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Social Media - dead or alive?

Should companies continue using social media (SoMed) or not? Some say it's dead, others say it's more than alive. I say, use its full potential, but…

To start with, we look at some general research and studies. Then I evaluate the risks and chances to get a realistic picture. And finally, we have a small glimpse into a possible future of SoMed.

Let’s start with a short introduction and look at the beginnings of SoMed. Facebook was born as a digital tool to interact with family and friends. In a certain sense, this was the personal brand management. Brands jumped on the new technology and kind of hijacked this private space. First, the posts where one-way mass product advertisements. With the development of Facebook target groups a paid service they became more personalized. Today 70% of all Swiss companies have a specific SoMed budget, whereas in 2013 it was only 30% (University of Applied Science (ZHAW) study). Social networks have 2.7 billion users worldwide (1 of 3 people) and that is more than two-thirds of all internet users. These numbers are big and still rising.

According to, the 11’000 registered users spend daily on average 3 hours and 15 minutes on the mobile, 20% of them even 4.5 hours. This is just one of the sources I found. Emarketer states, that in the US daily 1 hour and 22 minutes are spent on SoMed. Now, what happens with the rest of this time? It must be spent watching cute cat videos. 😉

Opinium’s COVID social media research from April 2020 shows, that consumers wanted to hear more from certain industries such as Grocery Stores, Healthcare/Pharma, Household Goods Food. Fashion & Beauty, Automotive, Gym & Fitness topics were less interesting. So it is fair to say, that the usage of social media depends on the industry and the content posted.

Only 2 months later, beginning of June 2020, Forrester published that, …

The Zukunftsinstitut predicts connectivity as a new lifestyle, under which the digital tools are mentioned with new needs for higher data security. We are currently at a global social penetration rate of 49% (East Asia 71%, NA 69%, North Europe 67%).

During the COVID lockdown, social distancing was the biggest challenge for most of us. Being human, the connectivity to other people was the one thing people craved most for. Be it to see your loved ones or go out and have a good time dancing. We all turned to a certain extent to the technical enablers as compensation for real physical contact.

Even though there seemed to be a change of mind in the last 2 months towards SoMed, the very successful journey of SoMed will continue. The question here is, how will we deal with it?

Risk of Social Media

In the introduction article, we looked at some facts, figures and studies around SoMed. As a next step, I evaluate the risks and chances to get a realistic picture. And finally, we have a small glimpse into a possible future of SoMed.

We have all seen examples of online bullying (the trolls), fake news, misinformation or biased influencers. The credibility of some brands and their reputation have been damaged. Gartner foresees an increasing mistrust against the big brands and famous influencers. Well, if somebody pays for your 6-day luxury wedding, why would you NOT promote their products? 😏 Although marketers seem to turn to small-scaled influencers, the future of influencers, in general, is uncertain. Also, Accenture warns about reputation risks and to be aware of business, regulatory, legal and market risks.

We just have to look at recent events here and around the world. Such an influencer shit storm incident just happened in Zurich. The result? Instead of the actually relevant topic to the world, this incident was the talk of the week. Under the pressure of SoMed users, one company quit the influencers' contracts without evaluating the situation. Is it right, that companies give such enormous power to ONE single user? And how can it be, that a post justifies death threats in return? The boundaries to illegal actions are crossed at that point and this is far away from using the right to free speech.

On the 22nd of June, the newspapers celebrated the “less-than-full arena” at Trumps' Rally and credited TikTok users for it. Given that Trump has a huge election campaign budget, I personally think the campaign workers did eliminate many of those fake registrations. Maybe it was rather the fear of a COVID infection that kept many from attending? I personally would not go to a place where according to Trump half a million people mingle. Nevertheless, it is a good example, what users can achieve - to be heard loud and clearly.

In Switzerland, we voted on the topic of cyber mobbing and personal shit storm attacks. And the result was clear. Today, such incidents and the trolls can be legally pursued. Having that said, I really like to differentiate the distressed consumer with a real problem communicating that in a highly emotional way. And yes, it is sometimes not easy to find out - troll or distressed consumer? In any case, clear communication policy and constructive handling of the situation is needed.

