6 Unpleasant Truths About Social Media

Think you know social? Think again.

Unpleasant Truth No. 1:

ENGAGEMENT CAN’T BE SEEN IN DOLLARS

Until Lady Gaga, Skittles had the record for most likes and comments on a single Facebook post. Did it boost sales? “Anybody who says they can track that is in a bubble,” says Michael Lebowitz, CEO of Big Spaceship, the ad firm behind the Skittles campaign.

Unpleasant Truth No. 2:

SOCIAL IS JUST PR IN OVERDRIVE

Two weeks before McDonald’s was to go on a hiring spree, it released videos of employees praising their “McJobs.” The goal: preempt criticism. On hiring day, 98% of social talk was either positive or neutral. Spin wins!

Unpleasant Truth No. 3:

MONEY CAN’T BUY EVERYTHING

To coincide with a daylong campaign, Kraft asked Klout to change the name of its social influence measurement “Klout score” to “fun score.” The answer: no. In social, platforms hold the power.

Unpleasant Truth No. 4:

FACEBOOK ISN’T A MEGAPHONE

Brands with more than 1 million fans reach only 3% to 5% of them a day, estimates Jeff Widman of analytics platform PageLever. To find out why, Widman asked social marketers if they ever visit fan pages as users. Their reply: “Oh, never.”

Unpleasant Truth No. 5:

YOU’RE BEING WATCHED

A big brand recently broke Facebook’s rule against using a post as a sweepstakes. Reps were in touch within an hour. “They don’t want brands gaming the system for engagement,” the brand’s rep admitted.

Unpleasant Truth No. 6:

CONTENT RARELY GOES VIRAL

Stop thinking in those terms, says Microsoft Research’s Duncan Watts: “Rather than ideas propagating for generations, almost everything terminates within one degree of the seed. If you want something to spread, generate an enormous number of seeds.”

A version of this article appears in the September 2012 issue of Fast Company.

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