Does social media sell?


I think we’re  beyond realisation that social media is great for reputation and crisis management, customer service, recruitment or mobilising communities around an honorable cause. There is a great amount of case studies to prove it.

But in these financially hazardous times it’s more important than ever for companies to see that they can actually make money on social media tactics, also in a short term perspective. I know that there are many critics who believe that the very “short term” attitude to social media is blasphemous, and reject the notion of social media campaign altogether.

However, there are some brands which succeeded in effectively using social media to improve their business of today. Southwest Airlines and InterContinental Hotels are just two brilliant examples. What is their secret key that helped them to improve their immediate sales, while there are so many others who try in vain? Is it because they were more innovative in their creative concepts, or is it because they were the first to the market to try particular tactics, like Ding-widget and viral PCR promotion?


The suspicion that social media campaigns don’t really bring in the money came to me some while ago, when I kept reading the reports of various campaigns. They notoriously referred to the amount of traffic to the websites, user generated content and blog coverage. But if any one of these companies would hit a jackpot in sales as a direct result of their involvment in social media, wouldn’t they be screaming out loud about it?

The thing is, I don’t really believe it did. The recent digital campaign by Nike+ in Norway , Men VS Women, conducted by the company I work for, clearly showed that there are no plausible correlation between the size of the online community and actual sales of the product. In fact, the team which had  fewest members (appr. 3oo) on its Facebook group, run almost twice as much kilometers (and, hence, bought more Nike+ products) than the leading group (appr. 1000). Notice: the campaign is not over yet.

So, does social media sell? Can we use it as a marketing strategy to drive short term sales? From larger business perspective, I think that unless you’re Apple, D&G or Harley Davidson – your brand name won’t sell alone. Apart from the brand loyalty, in these highly competitive times price is likely to be the most important factor for the end user. Together with another two. Context and Timing. And nothing is so JIT (just in time) as social media.


7 Responses to “Does social media sell?”

  1. 1 gstene April 27, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Interesting question. In my opinion it depends on what you mean, what is sold to whom? What is owners of social platforms business models?
    The owner of most social platforms sell their audiences, and the knowledge about them (users, e.g. you and me) to someone that need the information for their needs. And hence; Not only to place segmented ads there. There are several reasons to want to know how e.g. me as a male, in my age, act on the social platform as I do. The insight about this itself have a value for someone.
    But I understand that you didn’t ask for this answer. You want to discuss if a campaign may increase sales more directly towards consumer target groups. Your example on Nike and FB answer what you ask somewhat, but it also shows something else, in this example the social media worked best getting “hold on” a target group of enthusiasts, and most likely makes them better “ambassadors” of the brand, than the people in the large group. In this sense Social media can become an important strategic part in driving sales in other channels toward large scale sales in the next phase ?

  2. 2 Helena Makhotlova April 27, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks for the comment. I wasn’t actually referring to the network-based internet companies (such as FB) – they do indeed sell ‘traffic’to the advertisers, and get cash in return. I was rather looking at companies trying to use social media tools to increase immediate sales. Not sure Nike example proves that more targeted approach to social networking is optimal for getting brand ambassadors: members of both groups were recruited similarly. However, it can be argued that there were stronger call for action in women’s team, and that members of men’s team were merely passive followers…

    But my main point in bringing this example was questioning the‘success factors’of the social media campaign. The number of followers/traffic to the certain site isn’t necessarily a dominator for success, in fact, I think in some cases, ‘less is more’ can prove to be the best practice. I think brands should stop trying to quantify attitude change in impressions altogether – this is a dangerous road that might get them on totally wrong track, further away from the real ROI opportunities.

  3. 3 gstene April 28, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Hi again Helena , Couldn’t agree more! I’ve commented on on- going debates on “measuring everything” in our company blog : where my point is that “quantity” is maybe not the best success criteria for all and everything you want to know.

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  1. 1 Internett? Ta med målebeger! - Creunablog Trackback on April 28, 2009 at 8:34 am

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