Since May 2018 the GDPR leads to potential legal risks. The European law does protect consumers from unwanted advertisement floods and obligates the brands to be transparent about the usage of the collected data. This stopped many of the mass email sendings. Getting consent from consumers for ads is a new challenge for marketers, but one that can be solved. However, some SoMed platforms are still not free from data privacy security issues and data in-transparency. Brands spend a lot of money for nice shots of their products. And lately, there was a discussion, that a brand could even lose the rights on content posted there. Imagine, what that means for the consumer data… Did you ever try to protect your data usage on FB or Insta? Let me know your experience with that.

Without that willingness to share personal data, personalization is difficult. Gartner predicts, that the buzz around personalization will drop by 2025 due to the lack of ROI, partly because only 40% have a clear personalization strategy and roadmap. Although done right, personalization does work wonders in ROI. But more about that in the next episode…

The same underlying reason lies in a modest ROI for marketing campaigns. The cost of trying to decode the growing complexity of the intransparent underlying algorithms is very high. And consumers started to undermine these algorithms. One guy even created a traffic jam (wearing a lot of phones on him) and made google recommend an alternative route.

There are lots of black scary clouds appearing in the sky for SoMed and the immediate reaction is to run and get shelter. But please wait for the next article, before you put on your running shoes: The Chances of Social Media.

The Chances

In the introduction article, we looked at some facts, figures and studies around SoMed. Then I assessed the risks. Let’s now have a look at the chances to get a full picture. And finally, we have a small glimpse into a possible future of SoMed.

Gartner identified the following consumer trend topics for 2020:

  • Be careful with shop green messages. Consumers do not believe in green marketing messages from big brands anymore.

  • The revival of rewatching movies and TV shows and other repeated experiences, as a result of the overwhelming choice and craving for comfort.

  • Socialism is trendy. Market the underlying ideological ideas.

  • Payment preferences move away from bank accounts or cash and shift towards app-based tools.

  • Consumers want control over their data back and tweak their social profiles or sabotage the algorithms in other ways.

SoMed tools do contain a lot of valuable consumer data. What do you get, if you combine your collected consumer data (e.g. from your loyalty program) with SoMed data? A very powerful information tool on the true needs of your consumers.

There is only one obstacle to take. With the new GDPR rules, you need to tell the consumer in detail, what data you collect for which purpose. That might look like a risk at first glance. But my experience is, that consumers will give you consent if your shared information is a valuable benefit for the consumer. So the GDPR forces companies to think about a clear consumer-focused strategy and what information they need from the consumers to reach that target. So the first ingredient for success is:

Start with a consumer-focused strategy and a holistic CRM/marketing concept!

Now, this is not new. But the content of that strategy has changed. Product Marketing is out and as predicted 15 years ago Experience Marketing has finally found its way into the marketing mix. Today’s consumers want to experience and interact with a brand.

The 238 Swiss companies of the ZHAW dialog marketing study 2017 planned to invest more money into the Internet (+51%), Mobile (+39%) and Personal Contact Marketing (+9%). Social Media is just one of the communication channels in dialog marketing. And the communication channels are also just one tool in a holistic marketing concept. How can you make the best use of SoMed?

The value of communities has been discussed for quite some time. But what is a community? Your family is an example of that. Now imagine a family dinner; what do you do? You DISCUSS; you tell each other stories about things you experienced, the things you bought, holidays you plan, show each other pictures and videos. It’s an emotional place and you interact with each other.

This has also been the result of a study done by the Institute of CRM of the University of Applied Sciences. They concluded, that consumers as well as employees, need to show highly-developed interaction skills to make a community work. Those skills grow only in companies with an employee-oriented decision and learning culture. Following the warnings on the risks, also Accenture advises establishing a risk-aware culture and governance structures, which monitors and listens to consumer posts. We know, that 80% of all new expensive strategies are not truly lived due to the missing change management activities during the implementation process. What a waste of money… So this is the next ingredient for success:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Support your strategy with an effective change management process.

We have seen, that only 32% of the users think, brands do share meaningful content. What is meaningful content? Well, why not ask the consumers?

Many brands have realized the importance of consumer feedback. Salomon asked the followers on Instagram, what they want to hear about. Facebook has released polls and other interactive features. Many companies have a broad consumer database, which they could use for a “voice of the customer”. And some tools have a group feature now, where brands could invite consumers for a focus group. Or you ask your consumer network for 1:1 feedback video calls. Face-to-face consumer research does cost, so this is a pleasant low-cost alternative for marketers (wherever it makes sense of course).

