Successful Social Media Marketing Is Neither Free Nor Easy

 Gasoline for FreeThis article, "Entrepreneurs Question Value of Social Media," from the Wall Street Journal caught my eye (and I'm sure several other readers' eyes) with it's clever headline and additionally provocative phrases:

* "Marketing Via Facebook, Twitter Yields Results for Some, Others Say It's Overrated" and "Hype Right Now Exceeds the Reality"

The WSJ article quotes findings from 2,000 small business owners surveyed by the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business and Network Solutions LLC.  Among the survey's findings included:

* Most users of social media – 58% – find the medium "just met expectations for success.  For the remainder, twice as many feel the medium fell short of expectations (26%) than exceeded expectations (12%) for success.

* 50% of small business users of social media have found that it has taken up more time than they expected.

So does this mean social media really doesn't work?  Is all that blogging, tweeting, friending, videoing, and updating of statuses to engage a specific target audience or buyer persona a complete waste of time?


Of course not.  But, I think these findings should "recalibrate" our expectations about how quickly social media and inbound marketing can impact overall business success.  Here are some thoughts in putting the achievement of business success via social media into perspective:


1. Social Media Success Stories Like Chris Brogan and HubSpot Didn't Happen Overnight

In my opinion, two of the most successful social media success stories demonstrating the time, dedication, and commitment required are Chris Brogan and HubSpot.  Both have invested years and countless hours to build their brands and business success via social media and inbound marketing. 

And their level of commitment continues …

Chris Brogan.  Brogan has been an online practitioner and social media evangelist for more than a decade, and in the last few years he's finally receiving more mainstream recognition and credit.  His book, Trust Agents, about how organizations can use social media to personally engage consumers, is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. 

But, this success and recognition did not occur overnight.  In fact, Brogan says it took him eight years (8) to acquire 100 subscribers when he started his blog.  Check out his video series called "Overnight Success" so you can see first-hand how social media success is hard-earned.

HubSpot. This organization literally created and proliferated the phrase "inbound marketing." They've published a best-selling book called Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs describing the online strategies and tactics driving their current business success (along with the success of other small to medium-sized businesses).   

And yes, they've also been diligently implementing and practicing those social media and inbound marketing strategies from their book for years.  As a point of reference, I looked at two data points regarding their popular Internet Marketing BlogThese numbers illustrate the significant time and dedication required (and blogging is just one important channel of their multi-channel social media strategy):

(A) Years Invested in Blogging: ~3.5 years; Their first blog post was written in August 2006.  During a HubSpot webinar I attended this week, Brian Halligan (one of HubSpot's co-founders) said they initially started blogging once per week.  Now, they publish almost 3 blog posts daily.

(B) Number of Blog Posts Published by HubSpot: ~1000+ as of March 31, 2010.  This is my "back-of-the-envelope" analysis based on the number of posts I found on the HubSpot Website.



2. Long Term Commitment, Patience, and Flexibility: Social Media and Inbound Marketing are No Exception

This post by John McTigue of Kuno Creative, "Disappointed By Your Inbound Marketing Results," provides realistic and practical advice when managing expectations about social media and inbound marketing.  He emphasizes four (4) points (which I've paraphrased here).  Read John's entire post because it's great: 

(A) You shouldn't expect instant success.  Time and effort are required to reach people and convert them to customers.

(B) You must build relationships, not numbers.  Create interesting content, engage people directly, and reach them with great offers and service.

(C) You must be a chameleon.  Remain flexible and tweak your strategy daily by monitoring your metrics to keep improving.

(D) Be patient.  Invest at least a year before deciding to end the program.

From personal experience, I've only been blogging for 6 months and I can speak to the time and effort required to publish this blog.  For me, John's advice is readily applicable and timely. 



Patience, Perseverance, Effort.  Last time I checked, those traits applied to "traditional marketing success" also.  I fail to see why accomplishing social media and inbound marketing success would be any different …


Photo Credit: From Flickr by Tony the Misfit 

12 thoughts on “Successful Social Media Marketing Is Neither Free Nor Easy

  1. Fantastic post, Tony — and thanks for the kind words about HubSpot. I think your response to the WSJ post is right on target. The skeptics are right that inbound marketing doesn’t work as a quick fix. It’s something that you have to put time and creativity into. Good news is that if you do, the rewards are great.

  2. Tony, thanks for the shout out about my blog post. I think your post is very valuable, especially to business owners and executives considering inbound and social media marketing. Also to those who’ve tried it for a while but felt disappointed. Managing expectations is crucial to success.

  3. Thanks for including us as a case study example. I agree completely that a long term view is required to make inbound marketing successful. You do not get results overnight, but over time you build up a strong brand and attract a lot of links and traffic, building a great marketing asset for your business.
    The other point I would make is all of this is bigger than social media – without creating content (blog, ebooks, videos), you will not be interesting in social media and your efforts will fail. Without optimizing your content for search and social, you will limit your success.
    Great post!

