Why Corporate Social Media Fails

We – the media, the blogosphere and Twittersphere – do a fantastic job of highlighting and celebrating social media success stories. The reality, however, is the number of social media failures vastly outnumbers companies that are thriving.

The reality is social media “car wrecks” are strewn throughout the landscape. It’s not for a lack of trying; it has everything to do with companies making fundamental mistakes in how they approach, embrace and execute on their social media programs.

Far too many companies are drinking the social media “Kool-Aid”. They buy aggressively into the hype that has continued to gain momentum but don’t have a clear idea of exactly what they want to do and, as important, why.

Here’s are five key reasons why social media failure is far more prevalent than anyone wants to admit to talk about.

1. The lack of a strategic plan. Far too many companies run before they walk. As a result, they jump into social media without a well-articulated idea of why they want to do social media, what they want to get out of it, what success looks like, and what rivals are doing.

According to a recent study by Digital Brand Expression, 78% of respondents said they were doing social media but only 41% of companies said they had a strategic plan.

2. The lack of a tactical plan. This is more than just knowing how to use Twitter, Facebook or a blog because they’re not that difficult to learn. Tactics has more to do about best practices, knowing when and how to engage with other people on social media, and using the best and most effective tools to be as productive and efficient as possible.

3. The lack of resources, or hiring people who lack the right skills or experience to get the job done. Too many companies get excited about a social media program but don’t or won’t allocate enough people to actually make it happen. Another mistake is they hire people who are too inexperienced but hope that their enthusiasm about social media will compensate for it.

4. The lack of content that is compelling, engaging, interesting or valuable. At the end of the day, great content and stories make social media be successful. Truth be told, social media services are simply tools to distribute content. In other words, content and stories and the ammunition that makes the weapons (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) effective.

5. The failure to build relationships. Social media is not a one-way street or a one-way conversation. For social media to work, you need to build relationships with people, have conversations, engage and connect. It’s work requires time and effort.

So, what do you think? Why do companies fail at social media?

32 Comments on “Why Corporate Social Media Fails”

  1. Hey, good post, but I think there’s a faulty metaphore in Step 1: Far too many companies walk before they run.

    I think you’re trying to say companies try to do more than they should before they’re ready, right? Perhaps what you meant to say was that they try to RUN before they WALK?

  2. These are great observations and right on the money but they’re not the reason corporate social media fails. They’re the results of the reason, which is: Corporations don’t believe in social media. When you don’t truly believe in something, you’re not going to invest in it. It’s like the early days of the web. Nobody got it. Marketing and advertising budgets were tied up in broadcast and print and companies committed only token budgets, no strategy, and no staff to their websites. The IT guy usually ran it. Ad agencies had no interest in getting their hands into something so geeky and unimportant. When agencies began creating their own interactive divisions, or purchasing existing ones, they still kept them armslength from the rest of the account and it took a really long time before they began creating organic online/offline integrated strategies. In fact it’s still not defacto for all advertising.

    So, as far as companies are concerned, social media is just more of the same. Another online channel that their agencies don’t get and small group of marketing and tech geeks are making an overblown fuss about. If they don’t get it, it means we haven’t done a good job of communicating it.

  3. “Social media is not a one-way street or a one-way conversation.” Preach On!!! So many who are running to jump on Twitter, post status updates regularly yet they NEVER check their @replies (@username link) to see who they need to reply back to to answer a question or just acknowledge the contact – this can cause followers to drop off from disgust

    1. Lily,

      Thanks for the comment. You’re right, one of the keys is acknowledging when people to talk to you. It’s show you hear them and, as important, appreciate the effort.


  4. Good post and an even better topic of discussion. Being part of Dell’s social media relations team, I was naturally drawn to the title to check and see if we were committing any of the cardinal sins of social media. Better said…see how many and to what extent we are tripping up in this communication arena. We’re doing pretty good from what I can tell, though I readily admit that we can improve in all the categories – something that the team, and the company, efforts to do every day. But you didn’t ask how we thought our company was doing, you asked our thoughts on why so many fail in social media, well…

    I think it boils down mainly to No. 5 on your list (a ranking I would’ve made 1, 1A and 1B at the least.) To me, building relationships is paramount if you are to use social media as an effective tool in reaching your current and future customer base. You said it exactly correct, “…you need to build relationships…,have conversations, engage and connect.” This is where so many companies who use social media to “talk” to me as a customer fail. There’s no conversation. It’s like guerilla marketing – they come out of nowhere, hit me with an unbelievable offer and then disappear back into the cyber jungle. I never hear from them unless they have something to sell me. They don’t respond when I ask a question or make a comment on one of their blogs. They don’t want to get to know me, only my credit card number. To be successful at social media you have to listen first, ask second, listen again and then maybe, if you’ve earned it, you can put your two cents into the conversation.

