Why social media is mostly a waste of time for marketers: Mark Ritson presentation

Mark Ritson – academic, brand consultant and Marketing Week columnist – recently gave a talk entitled ‘Why Social Media is Mostly a Waste of Time for Marketers’.

Never one to shy away from a controversial opinion, Ritson’s presentation delves deep in to the data and concludes that social is of limited use for brands.

So click play now to watch Mark tackle areas including:

  • Social vs traditional media
  • How customers interact with brands on social
  • Is social useful for brands?
  • Is ‘digital marketing‘ an outdated concept?

If you agree, or disagree, with Mark, please let him know in the comments area below.



There are 30 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Sam Reader 18 Jan 2015

    I work in social media marketing and I agree with Mark – there I’ve said it. Two points I’d like to raise however.

    Point 1 – TV allowed Budweiser to be creative with their marketing message.
    Budweiser resonated a personal message through TV. There were no direct sales messages about brewing beer or how good the beer is. Instead they focused on how dedicated Budweiser are to things that are important to “people”, such as loyalty and tradition.

    Point 2 – The last 1hour and 30 minutes of my life.
    I saw an email pop up – “Why social media is mostly a waste of time for marketers: Mark Ritson presentation”. I clicked through to this article, I watched the video in this article and now I am taking the time to voice an opinion about the article.
    I like marketing week, I love being challenged and I love constructive arguments about marketing. This afternoon Marketing Week (a brand) connected with me through digital about what I’m interested in and added value to my day.

    We know Digital is changing the world, even if it’s not directly social media.
    Brands need to be more creative with it and tell stories to connect with the person (like Budweiser). Plus, they need to connect users with relevant information that the user truly cares about (like the email I received and subsequent article that I read).

    Brands should stop being lazy thinking the letters “f” “in” “g” or the symbol of a little blue bird means they’re part of the “Social Gang”. Infuse creativity into every marketing activity and strive to connect with the person, in whatever media works best and often, best is when they’re all combined.

    “He becometh poor that worketh with a slack hand; But the hand of the diligent maketh rich.”

    • Connugy 29 Jul 2015

      But the numbers don’t stack up.

      Surely the ultimate yardstick needs to be sales. Even if we dilte sales to “affected sales” we’re still overvaluing it as a channel.

      I think the rationale in this video in terms of valuing social media for brands speaks for itself.

      • Anonymous Inc 14 Feb 2016

        Agreed that conversion is the most important aspect of social media whether you sell a product, service or content. If the ROI for this is not justified, whatever marketing you do, however you do it to speak to your customers/readers/visitors is not going to make a dent if you

        1. are not a big massive brand like Budweiser or Coca-Cola who have had at least a century to build their company’s brand worldwide and have had at least 50 years of mass media marketing on traditional platforms to gain a massive following on social media.

        2. you are not a celebrity who again, has the advantage of traditional mass media behind them to do their PR/marketing for them.

        3. you are a brick and mortar company with a customer base who are not digitally savvy or dropping out from social media because it’s all too much info.

        To someone like me who is a co-founder of a very young, niche publishing site for women, the only answer is still to tag on to traditional media platforms to gain exposure. There is no other way.

      • Corey 9 Mar 2017

        Most brands investing in social are trying to learn to succeed in that context so that tomorrow, as usage continues to increase (and TV viewership, yes, despite Mark’s protests, declines for the first time). If the yardstick of ads is the action they can provoke (i.e. sales), let me offer a grim counterpoint. Along with an opportune political climate, Facebook won Donald Trump an election for the presidency with a fraction of the spend of his opponent.

        Also, talking about organic reach in 2015 is truly the definition of dinosaur. By then, if you didn’t know that the game was entirely about paid, you weren’t paying attention.

  2. Georgie Park 18 Jan 2015

    Interesting position that Mark Ritson takes on social media and I agree that marketers need to remember that social media alone can’t deliver all a brands KPIs and that it has its place supporting wider integrated marketing plan made up of various digital and traditional marketing channels.

    However, when comparing the famous Oreo super bowl ad with the Budwieser ad, he highlights the amount of coverage the ad got as a negative thing. Clever content marketing behind successful social media campaigns can generate a huge amount of publicity for a brand beyond the Twitter stats at low cost, yet this further amplification isn’t included in the stats on audience reach.

