Does everybody need a social media strategy?

As the hype of social media begins to die down and companies re-evaluate their efforts with a steely-eyed look at the cost versus benefits, I think it is time to re-visit this important question: Does every company really need a social media marketing plan?

This is a very complex question. So to help answer it, I looked at a few companies with brands that might not be natural fits for a social media presence. Adult diapers. Coal. Hazardous waste clean-up. Playing cards.

Let’s explore this important question by taking a romp through some unusual case studies that stretch the boundaries of social media marketing thinking.

Depend Adult Diapers

Do you need a social media strategy? It depends! Get it? Oh, never mind.

Depend, a Kimberly Clark brand, has no apparent social media offerings. With its typically geriatric customer base, the product website offers a fitting guide and coupons but no social media way to connect. A company not affiliated with the brand has set up a rogue Facebook site called “Depend’s adult diapers.”  So Kimberly Clark probably should protect itself by nailing down as many name alternatives as they can on the most popular social media platforms.

Should they have a social media component? It’s not a conversational brand, is it? I really don’t want to participate in any diaper polls.

However, they should consider at least a modest Facebook outpost because their future customers will certainly be there. Also, more and more people are using Facebook to search for brand information. At least one competitor, Poise, does have a Facebook page.

Should they continue to poo-poo social media?


A big argument I hear against getting involved with social media is when a company sells a commodity product. And, there is perhaps no product less differentiated than coal.  In a tough business like that, you simply try to excel where you can by managing the supply chain properly.

I know commenters might argue that there are ways to differentiate any business, but the reality is, usually a contract in this market is won or lost by cutting a few cents per ton.  That’s life in a commodity business. Why be on social media?

Peabody Energy is the largest publicly-traded coal company in the world. It has an excellent, informative website, but virtually no social presence (a token Twitter account and a weak Facebook page).

Perhaps Peabody’s strategy is to do whatever they can to avoid social media connection. Let’s face it, any company that scrapes away pristine countrysides to mine a product that is a major contributor to air and water pollution is not necessarily part of a conversation that is shareholder-friendly.  Coal is important to the world economy, but it’s a dirty, dangerous business that sparks a lot of emotion in people.  Should we support coal energy? It is an argument that will never be settled, and one they can never win. If they had a significant social media presence, the debates and hater harpoons would be endless.

Instead, Peabody can provide financial support to trade organizations like American Coalition for Clean Coal, which has a significant social media footprint — more than 1 million YouTube views, a blog, and a meaningful presence on Twitter and Facebook.

Should a company avoid the cost of social media conversation and move it to a trade association? A viable strategy?

Playing cards

bicycle playing cardsI play this little marketing mind game with myself. I pick a product and then imagine what their social media presence might be. Like playing cards. What can you really say about those for heaven’s sake? They haven’t changed for centuries.

Turns out, quite a lot.

I opened a new pack of Bicycle playing cards and was delighted to see an extra card promoting their social media properties: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.  These sites are filled with excellent content for people who love card games, card tricks, and even card-related arts and crafts. There are tons of fan conversations going on for this ancient gaming product.

Bicycle has also launched a premium content site called Club 808 that requires a paid subscription. Are there enough card fanatics out there to support something like that?  I guess they’ll find out. But it just goes to show that there are content marketing opportunities for even the most common household products.

Bicycle is not a highly conversational brand but this notably non-digital product is finding interesting ways to create new conversations, and renewed relevance, with a digital audience.

Radioactive Waste Removal

You have to love a company with a tagline of “Providing radioactive waste services since 1952.” Straight to the point. And so is US Ecology, a company specializing in one of the most demanding B2B services on earth.

The company has no social media presence with the exception of a short LinkedIn page.  Let’s think about their business model. Somebody has a radioactive mess on their hands. There is a well-known and short list of qualified and trained people to clean it up. The customer inquires to see who is available and asks them to get there fast. There probably isn’t much of a negotiation.

Or perhaps US Ecology has some long-term contracts with companies who generate radioactive waste. You probably don’t want to pinch pennies in that case, either.

