I’ve attended a number of webinars about using social media in marketing, and keep hearing wonderful success stories — sometimes stories about the same companies over and over. (Zappos again? Really?)
For all the social media success stories you hear, it’s worth asking – where are the stories of the efforts that didn’t pay off? Because what we have is a case of survivor bias – we’re missing half of the story.
I first encountered the idea of the ‘survivor’ bias in financial markets. People sell their poorly-performing stocks, take losses, and then tell you how well their portfolio is performing because they’re only holding the ones that ‘survived.’ They sound like stock-picking geniuses!
Customer case studies are subject to the same bias. No company is going to write and publish a story about how a customer failed to make their technology work — although wouldn’t that make interesting reading? You can probably get those stories by taking the sales people for drinks.
I’d love to see the real stories of companies (names redacted) that have invested in social media and are still waiting for the payoff, or found that other traditional marketing channels are delivering better results in terms of leads and sales. Not the big public flame-outs, but just the misdirected effort type of stories. I’m not trying to be negative – on the contrary, I think that we can learn as much from the failures and missteps as we can from the successes, and sometimes more.
Some leading bloggers are trying to be cautionary. Jay Baer has had a couple of great posts lately, including The Five Dangerous Realities of Social Media for Business, and Train Wreck: The Three Types of Self-Destructive Corporate Tweets.
And research is starting to come in as well. According to Forrester, investments in Facebook profiles aren’t paying off in revenue for many retailers – see Facebook Doesn’t Click For eBusiness Retail Companies.
Research is great, but stories communicate powerfully to people in marketing and beyond. For every great case study presented, there’s a handful of companies that jump into social media expecting great things, without a firm grip on the right strategy for their business.
Obviously, social media is simply a channel or tool in the marketing mix – it can be used effectively or waste marketing effort and time. And by learning from the missteps, you can avoid making them yourself.
What do you think – would a ‘failure’ story compilation be helpful? Is it already out there, or do any social media mavens want to take up this cause?