Jim Tobin is the president and founder of Ignite Social Media and the author of the new book, Earn It. Don’t Buy It. The CMO’s Guide to Social Media Marketing in a Post Facebook World. I recently had the chance to sit down with him and talk about the book.
What are the big ideas behind the book?
I’ve been a little frustrated over the past few years. In the early days of social media you couldn’t buy social media coverage. We were all social media marketers. How did we get people to care about our content? There weren’t even fan pages. How did you get people to care about this brand and talk about it online? That was the most challenging marketing ever. The traditional advertising that I used to do seems painfully easy compared to that. And in the past couple of years we’ve gone from zero to six billion dollars in advertising on Facebook and half a billion on Twitter. And it’s supposed to grow a billion dollars next year.
If you think about who controls these budgets, it’s people who are used to spending money on ads. They’ve gotten away from who cares and who is this going to resonate with and they are just throwing money at impressions and exposure. I’ve seen enough with my clients to know that organic exposure drives better business results. Measurably better business results. It goes back to discovery, the momentum effect and how people feel when they discover something. We are better off if we get back to being social media marketers, not social media advertisers. Not that there is no place for advertising, but maybe the ad budgets should have been three billion, not six billion. That other three billion into great content would have driven huge dividends.
The second point is illustrated by the subtitle: The CMO’s guide to social media marketing in a post-Facebook world. We’ve gotten into this feeling over the past couple of years that social media marketing is Facebook and social media marketing is content in the stream. It’s Oreo. It’s funny memes. And that’s just such a fraction of what social media marketing is. I amassed this data just by paying attention to the fact that Facebook has huge problems. My teenagers aren’t on there anymore. Everyone I talk to says that it is less interesting than it was six months ago. As marketers, what does that mean? We need to prepare for a multi-channel, multi-social world and a lot of people are not doing that.
How do you reconcile the need for organic interaction with Facebook’s stance that paid advertising is the only way to get in front of people in their streams.
I don’t know if Facebook has realized it yet, but they have only one choice, and that’s to loosen up the feed [and show more content]. They have tightened it twice, first in September/October last year and again early this year. The satisfaction among users has plunged. Facebook is boring. In part because I see the same stories. This story bumping they introduced a couple of months ago is horrific. I’m seeing the same story over and over again. And marketers are angry. A lot of my clients have really big Facebook budgets. Advertising budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And they are really upset with how little coverage they get organically. So you have the brands that pay the bills upset and you have users who are saying this isn’t interesting.
On the side you have Twitter who was asleep for four years suddenly doing great things and being really interesting. Facebook says they have five times the content of tv. You wouldn’t know it. They’re doing a good job hiding it from everybody. There’s this battle now that Twitter is winning, and Facebook can only win if they loosen up the newsfeed. They’ve also said that they are only going to show an ad for 1 in 20 updates. If you tighten up the newsfeed, you restrict your own revenue. The best way to increase it, without getting off that 1 in 20 is to show more content. So it helps the user. It helps the brands, who are less angry about spending, because they are seeing some organic stuff on the channel. If they don’t do that, in three years they are dead.
Where does Facebook sit on a CMO’s radar?
Picture the CMO has a grid of things he or she has to think about. There’s a ton of stuff in that grid. The 4Ps [price, product, promotion and place] are there. In one corner, probably big enough to take a quadrant, is digital marketing. And a quadrant of that is social media marketing. And a sub quadrant of that is Facebook marketing. So it’s a medium to large sized dot in the corner.
The reason I am talking to the CMO is because they are the ones who think they have solved it by allocating budget to it. You should allocate budget to social media, but the mix is wrong. It should go much more toward content, toward feeding really good fans, rather than amassing 18 million fans, of which 2 million are good.
There’s data in the book from one of our clients. We map their interaction rate and their reach percentage for the four months before they ran a large fan acquisition buy. And then we map it after. They lost two-thirds of their engagement and 60% of their reach. They killed their own page. There’s no point in having a fan that you can’t activate. They’re making huge mistakes to brag about hitting a number of fans, whether it’s one million, five million, ten million fans, whatever the next milestone is. A few of my clients have started to come around. They don’t care about how many fans they have anymore. They care about activating them. And that’s really what it’s about. If you can’t get them to share content or come to your website or give you their email address or put your product in their shopping cart there’s no point in having them. That’s a message that hasn’t gone up to the C-suite.
So how does this relate specifically to B2B companies trying to use Facebook for social media marketing?
With the way the sales cycle works, and that your buyers are 60-70% of the way through the sales cycle before contacting you, your content has to do so much more work in building authority and trust. As an agency, I am a B2B marketer. We spend a lot of time on our blog creating content that is not link bait. We’re not copying Buzzfeed. We want the small amount of the right people to read our content and decide that we are smart. You can’t do that with ads. When the book came out my marketing team wanted to buy ads. That would be ironic at best.
Jay Baer, author of Youtility, who wrote the forward, talks about how do you add value. Because of the nature of B2B marketing (long sales cycle, committee decision making, etc), I will never be in a position to know when someone is looking for a social media agency. I can’t do a calling program to convince them that they need one or that they need to change. They need to determine those things on their own. But we put a lot into our content and earning shares in the right places where the right people will see it, including LinkedIn.
Every week we track top of the funnel traffic, total visitors, leads and pitches. And we see where it all comes from. We’ve gotten posts on the front page of Reddit and they drive a quarter of a million views, but they are of no value. While we track the top of the funnel, that’s not the big goal. It is important because a percentage is going to qualify. If you look at the trend data, you would think we need to get on Reddit again. But that’s not the right audience. We need people to value our content and to believe we know what we’re talking about. And Facebook is often the wrong platform for B2B. Good B2B marketers have been thinking beyond it since the beginning.
You’ve got to remember why you need page views. Buzzfeed needs page views because they are serving up ads. But we’re not. We need page views because the people need to conclude that we are really smart. So if you hook them in and you stop at 300 words when you’ve got 1200 words of really good information on that topic, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
Your content has to be good enough to change minds over time, not just to drive traffic.