The #Emperor Has No Followers

By Donte' Ormsby 4 Comments

Am I crazy, or does social media have a poor ROI?

This all started off as a result of an honest question. “Do you know any companies that have successfully used social media to increase sales?” My client looked at me like I had three heads. I asked this question immediately after they prompted me for ideas on how they can leverage social media to build their sales. It’s a common request I receive at least twice a week as a consulting website developer and marketer.

“Donte’ I need to create a Facebook account for my company”
“Donte’ I went to a lunch seminar today and the speaker told us that if we’re not on FourSquare then we’re loosing money.”
“Donte’, we need to start Tweeting because I heard that’s the new SEO”
And the list goes on.

I’m an objective person so I try very hard to keep an open mind to any new trend or opportunity. To me social media could very well be the next step in the evolution of sales and marketing. My problem is that I’m also a scientist at heart, and the researcher in me wants to see some empirical data that shows multiple businesses that have successfully implemented social media as a means to increase business.

We’ve all heard of the taco vendor or rock band that found ways to Tweet where they would be on a particular day as a means to sell more products to loyal customers, and I admit that there absolutely HAS to be examples of businesses that have made social media a successful tool in their marketing arsenal. My problem is that I haven’t met any of them, and I find that kind of strange given the overwhelming adoption of the technology as the present and future of B-to-B and B-to-C communication. I mean, I can’t even name one company of which I have first hand knowledge that successfully uses social media to increase sales or drive business. Shouldn’t we all be able to ramble off at least 5 if we put our heads together? And yet I cannot. Why is that?

It’s gotten to the point where I’m hesitant to ask questions like these in mixed company for fear of being labeled, “Out of Touch” or “Too Old School” for the current times. I don’t think that’s true. I’m just following the training that has gotten me to the point where I am today, and asking the one question everyone should be asking when presented with a new technology or methodology: what business problem is this new thing solving?

From a recent study done by they discovered something that I found very interesting. The following is an excerpt from their report:

Finding #2: Our customers want to hear from us!

We asked people how they wanted to hear from retailers, and traditional channels win again. Only

10% of our customers don’t want to hear from us; the other 90% have definite opinions on what

channel they like best. Are you asking your customers how they want to hear from you? Once you

know the answers, are you digging deeper to find out if you are effectively communicating through

those preferred channels and driving the sales and loyalty you want?

Survey Question: How do you prefer to hear about sales and promotions?
Promotional emails 64%
This company’s website 21%
Postal mail 25%
Don’t want communications 10%
Television 11%
Social media websites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) 8%
Mobile phone text messages or alerts 5%
Radio 3%
Other 2%

I think as retailers, we sometimes assume that since “everyone” is using social media these days, “everyone” wants to hear from us on Facebook. In fact, only 8% of all of our site visitors prefer to hear from us on social media. Most prefer emails, our websites, and even snail mail.

Read the full report here:


There is a vast difference between finding something useful vs. finding a use for some thing. From my perspective social media is a practice that one must find a use for within their operations, and I’ve never cared for such practices. When I’m building a business or developing a product I always want to be in a position of fulfilling a need versus trying to create a need. Again the question arises, what NEED does social media fulfill?

Let’s take Facebook. I’m not an avid fan, but I do have an account with a couple hundred friends. When I do have a spare minute I’ll jump on the site to see how family or friends are doing. And for the business that is targeting me as a prime candidate to be their new customer there in lies their problem. I’m not on Facebook to learn about new products or hear a pitch. In all my Facebook views I think I’ve clicked on 1 ad (it was for a company that sells realistic lightsabers – and don’t you dare giggle, I told you I was a web developer). My feeling is that when the venue is created for one thing (friends coming together to catch up for example) its really difficult to introduce a new intrusive element such as advertising into that mix, because its only objective is to draw your attention away from the very thing you came to participate in.

It’s like going to a cafe to have coffee with an old friend, and while the two of you are enjoying catching up a stranger stands close to your table gesturing for your attention for the sole purpose of trying to sell you something. It’s annoying, it’s rude, it’s not what I came for, and that is the problem with social media advertising, or similarly advertising masking itself as being social. It’s unwelcome, which makes me question how it can ever be successful given such a status.

Of course there are the brands that try to pretend they’re following the tenet that social media is about sharing not shouting, but in the end they always end up trying to sell you something anyway, like we knew deep down they would.

