A few days ago, my husband looked up at me from over his laptop and said "Yahoo has a poll asking people if social media influences their buying decisions." After I smiled and chuckled a bit, I asked him what the poll "concluded."

Making Friends with Social Media

"It doesn't."

And then we both smiled.

Why would two people who run a social media marketing and analtyics form smile at that conclusion? Well...because we know better.

You see, it wasn't all so long ago that I remember a large consumer poll being released that declared consumers didn't use blogs. We could all close up shop and go home, no one reads blogs, no one is swayed by blogs and no one even really cares about blogs. Some within the marketing world went nuts, gloating over the results and claiming they'd been skeptical about blogs from the get go.

Then another company popped up with a counter study that showed the flaw in the original poll's design. People often don't tell us the truth in these scenarios. Sometimes it's because they don't know any better, sometimes it's because they don't want to believe the truth. In the case of the blog study, it turned out that people not only used blogs, they used them all the time. They simply had no idea they were using blogs.

How, you might ask, does someone NOT know they are using blogs? Simple...they go to the search engines, type in a query, click on a search result and then read the page. They didn't "use" a blog, they found a "page" in a search result. The counter study worked because it didn't ask people what they used, it actually tracked their Internet usage and then manually categorized the types of sites they were using.

As it turned out, more than three quarters of people used blogs on an almost weekly basis.

So excuse me if I don't pack up shop and head off to join the corporate world just yet.

Here's why.

The poll on the Yahoo site was brought about by some comments made earlier this week by Eric Schmidt, Coca-Cola's senior manager of marketing strategy and insights. Schmidt shared some internal data in an article at AdAge claiming Coke saw no sales benefit from their social media activities.

"We didn't see any statistically significant relationship between our buzz and our short-term sales."
Ok...I'll be honest and say I read that line and thought "duh."

Especially considering Schmidt goes on to clarify the broader scheme of things:

"Is that the end of the story?" Mr. Schmidt asked. "I would say no. This is one study on a set of brands in a particular company within a certain segment of the consumer-packaged-goods industry. It is by no means a generalized result that applies to all industries. "

He goes on to explain that on many fronts, they believe they need to refine the way they track and measure their social media activity, including sharing the concern that manual reviews of sentiment do not even begin to match up to automated measurement of sentiment.

I'd go on to offer a few other thoughts to the mix.

You are Coca-Cola...one of (if not THE) most ubiquitous brands on the face of the planet. You have reached a point where you MUST partake in all available forms of marketing and brand building simply to maintain your position as the reigning champion. You cannot expect to see an overall sales uptick simply because you start engaging with fans on Facebook.

I mean seriously?

What you CAN do however is leverage that uber-popularity into a communications channel that allows you to introduce new products and track the impact social media marketing has on THOSE products.  Drilling down into the Coca-Cola family and identifying the engagement and sales impact of those brands is going to be a far better judge of social media's impact on the brand.

Coca-Cola owns Odwalla. It owns Vitamin Water, it owns Fuze tea. If Coca-cola isn't able to drill down to see how social media has impacted the launch and sales of new flavors for these brands then either their social media marketing team or their analytics team needs to be let go and replaced.

Of course all of this simply goes to say that we're now seeing all sorts of "I told you so" posts showing up around the web.

E-consultancy seems to think the game is over for social media.

the question for other businesses, particularly those with marketing budgets far smaller than Coca-Cola's, is just how prominent a role social should play in the marketing mix going forward if it turns out social generally doesn't drive sales within a relatively short period of time. After all, many businesses simply can't afford to trade $0 in sales today for the hope that a popular Facebook Page or Twitter account will eventually pay dividends.

At the end of the day, Coca-Cola's research should at the very least serve as a wake-up call for businesses that have been investing heavily in social campaigns and staffing, particularly those that have been investing largely on blind faith that there's something here.

I'll be honest and say I completely fail to see how Coca-Cola's research should serve as a wake-up call to businesses that have been investing heavily in social campaigns. (Though I will admit it should be a wake-up call to those who are investing on blind faith...but I'd say that about ANYTHING they were investing in blindly.)

