Yup: An Open Response to Frank Cespedes

For those of us who aren’t Frank Cespedes, this is an open response to an article he wrote on the HBR blog. My intention in writing this is to address a few key points that require further attention. Black and white arguing points with little context work against the industry.

I am completely open to further dialog so please comment and Mr. Cespedes, I trust this reads as intended. My goal is an accurate representation of the social marketing world. I can only speak here for Icebreaker Consulting and my experience with similar firms who I respect in our field. Below are direct quotes and my rebuttal.


” But few (companies) have measures or even have accountable managers in place for their social media investments”

     Yup! This is exactly the problem in most businesses and the reason Icebreaker Consulting (and many firms like us) were conceived. Measures exist and there are numerous strategic KPIs to pay attention to. Our aim is to connect your mission and vision with your digital presence. Each company has their own goals and so we treat each case as its own. 


“Only 7% (of businesses) say their organizations“understand the exact value at stake from digital.””

     Exactly! They get it. We can learn from them. Each business has its own challenges but reporting is relatively standardized. Social media has a part to play in B2B and B2C companies that are either for or non-profit. The value at stake from digital is the game we play. What are your goals online? How can we help. These are the questions smart media strategists are asking. If you don’t know, ask. Part of this issue comes from companies lagging in adoption and part from them getting bad advice. As traditional agencies absorbed social media capabilities, the strategy took a back seat. Agencies had to scramble to connect the dots internally without (many times) raising their retainer. Not getting involved with social media is just as risky as not getting involved with web 1.0 


“62% of U.S. adults who use social media say these sites have no influence on their purchasing decisions and only 5% say they have a great deal of influence.”

     Yup! Ask the same demo about billboards 30 years ago. Also your argument is that roughly 60,000,000 american adults ARE swayed by social media? What about their kids who are begging their parents for new products, services, university visits, cars, concerts tickets, etc?


“The most common metrics for evaluating social media are likes, tweets, reviews, and click-through-rates (CTRs) for online ads — not cause-and-effect links between the medium and market results.”

     Yup! For a few reasons. First,  people don’t want to share their successes. We don’t share all our client successes because we want people to know their case is probably different. We don’t want potential clients to read a case study and assume a course of action they should take. Second, Digital marketers can infer from those common numbers. Especially when paired with growth. If you grew your likes by 40% in a month and I know you’re too smart to buy them from a farming company then I know you did something good.


“one in three online reviews is fake.”

     Yes! Probably. If you only see one review and it is a glowing review people are skeptical. With enough reviews this still may not help. A good social media strategist would cut off those paid reviews quickly. A product or service with few reviews always seems like they are from within the company anyways. Plus, you have to deal with things like Yelp who only show some of the reviews unless you pay. We had a client with 30 reviews averaging 2 stars. In fine print on Yelp was a link to see 79 other reviews. Yelp said they “may be fake” and that “their algorithm filtered those out” However, for $20/month they were happy to display them. Reviews are inflating implicit biases but at a certain point, the statistics make sense. Also, reviews actually help democratize  the R&D process. Apps get requested features, great restaurants get found, and shady service providers lose out. What’s the ROI of that? Amazon loves pro reviewers, Dell loves free tech support from their forums. We all love pro reviewers; just Google “AO Scott” or “Roger Ebert”.


“A Forrester study found that posts from top brands on Twitter and Facebook reach just 2% of their followers (note: that’s followers, not new customers) and only 0.07% of those followers actually interact with those posts.”

Yes! However, doesn’t Forrester still recommend using social media? Your stats are correct but we knew that. Facebook changed their algorithm to show more people generated posts vs page posts. That was partly a move to get brands to spend more on ads. They have made up for this with their hyper-targeting ad capabilities. I can get my message to the exact person I need and yes I fully expect to need 8-10 exposures before they take an action. Ask any phone sales person if those stats seem familiar. What you’ve not mentioned is the retargeting capabilities of ads. I can follow people around the web and target messages to them based on their expressed interest in various products/ services. These are the highest clicked ads on the web.


