Why traditional advertising fails on social media

The progressive growth of social networks and the continuing advance of social media continues to have a significant impact on the marketing landscape. Those marketers who don’t recognize this are being left behind. Just as, during the industrial revolution, people were drawn away from an agricultural way of life to the cities and factories; today social media has changed the way people discover, research and evaluate products and services. And yet many marketers still use social media as if it were simply another traditional advertising channel. By doing so they miss out on one of the greatest resources at their fingertips.

So what are some of the differences between traditional advertising and using social media?

  Traditional advertising Social media
1 One-way conversation Two-way conversation/listening
2 About me/my brand About the consumer
3 Mass marketing One-to-one marketing
4 Money People
5 Metric; reach/frequency/impact Metric; engagement


1 Traditional advertising is focused on telling. It’s a one-way conversation that sees social media as simply another advertising platform like TV, print, radio, leaflets etc. and many marketers still make the mistake of using it in the same way to broadcast their message. But if you’re talking you’re not listening. Social media is the place where people go to talk, discuss their experiences, problems, wants and needs. So Instead of promoting and advertising you should be listening and learning. If you want to be seen and heard above the crowd you need to understand their problems and needs and expectations. Ask questions so you can better understand your consumers and then when you talk use the opportunity to contribute from an informed position.

2  Are you product/service/brand focused? Is your starting point the brand? It should be your customer. Instead of pushing the benefits of you product/service find out what matters to your customer because that’s what should matter to you the most.

3  Mass marketing aims to gain the attention of as large a group as possible. Instead treat consumers as individuals with different needs, wants and expectations. You’ll be rewarded with genuine feedback.

4 If your first priority is money then your advertising will suggest ‘What can I get from you?’  Instead think ‘What can I do for you?’ Many of the biggest businesses in the world, with valuations in the billions, still don’t make a profit (Twitter, Snapchat, Uber, Shazam), but no one would ever suggest they should quit. Because they are built on the needs of their users. When did you last see an ad for Shazam or Twitter? These businesses are so focused on meeting the needs of their users that they don’t need to advertise. They are in constant dialogue with them and their users have spread the message via social media.

5  How do you measure success? By reach? By Impact? This is the short-term aim of traditional advertising. Building long term customer relationships is the way to gain customers who will keep coming back and spread your message for you. When you gain a customer, work at holding on to them.

Build relationships; listen, maintain contact, learn from your customers.