We do some work with brands that are looking to grow their businesses through social media. Inevitably, as part of the conversation, we get to the return on investment question. “How many followers am I going to get from this” and that sort of thing. When we explain to brands that social media is a long game, not a short game, and that the sheer number of followers a brand has is nice, it doesn’t mean nearly as much as a passionately engaged following, we’re typically met with eye rolling or the goodbye handshake. And here’s why.

Brands don’t actually believe in social media.

Obviously brands believe in social you say. Brands spend a fortune on social you say. Brands love social you say.

Sure. Some brands do. And those brands are well ahead of the game. But look around. Do you see billboards?

Print advertising isn’t dead…per se. But companies are reading the data wrong because companies are trying to compare apples and cows. They’re not even close.

A print ad, generally, is designed to elicit a specific response. They often contain special sales or events. What they don’t include is a fundamental offer to engage with that brand in a long-term, meaningful way. Meanwhile social media, and specifically social media marketing, can be designed to target a particular buying habit or activity but is often designed to be the warm handshake that leads to that relationship.

Companies know how to measure when someone has completed a purchase from a particular funnel. What they often don’t know how to do is conceptualize the effect that social media followers, and specifically social media engagement, have on their business goals. They don’t understand social and as a result, they don’t believe in social.

Lets’ talk about Instagram advertising.

Personally, I’ve purchased and perused a number of products and brands that have come from Instagram ads. I think it’s an good platform for most things but I think it’s an exceptional platform for selling products, especially cool tech products. But there’s one thing that drives me nuts; Instagram ads when you don’t have an Instagram account.

Now, if you’ve not begun advertising with Facebook and Instagram, you might not understand how this is possible, but it is. When you create a Facebook ad, it also gives you the opportunity to create the matching ad for Instagram. This means that you can reach a much wider audience with a simple, cross-platform ad. But there’s a catch.

Don’t have an Instagram account? Instagram doesn’t care. It basically creates a dummy account and launches the ad on Instagram anyways. Sounds awesome.

Except it misses the boat.

Is there a chance that someone’s going to dig in and purchase, sign up, book, etc? Sure. But most users are going to try to find out a little more about your company. And since they’re on Instagram at the time, they’re going to try to gain more insight from that platform. And in many cases, when users discover that such a presence does not exist, they realize that this is nothing more than an ad. They realize that that brand has no intention of connecting with them on that platform. They’re just there to sell something.

People don’t mind being sold on things. I really enjoy good, targeted marketing. But I don’t like when brands hijack social for the sake of a sale. And it boils down to a key point; brands don’t believe in social.

You might say, “well, they’re pitching their product on social, so they must believe in it.” No. They believe in advertising and for them, that’s all it is. Put the ad up. Walk away. Count stacks. They don’t believe that there is any long-term benefit to connecting with and building a relationship on social.

And I think they’re wrong.