is social media marketing worth it for food and beverage brands?

I'd be the first one to advocate for social media as part of the marketing strategy for businesses. I have been working on and talking about digital word-of-mouth strategy and tactics in social media for years.

Clearly, social media has meant a radical change in the way people communicate with each other and with brands.

That said, even though social media has been integrated into the marketing strategies of brands for years, we still have structural problems both at the strategic level in enterprises and at the brand level.

For brands, the strategic data which demonstrates spectacular growth with social media penetration and the 'related' media hype which is created from all this data gives birth to pure ignorance.

Now stay with me here, there are a number of factors that have created this situation:

On the one hand there is a conflict regarding the results obtained from the data and an unhealthy obsession with trying to prove if social media works. If the data is so good, it has to count for something, right?

Sure, data plays an important role. A very important role. But there are several data & analytics brands who do not have clear, real, and/or relevant results. Forget about reconciling data between providers. These proprietary social data experts pop up on an almost weekly basis with their own black box algorithms and formulas for measuring the value of different user activities on social media.

Still, social media continues to gain importance when it comes to a healthy, omni-channel marketing approach. And as much as I absolutely hate Facebook, from a personal and professional point of view, I am not suggesting that it is going to be replaced, at least for now, by any other channels.

With all this, I feel like I'm rambling, all this means is that there are people who think that social media is overvalued and we need to decide if we agree with them or if we have some empirical data which shows otherwise.

I'm working on different videos which delve into the role of social media for businesses, brands and individuals, the evolution of the media to a digital world, and the correct way to put a strategy together for 2020. One main thread I plan on weaving through these videos is a phrase used by photographers: the sin of subjectivity. As I release these, I hope they will create dialogue in the digital marketing space. After I release all the videos, I will use them as the basis for a presentation that I can give at live conferences.

To understand the concept and try to find solutions, we first have to understand the problems of social media strategies for brands.

A huge issue we have when trying to decide if social media comes with comparing the results of the most successful Instagram campaign, a TV ad, the number of fans of the most important brands in a space, with fans of celebrities to ours. You are most likely not a celebrity, you are not at the top of your industry, and few of us have the budget to launch national campaigns on Instagram or television. So cut it out.

Answer this question: What is social media for you?

Social media can be a tool to communicate between people and to contact brands. It can be a customer service tool.

Often success-based statistics hide a very different reality. We may see data showing growth, but what we are seeing does not tell us really very much related to customer health. A growth of 20% is fine, but if you see .5% growth, the impact on your market looks unremarkable.

This doesn't mean growth-focused brands will pull out of social media if they don't see growth. Brands are on social media because they are afraid of not being there. Why, because the competition is. And...if the competition is there, we must be there!

Social media has not only evolved into a mature channel for marketing and pr, but for advertising as well. We are now witnessing the migration of sales into the social media ecosystem.

When speaking of social media today, I hear both peers and clients speak less of conversation, engagement , etc., and more about creating social ads campaigns, creating content for organic optimizations and growth and conversion optimization.

Brands still spend a very small percentage of their marketing budget on social media, but the hype machine in advertising and marketing is fully-focused on it. There's often an imbalance in brand expectations vs. what companies invest into these social platforms which leads to disappointment when brands' unrealistic expectations can't be met.

There is no media channel where we are on the fence about social media - it's all systems go, full-throttle hype when it comes to social media.

Still, all media can be consumed through the internet. All media created 20, 30, 40 years ago can be consumed on any device. With tablets you can read magazines. You can listen to the radio on your phone, you watch TV on your computer, all media is digital. Some were born digital and others have become digital...and some, like newspapers are dying slow painful deaths trying to become digital.

There is no question that we all should be doing digital marketing. Today, marketing means living in a digital world.

What does that mean for executives in charge of branding today?

Each year we have to define budgets from scratch. We can no longer rely on the previous year's budget for meaningful guidance.

You have to start with an open mind. Your budgets will be more effective and more realistic if you don't make assumptions based on elements you may take for granted.

This goes both ways also. Treat all media with the same criterion. If you are digital first, don't favor digital 'just because' and vice versa. Spread out the spend - you can find some surprising wins in traditional media if you're creative.

Spend time sourcing the right digital marketing partner. Explain what your needs are and what solutions you expect. They may push back. Anyone who knows what they're doing in digital will not be afraid to give you the truth when you need to hear it. And don't assume that this means they can't achieve your objective. Ask them for suggestions and look for creative ways to reach your goal, together.

Include a results-based bonus plan as part of their compensation. I had a client do this with me one year and I balked at it. But it also kicked me into gear and we hit our targets 3 months early.

Create a deal where you can budget a bonus payout to the individuals on your marketing team if their objectives are achieved. Now, don't get all slimy and assume this is a cost-cutting measure. The people working on your brand marketing deserve to be paid fairly. They don't share in the rewards of being an owner or shareholder, so they shouldn't bear the risk. This is a bonus above and beyond their normal pay meant as an incentive to do better work and to reach your goals more quickly. You have to do the math to see what works for you.

For the agency you choose to work with, it boils down to five basic questions:

Who is my audience?

What is the positioning of my brand and how should this affect my way of doing things?

How much budget do I have?

What are the verifiable, tangible goals for the campaign?

When do the goals need to be met in order to consider the campaign a success?

I recommend the following:

No separate digital budgets from the overall marketing budget.

No social media marketing specialists, but omni-channel digital marketers for a digital world. It's critical that the people handling your social media have a clear understanding of the rest of the marketing, advertising, and sales cycles so they understand their place in the whole sales funnel for the brand.

Stop using the term 'traditional' to refer to the media. Is facebook a platform or is it media? Could Facebook be considered "traditional" today? Who cares. All your consumers' eyeballs are the same, whether they are looking at a screen connected to a cable box, a modem, or a cell tower.

Use correct data. Don't compare 'apples with pears'. If you don't know which data is "correct" start with a data reporting solution that's closest to the source, like google analytics, facebook insights, instagram and twitter's internal analytics, YouTube studio...

Stop talking about the death of the TV or radio. These are still viable marketing channels. They serve their purpose and you can get fantastic deals on inventory these days.

Learn about different tools agencies use, as well as your in-house staff. I am always skeptical and ask everyone every time if the tool they're using is the tool they need. No-one seems to use the same tools which means no-one is talking the same language when they are talking about data.

Lastly, integrate your communication channels as a single entity where possible. One of the most repeatedly dysfunctional failures of brand marketing teams I see is compete ignorance of what the other teams responsible for the pr, marketing, digital, advertising, and sales are doing or a regular basis. Forget about having goals that align and making sure everyone is rowing in the same direction. If you want to be successful, you need to fix this. How can you expect to get value out of social media if the people running it aren't intimately aware of what your sales, customer service, pr, and other goals are? Here's a freebie: you can't and you won't.

Anyway: Is social media marketing worth it? I think it is on several levels and I know from experience why it is... I just need to pull the data to prove it.