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The State of Social Media in 2017

Bird poo on TV presenter

“Relying on reach to identify influencers is like releasing a flock of seagulls hoping some will get lucky and s**t on the crowd below.”

Call me a cynic (I am a grumpy old cynic), but it doesn’t bode well when a report starts “Social media is still a relatively new marketing channel”. Those of us using Usenet, email discussion lists and bulletin boards in the early 90s for PR and marketing can confirm they were both social and media.

The first page of Simply Measured’s The State of Social Media 2017 also has gobblydegook like “social media is a foundational marketing strategy”. Hopefully, it’s trying to say social media is a bog standard part of marketing strategy and is no longer a shiny new tool simply used for the sake of it.

There’s more scary stuff when it comes the actual results of the survey as it reveals some quite alarming behaviour amongst many ‘brands’. It says “More than half of brands say that influencers are vital to the success of their social programs, specifically for extending brand reach.” The words ‘influencers’, ‘social programs’ and ‘reach’ all need challenging as unless they helping to achieve actual organisational or business objectives then they are questionable so I’d need to know what ‘success’ is defined as in this context.

And forgive me if I groan again when I read “ROI is definitively our #1 challenge:”. Is it? Is it really? Or is it that you really just don’t understand? I’ve never seen a business that calculates the ROI of everything it does. For most things a business does you don’t need to calculate the ROI of everything – a cleaner, an IT system, a gardener, an accountant or CFO. You get the idea. How about getting the CFO to calculate the ROI of his or her finance team?

The second problem with ROI is in many cases I see the marketing team isn’t actually calculating the ROI because they don’t know actually understand what that specific financial term means. The third is that if you do know what it means you’ll understand that in many cases it’s actually impossible to calculate the ROI because you don’t have enough data, or it is polluted with extraneous information that you can’t separate.

You do however need to calculate cost effectiveness, but that is a different metric used for different purposes.

Too many people make the mistake of thinking ROI is how they show what they are doing is successful and effective. It’s essential to be be able to see if you are successful and effective, but ROI isn’t necessarily the way to do it and usually isn’t. Marketing and communications professionals also need to remember that CEOs and CFOs do understand what real ROI is so you don’t impress them much with your bulls**t interpretations of return on investment.

Social media should never ‘live’ in marketing

Equally alarming is that in the case of 64.7% of those surveyed social media ‘lives’ in marketing. In reality social media should ‘live’ in each and every corporate function as it has a vital role to play in customer service, marketing, public relations, human resources and numerous other functions. Each should use social media to support whatever its objectives are for supporting the organisation.

No matter how good the customer service team is it would be ridiculous to expect them to handle social media for internal communications. It would be equally idiotic to think marketing could do social media for public relations (or indeed vice versa). I doubt many, if any, marketing teams would be any good at using social media for corporate communications, CSR, managing stakeholder relations with investors, trade unions, employees, local communities, analysts, journalists or politicians let alone issues management and crisis communications.

My hope (indeed expectation based on experience with many clients) is that social media doesn’t really ‘live’ in marketing, but what the table should actually say is that social media marketing lives in marketing, which is right and proper. The worrying part is that because 35% have put it elsewhere then maybe they really do mean social media in its entirety, which is both crazy and dangerous.

Which department does social media live in? graph

The figures for who the respondents work with are equally alarming. If you’re responsible for social media in any function (marketing, public relations, human resources, customer service etc) it’s essential you work with those responsible for social media in all the other functions. It all points to some very disjointed operations which can’t possibly deliver best outcomes for the business or organisation.

Social media shouldn’t ‘live’ in any function, it should ‘live’ in them all. However, there does need to be a function that is coordinating and integrating it, which is a role well suited to public relations and corporate communications as it is one of the few functions that has a 360 degree view of an organisation as most are far more narrowly focused. And sales focused marketing is one of the worst possible places to coordinate social media for the rest of the company.

Which teams do you directly work with to support social? graph

The results of the questions about measurement and evaluation are equally alarming with the vast majority relying on fairly crude metrics such as likes, comments, mentions, shares, retweets etc. Although to really make sense of those ‘engagement’ metrics you really need to know what the actual organisational objectives and related communications objectives are. Potentially the @mentions, shares and retweets are good indicators, but equally depending on the objectives they might not be.

Which metrics do you use most often to measure the success of social? graph

However, it’s not all bad. There’s an indication that Things Can Only Get Better. The second most important area to focus on is identified as “Aligning social strategy with business objectives”. Interestingly agencies appear to understand this better than in-house as it’s the top ranked focus for agencies.

If this actually happens then it will mean the problems I’ve identified above have to be solved.

What are your focus areas in 2017 re: social media marketing for clients? graph

But after this the State of Social Media report finally descends into farce. The report asks “Which factors impact who you consider to be an ideal influencer?”, but then spectacularly fails to actually provide the right answers to choose from! Forgive me, but shouldn’t an influencer actually influence people? You know make them think or act differently to they did before? In case you’re not sure the answer is yes they should, because if they don’t they haven’t actually asserted any influence (“the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself”). It’s ridiculous to think that reach is ‘influence’. Reach is broadcast.

Relying on reach to identify influencers is like releasing a flock of seagulls hoping some will get lucky and s**t on the crowd below.

Which factors impact who you consider to be an ideal influencer? graph

However the report does redeem itself later and provide a good summary of some of the different platforms available with data about active user base, new features and services (and old ones being removed) for YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tumblr and LinkedIn.

Yet another problem with the report is it doesn’t tell you much about who was surveyed. All we know is ” 2,738 social media marketing professionals from 111 countries” and “Responses were collected from marketers around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Vietnam, and more.”

For one country a sample size of 3,000 would potentially be interesting, but across 111 countries my cynical old bones tell me it’s horrendously biased towards the first two countries on that list (USA and UK) and maybe even just the first. Whatever the numbers, it’s vital to understand the differences between countries and cultures as there are vast differences in social media practice (and indeed platforms) between those listed.

Despite my cynicism about the report I’d still recommend you take a look, but just remember as well as some pearls it includes a lot of duds.

Gif of seagull poo from Giphy. Other graphics from State of Social Media 2017 report.

Stuart Bruce

International Public Relations Adviser | Trainer | Author | Media Commentator | Conference Speaker | University Lecturer | Online PR | Digital Corporate Communications | Crisis Communications | Digital Public Affairs