post originally appeared at AT&T’s Networking Exchange

Back to Basics: Shutterstock

57 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Getting Back to Basics: Why Brands are Getting it Wrong in Social Media”

  1. kirby says:

    This is an awesome post, Brian. I think that many of us trying to build a company presence in these social platforms need to remember the bottom line of it all. These are communities that need the engagement from our part if we want to reach our goals in creating a stronger digital presence and enhance relationships between the company and the consumer. Thank you for writing this!

  2. Jason HJH says:

    Great article as always, Brian.

    Could you share more on how engagement ties in more with C-suite objectives, like revenue and bottomlines?

    The issue is many of us don’t quite see how engagement with our audience, building relationships in the long run bring about solid and visible benefits for the business.

    Jason HJH.

  3. NoahLampert says:

    Spot on.

    “Social Media” or “New Media” or however you choose to classify these new mediums is a complete paradigm shift.

    It’s natural that many brands still think of all media as broadcasting channels, but this just isn’t how it works anymore. Building trust and providing value is the name of the game.

    Great article, Brian.

  4. Dara Khajavi says:

    Great article. Social Media is such a powerful communication tool. I think businesses tend to forget the communication aspect of Social Media. The power of Social media is that it is a direct connection to consumers. Businesses are losing opportunities to create emotional connections and personal messages for consumers.

  5. You make some great points above, Brian. It goes back to old fashioned conversation making. Talk to your audience, not at them. If you (as a company) can do that, engagement will follow.

  6. Bonnie B says:

    Preemptive problem solving is a great way to re-frame an approach social media. It can be overwhelming, but your article helps bring it back to the core.

  7. Yes, great points about the gap and social technology as “part of the answer.” Unfortunately, c-suite language can be just another form of jargon. (Am remembering the days of of “growing businesses” and “synergy” and keeping issues “on your radar.”) For me, this discussion also ties into your former observations about attention being a precious commodity.

  8. Samantha Hernandez says:

    Agreed! Social media for social media’s sake cannot be effective if it does not meet the goals and priorities of a business’ marketing strategy.

  9. Evan Bradley says:

    In my opinion, socially designed products (web or mobile) are also a really important part of any social strategy. Where social marketing can drive the dialogue; products that boost image and give a voice to the consumer deepen the relationship of the consumer to your brand because of the inherent value a well design social experience brings to the table. I definitely agree if you don’t have a compelling story (or set of stories) to guide and engage the consumer, there are all kinds of pitfalls, and lack luster performance (on KPI) can follow. Bottom line: know your brand, know your stories, be honest and have fun.

  10. Great article Brian. Yesterday we had a social media club meeting with a great speaker. After the presentation, many people came with the question: Which social media network should we use? Should we use Google+? Should we use this and that? I think we people are turning into zombies. We stop thinking about who is our target and were do they move.

    In about 5 hours I will speak for students of the university of Groningen. I always learn people to create a customer journey. To look to your prospects and look where they are moving. When they are moving on social media, then the question is how can I transfer my currently marketing objectives into social media objectives. If your currently marketing is going left … then your social media should also go left and all the other channels around it. Whether it is: Brochures, Website, community channels etc.

  11. Steve Freeman says:

    Brian, I always look at social media from a small business perspective and not a brand perspective. Your findings are disturbing to me. If brands are having such a difficult time trying to find the highest and best use of social media, does small business stand a chance?

    In some ways a small business may have an advantage, it is easier to have a real connection with clients, customers, and those who are advocates for the business. On the other hand developing a strategy using different social platforms becomes time consuming and over whelming.
    Perhaps for both small business and brands it is coming to an understanding of what social can and cannot do for business. Can social media replace traditional marketing, should it? Should we accept that social works best only for “brand awareness”?
    Maybe small business owners are no different than CEO’s of the big brands, we all have the same questions.

  12. You can add more terms to that my friend, such as content marketing. Thanks for the mail and fighting the good fight. Where’s the energy coming from? 😉

  13. Lift from tools to value – as a PR, that’s so in my wheelhouse. Steve made a good point about scalability for small business, think it means we have to work that much harder to make the tools and tactics work for the biz, not the other way around. And FWIW when I applied for a social media manager gig, I closed my pitch letter w/ “I don’t want to fix the FB page; I want to fix Brand X.’ Hadn’t heard back, but still know that’s the right approach.

