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When I was asked last year to develop a social media marketing service, the first question they asked was whether I already had software in mind or if it needed to be built. I told them that the software had already been developed and it was free. This didn't go over well at first; they’d always used premium social media software in the past.
“How good could it be if it’s free?” they asked.
I told them that it’s not only free, but it was also the best software available. I took the computer, typed in f-a-c-e-b-o-o-k-dot-c-o-m, and proceeded to explain why it wasn’t just about me being cheap, but that it’s also better to post to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest from facebook.com, twitter.com, plus.google.com, and pinterest.com.
With search engine marketing, there’s an argument that can be made that pulling in third-party data is a benefit. The sheer amounts of data available through the search engines and from outside sources makes it conceivable that there are benefits to using software to manage campaigns, track keywords (particularly for SEO reasons), and monitor results. Then again, the Google Adwords UI has become pretty darn slick in recent months, so I don’t think I’d even use software for that.
At least it’s debatable with search and other marketing arenas. On social, there’s simply no debate necessary. There is no software out there that makes posting, monitoring, and reporting results easier than the actual websites and mobile apps themselves. Are there benefits? Sure. There are also major drawbacks and too much room for error that makes them worthless.
A couple of years ago, they were effective because Facebook and Twitter hadn’t matured. Today, they’re doing just fine handling their own data, controlling their own posts, and making it easier to monitor.
It almost sorta kinda makes sense with a taco.
Don’t get me wrong. I use tools. I love Buffer for scheduling posts on Twitter to keep them spread out and on Facebook when I won’t be available to post myself. I like the multiple views available through software like Hootsuite. However, there are too many high-dollar shells being put on top of the interfaces that do nothing more than make the reports look pretty.
What’s worse is that many of them attempt to prove their value by offering features such as content suggestions and automated posting. Scheduling and automation are two different things and there’s simply no need to take content suggestions from software (more on that later).
This one might make some software companies really upset with me, but it has to be said. You should never, ever, ever, ever, ever add plugins or wigdets to your website without two things: a really good reason and the backing of a major software company. Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – their plugins and widgets aren’t perfect, but at least they’re safe. Everything else – dump them.
The native widgets are all you need. It always amazes me when I see Facebook plugins, for example, that weren’t built by Facebook. There was a rise in popularity of the little ribbon at the bottom of pages for a while. Thankfully, most realized that they slow the page load times down and can cause errors on certain browsers. They also realized that they didn’t do anything useful other than give the marketing manager at the company something to show the boss and put unearned cash into the pockets of the company that sold it to them.
They don’t work. They aren’t effective. They do much more harm than good. Unfortunately, those are the best-case scenarios. In some cases, they can actually do true harm to a site as can be seen in the image to the right.
There’s a reason that social media companies develop software. It’s less expensive for them to support software than to employ the people necessary to make social media actually work for their clients. It’s sexy because it’s visual, tangible, and seems to be sophisticated. In other marketing arenas, software is often all that’s needed. In social media, it does nothing other than make people feel good.
As I hinted at before, when software is used to find content or determine what to post, the battle is already lost.
I’d put my team of specialists up against IBM’s Watson if it did social media management. Until a piece of software is able to craft a Facebook post or Tweet that has the ability to reach the minds of the audience rather than just reaching their feeds for the sake of reaching their feeds, software is not the solution for this.
Some would argue that it saves time from having to look for content to post. I would argue that the technology to do that has been around for a while. It’s called Google. There’s also RSS feed readers (NOT to post automatically, of course) that gives any industry plenty of content in just the same manner as the social software provides. This isn’t new technology.
The biggest challenge with this is that it takes the human eye out of the equation in many circumstances. Software, for all the good that it can do, does tend to make us lazy. It’s laziness that turns good pages mediocre. Manual vetting of content and inspiration that only comes to humans can turn a good page into a fantastic one.
“But, it saves time!”
That’s what some will say. I would argue that the five minutes it saves a day isn’t worth being half as effective.
The data is there. Facebook Insights aren’t perfect, but they present the data in an acceptable manner. Dashboards definitely do make things prettier. They also speed up the reporting process for marketing companies. However, they don’t understand nuance.
I’ve seen both sides. I’ve seen gorgeous automated reports and dashboards that didn’t tell the whole picture and I’ve seen manually-created reports and native dashboards that deliver the real results. A dashboard doesn’t know that the picture of a local attraction that received 50 likes, 15 shares, and 10 comments is less successful of a post than an inventory item that received 20 likes, 10 shares, and 5 comments, particularly if that inventory item was sold the day after it was posted.
The information provided by the social sites themselves manually gathered and analyzed by humans gives a much more accurate picture of the effectiveness of a campaign than any dashboard or report. It doesn't matter how pretty the graphs are. It’s still only numbers being provided in a different format. Reports need to say more than just the numbers. They need to demonstrate success.