Top-level marketing executives and university researchers are starting to talk about whether or not social media is really all that it’s cracked up to be. For businesses—especially publicly-traded companies–it’s all about sales. The amount of money a company pulls in demonstrates its value and its place amongst the competition. Therefore, social media either needs to sell products, or get out of the way. That’s at least how some think.
That said, New York University did some research lately that showed only 3% of the web traffic for major brands comes from social media. That’s a problem for social media managers and advocates for “the Facebook” and “that Tweeter thing.”
So if social media is not a powerful tool for driving web traffic, then two major questions arise: 1) What is its value? and 2) How do you measure that value?
The Value of Social Media
It might help to first understand what social media IS NOT intended to do. Social media is not for selling. If a business looks to Facebook as a key way to sell products, then they are going to be seriously disappointed. If you view the video, it’s clear that the NYU researcher presumes that social media is failing that the reality that only 3% of referral traffic is from social media networks is evidence of this failure. But who said social media is about sales and referrals?
Social media IS about relationships. Companies that use social medias effectively, understand that the consumer does not get on Facebook to have products pushed in their face. They are there because they want to talk to friends, check out memes, view pictures, etc. Brands—whether that be secular corporations or ecclesial entities—need to utilize the social atmosphere of social networks to their advantage. The last thing they should do is create yet another avenue for corporate pitches and advertising lingo. People smell that a mile away—and it stinks. Anyone who has ever been cold called by someone who is overly excited to speak to a total stranger knows that awkward feeling when they start acting like they care about you—when in reality they just want you to buy their products. It actually works against your purposes because the user then feels like you are violating their space.
How do you measure “relationship” value?
This is where CEOs, CFOs, Bishops, Cardinals, Pastors, and so on are going to have a very hard time understanding why social media is worth the effort. They are all accountable to bottom-line budgets, and numbers are easy to understanding. 1,500 followers is easy to understand. 20,000 monthly unique visitors doesn’t take a “rocket surgeon” to comprehend. Brand reputation, positioning, community awareness—these are words that are ambiguous and challenging to valuate.
When a Diocese, Parish, or lay apostolate has a strong relationship-building presence online, it changes the way people think about that organization and the people that represent it. A Bishop on Twitter is far more powerful for positively impacting a diocese’s reputation than a corporate diocesan account. It’s good to have both, but people want to connect with people on social media. Nobody really wants to hear from St. Cecilia’s Parish on Facebook—they want to hear from Father “Smith.”
Measuring relationships is going to be largely anecdotal. When interviews with the news media starting going better, you’re on the right track. When less reporters find ways to slide in comments about the sex abuse crisis to an entirely different story, you’re on the right track. When you overhear moms talking at a parish event about how the parish (or diocese) has really good stuff on their website, you know something’s working.
In the end…
…we have to believe that the Holy Spirit will guide not only our actions, but the result of our efforts. We can control what we do and what we don’t do. Only God can decide how much impact our labor will have on His children.
Not every social media will be a smash hit for our evangelistic efforts. But so long as we are working to achieve the New Evangelization and bringing an authentic view of Christ to the world, then we are doing our part. Hopefully the numbers will show it—but our job is to build relationships with others and the point them to Christ.