Is Social Media a waste of time for marketers?

This is a post related to “Critics of Social Media", the topic for week 12 of the “Digital Marketing” course that I’m currently undertaking at RMIT.

I created this Spotify Playlist for this article, feel free to give it a go while you read the following lines:)

As an engineering student who is curios about the marketing world and entrepreneurship, I decided to choose this Digital Marketing course as an elective during my stay abroad here in Melbourne because I was looking forward to learning more about a topic that I consider extremely relevant and useful to know about in this digital era we live in. After watching a couple of talks by professor Mark Ritson, though, I began to think whether it was a smart choice to enrol in this subject or not, as he states that social media is mostly a waste of time for marketers.

In his speech, which is backed by trustworthy data, he suggests that the buzz around digital media, with many relevant blogs and magazines saying that traditional media might be dying because of social media, is completely biased and it makes no sense to him: he sees social media as a tool that people use to communicate with other people, inducing that brands might have a limited chance to take part in these conversations. He brings onto the table statistics on how marketing in traditional media channels –such as TV or radio– still have a huge –and apparently bigger than digital media– impact on people’s lives. Then, he firmly states that “if a marketer comes to him with a pre-allocated social media marketing budget he knows they are poorly trained”.

Although I understand his point of view and consider it very enlightening for me, as it’s true that before deciding how you are going to spend your marketing budget you should first elaborate a well-thought strategy based on which your goals are and who you are targeting to, as well as the fact we shouldn’t always believe the hype around a specific trend, in the following paragraphs I will do my best to justify an aspect I humbly consider he might be missing in his argument.

Your strategy depends on who your target customers are

One of the main arguments through which Mark Ritson justifies why he thinks that social media has a small impact on the customers of a specific company is by picking the biggest companies in Australia and comparing their amount of followers on social media with their total number of customers. He obtains an average of around a 5% on Facebook (i.e. Commonwealth Bank has around 14,000,000 customers but only 700,000 follow them on Facebook, so that equals a 5% of their customer base), and even lower values for other platforms.

However, what we should take into account here is that these are mainly companies that have a broad target group of customers, as they are either banks (ANZ, Commonwealth, Westpac, NAB), big supermarket chains (Woolworths, Coles) or telecommunication companies (Telstra, Optus). All of them aim to fulfil a need that most of the population have, that’s why they are so relevant. In my opinion, the fact they are the biggest companies in Australia shouldn’t be enough to use their numbers to justify his hypothesis applies on any kind of business.

For instance, after doing some research I have found out that companies that emerged as startups and offer an online-based service –and therefore target a younger audience– perform way better in this field. For instance, the amount of likes Redbubble has on Facebook equals a 12% of the amount of people that has at some point bought something in their website –7 million–, Canva had 10 million users at the end of 2018 and they are followed by 1.3 million people of Facebook –which makes it a 13% of the total amount of users–, if we check a smaller but still relevant startup such as 99designs, their FB likes to actual user rate increases to a 46% for example, as they count on 444,306 users and they are liked by 203,860 people.

Although the numbers I provided still don’t prove that digital media performs better than traditional media, it does confirm that Mark Ritson’s justification can’t be applied to any kind of business. Moreover, the amount of followers on a brand’s profile isn’t the only metric we should be taking into account in order to determine whether it’s worth for the brand to invest time and resources into building their social media profile. For instance, social media profiles for businesses are proven to increase brand awareness, trust and they are also a great way to provide customer support, even to people that don’t follow them.

As a conclusion, I consider that as marketers we should be aware of the importance of creating a marketing strategy based in our goals and our target customer profile instead of deciding to go all-in on digital media because it’s what might seem trendy nowadays or just focusing on traditional media because it allows to reach a bigger audience. It’s crucial as well to take our decisions based on actual data that comes from relevant sources of information.

What do you think about this topic? Have you watched any of Mark Ritson’s videos? Do you agree with him? Do you think digital media will take over traditional media? Or you still believe in TV, radio and out-of-home advertising?

~ by Elies Delgado Tamarit

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5 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Erin says:

    Great blog Elies! I think social media or digital marketing will take over traditional marketing as everything seems to be digital these days! In saying that, everything comes back into fashion again such as record players and vinyl records! People are using them yet again because they’re trendy! So I actually think at one point, newspapers and watching tv may be the next ‘cool’ or ‘hipster’ thing to do! Therefore marketers will revert back to their traditional marketing methods. However I still do think that digital marketing will be around for a long time!!

  2. Jasmine Beli says:

    Hey Elies, it’s definitely interesting to read Mark Ritson’s opinions about social media marketing, however, there is no denying that social media marketing has made some campaigns extremely successful. It definitely just depends on what your company is and what you’re selling. If your products don’t need to be advertised on social media as much e.g. Coles’ produce items, then of course there is no point to using social media to market this. However, products such as makeup, clothing, travel do very well with being marketed on social media platforms.

  3. John says:

    Hi Elies, I think that the argument you expose is a good point, we shouldn’t compare all the businesses with the biggest companies, as their business models, goals and target customers might completely differ. However, your explanation still doesn’t justify whether digital media can be more effective than traditional media, but I understand it would require deeper research. Thank you for the article!

  4. Victoria says:

    Very interesting topic that you have chosen. I agree with you that especially nowadays, as everything is becoming more digital and social media is taking up an ever larger part of our lives, the impression is created that all the companies are presenting this channel as one of the strongest – in this respect it is interesting to get to know a different, critical point of view.

    I also think that the number of followers of a large company doesn’t necessarily say anything about whether their social media activities are effective or not – at this point other measures are much more appropriate.

    I think to be successful depends on what the company wants to sell and what added value it offers through social media. For example, I often find it interesting to get a glimpse behind the scenes of a company or to learn about new products . However, I believe that digital channels will not overtake traditional channels, but in the best case coexist and complement each other positively.

  5. Vicki says:

    Fantastic rebuttal argument to Mark Ritson’s speeches! Having watched many of Mark’s videos, I thought that his arguments were well formulated with very solid data to back him up, however as you mention he only looks at the large, traditional Australian companies – which are not digitally native. I think you make a really strong case where companies that are newer and digitally integrated, their social media presence and engagement matches what the company offers. I believe that digital certainly is an important part of marketing but it needs to be used as a strategic channel within the wider IMC. Great article – loved hearing your thoughts on this one!

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