My first marketing “job” consisted mainly of building and managing MySpace pages for bands and DJs. Back then MySpace was the biggest social network around, and with the exception of a few niche music-specific sites (RIP Rivmixx), there wasn’t much in the way of alternatives.

These were simpler times.

All that changed when Facebook and Twitter were catapulted into the mainstream. As these two now-behemoths grew in popularity, MySpace, well, we all know what happened to MySpace.

The arrival of Facebook and Twitter opened up lots of new and exciting opportunities for digital marketers like myself, the problem was working out exactly what those opportunities were, and how to harness them. It’s a problem a lot of businesses still face today.

Like any other marketing activity, social media requires diligent planning and constant analysis in order to be effective. Most crucially though, it needs a purpose, an end game. Without these things, businesses are essentially shooting in the dark, and ultimately throwing money down the drain. Yet still, so many carry on regardless.

Social media: the golden child of digital marketing

Until now, social media has had an easy ride; it’s new, it’s fun, and who really cares if it’s working, everyone is talking about how awesome it is so it must be the right thing to do.

Would any other marketing discipline – SEO, PPC, email – be treated with such leniency? Of course not, and I think this can be attributed to three main factors:

1. Social Media ROI is an enigma: There have been various efforts to prove social ROI over the years (usually by people trying to sell social media as a service), but the fact is there are just too many variables to properly do so. While it’s difficult to prove social media does “work”, it’s just as difficult to prove it doesn’t.

2. FOMO (fear of missing out): The social media party is the coolest party in town, and no one wants be the business equivalent of ‘that guy’, sat at home on a Saturday night playing video games in his pants. There is a huge expectation for businesses to have a social media presence these days, so in that sense it takes a real renegade to buck the trend.

3. Perceived lack of financial investment: The great thing about social media is it’s free – anyone can do it, even the new intern… is what they’ll tell you. The reality is, in order to get anything out of social media, you have to put the work in. While this can absolutely be achieved internally, it takes time – a lot of time – and time is money.

All points considered, I expect very few businesses could claim that the time spent managing social media would not be put to better use elsewhere.

Reasons to be cheerful

The good news is that things are changing for the better; businesses are getting better at analysing social media using metrics that actually matter, (i.e. not how many Twitter followers they have) and people are starting to realise that social media is not a silver bullet. The social buzz is dying down, albeit slowly.

For the businesses who continue to shoot in the dark, there is still time to turn things around, but in order to do so they must strip back the sugar coating to reveal whether the time invested in social media justifies the return.

Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool for businesses – as we covered recently in this post – but just doing it because that’s what is expected is simply not viable.

Is it time to give up on social media? Have your say by leaving a comment below.