The brouhaha over buzz.


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This week, Coca Cola released results of a study that concluded that online “buzz” has no measurable impact on sales.

Coke six pack

That’s right. The company that’s arguably the most “social” organization in the world (with a record 61.5 million Facebook Fans) says there’s no relationship between online generated buzz and sales. (Well, almost. The study did give buzz credit for 0.01% of increased sales.)

So what exactly does this mean? That social media, while entertaining, does not contribute to sales?

Not quite.

For starters, I think it’s important to draw a distinction between social media “participation” and social media “buzz.” Buzz is primarily generated by a single piece of content or single event (think Red Bull’s space jump, written about here). These things are created solely to get eyeballs, and rarely have anything to contribute on behalf of the sponsoring product or organization. Another example would be this Long-Distance Slip-and-Slide video produced by Microsoft:

No doubt about it, this is amazing content. People may like it.. They may even share it. But would you seriously believe a slip-and-slide video would persuade people to buy a Windows computer? Or that a stunt like the space jump, no matter how spectacular, would have people lining up outside convenience stores for a Red Bull?

Social media participation, on the other hand, is not nearly as sexy. It’s not the atomic bomb, it’s winning the battle hill-by-hill. It’s never going to be a trending topic on Twitter. It’s never going to generate 20 million views. Instead, it’s an ongoing effort to engage fans and customers on a deeper level, where they hang out. It’s a way to listen to customers, try out ideas, provide “insider” content and provide one-to-one customer service. Basically a way to help your organization become more “human” for your customers.

What I hate about studies like this one from Coke (and the accompanying news coverage) is that things tend to get painted with a broad brush. Nuance is nowhere to be found. It’s either “this” or it’s “that.”

Successful marketing today requires a complete toolbox of owned, earned, shared and paid media. Attempting to break one of these out to determine its ROI is a fool’s errand.

It helps to think of social as a “trailing” tactic (nearly all people who become ‘Fans’ are already customers, and prefer you already). As such, social’s true value in the marketing funnel is to engage with converted customers on a deeper level, to give them more opportunities to interface with the brand, to shorten the buying cycle, to stem churn and learn more about your audience.

If you still question the value of social media to the marketing process, consider this: the more time your customers spend interfacing with your brand, the less opportunity (and inclination) they have to interface with your competitors.

Posted by Mickey

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


  1. Mickey, you make a good point about engagement being the real value of social media, rather than buzz.

    As I read the earlier post, I find this:

    A Coca-Cola Co. study finds online buzz has no measurable impact on short-term sales, but online display ads work about as well as TV, said a company executive in a presentation at the Advertising Research Foundation’s Re:think 2013 conference in New York today.

    Why would anyone expect buzz to immediately stimulate sales?

    As for Coke’s massive Facebook fan base, hasn’t social media research found that most people “like” a brand to get discounts and other offers? This make social media more of a loyalty program than anything else.

    As for me, I like Coke because I like Coke – the beverage. Don’t need to go to Facebook or watch a video to remind me of that.

  2. You’re right on when you ask “why would anyone expect buzz to stimulate sales?” Yo attempt to compute an ROI is social media malpractice. It’s applying a 20th century mass media paradigm to social.

    The truth is, ads are ads, and social is social. It’s a way to engage deeper with fans and have them view you in human terms.

    The idea of “Friending” in order to get a freebie or some swag is still around, though not to the extent it was a few years ago. Online users’ filters have been refined. They realize to get whatever the offer is, they’re going to have to give up some of their privacy, and my observation is it takes one heck of an offer to generate much traffic.

    The key is for marketers to avoid falling for the trap of trying to evaluate social media on the same level as traditional media. It’s fair to say Coke didn’t lose any sales because of social media. And how the 0.01% figure was arrived at I have no idea.

    The other thing now, is real life fans EXPECT brand they like to be social. Every engagement a brand gets on social media is one their competition didn’t get, for whatever that’s worth.

    I guess it comes down to the old retail wisdom: The longer you keep the shopper in the store, the more she’s likely to buy. Social media works that way as well. The more time fans spend with your brand, the more likely they’ll buy again soon.


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