Coke’s Social Media Admission: What Associations Can Learn

Even if social media isn't selling the soda, social remains relevant as part of an integrated media strategy, the company says. That's why you should take notice.

What happens when a major U.S. company with 61.5 million Facebook fans comes out and says social media buzz has no quantifiable effect on its sales?

That’s what organizations and online marketers were asking themselves last week after one of Coca-Cola’s executives did just that at the Advertising Research Foundation’s Re:think 2013 conference in New York City.

Eric Schmidt, the company’s senior manager, marketing strategy and insights, was quick to point out that online display ads work as well as TV ads for Coca-Cola, and that the company was recalibrating its research to better gauge how social media comments and replies do affect sales positively or negatively.

No single medium is as strong as the combination of media. We see this firsthand in our campaigns that integrate TV and social.

Later in the week, the soft drink titan’s senior vice president for integrated marketing communications and capabilities, Wendy Clark, stood by the company’s report, but in an op-ed piece for AdAge made sure the business world knew that the company regards social media marketing as “crucial” and that “reach, engagement, love, and value” are factors in a successful marketing campaign.

Coca-Cola isn’t alone in its findings. A recent report by Forrester shows that only 15 percent of U.S. consumers trust sponsored posts on social media networks. A recent Gartner survey also found that corporate websites beat out social networks as a more successful digital method.

But all this doesn’t mean associations should stop devoting resources to social media marketing.

Mixing the Fizz

Big companies like Coca-Cola aren’t going to de-fund their social initiatives anytime soon because there is still an untapped reservoir of potential profits out there that social can  rake in.

A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute claims that companies using social media networks can unlock $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value. The study also shows that it took Facebook and Twitter a year or less to collect 50 million users, compared to 38 years for the radio.

Clark also noted that buzz and engagement have to be part of a fully integrated marketing approach. The number of users on social media will continue to grow, so ignoring a growing proportion of consumers will prove to be short-sighted and hurt short-term and long-term growth. And by mixing multiple styles, marketers can expand reach, as well.

“No single medium is as strong as the combination of media. We see this firsthand in our campaigns that integrate TV and social,” she wrote in AdAge.

Social media is still relatively young, so it’s no surprise that early studies are having trouble finding correlations between commenting and buying. Social marketing innovations are changing the rules on the a daily basis, so you may not be able to tell just yet how much money is being created from Facebook and Twitter conversations.

Most marketing professionals will tell you the absence of buzz is far worse than buzz that doesn’t add to your bottom line right now. How are you integrating social media conversations into your larger media and marketing strategy?


Daniel Ford

By Daniel Ford

Daniel Ford is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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