"Statistics can be made to prove anything. Even the truth."

Has anyone ever told you about their social media bringing in 23,286 monthly impressions or 2,391 followers? Or maybe the 3.2% engagement rate from last week?

Well, it’s all probably true.

Actually, sometimes after I run my monthly reports I sit in satisfaction from all the amazing things I’ve accomplished. Then after about 5 minutes, while trying to balance my big head, I get off my unicorn and get back to work.

First, let me rewind a couple weeks and tell you about some Facebook ads I set up to promote a local fundraising event. In addition to Facebook, our volunteer committee had posters scattered around the community, air-time on the radio, and a spot on the local digital reader board on the main street of a town of roughly 5000 people. Here were the results from the online ads:

By all measures, the ads were performing well. Sentiment was positive and supportive towards our good cause. People weren’t only seeing the ads - they were engaging with them as well.

But three days before the event, we had only sold 10 tickets...and we wanted to sell over 200.

So, there we sat at the eleventh hour wondering if we should cut our losses and cancel the event. We didn’t. Instead, we changed our objective. This was no longer a fundraising event, this was a “get people through the door” event. I stopped the online ads and we all got on our phones to text our friends and family. In the end, we had about 70 guests and still managed to make some money. Not an epic fail. Whew.

But what went wrong with the ads? The quantitative and qualitative data pointed to nothing but success. Although numbers don’t lie, they can certainly dilute the picture. Or worse, they can point you in the wrong direction. A couple volunteers mentioned to me that, as they were talking to their friends, they realized people didn’t know our committee even existed in the community. That explained the link clicks and engagement rates.

People weren’t engaging because they were interested in the event. They were interested in the program. The conversion for this audience set was still a ways away from action. They were just getting to know who we were. While this was a great sentiment, it didn’t contribute much to the bottom line (although the goodwill generated from this awareness resulted in some donations after the event).

In my excitement of having an awesome (and most definitely groovy) event, I paired the wrong social media tactics with the fundraising objectives. And if the tactics don’t complement the goals, then the data won’t tell you what you need to know.

Being dazzled and encouraged by an abundance of positive metrics, I thought we were on a solid road to a successful fundraiser.

Unfortunately, advertising was only the first step in selling tickets. We forgot to focus on the most important step. We forgot about the real human connection. And it wasn’t until we took that warm, positive sentiment offline that we got some sales.

Social media is a tool to help create, maintain, and nourish relationships. As excited as I am about the emerging digital trends in marketing and the many benefits social media brings to the global community, the offline connection is ultimately the strongest. So the lesson here is: remember to always keep your customer in mind and use the tools you have as a support, not a replacement, for your overall business objectives.

Published: December 2016
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