“Technology changes fast — remember MySpace and Friendster? — but consumer behavior changes more slowly. As a result, people tend to overhype new technologies and misallocate resources, especially marketers. “

     Often, yes! Myspace was built in 10 days as a reaction to Friendster. It sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. Facebook came in and solved the problems of MySpace based on how people browse the web (even if that wasn’t their intention). The focus went from “come look at my page!” (Myspace) to here’s a custom newspaper of all your friends’ updates. Are you saying that a website with 850MM users is overhyped?


“How convenient: to be evaluated with a metric (awareness) without tangible marketplace outcomes. But it’s wrong, a circular argument, and smart companies should not follow this flawed business logic.”

     Sure! What about lifetime value? What about relationships as a measure of lead generation? What about all the companies who DO track ROI. For one client, customers coming from YouTube have a far greater average order value. It is simple to assess the cost of making a video and posting it on youtube. The complicated math lies in the ongoing value of that single video and quantifying how well each video adds to the SEO quality of the rest. What about customers who see the current videos and are waiting for a more relevant one before they convert?


“The value of any advertising, online or offline, depends on what effects it has on purchases. As Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy, and other ad execs have emphasized, “our job is to sell our clients’ merchandise, not ourselves.””

     Sure! But there are two things. 1) not all social media is advertising. It is social (connecting people), media (plural, across channels). 2) Bernbach died in 1982 and Ogilvy in 1999 (5 years after the first banner ad and 3 years after Doubleclick was formed). Neither saw social media. Neither saw streaming video the way it is today. Neither saw retargeting ads. Neither saw Time magazine’s facebook page. Time has 7.6MM fans who want to hear from them amongst the updates from their friends. Thats a huge endorsement alone. Time knows that their posts get lost in the fray so they post every few minutes. And does it decrease the fanbase? Does it make for disgruntled fans? No, the opposite. They increase fans, eyes to their stories, and therefore clicks to their website.


“Data released in 2014 by comScore indicated that more than half of online display ads appear on parts of a web page that are not viewable. In response, the Interactive Advertising Bureau noted that for various reasons 100% viewability is “not yet possible,” but the industry should aim for 70%. In other words, hope that “only” 30% of your intended ads are not seen by anyone for at least a second!”

     Correct! Ad buyers need to be smart about their ads and businesses need to know who they are working with. By the way how many eyes see an ad on the last page of the times? Did I pay less? Sure. So there you go. 


“Further, what we now know about shopping and social media activity says that online and offline behavior interact. They’re complements, not substitutes, and you ignore these interactions at your peril. The vast majority of communications on social media sites are between friends who are within 10 miles of each other. The same is true about the available data on buying behavior. “

     Yes and we can target and market to people based on their offline behavior. Any brand with an offline presence is working to connect the dots if they’ve not been in place already. Facebook knows where you are at any given moment, apps know where you are, your email knows where you login from. Location based ads have been around even before Hopstop.com If you use Waze and come to a red light you can expect a Dunkin Donuts ad (if you are nearby of course.) There are also companies like Monetate who are leveraging location data to do advanced conversion rate optimization. They customize landing pages based on the link you clicked to get there, the weather where you are, the time of day, and your geography. Our CRO team has generated 40% lifts in conversion rates just from changing the color and wording on buttons. Millions of extra dollars on the table all collected in the first month of testing. Tracking online/offline purchases is as simple as the age-old loyalty program. I have an REI credit card which gives me points. The card has my member number on it and it is also connected to my profile on the website. I also have their app. They are not a client so I can openly speculate but I assume that they know when I’m in a store, what I purchased and more importantly, they can tell what I was looking at on the website before I came in. A resourceful retailer would be able to predict that I was coming in from browsing history, know what products I was looking for and have someone ready to talk about it. Have you read about how Target predicted a woman was pregnant?


“Business success requires linking customer-acquisition efforts with a coherent strategy. You can’t do that if you are not clear about the differences between hype and reality when it comes to buying and selling. And we should care about this distinction for reasons that go far beyond making even more ads more viewable.”

     No! (thats the first no if you’re keeping score). We shouldn’t make ads more visible. We should make ads more RELEVANT. We should give customers what they want based on what we know about them. WE should use their digital trail to predict what they will want and make it easy for them to get it. I could get a bunch of people to see my ad about socks for llama but when they click to my site and see I don’t sell anything like that they will be upset.