The Skeptic’s Guide to Using Social Media

The difficulty of measuring the ROI of all that posting has left businesses disillusioned. Why one marketing strategist and social media skeptic says you shouldn't stop tweeting just yet

Written by Catherine McIntyre

Marc Gordon is used to people saying he’s wrong. Gordon is a marketing expert and a social media skeptic, two seemingly incompatible positions in an era where an online presence is widely—and often blindly—touted as your best marketing tool.

When he first started publicly questioning the benefits of social media back in 2009, Gordon’s contrarian views routinely prompted guests to walk out on his speaking engagements. “The hostility towards what I was saying was unbelievable,” he recalls. “It’s like 500 years ago when people were saying the world is round, and everyone said: ‘You’re crazy, it’s flat!’”

Now, roughly a decade into the social media experiment, Gordon says more like-minded marketers and business leaders are coming out of the woodwork. Why the change in tune? Many folks simply aren’t seeing any return from the resources they’ve funnelled into Twitter, Facebook and the likes. Indeed, recent research shows that the link between likes, tweets, follows, and posts have little impact on generating sales and even engaging customers.

“I’m not anti social media,” says Gordon, “I’m anti blanket statement, ‘Everybody needs to be using it.’” Even for those who have tried and failed to see ROI, social media may still be of use.

Crucial to your success in the medium is setting goals. “Know what you want to get out of it, and track your progress carefully” says Gordon, whether that’s increasing sales, growing your mailing list, raising a certain amount of money, or having a means to engage with your client-base. Equally important is knowing your audience and where to find them, “There’s no point in participating if that’s not where your market is.”

For those who are keen to keep participating, here are a few examples of how to make social media effective.

Announcing a new product

Consumers now review at least six sources of information before buying a new product says Joan Schneider, CEO of marketing and PR agency Schneider Associates and co-author of The New Launch Plan. To ensure your audience is seeing enough of you, your presence on traditional channels like TV and print media must be supplemented with widespread social reach, particularly around launch time.

Starting a hashtag is one good way to help generate, and track, buzz for a new product across multiple channels. Take Wendy’s #PretzelLoveSongs campaign, for example: When the company launched its Pretzel Bacon Burger, the brand asked customers to share feedback using the hashtag. It then collected the best ones and had Nick Lachey sing them in mini commercials online.

Offering promo deals

Running flash sales or handing out secret coupon codes on social media generates intrigue around your brand among followers, and incentives other current and prospective customers to connect with your business online.

Gordon is a fan of these social sales strategies because it’s easy to measure whether or not they’re working—just look at the number of coupon codes used during the campaign, and your sales stats before and after that period.

Soliciting feedback

This summer, Doritos launched two new flavours—Sizzling Salsa and Ultimate Cheeseburger—and asked customers to axe one of them by voting on Facebook, Twitter, or their website. The interactive campaign was aimed at engaging the online community and boosting sales.

But be warned: Poorly thought-out crowdsourcing strategies can go horribly wrong. Mountain Dew’s “Dub the Dew” campaign, in which the brand let the public suggest and vote on names for a new soda flavour, is a prime example. The operation had to be shut down when titles like “Gushin’ Granny” and “Diabeetus” quickly rose to the top of the polls.

Increasing awareness

Some companies are simply interested in being visible to their clients online, and that’s fine, says Gordon. Keep in mind, however, that the payoff of that kind of activity is harder to measure. “Look at analytics to see how many people are reading, sharing, commenting,” says Gordon. “If you’re doing all this work and see that five people are engaging out of thousands of followers, you have to wonder if it’s worth it.”

Merely being on social media can be an effective customer connection tool. “The real measure of success here is the ability to build a reputation as a company that’s very, very responsive,” Gordon says. “That’s not something you can measure in a tangible way or have a direct return on investment, but it’s a soft PR tool that can be very effective.”


Originally appeared on