In mid March, Coca-Cola reported a statistic that took the social media world by storm. An executive revealed a study at the Advertising Research Foundation’s Re:think 2013 conference showing social media “buzz” had no impact on short-term sales for the company.
Calculating social media chatter has proven to be difficult even for this major brand, which has the most Facebook fans (61 million), according to Adage. Eric Schmidt, the executive who gave this presentation, suggested “buzz” didn’t measure the impact of social media on sales accurately. For one, it is difficult to differentiate between positive and negative sentiments. Also, TV ads and digital ads still prove the most impact on sales, but it is challenging to see results from just one channel.
Wendy Clark, senior vice president of Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities, notes that it is necessary to use multiple channels to have an impact on the teen to young adult audience Coca-Coal targets. This demographic is more likely to have a TV, a computer and a mobile phone on at the same time. Clark’s comments after the presentation suggest that no one at Coca-Cola thinks of social media as a sales channel, but rather promote multiple channels across screens to contribute to sales.
Realistically, social media is a fairly new field among marketers and public relations professionals and the conversations aren’t necessarily welcomed as a method to sell. Social media is preferably a way to engage with an audience. Joe McKendrick says, “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.”
While some people might see Clark’s comments as a way to save Coca-Cola’s social presence or to justify spending money on social media, the results are simply honest. Social media has never been a business strategy to increase sales, rather a way to speak with an audience.
Any company hoping to boost sales and measure it from a social media strategy will be highly disappointed. This is why the Coca-Cola presentation made a splash in the PR and marketing world that one could only hope will demonstrate the true utility of a social presence — to build relationships and boost engagement.