If it doesn’t need Facebook to generate demand or customer connection, does US Ecology need a social media presence to attract and retain employees? Apparently not.  I actually met some of their workers a few months ago and they were happy to have the job. They are paid well and the hours are good. There is little employee turnover in their area of expertise.

If you were the marketing director for US Ecology would you spend money on a social media marketing program?

The world’s oldest company

Fonderia Pontificia MarinelliFonderia Pontificia Marinelli has been casting beautiful bronze bells continuously in the quiet Apennine Hills of Italy since the year 1000. It is one of the five oldest companies in the world and, in fact, they have been making their bells the same way throughout the centuries.

The bells of Fonderia Pontificia Marinelli toll in the important buildings of New York, Beijing, Jerusalem, South America and Korea. The family business currently employs 20 people, five of them named Marinelli. The company also has a small museum and hosts special events.

They have a basic website circa 2000 and no social media presence. That doesn’t mean that their content is not being shared by social media savvy visitors from throughout the world, but the old ways seem to suit this family business best.

Fonderia Pontificia Marinelli has made it through wars, natural disasters, and economic calamities without fail. Can it keep going without a social media strategy?  If you are looking for an epic bronze bell, would you buy from this company, even if they didn’t have a Facebook page?

Somehow, I think they will outlast us all.

So what do you think?  Does every company need a social media strategy? Any of these case studies ring your bell?

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  • tianakai

    Very cool that Bicycle cards is a part of mainstream. Coincidentally, we were playing gin rummy last night (after 10yrs of not) and didn’t think to check their pages out on rules and other games. I’m happy to hear they’re on top of it. And, no, I can’t see non-anon conversation relating to Depends on Facebook, but hey, you never know… we are becoming a TMI society. 🙂

  • I loved the Bicycle cards too. And I think Depends could work. Think about drugs like Viagra. No one used to even think about talking about it.

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  • I think there are plenty of times where social media doesn’t make sense. Not only for industries or businesses like you mentioned above, but also for companies where other marketing channels are going to be more effective. Another reason for companies NOT to be on social media is the lack of resources and culture to support it. Even though social media could be a worthy endeavor for some companies, without the necessary resources or support within the company, it’s going to be a bust.

    As for the ones you listed, I could see where Depends could really do some interesting things. And maybe not necessarily on a social network, but perhaps by building their own community or forum. For instance, I could see them offering a safe and anonymous place for people to ask questions about health issues that relate to their product. Maybe they could even have a doctor answer them. There are a lot of possibilities there, but I can definitely see what social isn’t their first priority.

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  • Depends. Viagra. Interesting connection. : )

  • They are doing a great job. Interesting take on social!

  • You had me until the doctor part. I can’t imagine a doctor dispensing advice for a brand on a public platform like that. I think there would be too many opportunities for a lawsuit. Your idea is sound but I think that would be a big hurdle. Thanks Laura!

  • I have to agree that not all companies “need” a social presence, however as you point out, that is where the next generation is going to be doing “the shopping” so it probably wouldn’t hurt to have some sort of presence.
    What thought first popped (not pooped thank you) into my head was that products like bio waste clean up and adult diapers are products that when you need them they are a necessity, rather then a luxury item. When you requir either of those products, you need them period and you probably don’t give a poop about their social media presence. Just my humble opinion.

  • Mark, thanks for this. I think we’ll see more and more debate about the universality of social media this coming year. The zealots preaching one-size-fits-all are in for a challenge.

  • Cari

    If someone is talking about your company online (as you mention is the case with Depends), you have to take a serious look at joining that conversation. Also, I would imagine that the DM on which brand on adult diapers to buy isn’t the one actually using them, but their caretaker. That may make an argument for some social media exposure since 50-60 year olds who are taking care of their elderly parents are definitely on the site. Even if they use it as a platform for couponing and relevant information I think they should be considering a move. However, I’m not sure how many in the age group would be comfortable with their friends to see they “like” Depends.