  14. Dave Crenshaw says:

    Couldn’t agree more to this post, Brian. Sometimes, what it takes is to just get back to basics.

  15. Pat Kitano says:

    Brian, you’ve voiced the C-suite disconnect from social media so well over the years, I’ll provide my take.

    The C-suite doesn’t understand social media because it can’t be pigeon holed as a successful consumer facing tool

    It’s not sales or lead generation because, beyond freebies and coupons, tracking conversions leads to disappointing returns.

    It might be customer support, but brands are reluctant to abdicate their social media into another channel to field complaints, particularly when the complaints are public and not wending their way through a phone tree (making the complaint even worse btw). For proof, every brand marketer seems to know now that 70% of companies don’t respond to tweets (

    So it’s marketing. But most brands are still stuck on idea that they need to control their marketing through ad campaigns, and gauge their effectiveness by the number of YouTube views. Brands don’t necessarily see that following up on those reactions, good and bad, to campaigns on social media is integral to building advocacy (see 70% above).

    Social media strategies are ill defined because successful social media is essentially a tactical exercise of following up with their customers one at a time, whether they are thanking praise or sorting out a problem. Doing this creates brand advocacy. You know if the C-suite can see advocacy instead of consumer complaints, their buy-in will follow. The C-suite prides itself on strategic thinking, but doesn’t realize that the strategy is tactics. Hence, 50% get it.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Can you make your valuable article even more useful by adding some specifics or examples? As a retired marketer who is now a consumer in many social media campaigns I see so many that are simply wrong for their product or application. The winners are the ones which reinforce my understanding of their brands. Twix is a great example. They say cool, a simple treat, chocolatey, silly, double the value… I look forward to seeing their gifs and one-liners every few days in my newsfeed, I admit it – and yes, I do have a life! Their posts get thousands of likes. As a result my consumption of Twix has skyrocketed! I notice it in end aisle displays in my drugstore and buy them guilt-free. Velveeta on the other hand….totally off-base. I included the word cheese in an FB post one day and I have been inundated – sadly I really have no interest in another yellow recipe….

  17. Anonymous says:

    It’s an advertising and PR medium, with the ability for two-way interactive communication among the audience and between advertiser/publicist and audience. Like all media, it’s particularly good at reaching some market segments, and very poor at others. It’s good with some kinds of messages, poor with others. Aside from the fact that a rather large segment of “C” level people don’t participate in it at all and thus don’t see it as viable or valuable, it’s also difficult to measure what you are accomplishing. “C” level people like to see reliable numbers to base their business decisions on. Counting clicks or likes is terribly unreliable because you can buy likes very cheaply from countries where it doesn’t cost much to have someone sitting there all day “liking” stuff and clicking.

    There are also a whole lot of people who participate in the social aspects, but completely ignore the commercial messages. Myself, for example. I check Facebook every day, but I haven’t been to a company or product Facebook page in at least a year, and I never “like” anything commercial because Facebook will turn around and tell all my friends that I’ve endorsed it. Weirdly, the most frequent “like” recommendations that show up when I’m looking at Facebook are from (1) a friend who passed away over a year ago but like a zombie keeps recommending stuff to me and (2) a mentally challenged relative who spends a good part of the day liking everything on the web. The only thing I’ve bought partially as a result of social media over the past year is Brian’s book, but I already knew him from PR work he did for me 13-14 years ago and would have bought it anyway. I watch the unusually humorous Bud Light commercials on You Tube, but I buy imported German beer, and never light beer. I go to web sites to research products and shop frequently, but not via or because of social media. As I said, some people, a lot of people actually, just don’t participate.

  18. I love this Brian . . .

    “Again, the best advice I can give you is to stop talking about social media as a means to an end and start thinking about how social media becomes a means toward triggering meaningful activities or outcomes that align with business priorities or objectives and customer expectations.”

