I’m in Australia this week giving a presentation at the World Marketing and Sales Conference in Melbourne. Any chance to get on a stage with the likes of Philip Kotler and Martha Rogers was always going to be an invitation too tempting to refuse.
The bigger the event, the more tempting it is to keep it safe and stay within the parameters of your usual shtick. But from the moment I got the nod to present, I knew there was only one real topic I had to do – social media.
It was a bold, if stupid, decision. Australia remains even more in the thrall of social than the UK, and the room will contain more than a thousand marketers, many of whom work in social agencies or roles. I am likely to get impaled.
And yet the more I look into it, the more I feel certain that I’m onto something with my vehement criticism of the whole approach to social. I’ve read reports on social media CPM, CPA, ROI until I am BITF and none of it stacks up. One example from many: I spent three hours studying recent research that broke down how many brands Australians follow on social media. Was it 1 to 3, 4 to 6, 7 to 10, or even more? I had to read the small print to realise that the proportions in the table were based on those who followed any brands. Two-thirds of the sample of 1,000 Australians said they followed none. Why not show this in the table? Why hide from the negative story leaping from the data?
To make matters worse, most of the social media data is incestuous. Data compares the respective power of Twitter versus Facebook or Instagram versus Pinterest but no-one compares any of this with traditional media. I have to be generous and assume it’s because social experts are obsessed with their own little kingdom. A more cynical mind might think that comparing Twitter’s inferior click-through rate versus email marketing or Facebook’s lesser reach and duration versus radio might be a deliberate act of omission.
The ultimate incestuous data points are, of course, the engagement rates that take the proportion of total likes or followers and calculate how many of them were active over the past seven days. That’s a particularly inbred figure because who cares how many of your social audience you engaged? How about how many of your target customers? That question opens a doorway most social media proponents want to keep closed. My Australian data shows again and again that big brands might have millions of weekly consumers but they are lucky to engage with more than one or two per 3,000 via social channels.
Meanwhile, social media advocates continue to disparage and denigrate traditional media with impunity. Australia is worse than the UK. “Radio advertising will be dead within two years.” “TV advertising is in terminal decline.” Of course, none of it is true. Revenues from radio advertising down under are expected to grow at an annual rate of 3% for the foreseeable future, according to PwC. And, just like the UK, TV watching has remained steady over the past five years, despite endless predictions of imminent implosion, with most Aussies (90% of them) still using a telly to do it.
The biggest scandal of all is the Australian marketing press. I ran a content analysis of the major titles and recorded how many articles contained references to social media and its associated tools versus more traditional advertising media in 2013. Astonishingly, they were almost identical in number. This is despite the fact that social will only account for 5% of marketing budgets here this year. A similar story was observed by Nathan Safran in the US where, despite clear evidence that search is delivering approximately 50 times the digital sales impact of social, blogs on Mashable mention social media 58 times more frequently than search.
The end result of all this disproportionate and impartial propaganda is that most Aussie marketers intend to spend more on social next year even though most of them are yet to observe any major impact or a justifiable return on investment. Maybe they’re right, maybe I’m going crazy. Either way, I am in for a bashing on stage.
If you are awake on Thursday around 6am UK time, say a little prayer for me, my 90 minutes start then.