  • RogierNoort

    No, not every company needs one.., until one of their competitors decides they do need one… I could get difficult then.
    But, take radioactive waste disposal.., I think there is nothing inherently wrong with a company like, especially if they handle everything in a (very) responsible manner. Mind you, a lot, if not all hospitals create radioactive waste.
    My point is that, indeed, it’s not always the product (or company) that is social media shy, it’s the target audience… be that heavy coal users or Depend users (old or young).
    But, to finish it off, I do believe that if you look hard enough and work on it.., every business can have a presence, however modest.

    Nice post! Loved reading it…

  • tianakai

    Yes, and their app looks pretty cool too.

  • Thanks for yet another fun and insightful post, Mark! One of my MBA students last semester is a manager at US Playing Card, so I’ve shared your post with him; I agree that they’re doing some smart stuff to engage their audience. Working now in the b2b realm after a long stint in CPG, I’m fascinated to see the impressive socmed efforts by companies such as Scotsman (“Luv the Nug” for their ice machines) and SAP. It’s a reminder that anywhere a community can form around common interests or concerns, there’s potential for social media, no matter how mundane those interests may seem to the rest of us.

  • Great post, Mark. Love the way you presented the case studies for us to consider. Doest every brand need a social media engagement strategy? No. Should every company at least consider how or in what ways their target audience and positive/negative influencers could be using social? Yeah, I think so. I know it’s almost cliche, but I’ll say it anyway – what if companies ignored telephones, television, or print? Strategy or not, social media as a communications channel is likely to stick around for a while.

  • Agree Rick. It drives me crazy when people whitewash the world with social media. Shows a lack or real-world experience and empathy.

  • The nuance that I did not cover in this post, intentionally due to length, is that there are other reasons to use social other than pure sales. For example, could the waste company effectively use social media to connect with community leaders? Regulators? Everything has to start with strategy. Thanks for the comment Gerry!

  • I agree with you, but it is a matter of degree. I hate wasting money and I see a lot being wasted on social. I have to look at everything through the lens of, is this selling more widgets? Is this creating stakeholder value? Is this competitive advantage? Thanks for sharing your wisdom on this topic Rogier!

  • Yes, and I am constantly amazed at the propensity for people to join communities. I am working with one customer who is literally getting hundreds of comments on FB posts that are little more than pretty pictures. I’m thinking: “Who are these people and why do they have so much time to write these comments?” But they do, thank goodness. Never underestimate the power of community! Always an honor to hear from you Pete! Hope you’ll make it to Social Slam!

  • This is a very wise perspective Kary. I always emphasize in my classes that executives need to know enough about these technologies to make a smart decision for their business. Ignoring it not an option!

  • Big opportunity for apps I think, especially if it can help you win! : )

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  • Totally agree, ignoring is ignorant. But one ought to be able to dismiss something, in full or in part, with full confidence in their considered decision.

  • Yes, a totally legitimate response.

  • Pauline Baird Jones

    I also enjoyed the blog post. It is true, there are companies that I would not want to “like” or see on social media. LOL! I do think it is, IMHO, worse to manage social media presence badly, than to not be on there. More and more, it seems like people use social media to contact companies with problems. I know someone who had a nightmare experience with UPS at Christmas. Totally bad local, customer service. She used Twitter to shame the national company into helping her. In contrast, I had an issue with BooksaMillion. Got no where on social media. One sensed there was no one home. Was forced to use a phone (after trying email). If a company is going to set it up, then go AWOL, yeah…

  • I’d argue that everyone needs a social media strategy, but one of the strategies they consider should be ‘no strategy’. Even products that might not have an immediately recognizable social relevance, like Bicycle playing cards, could have an angle that works pretty well in the social sphere; discounting social media simply because you have a common (or awkward, or boring) product could mean missing out on some very powerful marketing opportunities.

    I’d argue that blindly discounting social media, for any superficial reason, can be as bad an idea as blindly subscribing to it.

  • Great post Mark. Yes they should because social media isn’t a fad. Social media and social networks are both a mirror of our contemporary society and at the same time expression of our needs.In history technological inventions has almostalways been expression of a necessity, of a social changement and at the same time a catalyst.Internet accelerated a process that has been under way for many years (the diffusion of networked individualism as the dominant form of sociability)and social media made it become irreversible.