See, Coca-Cola's issue isn't that social media doesn't work. It's that it's not measurable on the precise scale they wanted it to be measurable on. With a bit of thought and application, it would, however, be measurable on many other fronts. All of which could serve to justify (or bring an end to) those investments.

As for Yahoo's amusing poll...well, study after study after study shows us that people are directly (and highly) influenced by their friends and family. In fact, Neilsen released numbers last year that showed 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family above ALL ELSE when making purchase decisions.

Anyone want to wager a guess on where most people are doing that interacting and getting those recommendations?

Ever heard of a little site called Facebook? Ever had a friend tell you she found a recipe on Pinterest? Ever discovered a new band because a friend of yours was listening to it on Spotify? Do you have any idea how many people check reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor before making weekend plans? Or look through the reviews on Amazon before buying a new camera?

Consumers want to believe they are above the influence of social media, that they make their own decisions. The truth is, social media has become so ingrained into their every day lives and the way they research ideas and products that they don't even realize the influence is taking place.

And that, my friends, is exactly why social media works and works so well...because it has become so ingrained into the way we connect with people and information. It has become part of the conversational landscape. It has become our opportunity to gently massage our brands, our messages and our offerings into the every day conversations of our customers.

Then again, if you are my competitor, feel free to throw in the towel and cease all social media activities. I promise I won't mind.

March 20, 2013

Jennifer Cario is the Editor in Chief of Search Engine Guide and the President of SugarSpun Marketing, a boutique social media agency specializing in social media strategy for small to mid size businesses. She is also a well respected trainer and serves as the Social Media Faculty chair for MarketMotive and as an Adjunct Professor for Rutgers University's Mini MBA program. She's based near Pittsburgh, PA but serves clients across the United States and Canada.


Hi, Jennifer Cario

Thanks for sharing Coca-Cola's senior manager of marketing strategy.

I also believe that customer loyalty is the springboard for positive word-of-mouth. Social media has revolutionized this by giving consumers the ability to see who their friends and colleagues speak on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or subscribe on YouTube effortlessly.

"Drilling down into the Coca-Cola family and identifying the engagement and sales impact of those brands is going to be a far better judge of social media's impact on the brand."

I think a lot of bigger brands with a lot of divisions and niches need to remember that. When your brand is that large it's hard to notice improvement unless it's a "big win." But when you hone is on specific products those wins get a lot bigger and more traceable.

Well I guess Social Media is the best way to let people know about whatever business you have. When you see you're not earning that much from doing social media marketing, don't rush because it's a process...

Well put Jennifer, Thanks

Social Media is the key to success, its all up to you how to use them.

It may work because the average person on Facebook and Twitter doesn't know how to spell ("Precicely???") ;-)

Great read.Thank you for sharing.
Education Information

Right down to this comment I agreed and then you said "...because it has become so ingrained into the way we connect with people and information."

I think we tend to look at the web and social media as though it is a thing outside ourselves. Upon closer reflection you see that it is human activity, not Facebook, Linked-In etc, that does the work and creates the activity.

The web is nothing without human activity and people love to share, just as the web, like all networks, is designed to share. When business fails to make good use of social media it is because they have not learned how to share. Advertising and sales promotion is self centered and cannot be counted as sharing. I don't want it. Do you want it?

It is the human activity that causes the growth of social media sites, and it is the tools for sharing that gives growth (activity) to social networks.

It is not that social media has been ingrained into the way we connect with people and information — it is that social media plays upon human nature and gives us the means to share.

Thanks for letting me share.

Someone told me years ago that his sales data showed that magazine advertising didn't work, because he made few sales that he could track to his ads. However, his sales data also showed that when he didn't run the ads, his sales from other channels went down.

Marketing activities are interrelated. It is difficult to impossible to pinpoint which particular thing caused a customer to buy. Often, it is the drip-drip-drip of many exposures in different ways that gets customers to take action.

Enjoyed your post!

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