    I think a primary business priority should be to develop a product around your perfect prospect’s needs and desires.

    When you run a business and it has an online presence you give yourself way more opportunities to interact with more of your perfect prospects via email lists, free giveaways online, tele-classes, webinars, live chats, social media, etc. that allow you to be more accessible to your perfect prospects.

    And some people do all of this stuff and interact with fans and customers on a regular basis.

    But when they’re fishing for what your prospects would buy, they ask them dumb questions like, “What would you want in a product? What have you tried? What features would you like in a X product? Would you buy a product like this if I offered it to you?”

    Those answers will be almost useless in giving you an edge because they’re the same questions everyone else in your market is asking.

    You should instead be talking to one of your perfect prospects and at least one customer once a day and probing into what their biggest fears, frustrations, aspirations and desires are relevant to the niche you’re in.

    If you keep the business priority of, “Developing products and services around your perfect prospect’s needs and desires” at the forefront of yours and everyone on your team’s mind, then the following advice is some of the best you can follow . . .

    Seek One-On-One Conversations With Your Perfect Prospects

    You’ll learn a thousand times more talking one-on-one with your perfect prospects than you ever will just lurking in comment threads on blogs or social media sites or by just sending out surveys.

    Your most valuable research will be completely missed and innovation stifled if you’re not having one-on-one conversations with your perfect prospects.

    And what’s cool is that the internet has made it so that this research doesn’t cost you any money and by talking with these people, it will inspire them to give you even more money than had they not had the chance to talk to you and had only seen a video of yours or read a salesletter written in your name.

    You will be, or you have already been, amazed at how much insight into your perfect prospect’s mindset by just talking with them.

    HERE’S WHERE MOST BUSINESSES DROP THE BALL: They don’t get these perfect prospects onto LIVE phone calls and video conferences and figuring out their needs, challenges and frustrations as soon as possible. This is where you’re going to learn the most and have the most influence.

    Do not underestimate the power in conversing with your perfect prospect’s live.

    A death kiss to many a business is that of making products based on what THEY think is cool. This almost always leads to you doing ineffective marketing – online or offline that “sounds nice” and “looks good” but that doesn’t sell anything which if done long enough, puts the business owner out of business.

    The opposite approach is to focus primarily on using all the tools online and offline available to you in order to develop products and services that cater to your perfect prospect’s needs and desires.

    And I commend you Brian for being a force for good in trying to get this truth through the executives and business owners of the world’s thick skulls. 🙂

  19. The URL says it all, my friend: brands are still broadcasting. They sure are. It’s just better disguised.

  20. Frank Strong says:

    It’s a good reminder Brian, execs and practitioners do speak separate languages. In the same vein, it’s true of marketing as well. I read a post recently that set of a light bulb for me — it read, “Marketers (especially ones focused online) live in an echo chamber of self-confirmation that doesn’t benefit you in the boardroom with C-levels. They simply have different and more high level priorities than you do.”

    • briansolis says:

      Frank, it’s so good to hear from you my friend. Hope you’re well.

      This is so true and one reason that I continue to SCREAM that we need to stop looking at the same old companies and what they deem as “successful” so that we can learn more about how this stuff can help move business agendas and improve relationships at the same time.
      That’s a different perspective.

  21. Social media is no doubt a great tool for exchange of information and spread of knowledge, however, if this medium is not used to promote the content and reach out to the target audience, this medium will remain under utilized,Kulwinder Singh – Chief marketing officer at synechron surely understands this mantra and makes sure to revamp social media plans monthly.

  22. Jeff Berezny says:

    Hi Brian, I can’t agree more with your perspective.

    One of the reasons that I find that it is so difficult to translate to the c-suite, even if focusing on outcomes versus ‘likes’, is that those interaction metrics are still there in the background forming the visibile building blocks of any outcome that occurs. Thus, these metrics have created somewhat of a false accountability as marketers try and draw lines between metrics that may or may not be able to tie directly to desired outcomes. I am a big advocate of getting my head out of all the little metrics and grouping broader trends and most importantly defining the role that social media marketing will play in the broader communications mix.

