Why so many social media strategies are flawed

What are the most common misconceptions that lead marketers to the wrong social media strategy?

Why so many social media strategies are flawed - Image source: Unsplash
With everything changing almost all the time these days, marketers are now, more than ever, under pressure. The addition of social media to a marketing strategy makes life even more difficult, especially when people focus on the wrong things.

Many thousands of interesting papers have been written about communication planning for social media, and some even explain the essential principles we all should and must know! I thought it would be useful to outline these principles again, just in case there are people who still don’t know them all.

I’d particularly like to address some of the most common misconceptions that lead marketers to the wrong social media strategy.

1. "Social media is free"

Although publishing content on social media is free, reaching an audience is not. Incredibly, a large number of brands in 2019 still rely on organic reach when it comes to their social strategy.

 Now while organic reach seems great, it has been proven that it has its limits. Both Locowise and BBDO New York have done some interesting research on this matter and have found that the bigger a brand gets in terms of Facebook page likes, the lower the reach they will actually have..

Organic reach versus page size

Source: Locowise / About Face, BBDO New York

There are three kinds of media:

  • Owned: content we create and control like a Facebook page or a blog
  • Earned: customer reviews, press ...
  • Paid: sponsorships and advertising

Organic reach is categorised under owned and earned media. The fact that organic reach declines while your page likes grow however does not mean that you should completely stop investing time and effort in earned media. Earned media has its purpose too, but relying on it as a free tool will cost you in effectiveness opportunities.

Les Binet (Head of Effectiveness, adam&eve DDB) and Peter Field (Marketing consultant) have analysed this in the IPA’s “long & short of it” series and in “Media in Focus”.

They looked at the impact of all three types of media in estimating whether a campaign has the potential to generate earned media or not. While both Earned and Owned media both contributed to the success of generating earned media (4-11%), campaigns generated considerably more earned media when combined with paid media (78%).

Afbeelding2-1Source: Media in Focus: Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Era, IPA, Les Binet & Peter Field

2. “Fans are the most important segment”

The truth about the real impact of the heavy buyers or fans segment has always been a shock to whoever has just discovered it. A lot of brands believe that their fans are the most important segment of their entire customer base.

Byron Sharp, (The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science) says in his book “How Brands Grow” that the notion of just targeting Facebook fans, your most loyal buyers, is flawed.

It turns out that fans actually contribute the least to a brand’s growth and sales effects.

It turns out that fans actually contribute the least to a brand’s growth and sales effects. This doesn’t mean that fans are irrelevant of course, but that brands who seek growth shouldn’t just target loyal customers or fans on Facebook but should also include non-buyers and light buyers.

Afbeelding13Source: How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp

3. “Broad targeting is dead”

Some people think, “Why should we still use broad targeting when we can micro target our segments?” Professor Mark Ritson (Melbourne Business School, MIT Sloan, London Business School) has rebutted this idea in his highly interesting talks and articles.

The question: should we micro target or go broader? The answer: both. Here again we can find more detail in the “long & short of it” work of Binet & Field.

Broad targeting (market category based) is interesting and best used when undertaking brand-building campaigns, while micro targeting is more appropriate for sales-activation campaigns. Even though everyone knows that both brand-building campaigns and activation (tactical/promo/ etc.) campaigns are essential, many people do not know their impact on their sales and how they should split their budget on these.

Binet and Field have analysed the effectiveness of many different campaigns and concluded that the overall effectiveness has been declining over the last few years. This, they say, is because marketers are feeling the pressure to focus on short-term results.


Sales-activation campaigns only ‘win’ over the first 6 months, while brand-building campaigns dominate over the long-term.

Companies who focus primarily on wanting change immediately often fall into this trap. They start believing that brand-building campaigns are not contributing to their sales and start focusing on short-term promotions.

Sales-activation campaigns are important, but not as important as brand-building campaigns.

This does not mean that sales-activation campaigns are not important, but that they are simply not as important as brand-building campaigns. The ideal balance to maximise your sales effects is 60% (brand-building) / 40% (sales-activation). The data confirms that campaigns start losing their maximum effectiveness when more than 40% of the budget is used on sales-activation.


 Broad targeting is still important in 2019. The balance between both approaches applies to all channels (including social/digital). In conclusion, if you want to have the best of both worlds, you must go for a broad AND more granular targeting approach.

4. “Likes and clicks are the main drivers to purchase”

One of the many benefits of social media has been that the buying and tracking options are numerous. While there are many buying objectives, we’ve noticed that many marketeers get lost between wanting a lot of engagement (likes, shares & comments) on their posts and obtaining as many ‘link clicks’ as humanly possible and forgetting what their real objectives are.

In short, Nielsen has proven that there is no significant relationship between Click Through or Engagement Rate for your campaigns and the ROI they were able to drive. In other words: the two things most marketeers are focusing on right now, have no impact on buying behaviour.

Afbeelding6-1Source: Nielsen

If you want to be sure that you are using social media to influence buying behaviour, I would recommend you never focus on engagement and clicks in your funnel again.

It is better to shift from engagement to brand awareness as an objective at the top of your funnel. Why would you focus on getting likes, shares or comments if you are not sure that people even noticed your brand? There is a big difference between engaging with a funny piece of content, where the brand might be forgotten, and building memory structures about the brand through brand awareness.

Most flawed social media strategies have one common goal for their lower funnel: increase traffic. While the term “website traffic” seems attractive, it is better not to obsess about it and focus on conversions. High Click Through Rates mean nothing if nobody did anything on your website. By focusing on conversions, you will immediately see if your message - essentially your creative and audience combination - is right or not.

5. “Social media channels are a strategy on their own”

Social media channels and their features are good but aren’t a strategy on their own. A strategy should be based on research and should be translated into tactics. There is no other responsible way.

The obsession of focussing on tactics has created an environment where the balance between research, strategy and tactics has completely been forgotten. Every step in the whole marketing process is as important as the others.

Schermafbeelding 2019-04-30 om 15.11.56

Source: Mark Ritson on what does and doesn't matter in marketing

We should first put the time necessary into diagnosing the situation, via consumer research, to understand what is going on, before defining a simple and clear strategy that we can then translate into tactics.

It’s important to realise that you shouldn’t use Instagram, Snapchat – or any other channel - just for the sake of using it. You need to know what the challenge of your brand is, who your target audience is, what behaviour you want to change and how you are going to do it before even considering which channels you should be using.

Our roots

As planners, we must stay true to our identity as critical thinkers. No matter whether there is pressure to deliver short term results, an obsession about communication with fans or a fear of starting to use paid media, we need to go back to the roots of planning: research … before trusting misleading biases and beliefs. The fact is we need to question what we believe and start with a strategy, even in the digital era we are living in now.

Need some help?

You want help with the social media strategy of your company? Don’t hesitate to reach out.

Written by Thomas Jossa, Performance & Media planner
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