With Social Media Advertising, Are People Just Tuning Out?

By: Josh Wolford - June 24, 2014

Companies often believe they can use social media to increase brand awareness and tap into a new customer base. But, as Gallup findings suggest, consumers are highly adept at tuning out brand-related Facebook and Twitter content. These channels do not motivate prospective customers to consider trying a brand or recommending a brand to others.

That’s the bad news from a new Gallup report on the “myth” of social media. The good news? Well, there’s not much in the way of good news. In a world of definite decline in organic reach and possible decline in paid reach, it’s best to treat your Facebook ad strategy like a character on Game of Thrones – don’t get too attached, because it’ll probably be dead soon.

George R.R. Martin hyperbole aside, the takeaway is that engagement begets new engagement. Your fans are your biggest marketers, and it’s their social promotion that’s going to give you the best outcome – not paid advertising.

Piece of cake, right?

Let’s back up for a second.

How has your social media engagement changed in the past few months? Are you worried you’re being tuned out? Let us know in the comments.

For their report, Gallup asked over 18,000 consumers about how much influence social media has on their “buying decisions,” and the feedback was less than encouraging for social media marketers. A whopping 62 percent said that social media had “no influence at all” on their purchasing habits and 30 percent gave a tepid “some influence” response.

Only five percent said that social media has a “great deal” of influence on their buying decisions.

Things get a little better when you just ask millennials (at whom most of this social media advertising is aimed). Only 48 percent said they couldn’t give less of a damn about social media advertising.

And then there’s this, which shows that preaching to the choir isn’t really that much of a sure thing either –

“And while many companies correlate the number of fans and followers with their social media success, Gallup also finds that these metrics can be misleading. Of the consumers who reported ‘liking’ or following a company, 34 percent still said that social media had no influence on their purchasing behavior, while 53 percent said they had only some influence. When compared with more traditional forms of social networking, social media initiatives may actually be the least effective method for influencing consumers’ buying.”

With this rather dismal outlook on paid social media advertising, it’s nice to know that brands can always fall back on authentic-feeling organic posts that engage consumers without the drag of having that “promoted” or “sponsored” label.

Groan. Of course, we know that’s not true. With Facebook, specifically, organic reach has been on a major slide since late last year. Some have called it Facebook’s panda update, an algorithm change that brands and pages have chastised as a supreme money grab on Facebook’s part. The prevailing theory among those negatively affected by Facebook’s news feed changes is that Facebook slashed organic reach to force pages to pay for exposure.

Hook ’em with the free promotion for years, yank the rug out, and watch chaos ensue. It’s a devilish plot that Facebook has vehemently denied.

According to Facebook, the current way in which they deliver content to users is an improvement over how it used to be.

“We’ve gotten better at showing high-quality content, and we’ve cleaned up News Feed spam. As a result of these changes, News Feed is becoming more engaging, even as the amount of content being shared on Facebook continues to grow,” said Facebook’s Brian Boland in a recent blog post.

Except there’s a strong argument to be made that Facebook’s algorithms are simply bad at determining quality.

Even so, Facebook says that all those calls for a completely unfiltered news feed – one that simply shows a real-time stream of all the content from everyone a user follows – are misguided.

“Several other online feed platforms display all content in real time. But the real-time approach has limitations. People only have so much time to consume stories, and people often miss content that isn’t toward the top when they log on. This means they often do not see the content that’s most valuable to them,” says Boland.

In Facebook’s mind, that unfiltered feed would “actually cause Pages’ organic reach to decrease further.”

At least the company is acknowledging a decline in organic reach, right? Small victories.

Alarming as that is, it may not be the most sinister trend when it comes to your content reaching (or not reaching) your fans’ eyes. A recent report from Flightpath suggests a decline in paid reach.

Apparently, cost per reach has more than doubled for its clients over the last few months.

“So what does this mean?” asked Flightpath’s John Lee. “It’s hard to say for certain but it could force companies to dish out even more money to reach the same number of fans. In other words, expect the cost of effective promoted posts to rise (especially as more and more brands start to utilize this advertising option).”

Let’s pause and reflect on where that leaves us. Your organic reach is swirling down the drain, your paid reach may cost even more to reach the same number of eyes, and people are tuning out your social media marketing anyway.

In other words, if (and it’s a big if) people even see your content in their feeds, most of them say that it has no effect on them anyway.

Back to Gallup:

“The potential of social media is still being debated. Companies are going to have to experiment to figure out what works best with their customers. The process may involve a lot of trial and error, but there is potential in social media that is not directly related to sales revenue. Companies have an opportunity to build communities with their customers in ways they could not before. But to get there, they must first engage their customers through other channels. Regardless of the hype surrounding social media, consumers are still most affected by their offline experiences.”

So, social media for community building, not just pitches? Once again – it sounds nice, but even ‘community building’ requires visibility. And visibility is, well, uh…

Is social media advertising (especially on Facebook) even worth it anymore? Even if you can get eyes on your content, are you worried that people have found a way to simply tune it out? Let us know in the comments.

Josh Wolford

About the Author

Josh WolfordJosh Wolford is a writer for WebProNews. He likes beer, Japanese food, and movies that make him feel weird afterward. Mostly beer. Follow him on Twitter: @joshgwolf Instagram: @joshgwolf Google+: Joshua Wolford StumbleUpon: joshgwolf

View all posts by Josh Wolford
  • http://www.spainnewsinenglish.website/ Anne Sewell

    Personally, if I can avoid ads in the social media I will, whether by physically blocking them, or switching off the option in my settings. But then, ads NEVER sell anything to me these days.

  • Bob

    I am not only tuning out but I am turned off!
    Last week I was sent two e-bay links for very specific items. I clicked on the
    links and looked at them. Next thing I know the exact items are showing up on
    the right hand side of FB as advertising. So they not only have my profile on
    FB but they are somehow hacking into my computer to see what my browsing habits
    are on E-bay.

    This is unacceptable and not a way to get me to
    buy anything.

    • Jmodio

      It’s not FB per se hacking into your computer. They’re called tracking cookies. It’s no different than visiting say Zappos.com, then when you’re on different sites, or a Google search, you start seeing ads for Zappos. A lot of sites do this for advertising purposes.

      • Bob

        Jmodio, I know what cookies are. I am talking about the nefarious use of cookies that when blatantly used look to steer revenue from one chauffer into the other. It is a turn off as far as I’m concerned. And I will avoid clicking on this kind of ad. How many people feel this way will determine the success of their monetization.

        • Jmodio

          I don’t see FB ads anyways, or banner ads, or ads anywhere online because I installed an Ad Blocker (AdBlock Plus) on all my browsers.

          • Bob

            That’s the way to go Jmodio!

  • mwbyrd

    i believe FB and Twitter have become necessary evils for small businesses. Adds legitimacy, but not much else. We really struggled getting our community to actually post on our FB page, not matter what we do/ask.

  • LGO

    Social media is about ENGAGEMENT not advertising. Twitter paid ads are annoying and non-relevant almost 100% of the time, and Facebook paid boosts get you nothing. It’s not engagement, it’s spam. As a marketer, even I know this… Wrong channel, wrong tactic.

  • Steve Nelson

    This is based on self-reported and subjective responses about the effectiveness of advertising. Are there any objective measures that support the conclusions? Wouldn’t people surveyed about *any* advertising medium self-report the same thing and underestimate its effectiveness at influencing their behavior?

    • Bob

      I believe that the research above has been objective. The opinions are another matter. But together they say a lot.