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Paul Moran

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Does Social Media Sell? A Harvard Professor Says No

An interesting article published in the Harvard Business Review by a Harvard professor makes some claims that many would argue against. Senior Lecturer, Frank Cespedes, argues that social media doesn’t affect the bottom line for companies and, due to that, is a waste of time.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for his conclusion is that the available metrics focus mainly on “likes, tweets, reviews, and click-through-rates…not cause-and-effect links between medium and market results.” Cespedes argues that services that sell followers and likes devalue most social media interaction in terms of data value.

On the surface, Cespedes, like many business owners, wants the answer to the ever-elusive social media question “What’s my ROI?”

The problem with devaluing social media simply for a lack of direct cause-and-effect results is irresponsible. There is certainly no argument that companies who participate in purchasing followers, fans and tweets, are digging themselves into a large social media hole that will be very hard to climb out of. On the other hand, companies who build their audiences organically -- with real people that are in their market -- have an excellent opportunity to get their brand message out to the most people for the least amount of money. It can be more effective than any other marketing source available.

Social media platforms are recognizing that marketers want to see transactional links between content and sales. It is now possible to track a consumer from a Facebook post to your website and a sale now, if it’s set up right.

Cespeda brings up the lack of organic reach for business social media. He notes that, “A Forrester study found that posts from top brands on Twitter and Facebook reach just 2% of their followers.”

Taking a shallow perspective, one might be swayed into believing that social media has no business value. Yet, there is one thing that he doesn’t mention.

Connecting with the consumer and their networks.

Consumers are barraged with marketing in just about every place they go – online, driving their cars, watching television, and walking through the mall. Because of that, it’s increasingly difficult for marketers to get a consumer’s attention. When used properly, and in cooperation with your customers, indirect marketing via social media can produce fabulous results and gain businesses exposure to the social networks of that customer.

Content that includes the customer, such as pictures and videos of them taking delivery of a vehicle, can provide a dealer with valuable social media content for their own accounts. It can also dramatically increase the chance that the customer will share it with their networks -- offering the dealership invaluable exposure. A post as simple as “Check out my new car!” can generate incredible reach through the post’s engagements. Friends, co-workers and family, will typically congratulate the customer. With every engagement, the dealership can gain indirect exposure to these consumers. People trust friends and family members more than any advertisement. Connecting your dealership at this emotional time of happiness and celebration can be an excellent way to attract attention. And, perhaps even connect with an in-market buyer.

This is one example of how social media can bring value to a business. There are many others, such as online reviews, customer service interactions via social media, and targeted ad campaigns, which can actually be more precise than any other medium. Simply considering social media a waste of time because the available metrics are not yet good enough, could be an erroneous conclusion.

As social media platforms continue to monetize, the cause-and-effect links that Cespedes says do not exist, will most certainly be more widely available. Platforms will need to sway the Cespedes of the world that social media is valuable marketing and does affect the bottom line.

The most interesting statement he makes in his article is that “the vast majority of communications on social media sites are between friends who are within 10 miles of each other.” Assuming that is true, aren’t those the exact people a dealership would want to reach? These are the customers that will purchase a vehicle, and also service it with you. These are the customers that have the most potential lifetime value for a dealership. If these were the only people that all of a dealership’s social media efforts were exposed to, that should be enough to convince any dealer the value of social media.cc1b75fe4e3b069e54364cf62fd28968.jpg?t=1


Paul Moran
Well said Kacey. From our perspective at Vboost, the high number of communications between Family & Friends is what drives our Viral messages for our clients. The key is to create content that your customers and prospects share for you. Our clients see their brand name shared friend to friend in big numbers every day!
Kacey Gorringe
I love to hear when people actually 'get' social. Content is and always will be KING!!! Thanks

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