Let’s look at Twitter. People say its addictive, and I can see why. Something is shared, and with any luck people reply and comment on the posting from around the globe. It’s a wonderful feeling. In fact, its more than that, it means someone out there is actually paying attention and listening to me. It’s quite a difference from what many people encounter daily, which is a feeling of isolation and disconnection. Twitter is a place where we can reaffirm that our voice truly does matter and there are people who are willing to pay attention to what I think and have to say. So what’s the problem? Nothing from a social standpoint, that’s what the site was created for. But now introduce that nosy stranger from the cafe into the mix. He wants to sell and peddle. His goal is to grab your attention and draw you away into his arena where he has something you may be interested in. Again, that’s not why MOST (and I do mean most) people go to Twitter. Remember, most of them are there to be heard and validated, not sold to; which once again places the business objective of selling in a social medium in a position of persona-non-grata, and how can it ever truly become effective on a large scale given that status.

Contrast this with Google, Amazon, or Bing. When people go to these sites its for one reason: they have a desire or need and they’re looking for something or someone to fulfill that need. They’re expecting to be sold on a product or service, and for the most part welcome such a pitch. Under these circumstances the vendor is far more likely to make a sale because the mindset of the web surfer is that of a consumer/buyer, not a social communicator.

From where I sit, social media was intended to be just that: social and personal; if there’s an emotional connection I have to a person, cause or object, then business-based social media will at least have a reasonable chance at achieving its goals. But for the local carpet cleaner, law firm, engineering company or bank? What kind of emotional connection would anyone have for these entities, and thus why are they evening trying to jump into the social media game?

The worst part is that so many businesses are running around FRANCTIC to find some entry point they can use as monetary leverage on this medium, and tasking marketing and web experts to forcibly develop a solution to there perceived problem. I think this is what I resent the most. How technologists like you and I are being driven in a direction to adopt all things social, even when it more than likely doesn’t apply or have any place in the grand scheme of things. To say otherwise is to invite the ire and animosity of those utterly convinced that social media is the new way to conduct business, or so dependent upon their standing as a social media expert that they have no choice but to defend it.

The irony is that there are indeed certain types of businesses that are guaranteed to make money off of the social media push, and that’s the social media companies themselves and those who are willing to pay for all the data we’ve been supplying these websites and services with for years. Think about it, with every LIKE, TWEET, and CHECK-IN we’ve literally handed over a playbook on how to market to each of us individually. You’ve heard of Big Data? Take a wild guess at the kind of information those computers get to chew on for years to come. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the entire social media push has been one big sophisticated and hidden focus group designed to help corporations with enough cash to get ready for the next generation of technological consumerism.  And the interesting part is that we’re supplying the very information they’ll need to ensure their success for years to come.

I believe the emperor truly has no clothes, but who in crowd is willing to say so? Am I wrong? Am I way off? I know social media has its value in some environments, but is it the broad solution to sales improvement that so many are campaigning for it to be? What do you think?

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About the Author

Donte' Ormsby

Donte Ormsby is the President of Profit Website Management, a website design and research development company. He is a national speaker on the topics of Internet strategy, Search Engine Optimization and Internet Marketing. A graduate of the University of Arizona, Mr. Ormsby is an experienced consultant who follows the philosophies that obtaining success doesn't have to involve complication, and simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication. His constant focus is on driving his clients towards a higher level of success and profitability. I can be found online at: @donteormsby

  • Cleavon Blair

    Filling a need vs generating a need. Lots of people don’t understand the difference! Not understanding the difference is the reason most start-ups fail!!

  • blacksintechnology

    I agree. Whatever happened to the enterprise? I would love to see our people branch out into making more apps geared towards solving enterprise problems as well.

    • …or other un-sexy problems. There is lots to be accomplished and money to be made solving problems that may not be as “cool” as Candy Crush but I think it may be a lucrative and potentially interesting road.

  • Social media is not necessarily designed to push or even make sales. Social media for business is designed to create awareness. It is a form of indirect marketing and when blended with other strategies such as direct marketing or email marketing, it can be a very powerful tool. Remember, that it is just a tool at the end of the day and depending on how you utilize the tool in a strategy yields results based on a combination of many different strategies. Everyone has a formula, but your formula for your business or organization may not be the same as BIT, TechCrunch or NPR. Facebook does not turn your business from water into wine, Linkedin does not necessarily get you a job (an interview perhaps) and Twitter does not make you a superstar overnight. I do believe if you circumvent these indirect strategies in what you do everyday, that you will increase the overall awareness of your audience. Some would feel that social media is a magic bullet, but these are the people who have obviously NOT done their due diligence.