Some brands do proactively provide interactive marketing activities on SoMed channels. The sports brand ON posted a 4 weeks training program. Other activewear and i.e. health insurance companies have done the same during the COVID lockdown period and offered free life classes or exercises while being at the home office. And then there were a few, that could link the “home office ideas” with a call to action for buying. The topics depend on the industry, brand and consumer and cover the respective underlying lifestyle of the consumers.

Other brands use the SoMed for charity campaigns. And then there is the special case of the luxury industry. Only a percentage of people can afford to buy those products. On FB, Chanel has 22 Mio. and Gucci has 19 Mio. followers. On Insta, Luis Vuitton has 35 Mio. followers. My interpretation is; the brands allow those followers to dream about something they can’t have by being part of the community. Those brands do, adjusted to their type of business, little in the interactive SoMed area and more in the “VIP marketing (1:1)”.

Some companies have even stopped using SoMed because the platforms do not comply with their brand message anymore. The ingredient for success:

Be interactive with your consumers in an authentic way fitting your company DNA. That can or cannot be on SoMed.

With that, new KPI’s need to be established, from Consumer-Lifetime-Value to engagement scores. What you define as a loyal consumer depends on your strategy. To be successful in your marketing activities you will need to track the ROI, that being an engagement score or pure money based depending on the purpose of the campaign. And then start testing - trial and error is the new approach in our fast-changing world. Step by step you will find out the right information on the right channel at the right time of the consumer journey to the right consumer. As the consumer process develops your marketing process will develop dynamically. The ingredient for future success:

Plan your (SoMed) marketing activities along the consumer journey to make the most impact on consumer satisfaction and with that to your profit. The more loyal a consumer is, the less you spend on marketing activities.

What is next?

The future is a constructed possibility. Therefore let me paint a possible scenario. I will start one, which does not need any new technology to become reality.

We are visiting a restaurant called “Commun”. Here, they live an empathic employee and consumer-centric culture. People are top performers, highly effective and efficient in their daily tasks. Because they are empowered, they show high intrinsic motivation and a high degree of innovation. They are loyal to the company and listen to each other and the customers actively - from Simon the cleaning man to Julie the boss. When Covid19 struck, the agile transformation was set into motion and everybody helps to get over the economical challenges. As the word is usually misused, let me give you the official definition from the dictionary:

Agility - the ability to think quickly and clearly.

Today, Jean the cook is also delivering meals to the employees, working in home-office. The new business model is in the test phase but seems to be successful. Julie did not take the decision headless. They did a short risk & chances analysis and then started the trial and error process together. Every home office employee is asked for feedback and they learn and improve the customer experience every day.

In the meantime, they have learned, that customers would like to order their meals online and they implemented a basic online shop. Heinz a new customer (and not the best cook ever) books a one-week package and can choose every day from 3 different meals online. In the feedback box, he suggests, that the menus should be visible on his favorite SoMed platform upfront. So Jean makes a weekly menu plan with beautiful pictures of his delicious creations. Ana another customer is following the menu plan on SoMed and calls in to order her lunch. And Simon - the former cleaning man - is ready to take the orders. They master the customer journey on a small scale with the available resources. It is called Omni-channel marketing” in big companies. The ingredient for future success:

Agile transformation is not a tool, it is an outcome of the right company culture in place. All companies use the buzz words, but very few actually live a truly empathic, customer-centric, risk-aware, continuous learning culture.

Heinz and Ana have become regular customers and Julie wants to keep them loyal. With every 10th order, the customers now get a small delicious surprise dessert with a personal message “Made for you with love. Jean”. Heinz loves it. Ana is happy about the surprise, although she is more on the salty side. So far Julie and her team have only implemented what is already there to be used - no big innovations done.

As more and more customers follow them on SoMed, Julie gives Simon a crash course in SoMed handling. From now on, Simon answers questions and takes orders from customers on SoMed too. A very efficient interactive 2-way communication and feedback way is established to further strengthen the customer relationship and loyalty. This of course is all in a manual mode and still not innovation. But it becomes innovation when the same process is managed by Artificial Intelligence (AI). The ingredient for future success:

Use social media where wished by the customer, not where you think it is fancy. If you can’t satisfy the needs of the customers, choose a different channel. Do the right things right!


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