    It would be interesting to see the ROI for both cases, as you get what you pay for. Buying ad space in a prime time slot like the Super Bowl exposes you to a massive audience but comes at a price. Research shows audiences are often multitasking when watching TV, engaging with social media and internet browsing at the same time – the Oreo SM team saw an opportunity to reach the same super bowl audience at a fraction of the cost of buying traditional media space.

    As we pull together our 2015 plans it is important to remember what our brand goal is and assign the most effective marketing channels with the budget we have to deliver it.

  3. Ron Strauss 18 Jan 2015

    While I agree with much of what Mark has said, it’s important to carefully define the different categories of digital and traditional media and not use ‘stalking horses’ when talking about each. In other words, don’t accuse them of not being effective for purposes for which they were never intended. And to realize that Mark’s comments were aimed at FMCG type brands.

    The creation of brand sites on social media like FB and Twitter was an attempt by FMCG marketers to be ‘present’ and influence the dialogue about their brands – not to supplant traditional or other digital media. As Mark has effectively pointed out, that impact has been minor compared to the impact of traditional media. Mark is right to point out the marketing press has not been very diligent in how they present the purpose and effect of social media – to report that SM will supplant traditional media is silly.

    The history of traditional media has taught us that new media don’t eliminate existing media, they add to it and enrich the media landscape.

    The real value of social media are the conversations that take place about brand, if the marketer is listening, hearing, following-up, and responding. Although the numbers are relatively small, that’s not the point. The point is to understand the conversation. Trends and change start at the edge.

    The core value of digital media is to provide an ‘inbound’ way to attract attention to your brand via SEO, This is why content generation and key word mastery among digital media is so important. Traditional media employ an ‘outbound’ model that’s especially valuable for FMCG. Small, local or B2B brands can benefit from highly specialized, targeted and/or local media combined with digital media. SM gives them a looking glass into the local community.

    Understanding each media’s strengths and weaknesses and how to combine them to greatest effect is really the point of this video…

  4. Chris Coote 19 Jan 2015

    Excellent Mark. Social Media is grossly over hyped. Your stats are compelling. Whatever way you cut it, social media is not reaching or engaging brand customers. It is clear that even a 5% budget share is misplaced.
    I wonder how much viral value Bud extracted from their Super Bowl ad ?

  5. This is a little blind-sided Mark, it assumes that Brands have behaved appropriately on Social Networks and they universally HAVE NOT. The reason people don’t follow brands because they use traditional media communication strategies on social. If people behaved liked brands on social media you wouldn’t follow them either. Whilst no one can argue your reach comparisons, its just a little one sided because it assumes that brands have used social well, and I know you know they have not!

  6. Jacky York 19 Jan 2015

    Social has been extremely useful for some small businesses who’ve understood what social is all about – and have been flexible and agile to change as social as changed.

    Call me a cynic – but when I heard the Oreo’s tale I did wonder if the power outage had been paid for and it was all part of the sponsorship deal… ! I may be wrong on this but I had heard that American sporting events take ad breaks as and when advertisers want to interrupt the game not at fixed time schedules. Or maybe some one just paid a grounds man to flip a switch…all seems a bit to set up to me.

    And great PR re ‘how to use social’ is only a tactical mechanism and hit the adlines simply because it’s all so new. Longer term – these sort of creative social tactics just won’t hit the headlines.

    Great talk – what we were allowed to hear of it – left me wondering what he covered in the remaining hour of his talk – bet that was the most informative and less controversial part of his talk.

  7. Claudio 19 Jan 2015

    I really like your presentation Mark. It’s great to finally hear someone who has the nerve to say the opposite of what most people and media ‘as you said’ are promoting as the king of marketing. Yes, I agree it does have some part (as you mention it accounts for 5% of budgets) but to fully think this will drive business and meet kpi’s is stupid. Thank heavens for the point.

  8. Sanjoy Datta 20 Jan 2015

    Just like people don’t go to Facebook to know about brands, people don’t watch Frasier because they are dying to watch ads during breaks. Relationship between Brands/Ads and program content is like parasite and host. It is irrespective of medium where the content is.

    Brand conversation in Social is spontaneous like word of mouth between friends. A brand gets spoken about if there’s been a great experience or a bad experience. In reality these conversations are out of bounds for a brand. It has to do the right things in the market, in its design and delivery. The rest is up to consumers.

    Remember old TV ads from 50s. Future would look at current ‘Social ads’/Brand Pages like stone age cave drawing. Things have just started. It usually get better with time.

