I’m calling it, the emperor is naked, social media doesn’t work for driving online sales.

Let’s be clear what I mean. I’m talking about an ecommerce business posting on Facebook and Twitter being a very bad use of resources if driving sales is the goal. PPC advertising on social media platforms is a different story. Facebook’s paid advertising service is pretty good. But posting trite inspirational quotes and pictures of cats in the hope that it will get people to buy a new washing machine from your website is a waste of your time.

The crux of this is that traffic from social media (posting, not advertising) converts very badly compared to PPC and organic search. Can social media help with brand awareness and assist with conversions? Sure, but unless you’ve already squeezed every last drop from SEO and PPC your resources are better spent there than paying someone to post a sepia toned picture of a cup of coffee to Instagram.

Before online advertising, there was an adage in the marketing industry that half of all money spent on advertising was wasted but no one knows which half. Online advertising changed that, it became possible to tell exactly what was and wasn’t working, to the penny. Advertisers loved this and traditional advertising companies hated it. Why would you spend money on adverts in a newspaper when you could advertise on a website or search engine and know exactly what your ROI is? Prior to this, advertising companies deliberately used vague measures of success to keep advertisers paying. To give credit where it’s due, some of what they did worked brilliantly.

Social media has taken the concept of vague measures of success and dragged it into the 21st century. Inventing new metrics like engagement, pointing to shares and likes. Unfortunately shares, likes, pins, retweets etc simply do not equal sales.

Of course there are exceptions. A great product can go viral, people ask their friends for recommendations on Facebook and celebrity endorsements are powerful on any medium.

I’m not saying that social media doesn’t have it’s place, it’s just that directly driving sales isn’t it.

As a customer service channel social media can be brilliant. Integrating Facebook and Twitter into your customer service offering via tools like zendesk allows you to provide great service in a public forum. You can turn unhappy customers into promoters. As a paid advertising platform Facebook is brilliant. The level of control and targeting available means you can hone in on potential customers to a degree that’s almost scary.

Yes, I know that this flies in the face of what social media marketers have been saying for the last few years but as Upton Sinclair once quipped:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”