People Aren’t Buying on Social Media

A new study is throwing cold water on the advertising dollars being allocated for Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and elsewhere. In short, it reports only a small percentage of social network users have ever made a purchase in response to an ad shown on those networks.

Unfortunately the study falls victim to the same sort of thinking as all the various analyses that seek to assign a dollar value to each Tweet and otherwise get ROI completely wrong.

Basically, if we assume the study is correct, anywhere from 1 (Snapchat) to 16 (Facebook) out of everyone 100 people who saw an ad actually converted into a buyer in response to that ad. Yeah, that sounds less than great, except for Facebook, which any retailer would sacrifice their mother for.

But the study doesn’t look at the cumulative value of consistent messages over time. So the ad didn’t directly convert someone, but did the fifth Tweet they saw later in the week finally convince them to make a purchase either online or in a store? That kind of consumer-tracking and message influence isn’t accounted for.

That’s one of the reasons I believe in content programs adopting consistent publishing cadences because exposure to all those messages adds up over time. This post may not move the needle, but the cumulative impact of a month’s worth of posts might. Even if it, to use the Snapchat example, that big-picture analysis only increased it from 1% to 3%, that’s a significant improvement given the scale.

Social ads may have the potential to more immediately convert a viewer into a buyer than, say, highway billboards. But it seems the actual consumption and usage of those ads by the audience isn’t all that different. Perhaps we need to stop treating them as such.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.