  9. Mark talks a lot of sense as ever. Certainly I agree that most individuals have little interest in being socially connected or engaged with brands. But I would make the following observations in defense of ‘social’:

    1. Customer Service – Mark does mention this but I think social is very important as a customer service medium. Lots of examples of this being done increasingly well by brands.

    2. PR – social can also be very powerful for PR. For example, crisis management. Social can be a great way to communicate quickly and with a lighter touch e.g. linking to a formal response or statement.

    3. Sales – social can work well for simple offers, promotions etc. But it can also work well where it is the employees selling on behalf of their employer brands i.e. as an individual. For example Selfridge’s personal shoppers (see https://econsultancy.com/blog/65759-how-selfridges-uses-digital-to-create-extraordinary-multichannel-experiences)

    4. Driving traffic – this depends on the business model quite a bit. But for media/content businesses social can be very effective at driving traffic. For us at Econsultancy social drives around 15% of our traffic. About the same as email. Lower sales/conversions but still significant.

    5. Driving awareness – Mark’s numbers I assume only really count what the brand does in social. These numbers could look dramatically different if you counted all the brands’ employees and what they did in the name of their brand in social. Again, it depends on the business model but for us the cumulative social reach and impact of all our editorial staff on social is greater than our official brand accounts. If you are a law firm, accountancy etc then it is increasingly about the partners’ individual social presences that accumulate value to the firm. As Mark says people want to hear from people in social – but those people can be professionals working for brands.

    6. SEO – it’s a harder one to prove but most SEO bods will tell you that social signals do help in improving search rankings. So the indirect value of social media could be very large indeed (though this is true for traditional media too).

    If you are looking through the lense of brand marketing and focusing on metrics like reach then much of the above is less relevant perhaps. But I think of marketing as including all of the above so social has much more value than Mark might suggest.

    Mark’s point about the buzz/media coverage of social being out of proportion with its value is certainly true. Give me email marketing or search engine marketing any day. 50% of Econsultancy’s traffic is from search engines (vs 15% social). Anyone remember “affiliate marketing”? The media doesn’t talk about that (including us) but it is still a very sizeable part of digital marketing and still very effective if done properly – almost certainly a higher volume of sales from affiliate marketing than social each year.

    But we should all know (as marketers in particular) that people like to talk about shiny new things even if they aren’t the most important?

    Personally I think social media is *so* 2013 (or earlier?) anyway. Last year it was all ‘content marketing’ or ‘big data’ or ‘native advertising’ or ‘programmatic’. Social media is pretty old hat. It’s like talking about “web 2.0”. So I’m not as bothered about it as Mark seems. Social died a few years ago.

    But don’t get me started on ‘big data’ or ‘content marketing’. They really annoy me… 😉

    Ashley Friedlein
    President, Centaur Marketing & Founder, Econsultancy

  10. Kate Holden 21 Jan 2015

    This was very poignant. It was remiss however to compare the Budweiser vs Oreo methods without discussing cost. Superbowl advertising (and production) is one of the most expensive forms of media and ROI should have been included in the discussion…it may well be that the Bud method was still more effective but cost is a barrier that in reality many marketing professionals are having to circumnavigate and often why hopping on the social media bandwagon is an attractive solution.

  11. Alex Konrad 22 Jan 2015

    At the end of the day, was Oreo really after click through ratio or the exposure of the tweet ad itself? The Super Bowl where this tweet was sent was nearly a year ago yet here we are today discussing a video on the topic. Frankly, 65,000 followers is by far no jaw dropping figure. Celebrities, artists, fitness models, small businesses, etc. are able to utilize social media to promote deals, partnerships, products, brands, events and more. I use social media daily to grow the name of my website throughout the greater Phoenix area. Instagram is a fantastic free way for businesses to connect with customers and vise versa. Organic growth from 0 followers to 5000 followers in 6 months has given me the opportunity to understand the communities that are knit within different social media outlets.

    • I like this point Alex as it reframes the debate slightly.

      Small businesses using social to connect with consumers on a local level fits more with what Mark says about social being for people to communicate with each other, rather than brand comms.

      I agree with a lot of what Mark says in his presentation about large B2C brands being sold the social ‘dream’. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a useful tool for SMB marketing to do a lot on a more humble budget.

