Facebook 'Likes,' Twitter Followers Won't Buy You Customers

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Building a digital marketing program around the social media trio of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is a popular strategy by banks aiming to heighten their brand's visibility, and ultimately, lure new customers. However, social media's value as a business acquisition tool may be greatly exaggerated.

The most persuasive form of advertising is word of mouth. Endorsements from loved ones, neighbors or even Uber drivers tend to be the most powerful generators of product sales. Some marketers see social media as the electronic version of word of mouth — a contemporary substitute for talking to your neighbors. However, the evidence doesn't support that comparison.

Less than 7% of word-of-mouth occurs over social media, according to research by the market research and consulting firm Keller Fay Group. Although people spend an average of two hours a day online, they spend more than eight times that amount offline talking to friends, family members, co-workers and acquaintances.

Facebook and LinkedIn feeds may reach large numbers of people, but the critical component that makes engagements so persuasive — face-to-face interaction — is missing. When we engage in face-to-face conversations, we curate conversations to meet the specific interests of the other person. We know with whom to discuss camping gear or a new needlepoint pattern, for instance. Conversations in real life provide instant feedback and adjustment, making an endorsement more powerful than a broadly distributed Facebook posting.

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What's more, Facebook likes and Twitter retweets may mean nothing at all. In a 2016 research study, computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute found that 59% of links shared on social media are never clicked. In other words, most people appear to retweet news or share Facebook items without even reading them. They simply make a judgment from the summary and hit the share button.

This isn't the only fallacy bank marketers may accept as fact.

In his best-selling book, "Contagious," Wharton School Professor Joshua Berger suggests there are other reasons to reassess your reliance on social media. Sure, one common marketing notion holds that getting your product endorsed or your message distributed by opinion leaders on social media is the fuel for it going viral. But according to Berger's research, so-called influential people are no more effective in spreading information than the typical web surfer. Yes, an influencer may have a larger network; however, contagious content is so inherently viral that it spreads regardless of who is talking.

Berger also busts the myth that viral messages must be novel. Cats playing with dogs, dancing gorillas or mischievous pranks rack up high YouTube viewership but there's little connection between novelty videos and word of mouth. In fact, videos around boring or mundane products tend to generate more attention; top-of-mind products receive broader exposure.

All of which is to say that building a presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn doesn't equal effective marketing. In fact, it sucks resources from the thoughtful analysis and discussion required for creative problem solving.

Although social media is often the first box on a marketing checklist, it's rarely more than an ancillary tool. Social media advocates give it a false air of credibility by touting the number of followers and likes — meaningless figures that may justify a budget increase but they rarely provide useful insight into marketing effectiveness.

We need to reject a Kardashian-type focus on fluff and followers and become more discriminating in creating content integrated into a multichannel marketing program designed to achieve specific corporate goals.

Kevin Tynan is senior vice president of marketing at Liberty Bank in Chicago. He can be reached at

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