Don’t Do Social Media Campaigns

Doing social media isn’t the same as doing traditional marketing communications activities. Social media, on a personal level, is about using web technologies to foster and develop relationships. Campaigns to build relationships are cynical exercises. In the real world we would tend to avoid or at the very least mistrust individuals who set out to make “as many friends as possible.”

Use a Social Media Campaign to Target Your Customers - Photo (cc) by D.C. Atty
Don't use a Social Media Campaign to Target Your Customers - Photo (cc) by D.C. Atty

What’s a social media campaign? You’ll be able to identify a campaign fairly easily. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. The agency that is running the campaign will ensure it starts with a big bang – concurrent activities across a number of social media platforms; Twitter, Facebook, blogs and YouTube and so on.

There’ll be an “exclusive” invitation out to the “influential” bloggers to a campaign “pre-launch” in the hope that they’ll ooze praise for the campaign on their blogs and on Twitter.

The campaign will launch officially, and no matter where you go online for a few weeks you won’t be able to avoid the campaign – the offers, competitions and hype.

The agency report back after a couple of weeks to say that the campaign has gone really well. There are 1,000’s of followers/fans coupled with a “significant” number of people talking about the campaign online – in particular in marketing and PR circles. Yes, there have been a few direct sales, but it’s early days yet. Oh, and we’ve run out of money.

Once the agency money dries up, the agency activities dry up.

The campaign, which was undoubtedly a “success” given the limited budget comes to a close. Hopefully someone will have thought to gather email addresses from the fans/followers, so they can be targeted on a regular basis with product offers. Someone will definitely submit the campaign for an industry award to get some extra publicity.

What’s wrong with a campaign then? In a campaign approach, you’re missing the essence of the nature (and thus the opportunity) of social media. It’s about relationships, and to draw a parallel, a social media campaign is a bit like a one night stand. Everyone had a bit of fun, but ultimately I feel a bit used. You got me interested in you, I gave you something valuable (in social media terms; my time and a recommendation to my network of friends), and once you got what you wanted you disappeared.

A large Irish utilities company recently ran one of these “successful” social media campaigns. They did everything right in campaign terms. However, when a crisis hit the company that affected their customers they simply pulled down the shutters on their social media activities. Their last ever tweet – a link to an “official statement” about the crisis – stands like an epitaph to the campaign. Sure they ran a good campaign, but do they have the lasting trust of all of those fans and followers who ultimately felt frustrated and let down by the campaign ended.

Barak Obama ran a successful social media campaign to get him elected. In so doing he heralded a new era in citizen participation in politics. Politicians of course have mastered the art of the campaign and it is therefore not surprising that the Obama media team took their foot off the pedal once he was elected. It was two months after Obama took office before someone remembered that they should think about updating his Twitter profile.

Instead of “campaign” think “engagement”. In (very traditional man-woman) relationship terms, when you are “engaged” you’ve certainly moved beyond the one night stand and are at a point where there is a genuine interest from each party in the other (hopefully).

It’s not for life (just yet) but you’re saying to the world publically that you are happy together. There is some level of commitment from each party that they’re undertaking to work at the relationship so that it is mutually beneficial – they’ll make an effort to fix things when they go wrong, and above all they’ll commit to talking things through when there is disagreement.

When your customers become your fans online, don’t underestimate the commitment they are making to you and what they expect from you in return. Engage with them meaningfully on an ongoing basis. Don’t target them with a superficial campaign.


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10 thoughts on “Don’t Do Social Media Campaigns

  1. Eminently accurate and well said. Think though that the fundamental weakness in the thinking is not so much specific to social media as to all forms of media, all campaigning.


  2. Hi Brendan, I agree with everything you said. The problem is that so many companies and brand managers have to think in ‘campaign timings’.

    This is what they’re used to and is tough to effect change in a company that have to run everything in conjunction with key product launches etc… As someone who works in social media, I can tell you that it’s a tough job to convince companies that social media should be an ongoing activity. There is essentially no end to a community and companies that do this are missing a trick. It ultimately comes down to budget too.

    Many companies are starting to get social media right and I think it will just take a bit of time for both large and small brands to really understand what social media is about and stop thinking on a campaign basis.


  3. Hi Padraig, Lauren – thanks for the comments. I think that it is often easier for organisations to think tactical rather than strategic. Campaigns require much less commitment and are easy ways to get started.

    However, agencies like your’s Lauren, have an onus to let orgs know that by just doing campaigns in this space they’ll potentially do more harm than good in building customers’ trust in the long term.


  4. The key thing here is that organisations manage the activity in-house in the long term. Hire an agency for strategic advice, creative and to help start building relationships, but why would you outsource engagement on a long term basis – makes no sense. The challenge you’ll get back of course if that they don’t have capacity to manage this or aren’t sure where the responsibility sits internally. I’ve been banging my drum for a while about this, but I think most organisations fundamentally have to change the concept of customer service.


  5. Piaras hits the nail on the head.

    All the companies that I know of in our “space” do it inhouse. Sure, we, as a group may not always “get it right”, but if you’re running it yourself you’re more likely to be able to do it properly. I don’t see how outsourcing it to a 3rd party could really work.

    Of course the other side to it is that some people seem to think that “social media” can replace all other channels of communication, which isn’t helpful for anyone.


  6. Agreed Michele. The agencies that are selling services need to support organisations in developing the confidence and skills in managing this themselves.


  7. hi Brendan, Agree fully. I’m hearing bit and pieces these days that suggests that Irish brands and marketing teams are beginning to think beyond ‘campaigns’ for social media. And putting structures and people in place to deal with long term. In my mind, I think social media is different to traditional media. Not many brands can consistently advertise all the time in say press or TV. Too expensive. And it is more one-way communication by its very nature.


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