In the years since it entered marketers’ radar screens, social media marketing has often been described as conducting “conversations.”

But the facts just don’t bear that out.

The dominant setting for social media is Facebook, made king by its nearly 1.25 billion members worldwide. But are brands having conversations there with fans?

“Any marketers who believe they’re having a conversation [with brand's fans on Facebook] are delusional,” Forrester Research VP/analyst Nate Elliot recently told VentureBeat.

‘Just a place to buy ads’

The language of “conversations” dominates the way many companies talk about social media marketing. To take just one example, in March of last year Arkansas-based marketing communications agency Martin-Wilbourn Partners posted on its blog under the heading “Brands Seek to Humanize Themselves Through Social Conversation”:

“Engaging customers through social media is a primary goal of modern marketers. … Many businesses are attempting to do so by developing a unique personality or voice for their brand. … The personality presented in this type of conversation will be tied to the overall marketing campaign. … Contact us today to start a conversation about how social media can be leveraged to grow your brand.”

But without much notice, evidence is accumulating to dispel the idea that brands’ comments and other content can organically generate conversations by engaging customers or would-be customers.

Elliott said Forrester’s research has shown, “For the top 50 global brands, on average, less than one tenth of one percent [of visiting users] like, share, or comment” with the content.

This “exceptionally small” engagement, Elliott said, cannot be called a conversation in any reasonable sense. “If you have 3 million fans, you will get a few thousand likes and a few hundred comments. If you’re a social media true believer, you can look at [only] hundreds of comments [out of 3 million fans] and say, ‘People are having a conversation.'”

A central reason for the minute engagement is that so little of a brand’s message is getting through Facebook’s relevance algorithm. “Everyone who clicks the like button on a brand’s Facebook page volunteers to receive that brand’s messages,” noted Elliot’s October 2013 report for Forrester on Why Facebook Is Failing Marketers, “but on average, Facebook only shows each brand’s posts to 16 percent of its fans.”

The Forrester report adds:

“By comparison, the average marketing email — another channel a brand’s customers might sign up for when they want to receive that brand’s messages — is delivered to more than 90% of the people who agreed to hear from the brand again. It’s safe to say that if your email service provider was only delivering messages to 16% of your mailing list, you wouldn’t think twice before firing them.”

Approaching zero

It gets worse.

The 16 percent figure from Facebook was from 2012. More recent data from digital agency Social@Ogilvy shows that the “organic reach of content published from brand pages” on Facebook had dropped from the previous 16 percent to 6 percent by February of this year.

“For large pages with more than 500,000 Likes, organic reach hit 2 percent in February,” the agency said.

In fact, Ogilvy said, “Facebook sources” are unofficially telling the agency the organic reach percentage may near zero at some point “in the foreseeable future.”

With so little of the brand’s organic messages reaching fans then, the number of fans actually engaging with organic content will be a fraction of a fraction.



A few weeks ago, TechCrunch reported on comScore’s latest findings in Social App usage among Millennials. The big news was the sustained rise of Snapchat, which registered #3 in popularity behind Facebook and Instagram. “That means the app is more popular than Twitter,” writes Sarah Perez, “Pinterest, Vine, Google or Tumblr among the millennial demographic, which comScore defines as those between the ages of 18 and 34.”

More verification for a trend many have noted: Messaging apps are trending much faster among young people than broader social platforms. There are all kinds of theories why, but the hypotheses about Snapchat—first it was sexting, then it was selfies-obsession, then it was privacy from parental gaze—probably says more about the would-be theorists than the users themselves.

We all tend to view trends through the lens of our own uses and gratifications of technologies. We grope for answers to “Why Snapchat?” because the idea of taking a picture of yourself, typing or scrawling a message across it and then sending for a supposedly ephemeral viewing does not strike us as either useful or much fun. It is interesting how often our conclusions as to “why” have a dark or negative angle when there might be a much more innocent, perhaps even hopeful, reason that Snapchat and its competitors fit better. Unless you are Twitter.


It looks like the perfect A/B test of real-time marketing. One tweet, one Facebook post for all the marbles.

Snickers, like many a brand yesterday, joined the bite-jacking fray after Uruguay’s Luis Suarez appeared to sink his teeth into an Italian defender during a FIFA World Cup soccer match. Snickers posted similar messages on both Twitter and Facebook.

And what happened? The tweet — “Hey @luis16suarez. Next time you’re hungry just grab a Snickers. #worldcup #luissuarez #EatASNICKERS” — got 39,000 retweets and 17,000 favorites. The Facebook post — “Next time you’re hungry just grab a Snickers. #WorldCup” — fell flat, with fewer than 5,000 likes, shares and comments.