  4. @Rick: Thanks so much for your comment and stopping by! To your point, inbound marketing content can become “a durable asset” but only if we invest the required time and creativity. Because if we do stick with it, our blog posts, YouTube videos, and other differentiating content (with a little help from Google) can provide lasting value to either ourselves or our organizations.

  5. @John: You wrote a great post so it made my explanation easy! Isn’t it interesting how our “offline” activities like managing expectations or framing an opinion are important to good, old-fashioned execution. We may be living in a Web 2.0 world (or is it 3.0 now) but certain interpersonal tactics will never go out of style. Thanks again for coming by and writing your comment.

  6. @Mike: Your point about accumulating benefits over time (i.e., inbound links, traffic, and brand awareness) is what I think people sometimes fail to grasp in the short term. The creation and publication of differentiating content is analogous to a financial investment that yields “compounding-like interest” but only after you’ve published a critcal mass. And you’re absolutely right, not only do you have to provide a variety of appealing content to your buyer persona, but that content has to be optimized so your buyers can easily find it (and share it).
    Many thanks for taking the time to post your comment, and I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on your shiny, new iPad after you have a chance to test-drive it this weekend.

  7. I am so glad you posted this blog Tony… This is what we try to convey to our customers on a regular basis and the once that “get” social media, know that building communities online take time just like they do in the offline world. Your blog just confirms what we know to be true..
    Thank you so much for this insightful article!

  8. @RM – Inboundmarketingpr: Thank you for such a generous comment and for taking the time to stop by!
    It’s interesting how we quickly forget that the basis of any of relationship is trust (whether that relationship is personal or business). In all of my meaningful relationships, that trust took significant time to develop, and I had to keep working at it.
    Social media and inbound marketing are no different even though the vehicles we use to communicate (i.e., blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) enable us us to connect rapidly to many more individuals than we could face-to-face. Establishing the “online” connection is just one part of the relationship (i.e., obtaining a Twitter follower, a Facebook friend / fan, etc.). Motivating those individual connections to a call-to-action (i.e., buying something from us, earning a new blog subscriber, RT’ing a tweet, etc.) only happens when we consistently prove over time that the relationship is mutually benefical.
    And if memory serves, demonstrating that behavior takes a significant investment of time especially in a consumer world that becomes more cynical and jaded every day.

  9. Hi Tony,
    Just found your blog and I am enjoying your point of view and style. I think that traditional marketers have a difficult time broadening their concept of marketing “campaigns”. It is easy to understand the concept of customer advocacy, and the economic benefits that loyal customers provide. Yet many businesses have built marketing strategies around a series of campaigns in an attempt to foster loyalty. I think that savvy marketers that invest the time and move from marketing “campaigns” to a marketing continuum that embraces traditional and social strategies will make many profitable friends.

  10. @David: Your point about embracing traditional marketing and social media as a continuum or integrated strategy is important. One of my favorite bloggers, Beth Harte, wrote a great post called The Dichotomy Issue: Social Media Marketing Versus Classic Marketing ( In Beth’s post, she addresses this issue and writes about how the best marketing success can be achieved by integrating both. With all the publicity surrounding social media, there are times when I think people perceive that there’s an “us versus them” mentality. It certainly doesn’t have to be that way.
    Thank you for stopping by to leave your thoughtful comment and kind words – Many Thanks! I hope you’ll come by again!

  11. True. Why is it that some people think social media is not going to take work. It is business after all. Look at big brands like Johnson & Johnson, IBM, Coca-Cola, etc. They’ve spent literally BILLIONS of dollars and in some cases a century to build their brand. Social media isn’t easy and it won’t happen overnight, but last time I checked Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk didn’t spend billions and they aren’t 100 years old yet. Just sayin’.

  12. Mat, I agree that social media gurus like Brogan and Vaynerchuk didn’t invest billions of dollars in building their personal reputations, brands, and credibility. Social media and inbound marketing’s accessibility and “leveling of the playing field” for all of us is why I think we should take advantage of the opportunity to participate.
    But even Brogan and Vaynerchuk have paid significant dues and invested countless hours in building their reputations and respective businesses. Their commitment levels result in opportunity costs that are both financial and personal.
    As an example, I looked at the blog archives of Brogan and Vaynerchuk each has invested significant time in their blogs. Brogan’s archives start in March 23, 2004 and Vaynerchuk’s archives start at October 15, 2007. These timelines show the significant time commitment to their blogs (and both continue to put in lots of time into other social media channels and additional marketing-related activities (i.e., writing books).
    Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to write your thoughtful comment. I hope you know I sincerely appreciate it.

Comments are closed.