Since everyone is rolling our their predictions for 2013, here’s mine. Don’t worry, it isn’t that 2013 will be the year of mobile or Social TV, or that social media “experts” will finally figure out what R.O.I. actually means. (They won’t. They don’t want to.) I have only one prediction for you, and it’s basically this: there is a very good chance that 12 months from now, we will learn that 90% of CEOs have lost faith in marketers.
It should be said that there are tons of solid professionals in Marketing professions, and they will continue to do great work – ethical work – and kick ass. They will solve problems, innovate and teach to others what they’ve learned. Their work and real success will drive everyone forward. Look for new knowledge, new methods and new insights. Real ones. Also look for new software, platforms and products they will have helped design or improve that will help you get more done. You already know who these people are. Even if you’ve never met them, you know who they are inside of five minutes when you hear them talk or watch them work. You know the real deal when you see it.
But the flip side is that the same hacks and posers who faked it all through 2012 and 2011 and 2010 and 2009 and 2008 will continue to lie and sell bullshit in 2013. Why? Because it’s easier. Because they’ve gotten a free pass so far. Because there’s good money to be made, selling bullshit. Because there’s a business model behind it and an “industry” to drive it, complete with metrics and equations and conferences and publishers all lining up to make their buck off confused senior managers with budgets to burn. There’s no incentive for any of this to stop. None. Nobody who has spent the last five years selling bullshit and building a personal brand around it is going to wake up tomorrow and have an epiphany. They know what they’re doing. They’ve been doing it long enough. If they had a conscience or an ounce of professional responsibility, they wouldn’t have chosen that path. They won’t “self-deport” from their trajectory of made-up success and industry status. Not until the speaker invitations and the money dry up. We’ll have to wait until they get fired or move on to the next scam.
So here we are then: 2013. What’s changed? Nothing. As long as there are people who want to believe that President Barack Obama’s birth certificate is fake, there will be people who will want to believe that the “I” in social media ROI stands for influence or interest or insights. As long as some people want to believe that more guns in schools will solve gun violence in schools, there will be people who will want to believe that likes and followers are legitimate measures of brand awareness. As long as some people want to believe that the Earth is only 5,000 years old and came preheated and ready-to-serve, there will be some people who will believe whatever nonsense you want to sell them. An equation. An algorithm. A methodology. A marketing religion. A measurement scheme. It won’t matter that it makes no logical sense, that it is mathematically incorrect, that it is a complete fabrication. It will still sell.
Fact is that if you are willing to lie your ass off, there are people out there who will believe you. Tons of them. Out of stupidity, out of laziness, out of sheer incompetence, it doesn’t matter. They won’t bother to fact-check. They’ll buy the lie, hook, line and sinker, because they don’t know any better, or don’t care, or just don’t want to do the work. If you can sell them something that will deliver good metrics to their bosses with minimal effort or risk from them, you will find eager clients in these people. It’s a simple business arrangement: They need to score that next bonus or promotion. The next case study they publish might even be their ticket to a better job. Sell them a product or vehicle that will make that happen and you’re in. And as long as nobody complains, everybody wins, right?
Well no. The only people who win are the hacks who betrayed the trust of those they ought not have taken advantage of in the first place. The companies that get defrauded don’t win. At all. Their CEOs sure as hell don’t win either. And that’s the rub: every time a social media director or a CMO or a digital consultant repackages a pile of bullshit into a “win” for the executive suite, the already fragile trust between marketers and CEOs further erodes.
For some insights into how bad things are and why, check out this study of the current state of social business. Here are a few takeaways: Only 5% of organizations are highly satisfied with their social media programs. Most of them don’t even have the right goals in place. Almost 40% of social media managers surveyed don’t think that measuring the success of their programs is even important. A business background is only important to 3% of organizations in considering a social media hire.
No wonder hardly anyone in social media understand the first thing about how to measure ROI properly or effectively deploy a social business program across an organization. It’s a shambles. A house of cards. I’ve never seen anything like it.
If you have the time, go to some of the big social media conferences this year and listen to all of the awesome success stories being sold there. Let yourselves be convinced that most companies out there aren’t failing miserably in the social space. Ignore the fact that most of their monitoring practices are operationally disconnected from the rest of their organization, that their “engagement” strategy has slipped into flacid 3rd party content schemes that might as well have been devised by SEO robots, that the connection between social activity and business results is still at best a muddled abstraction, that most brand managers still don’t know that a chunk of the likes and followers they paid digital agencies to acquire for them are fake, or even that the guy they just hired to run their social media program emails and DMs me three times a day to ask me questions someone getting paid what they get paid to do the job they lied about being qualified for shouldn’t be asking in the first place.
Let’s keep pretending that everything’s fine and that those of us who shake our heads at damage being done by the social media guru industry year after year are wrong for demanding more than this giant stinking heap of bullshit.
So welcome to 2012, part 2: Bullshit vs. the real deal. Same people on either side of that divide. The tools have gotten better but no other progress has been made. The cause behind this industry-wide fiasco will be the same in 2013 as it was in 2012, and it boils down to a simple word: choice. We all choose to either know our shit or fake it. We all choose to do the work or pretend to. We all choose to report adequately on what is working and what isn’t, or just select pointless KPIs we can easily manipulate to tell the story we want to tell. None of our choices have changed, and none of us have changed either. In spite of all of our new year’s resolutions, we’re still the same people we were in 2012, and for a lot of organizations, that’s a serious problem.
So what will happen this year? Maybe nothing. Or maybe I’m wrong and things will turn around. Maybe a bunch of social media gurus will retire or go find something else to do with their time. Maybe this will be the year when they finally start to lose traction. We’ll see. I won’t hold my breath, but we’ll see. Looking around though, I won’t be surprised if 12 months from now, a study comes out reporting that 90% of CEOs don’t trust marketers anymore. From 70% to 90% in just two years? Is that where we’re headed? There’s a good chance, yeah. And that really bothers me.
I am usually pretty full of ideas, but I have to admit that this time, I am stumped. I have no clue how to fix this.
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And as always, if you are tired of bullshit and just want straight answers to real questions about value, process, planning, measurement, management and reporting in the social business space, pick up a copy of Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. The book is 300 pages of facts and proven best practices. (Go to smroi.net to sample a free chapter first, just to make sure it’s worth the money.)
And if English isn’t your first language, you can even get it in Spanish, Japanese, German, Korean and Italian now, with more international editions on the way.