  • Great post Mark. Too often, the decision about proper use of social is driven around customers and questions of “can we make money from this?”. Marketers forget they have multiple audiences to reach: Customers (existing and potential), Employees (existing and potential), Investors (existing and potential), and Influencers (bloggers, analysts, journalists, social users that move markets, etc). Evaluating social should consider all of these audiences, and how social can communicate directly or indirectly with some (and sometimes all) of them to educate or reinforce messages. When examined in this way, perhaps social could have a fit in all the companies you mention above by talking to one or more of their audiences….just not in a way that allows us to always directly measure ROI via revenue.

  • Very good point. You can really damage your image! Thanks for making this excellent observation Pauline.

  • Very well said. Superb comment and I thank you!

  • A legitimate view. Thanks for the dissenting perspective Alessandro! Really enjoyed this comment.

  • I’m so glad you brought this up Gary. I did not have the space to really explore that in the blog post so I’m glad it came up in the comments. That’s what i was hoping for! : )

  • Any company that does not have an online presence including across at
    least the top social networks leaves themselves open to having negative
    publicity dominate searches for keywords related to their brand. That is
    unwise at best. Even companies that do not choose to be active in
    social media should secure their brand by using UBL and Knowem to create
    a significant presence online. They can simply put in their bios and
    listings how they can best be reached and let the platforms funnel
    interested parties their way.

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  • Great points Gail. Thanks for taking the time to contribute today.

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  • I love the way you brought in real examples and used
    them to inspire thought. I just brought up the same point (in a hangout video)
    you had about KC’s Depend FB page, or the lack there of, and I was in the
    minority. [beaten up lol]

    I would think a radioactive waste removal service could find some benefit in social media for public relations, if nothing else. I know they’re providing an important service but those hazardous signs everywhere have to make the public a little nervous. We have annual drop event here locally where residents can take hazardous household items for free and I seem to miss the announcement very often. I would be nice to see that kind information being provided by a Facebook page we could subscribe to.

    Fonderia Pontificia Marinelli is a great story and, you’re right to point out,
    just because a company doesn’t have a social media presence doesn’t mean others aren’t sharing the links on those networks. I do have to wonder if they stay
    that small by choice though. It has to be daunting for a thousand year old
    company to keep up with every trend and continue to grow. Then again, they may
    be sitting exactly where they want right now. I’d love to visit them one day.

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  • My experiment with the Socratic method : )

    All valid points Brian. This would be a great post to discuss around a table and spin out the possibilities as you have started to do here! Thanks for joining in!

  • Ah-ha! Simply brilliant perspective. The inside story on diapers. I love it and very true. A matter of balance, though isn’t it? A point I was trying to make with this article is that every company doesn’t need to cover the world with Facebook content and tweets. You have to start with a strategy and tie your efforts to goals. Well done!

  • Your article is interesting. But surely the point is that social media is not about me.. me.. me… its about your audience, your clients, your customers.. What do they want? What are there issues, how can you best serve them… You have b2b, b2c, social media and twitter inparticular is about p2p… person to person.. It allows businesses to humanise their brands.. So I think it is suitable for all businesses, as all businesses eventually boil down to people…Mark

  • Fonderia Pontificia Marinelli can avoid to have a social media strategy because it’s an exception.It is not only a bell foundry but also an artisan foundry that produces bronze portals, bas-reliefs, church artifacts.Besides its history is the best certification of their high quality standard. It means it’s a niche market and the start up costs for other companies who wish to start this business are too high.Is for this reason that you chose Fonderia Marinelli ?

  • All businesses boil down to money, at least every business I’ve ever worked with : ) Eventually everything is an economic decision, and it should be. Sorry to go Milton Friedman on you but I really believe that is the way world works.

  • I chose this business simply because I was seeking extreme, non-traditional examples to stretch the way people think about social media strategy. I hope it worked! Thanks Alessandro!

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  • I did not believe so until December of 2012. Nothing of note that month except I realized the value of having an online presence that is worked, maintained and enhanced over time.
    Terms like every are a trap but most is a better word. So most companies would benefit by having a cohesive social media strategy.
    As always a thought provoking post – thanks Mark!

