Don’t use social media as a band aid, warns marketing guru

“Your social media strategy won’t save you.”

That was the stark title of Tara Hunt’s presentation at the recent Canadian Marketing Association convention in Toronto.

And the Canadian author, speaker and marketing consultant backed up what she said with some examples.

Social media as a ‘band aid’

She talked about the tendency of some firms to use social media to compensate for pathetic service.

As an example of this she cited her own infuriating experience with Rogers Communications. Inc.

A couple of months ago, she said, she received a call from Rogers, and an automated voice told her she needed to phone a number.

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“I dialled the number that the robot gave me, and got another robot that told me that this number wasn’t being used anymore … there was a new number. So I hung up, dialled the new number, and got a third robot who told me that to continue in English I would have to press ‘8.’ I pressed 8 and it gave me French anyway.”

Hunt said she was thoroughly exasperated as after this cycle of futile calls and automated agents she still didn’t know why she had received a call from Rogers in the first place – “were my bills overdue, were they going to cut me off any second, or are they trying to sell me something?”

Hunt poured out her pent up frustrations into a Tweet : “Phone system FAIL. Rogers robot calls + asks me2 call #. I call that #+ press 8 for ENG but gives me French!”

Some time later, she said, she got a response from Mary Pretotto, a Rogers employee. It read “Hi Tara, this is Mary w/Rogers. Saw your tweet. If you can provide me w/a few more deets, perhaps I can help.”

On the left side bar on Pretotto’s Twitter page there is disclaimer that reads: “We’re not here to replace existing channels for communications and customer care, but to complement them.”

“So which are those channels that they’re are not replacing?” a nonplussed Hunt wanted to know. “All I did until then was talk to robots.”

She said such claims about using social media to complement existing channels is a lot of tripe.

“If they are complementing those robots, I have a piece of advice for Rogers: Instead of hiring people for Twitter, why not hire people to answer your freakin’ phones!” 

Social doesn’t scale

A common notion among firms venturing into to social media marketers is that they just need to put a message out there and it will go viral.

But that, said Hunt, is a myth.

These kinds of messages on social sites don’t automatically scale, because in social media “you need have human one-on-one interaction happening all the time.”

She suggested that when such interaction happens, you can get scale, sometimes without using conventional media tools

To illustrate the point she cited Craigslist, the online hub featuring free classified ads – with sections devoted to jobs, housing, personals, for sale, services, community, gigs, résumés, and discussion forums.

“Craigslist is hugely popular though it doesn’t do any of this cool-fangled stuff – they don’t use video, aren’t integrated with Facebook or anything else.”

And yet, she noted, the site draws more traffic than either eBay or Amazon.

This is accomplished with a very small staff. While eBay has more than 16,000 and Amazon more than 20,000, Craigslist has 30 – not one of whom is a social media guru.

Craigslist’s success, the Canadian marketing expert said, has nothing to do with social media. “Their strategy for scaling is creating a useful working site that listens to its users.”

She said though aesthetically the Craigslist site looks terrible, from a functional standpoint users get what they’re looking for.

Keep social networks social

Hunt said the main reasons folk – adults and teens — go to social media sites has to do with friendly interaction: staying in touch with old friends, making new ones, planning things with friends … even flirting.

They hardly ever to on these sites to find new products, but in the process of interacting with their contacts they may actually find new products,  services, places to eat and the like.

“I can’t recall how many times I’ve discovered a new restaurant in town, or that there’s a sale going in the Bay I need to check out – it’s because by friends have Tweeted or Facebooked it.”

She said firms should have the savvy to get their customers happy and and excited about their offerings to want to Tweet about them.

“This is where their attention should be focused. Not on creating robots, or pages on Facebook to send people promotions all the time.”

Trust is LOW

We’re starting to bounce back a little bit from the deep cynicism about companies and their promises that followed the economic crisis earlier this year, Hunt said.

But people’s view of corporate messages is still pretty shabby, she said, citing an AdWeek study that found just 18 per cent of people trust what they see in ads.

Despite people’s low estimate of corporate marketing, she said, another study shows 89 per cent of people do expect to be able to interact with brands. “They expect that when they need some information or an answer to a question brands will be there to assist them.”

Some brands like Dell, she said, have heeded the call.

For instance, if a person needing help with their Dell machine were to go on to the Dell’s Twitter page to get help on a problem, they would generally get someone there who’s able to help them. Dell does this well.”

But most companies, she said, are like community tourists on Twitter and Facebook.

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