    Your post resonated with me quite strongly, particularly since I just wrote a blog exploring the role of social media marketing, entitled “Know Your Role on Social Media… or Shut Your Mouth About ROI” (borrowed language from The ROCK). I have been a long time follower of your books and blog and would love to know your thoughts on my approach. The article can be found at the following link:

    Thanks for the continued insight!

    Jeff B.

  23. Brian this is fabulous. I strongly agree. People tend to argue whether social media is a channel or argue that it is marketing. It can be a channel. It can be marketing. But at heart like you’ve indicated its a mechanism for communication and we’re all at the steering wheel. Little guy and Big Corp both have the capacity to have a voice in social channels. I very much believe that for the time being, while change is taking place, that businesses should aim at becoming “social businesses”. I like to use email as an example. Email theoretically existed in the 70s but it wasn’t until the early 90s that it became mainstream. At least in business, we expected people to have email addresses. And who now doesn’t have an email address? Social Media is a channel with many different uses. I wish more businesses would see that social media is an opportunity. A chance to connect with people, to share information with people, a chance to learn from the people you sell to and want to sell to, and more!!! It is a means to explore, discover, learn and create more valuable relationships. Marketing can build their social media campaigns. Customer Service can serve. Customers can evangelize or complain at will. Product development can research. This sounds so beautiful and exciting! Why do people keep questioning it?

  24. In addition to having clearly defined goals for your social efforts, you need to measure how your social media is performing. If you can clearly define how your social efforts are paying off (i.e. driving traffic to a site, increasing the amount of subscribers, or drawing traffic to a physical location) you can then see how it correlates with your overall business goals. With social media you need to take a holistic approach and look at social as a part of the bigger picture.

  25. And with business “leaders” still having differing levels of understanding/confidence in social platforms, that makes our job a bit more difficult. Just when you get them comfortable with the concept of blogging! A factor to weave into the results is the importance of search. For example, according to this Economics Intelligence Unit study (, 64% of senior executives are
    clicking ‘search’ more than six times a day seeking business information, and 69% of B2B buyers are using social networks. This is partly why 56% of B2B marketing executives stated ‘positioning our company as a thought leader’ as their top objective.

  26. Denis says:

    Understanding the importance of social media today, I definitely support organizations that use social media channels to connect with the public. Social networks are used by the companies as the tools that are effective and useful in their efforts to reach their target audiences, no doubts. However, from my own observations I defined several reasons why social networks are not the key influencers for evaluating company’s performance. At times, it is wrong and potentially dangerous for the brands to rely solely upon communication channels.

    Troubles while using Twitter or Facebook appear uexpectedly and usually caused by the delays in Application Programming Interface, which frustrates users who are trying to post something. Such platforms are also being changed frequently without any prior warning to users. The way content appears in user feeds and the following sharing are affected as well. The real social posts made by real people are often being pushed down to the bottom of the feed by the biased news feeds that are defined as “most popular”. Not every member of the social audience gets to see the the message posted at the moment. And the last but not the least, how uncommon is it for you to see annoying spam coming from fake or hacked accounts? A well established connection between organization and its audience can be seriously harmed in seconds because of virtual attacks. Many users would prefer to unsubscribe from the organization’s feed and find another source of information rather than wait till the problem is eliminated.

  27. Gaurav Varma says:

    Dear Mr. Solis,

    I just have a small point to mention, Organisations can leverage the most if they can answer the basic question; What value means to them and their customers and how when value is created or destroyed its recognized in a system. For ex, A customer complaining on the FB page is as much a problem and as much an opportunity to show much an organisation cares, our reactions and sincere intent matters and customers also recognize this new kind of value. The moment managers can have a collection of examples to show to C-Suite they start to notice, lead by example and people will follow even if they are C-Suite.

    Gaurav Varma

  28. Kayla L says:

    I agree 100% Brian. The percentages you offer are very informative. It is alarming to know so many people feel so unprepared. Social media is such a new and scary thing to so many people that they have a hard time accepting it to its full potential. The tips you give are very beneficial and we should all take note.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Our Mailing List

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Stay Connected