You can read the report here: but that's not exactly what I want to talk about. What made me think is the slightly misleading understanding of what actually is effective about "social media" that often guides our thinking. So read my thoughts beneath the report if you like.
Ogilvy ChatThreads Social Media Sales Impact Study 2011
I do believe in what the study tells us because a) it appears quite smart & trustworthy, b) I myself have been strongly influenced by what happens around me on facebook and even more so on twitter.
But frankly, I do not believe that what we usually discuss as a companies social media "presence"/"engagement" produces these marketing effects. The reverese arguments apply: a) most of the social campaigns from companies are stupid & not trustworthy, b) I myself never participate in commercial attempts to "engage me with their brand" - I also don't know anyone who frequently and actively participates in such campaigns.
How can that be?
What is corrupt about the common concept of "doing social media" is the notion of people wanting to have conversations with a brand and being involved. To be precise - even if this was the case - the result would not be "social". This still would be something like an in-bound and out-bound call-center. Social is when people talk among themselves. And that's a major difference.
When we read a study like the one above and have an understanding of "social media" as the "owned media" & "stuff" a company has implemented we are probably mislead about what is at work here. My guess is - it's the social influence from people to people that works for brands & products - it's not so much the "social media stuff" a company produces. They might have to produce something from time to time to legitimate their presence in the social spaces - but very often they even don't have to. It is even possible to "do social media" without having any owned media or even content in place - if you have to say something of real substance for example. But then they wouldn't win any awards and couldn't have fun screenshots of their "cool stuff" that "engaged the target group".
I believe the effects occur not so much between a brand's content and its so called "fans" (are you a real fan of any single brand?) but between them and other people plus (!!!) between people the brand never reached with its "social media activity" and other people it never reached. So "Social Influence" is actually when the "Socium" influences. The huge effects of "social media" must come from social influence between people. That's at least what seems plausible to me. In so far the title of the report is a bit misleading because it tries to link a firms investments in "social media" to marketing effects which gently implies that it's the stuff the firm does that has impact. - The more WE do the more effective IT is. - But it should rather be: - The more people out there do for us the more positive effects we will have from their connectedness -.
It is helpful for me to see it this way:
If we can get people to expose & mention our offerings to other people in a positive way more often this will sell more of those offerings. If we can prevent them from doing so in a negative way we will at least hedge your brand and sales (see Taco Bell example in the report above). That's it.
But we should let go of the whole ideology of "engagement", "whole new understanding of what a brand is", "storytelling", "participation", "new marketing age" (it's rather "New Age Marketing", actually) etc. It makes everybody feel dizzy and sweat a lot.