  12. Allan Hassell 25 Jan 2015

    Fully agree Mark – social media should always be part of what we do, but the statistics surrounding it need more context.

    Similar figures were used at the BCSC/Shopping Centre Conference in Birmingham last year, when discussing the “death of the high street and shopping centres” due to online sales – again context is missing from these figures.

    In my first job they asked why I was leaving when they were awarding a 10% pay rise that year – 10% of nothing (well a £150pm) is nothing – context is everything….

  13. This years Budweiser Superbowl ad has 55 million views on YouTube. I think this demonstrates social media amplifying ROI for a superbowl commercial. Channels provide the best ROI when working in conjunction with each other. You make some good points, I would like to read an article on what you have presented here, as I would like to have a few more things in context and sourced. For instance, are you comparing Budweiser commercial reach with social media engagement? Then I don’t think you are comparing apples with apples. People can see a retweet or a shared post without having to like or follow the page. Controversy is always good, thankyou for your insights.

  14. Miles 3 Feb 2015

    Mark – you’re well out of date here. You’re talking about organic reach. Social Media is now about paid highly targeted media content to millions of high propensity to purchase audiences with proven click through to purchase rates that are measurable. Fan and follower numbers are irrelevant. In addition brands use social media as customer servicing tools which are considerably more efficient and cheaper than traditional methods and ones that the customer expects.

  15. Liz Armstrong 4 Feb 2015

    I feel like I’ve found another person who can see that the king dude has no clothes on. Ok, yes of course, social media has a big part to play in most complete marketing plans. For some businesses, it’s a very, very important part, for others, not so much. Great. Perspective, I like it. Very tired of everyone prioritising social above everything else.

  16. Some good points. What about small business? They can’t afford traditional way. BTW, If there was no Facebook, I wouldn’t have come across your presentation.

  17. Where’s the rest?

    • Samuel Joy 2 Mar 2015

      Hi Frankie,

      Afraid that’s all we were able to get our hands on. Was a problem with the remainder of the recording.


  18. Connugy 29 Jul 2015

    I’d love to see some research about brands and their NEW twitter followers when timed (and thereby as a result of) during a PR crisis. It’s a passtime, watching how a crisis plays out. No?

    Not least, there should be some research done into why people follow brands just to (complainand, and then) “qualify” for a DM from the brand following their complainy tweet.

    I think brands hide – or avoid – the real reasons behind why followers follow them.

  19. Ed McKenna 21 Dec 2015

    Not sure I agree with his Oreo statistics. Seems to neglect the press coverage the activity had (which he does touch upon previously when making a different point), which would propel the actual reach far beyond 64,000… giving Oreo immense brand awareness and making it worthy of the plaudits it received.

  20. As a media practitioner of more than 25 years, I cant agree with Mark enough!

    I have spent the last two years battling clients (SMEs) who insist on thinking Social Media is something that will solve all their problems. And even met Social Media ‘Experts’ who tell me its the future and all other media is dead. My response was to ask if this person had recently seen the Facebook TV and Outdoor campaign, as it seems their agencies still see the value in traditional media channels (reluctantly, they admitted they had).

    Lets get things in to perspective here – its just another medium in the mix. But unfortunately, we are also now living in an age when everyone now thinks they are an expert marketeer.

    However, my response to clients is to ‘be very careful’….I can buys pipes and a toilet from B&Q, but it doesn’t make me a plumber, so what makes you think because you have a Twitter/Facebook page, you are now a Media Planner!

  21. Alex Martinez 12 Apr 2016

    I don’t get when he says “digital marketing is bullshit” then says to integrate things and then says dont do any digital marketing….? could someone please explain this to me??

  22. Mats Utberg 4 Aug 2016

    What happened to the video, can’t see it anymore. Did youtube think this was too close to home? 😉

    • Samuel Joy 4 Aug 2016

      Hi Mats,

      Looks like it was removed from YouTube, apologies. We’ve replaced it with a similar presentation Mark had done previously. Regards, MW

  23. Sandra Pickering 22 Jan 2017

    For many (most?) brands it doesn’t make sense as a sales channel.
    However, marketing is not sales and all types of media analysis (including listening to normal people talking in various ways) can yield powerful insights.
    If you know what you’re doing.

  24. Jason Chastain 6 Sep 2017

    Enjoyed the video! Good to see a talk now and then, not just the written word. Strangely, you deliver exactly as I hear you in your writing, Mr. Ritson. Please do this again.

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