  • Great point. US Ecology could become a global leader in advocating and teaching communities abut toxic clean up. Global reputation allows them to pick up a global client. Or maybe through their reputation, their CEO meets some people who are working to innovate nuclear removal and decide to work with US Ecology to introduce their new methods. Just like networking for people, a brand that put its name out there positively will find new opportunities for themselves.

    Also, a social media presence can have internal benefits. If management becomes more transparent with their employees, maybe their employees will feel safer and more inclined about communication within departments. This added internal communication allows the company to identify internal opportunities, inefficiencies, and problems. Employees communicate more with their leaders and morale increases.

    You really never know what the rewards may be. It just has to make sense on some level, and not because they heard that’s the newest thing.

  • I like your comment Tom. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  • tianakai

    Mark, I just felt like I had to tell you… I love reading your blog for two main reasons 1. interesting/insightful posts 2. comments. Lately, I have noticed more and more blogs, even great ones, have poor, lazy comments and it is such a shame. Most comments sound more spammy like ‘Great post, I hope to implement each one of these.’ I don’t want to vent on your blog, but I wanted to pay you and your blog a compliment on how you and your readers comment. I find it rewarding and more interesting to interact with, making this whole blog world more community based and thought provoking. Have a great weekend!

  • An excellent, nuanced point Pavel. Very insightful … and true!

  • First, thank you for those very kind sentiments. You’ve made my day!

    I have also noticed the spam comment thing. I don;t quite get it. I saw a blog post yesterday — 326 comments! No engagement from the author. Not a controversial topic at all. 75% of the comments were like you say: “Great post. I shall share” or something like that. They must be spam. I don’t totally get it. Could bloggers be buying comments for social proof? It could be possible.

    Any way, I am so grateful you choose to spend your time with this community. I appreciate you!

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  • tianakai

    Thank you for the kind response! I look forward to reading and commenting more. 🙂

  • I have to echo what tianakai said about the comments; I’ve been poking through a few of your blogs today, Mark, and was just noticing that I spend as much time reading the comments as I do the original post, because of all the extra information gleaned within the back and forth discussions. While at first it felt like I was eavesdropping on several conversations, I quickly realized it is more like being part of an ongoing classroom dialogue on social media. Thank you for the great and informative content. And the interaction: highly appreciated bonus material!

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  • Adam Brown

    Interesting idea about the waste removal company Brian. I like the idea about having free annual drops for hazmat items for communities. I think they could use this to their advantage to bring brand awareness to the consumer and goodwill to the company. the consumer, may in turn choose that hazmat company for its services at its place of business.

  • Paula Marie Burke

    I am currently pursuing my MBA in Marketing as I manage a small private foundation I felt a need to get educated on the dynamics of social media and a nonprofit entity. I decided to take a course is Social Media and your book the Tao of Twitter is one of the selected reading. It was very enlightening suggesting to me that social media plays a vibrant role is business as well as in personal experiences. My research is indicating that social media will continue to trend well in 2014 and assert to add value proposition to human resource management as a resume will no longer be just a one dimensional rich text format sent. Candidates need to show organizations how they apply the social media tools.

  • Thanks for commenting Paula. And I’m glad you enjoyed my book!

  • Perhaps it will be controversial but I don’t think any company needs a social media strategy. Instead, they should determine for each element in their business strategy whether social helps them accomplish their objectives more quickly or more efficiently.
    I don’t mean this as a semantic argument but rather something practical. If you need to lower your cost of supporting your customers without jeopardizing the quality, social can help but you are likely to choose self-hosted community options rather than more livestream platforms like Twitter or Facebook. I suggest other options here:

  • I’m noticing a trend as of late, Mark, where more and more small biz bloggers are announcing “Comments Closed” on their blogs.

    Call me a fool but isn’t blogging all about engaging your readers and encouraging conversation? It makes me wonder why in blue blazes these folks are blogging when, in fact, what they REALLY WANT is for people to join their Facebook groups.

    Maybe I missed the memo — “Don’t carry on a discussion with your blog readers on your blog. No, no! Don’t do that. Direct them over to FB, instead, as fast as you can.”

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