Coca-Cola reports no impact from social media 'buzz': surprise?

The wild, wooly frontier of social media 'buzz' is a promising sales channel. If only the social media world would sit still and cooperate.

Many companies have been exploring the wild, wooly frontier of social media "buzz," attempting to not only capture and measure sentiment, but also generate discussion about products and services. The problem is, the social media world won't sit still and cooperate.

Photo credit: Coca-Cola Media Relations Department

AdAge's Jack Neff reports on a Coca-Cola study of its internal social media efforts that finds no lift in short-term sales as a result of online social media buzz.

This is a significant statement about social media branding overall, since Coca-Cola has more than 61 million Facebook followers, not to mention close to 700,000 Twitter followers. The findings illustrate the long journey companies still have to make until they figure out how to monetize social media channels -- social media chatter is still an untamed frontier.

Eric Schmidt, senior manager-marketing strategy and insights at Coca-Cola, reported the results of the soft-drink giant's own internal numbers at a meeting of the Advertising Research Foundation. When buzz sentiment data is applied against the same metrics as other digital media, "we didn't see any statistically significant relationship between our buzz and our short-term sales," he says. At most, social media buzz only impacted sales by a factor of 0.01%.

The most effective vehicles remain television advertising and placements, along with digital display advertising, radio advertising, and search.

Social media buzz is only part of the story. In a company post following up on Schmidt's revelation, Wendy Clark, senior vice president of integrated marketing communications and capabilities at Coca-Cola, said that buzz is only part of the marketing big picture:

"None of our plans are simply social, or TV, or mobile or experiential. On the contrary, it’s the combination of owned, earned, shared and paid media connections – with social playing a crucial role at the heart of our activations – that creates marketplace impact, consumer engagement, brand love and brand value. We’ve known this for some time."

It's a combination of media that makes a difference, Clark emphasizes. She notes that her company's target consumers – teens and young adults – are multiple-screen users. "This means the TV is on, a laptop is open and a smartphone is in hand. For marketers, this requires having a single, integrated conversation across those screens. When we do this well, we create significantly higher impact than any of those screens could do on their own."

It's also worth mentioning that social media is a culture of communicating, connecting, swapping ideas and sharing experiences, not a cold-call sales channel. Coca-Cola recognized from the get-go that social media is not a direct sale channel, but their findings are a warning to companies that do think of it in these terms. As Seth Godin once so famously expressed it, attempting to pitch things over social media channels is like handing out business cards at a funeral -- a real no-no.

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