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What’s the point of social media?

I love this article from Mark Ritson in Marketing Week, questioning the wisdom of advertisers promoting their messages through social media.

Since some of the largest users of traditional advertising are trying to move most or all of their presence online, it’s very timely to question the effectiveness of the strategy.

As Ritson points out, “social media” literally means the communication channels that exist between people.  Not between brands.  He cites the recent TNS Digital Life report which found that 61% of UK consumers do not want to interact with brands on social media, and he sums up with a damning quote from the report: “Misguided digital strategies are generating mountains of digital waste, from friendless Facebook accounts to blogs no one reads”.

The reason that marketers and communicators are so drawn to online is that it appears to offer the holy grail of advertising: accountability, or knowing how many people react to your message and who they are.  This is what all media has been trying to work out for over a century, ever since the founder of Unilever famously said “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the problem is I don’t know which half”.

But if you’re in a medium where 61% of your audience is rejecting you out of hand, you know straight away that even more than half is wasted and so you’re probably in the wrong place.

Compare that to the most instantly impactful medium, the good old fashioned poster.  You know that if it’s displayed in the right place then everyone who passes by will see it so the only question is, how do you know who passes by?  Audience research may be difficult for roadside poster sites, bus stops and so on, but it’s a lot easier for indoor ones.

Take the British Red Cross campaign that we carried last year for example.  They had four great designs showing how to react to common emergencies and displayed one each in schools across the county.  They knew that almost everyone who saw their posters was a pupil, and the rest were teachers.  They knew how many schools had their posters, the average number of pupils per school and how often every child saw a poster. They even knew exactly how successfully their message was getting across: an independent study by Childwise showed that 76-91% of pupils said they would know what to do in those situations after the posters had been displayed in their school.

You can’t get much more accountable than that, or more effective!

Red Cross - Pressure: how to react to a bicycle accident

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