    This also folds into your point No. 4 about content. How are you guaranteed to have compelling, interesting or valuable content for those you are trying to reach? Get to know them, learn what they are talking about/care about and then you can shape your story more effectively.

    Thanks again for the fab post and conversation. I very much look forward to what others have to say about this topic.

    Vance Morton, Dell Global Content Producer/Customer Program & Social Media Evangelist

    1. Vance,

      Thanks for the comment and the insight. In many respects, building relationships and having conversations can be challenging for many companies because it takes time to make it happen. This contrasts with the real-time nature of social media in which everything happens so quickly. As a result, there are conflicting views of what social media should be instead of understanding it’s a multi-dimensional kind of activity.

      cheers, Mark

  5. Totally agree with Linda in comment 3 above. It’s really agouti a lack of commitment as was true in the early days of the web. Just read a great post RT by @chrisbrogan mentioning that the key for success is having a brand strategy. If that is set and within it social media is recognized as a key success factor the stage is set right.

  6. Social media is a content game. Create great content, people will come. Create it regularly, and it’s an asset. Do it once, and it’s trying to bottle lightning. Regular, remarkable content production is the FOUNDATION of any social media campaign. Forget twitter–get a blog first.

    Once you have that content (which should be associated with a strategic and tactical plan, natch), you can play with second order elements like calls to action and social media. After. Not before. Content always comes first, and it needn’t take a team to produce. One marketer with a free 2-3 hours a week can generate enough content to get off the ground and start driving new leads to the site.

  7. I can totally identify with number three. I may or may not know of a company that has someone in their marketing department that is in charge of their social media efforts but has social media blocked for the rest of the company. Does that make sense?

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  11. As someone that is taking an organisation through the first tentative steps into social media, like Vance I wanted to make sure we weren’t making any major blunders! Thankfully, I don’t think we are but it’s always nice to be reassured and to learn from other people’s experiences.

    The key things I wanted in place when we started looking at social media was a clear objective and a team that could commit to creating compelling content on a regular basis.

    Essentially social media is just a delivery mechanism, the old rule that ‘Content is King’ still holds true. I think where many organisations fall down is by wanting a ‘Twitter strategy’ or ‘Blog strategy’. Think more about what you want to say and why, and then pick the best tools to help you do it.

    Paul Beauchamp, Ordnance Survey, Great Britain

  12. Mark, Another ITA with Linda’s post about commitment and investment. In order for social media to work for an organization, that company has to work for it. If they don’t commit the necessary resources–talent, capital, time, patience–nothing will come of their investment.

    Another reason some companies fail at social media is because they don’t integrate their plans, or have a clear idea of their goals. It’s strategy without tactics, tactics without strategy or the tactics implemented will not support the strategic goals. FWIW.

  13. I find many of the clients I work with don’t want to invest the energy into the social media plan. They want someone else to do the work for them. There is no substitute for an engaged individual communicating with their audience on a regular basis. Until businesses understand that it is an ongoing process and not just a matter of setting up their profiles and automated responses they will not succeed in social media. I tell clients that they need to invest at least 10 hours a month into the big 3 social media platforms.

  14. Very true. I so often find that everyone wants to jump on the newest trends, but forget about the long term plans. I think that the future of business depends on businesses understanding the overall internet landscape and how they can make their business a place to engage the conversations.

  15. All solid points, although this crowd obviously has a bias in seeing social media efforts succeed. I’m working on a corp plan now and the focus (from others) that I am trying to change is: What is the $$$ ROI we’ll get from social media in 3-5 years, and let’s do everything/we should be everywhere…regardless.

    It’s usually those in the other departments who don’t get it and fail to recognize that it’s about the journey (brand building/conversation/relationship) not the destination (immediate sales impact).

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  20. Thanks Sysomos for one more great blog post.

    Our experience is that the companies do not understand social media iow do not know where to start from (after some severe and famous failures).

    The old-school CMOs and marketers are too stubborn to listen to social media start-ups´advice and to admit that social media adds a whole new element to the marketing vehicle.

    What helps are good case studies and top statistics and YES, the result should be a revamped online marketing strategy with the respective KPIs – AND tools to monitor and analyze.

    Markku Nummila CEO, Betalabs SL, Social Media Agency Barcelona

  21. This is a great checklist for any corp comm/corp marketing person looking at using social media. If I could add one thing I would add have a crisis communications plan (maybe it fits into #1). My point being that if you are going to be out there and communicate with your public be prepared for the worst to happen — because it will. It’s easy to communicate and converse when all is well, but having a plan to answer difficult questions and accusations is another issue.

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  23. #6: Failure to measure and evaluate every possible piece of relevant information. It’s not enough anymore – okay, it never was – to gloss over the stats and just assume things are “going well” if you see one or two numbers that seem encouraging.

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