Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru | February 2011 | By Denise Lee Yohn

A Case Against Social Media

Despite what your intern and PR agency tell you, there are some brands that just aren't cut out for social media.

Denise Lee Yohn sets certain standards brands must meet for social media.
image used with permission.

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As a child I was a geek who desperately wanted to be popular. In my quest to be cool, I wanted to copy the popular kids’ rebellious behaviors like dying my hair and going coatless in the dead of winter. When I expressed these aspirations to my mother, she admonished me by saying, “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should, too.”

As I survey the marketing landscape today, I’m reminded of my mother’s caution. I know business leaders who want to get into social media because they see so many other companies doing it and they don’t want to be left behind. But just because other quick serves are jumping on the social media bandwagon doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for everyone. In fact, there are several instances when you shouldn’t engage in social media.

1. When you only want to promote your company.

Social media is a highly effective promotional tool—but it can’t be all about you. You’re more likely to get people’s attention and build a loyal following on social media if you’re also using it to talk about your customers and the things they care about—their communities, friends, causes, or hot topics.  

Plus, by using social media only to post outbound promotional communication, you miss one of the biggest benefits of these new tools: insight. Thanks to the two-way nature of social media, you can glean insights about your customers, your competitors, and the broader cultural trends that impact your business by using it.

2. When you don’t have a system for following up to complaints and requests in real time.

Using social media isn’t simply a matter of setting up a Facebook page and starting a Twitter account. You need to be prepared to use social media for two-way dialogues with customers in real time.  

Providing immediate answers to questions and requests helps boost your brand image; it’s a form of customer service. These days, customers use social media to determine whether or not you really care about them, and then they spread the word. Complaints posted on Twitter can spread like wildfire if they’re not addressed quickly. But a timely, well-placed response to a bad review on Yelp can make a world of difference.

Consumers’ expectations and usage of these tools have grown so high that you could be setting yourself up for failure if you don’t develop a complete social media communications system and use it consistently.  

3. When you expect a clear financial ROI.

You’re right to expect a return on investment on social media. Even though the hard costs may be lower than traditional media, social networking requires investments of human and systems resources and may involve changes in company operations and culture. In this economic climate, you can’t afford to undertake such efforts without a clear understanding of the expected ROI.

But financial ROI of social media efforts remains difficult to measure. Sales during specific time periods or offer redemptions can provide a view of revenue impact sometimes. And some organizations have developed quite sophisticated systems for linking social media participation to sales. But it’s likely the clearest ROI figures are not financial. Instead, the effectiveness of social media is best calculated by measures of traffic, page views, or the size and quality of social communities.

4. When you use it as your only marketing effort.

Social media isn’t a silver bullet. It’s just like all other marketing tactics—it works best when it’s used and integrated with other efforts.

For most companies, the portion of customers who actively use social media to learn about and engage with the brand is quite small. Although these people are an influential and growing group, you’d miss the vast majority of your customers if you relied on social media as your sole marketing vehicle.  

Advertising, point-of-purchase materials, direct mail, e-mail, local marketing, and community relations are still important tools. A mix of these efforts and social media optimizes marketing reach, frequency, and engagement. And the best programs integrate various tools in your marketing toolbox; for example, use an e-mail campaign to increase your Facebook “likes” or tweet about an event you sponsor.  

“Just because other quick serves are jumping on the social media bandwagon doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for everyone.”

If none of these scenarios apply to your brand, then the exciting world of social media awaits. As you take the plunge, I’m reminded of another one of my mother’s sayings: “Prepare to succeed, and you will.”

I do, however, have some recommendations that can help prepare your brand for the social media plunge. First off, be sure to designate someone in your organization for whom social media is his priority, and ensure they are trained how to represent and interpret the brand in every interaction. Put into place monitoring systems that enable you to listen to relevant input, and create clear processes for analyzing and acting on comments and complaints. Be sure to develop a media crisis plan to prescribe how your organization will respond to serious threats.

Also, create a social media content and promotions plan and align it with your other marketing efforts. Then publish a social media policy and rules of engagement for use by employees. Finally, establish clear, measurable, and realistic goals for social media efforts. These suggestions should lead you to social media success.


Interesting post. Thank you.With all due respect, your argument seems to blur two different themes --- whether a brand should be involved in social media, and whether their organization is ready for social media.Full disclosure, I run a digital agency with social at its core.Your comments on organizational readiness are spot on. Aligning human and financial resources are critical, and setting the right expectations are important. Good pieces to highlight.But I would push CMOs who are not involved to simply listen and observe what is already being said about their brand in the social space. Put more strongly, every brand is already engaged in the social space, even if they are not participating-- others are. Their customers, partners, suppliers, and employees. They have a choice--- engage and leverage the power of the space to build their brand, or ignore it, hope it goes away, and act surprised when their brand health begins to degrade in the next quarterly brand report.

thanks for your comment, glenn -- good clarification. also i agree listening and observing is the best first step any business leader should take when it comes to social media! thanks again. -- denise lee yohn

Gimicks come and go, and Social Media is thus.You can't Groupon your way to success and profitabiliy.Serving a good product at a fair price and employing clean looking, hardworking, customer focused people will never go out of style.Restaurant owners should stop looking for Feel Good solutions, and should start hiring kids without tattos, piercings, guages, and pink hair.

While I agree that employing hard working people is super important.. Just writing off social media as a "fad" doesn't work. When I first signed up for Facebook in 2004, people resisted and said this thing will come and go. Now, my 76 yr old grandma operates her Facebook page to keep an eye on her grandchildren. The point being, social media is the evolution of media, in general, in which the power is shifted to the people. You think people are just gonna give up that power? Yea right. Follow me on twitter @dylamelcher everyone for your comments and builds! they make it obvious how important social media has become -- and how important it is to use it right. -- denise lee yohn

All the above points are appreciable. Most article you would find in web are in favor of inclusion to social media. But most of them have a blind eye to the real situation as mentioned above when it may go against you. First one has to put forth all one's plan and try to measure the degree of effectiveness in including social media. Without a strong strategy in view of social media marketing and advertising, one should not jump into this stuff.

Social media may be a fad, but that doesn't make it bunk! At this point in time, it is a dominant channel for engagement with clients and customers. Now, that may progress/change in the future, but that doesn't mean that it is irrelevant right now! @annainpr

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Denise Lee Yohn

Denise Lee Yohn has been inspiring and teaching companies how to operationalize their brands to grow their businesses for more than 20 years. Denise shows business leaders how to transform brand-building from a costly, discrete, subjective activity into the most integral way of managing and growing a business.

World-class brands including Frito Lay, Jack in the Box, and Jamba Juice have called on Denise, an established speaker, author, and consulting partner.