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NBC executive's statement shows big brands still don't understand social ROI

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As the debate over the hot topic, "does an accurate representation of ROI (Return On Investment) exist in social media?" continues to divide brands and social media experts alike, one NBC executive's statement on social media and television showed that many big brands are still mining the wrong data sets in their search for ROI.

According to NBC Universal's (NBCU) head of research, Alan Wurtzel, social media is not yet a "game changer" when it comes to influencing television ratings. This, after the data collected regarding social media and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics showed that only 19% of viewers commented about the Olympics on social media.

“A lot of people want to show that they are on the cutting edge. One of the things that is on the cutting edge is social media,” Wurtzel stated in an interview with the Financial Times. “Why wouldn’t I want to say to you, ‘We have a potent new way in which we can drive ratings?’”

“It just isn’t true. I am saying the emperor wears no clothes. It is what it is. These are the numbers.”

However, contrary to Wurtzel's findings, there are a number of television shows, from 'Arrested Development' to 'The Game', that can attribute their revivals from cancellation to social media, and do so with data. In fact, studies have shown that over 24% of social media users use these mediums to connect with other fans of shows they like. Over time, these pockets of fans form communities on social media, and over time, it's the collective voice of these connected communities that can have the greatest impact regarding social media and television. In the example of 'The Game', the show attributes its survival, and ultimate success, to social media.

Meaning, for 'The Game', social media was literally a "game changer" for the television show.

The fact of the matter is, though, none of these success stories deal with a sample size of data collected over just two weeks, as is the case with the Winter Olympics, because two weeks is simply not enough time for fans to connect and communities to form on social media.

In other words, the lifespan of the Olympics is not conducive to the driving force behind success in social media.

I would equate the reaction of Mr. Wurtzel to his findings to that of a "mom and pop" shop that created a Facebook page, posted sparingly over the course of a month, then deemed their time on social media a failure when nothing happened. In the case of the Winter Olympics, their "relevant lifespan" is so short that its popularity on social media is a flash in the pan. Sure, the Olympics return two years later (Summer/Winter), but with brand new characters and story lines.

To put the Olympics timeline in perspective, even the worst television shows usually last longer than two weeks. With so little time in its lifespan, the possibility for community building in this case is ultimately nil, and therefore its opportunity to build social media "buzz" is pretty much nil as well.

It's hard to fathom that an executive of Mr. Wurtzel's nature would not factor in the lifespan of the Winter Olympics before making such a bold statement, nor consider the possibility that the "failure" could somehow be attributed to their own doing (i.e. putting @sochi2014 in the bottom of the screen and foregoing any explanation of it, or providing any incentive for following them), but his statements are reflective of many big brands that claim "social media does not work".

In an astounding number of these cases, the real explanation of their social media "failure" is a result of an attitude that social media exists as a tool for instant recognition, much like a billboard on a busy highway, rather than a platform for expanding your brand through engagement, relationship building, and connections.

Further, the resounding number of brands that have found success in business via social media tends to suggest that television executives may need to look in the mirror concerning their attitudes toward social media before pointing their fingers.

I've written this before, and will continue writing it until I leave the Examiner, but if you are a social media marketer or small business owner, DON'T listen to big brands opinions on social media, and carefully scrutinize articles that cite big brand's success as examples of how your business can succeed. Success in social media is, and always will be, a result of quality and consistent effort, constant engagement, and community building. And, ultimately, that takes time.

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