Why social media isn’t great at lead generation

We were asked recently, how do you use social media to generate in-store retail traffic? On the surface, this is a great question because it speaks to the perceived usefulness of social media as a way to solve real business problems. However, once you dig in a little, you realize that this question isn’t going to deliver a satisfactory answer. Here’s why.

Spiders in the funnel

If we look at the simplicity of the marketing funnel, we realize that the point of media is to generate audience, to generate awareness. The point of marketing is to take that audience and turn it into leads. The point of sales is to take the leads and turn them into revenue. Each discipline specializes in these practice areas and the tools of each discipline reflect this specialization.

The hint about social media is output is in its name, social, meaning people and conversations, and media. Social media is about engaging people in conversations for the purposes of creating and distributing content, which is what media does. Social media, as a form of media, logically has a primary output of more audience. As a form of media, it creates awareness, trust, and engagement that help people talk more about you, become more aware of you, and tell their friends about you.

This also means that social media, like advertising and traditional media, isn’t necessarily great at direct response. Direct response is a marketing tactic, and occurs further down the funnel, once media has done the job of creating awareness.

Think of the difference this way:

Media gets people talking to each other.
Marketing gets people talking to you.

If you do a good enough job of creating a product or service that people desperately want, once people talk to each other, they will seek you out in order to talk to you about how to obtain it. If you try to get people to talk to you first and foremost, then not only do you lose the amplification effect of talking to someone else, you also don’t have their awareness or trust.

Use social media for what it’s best at: getting people talking to each other about you. If your product or service is worth talking about, people will engage you in the conversation as the next logical step. That’s not to say you can’t ask for direct response activity from your audience using social media, but be prepared for it to not deliver the same quality of results you would normally expect from pure direct response marketing methods.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


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