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What is the Forrester Report and why is it wrong?

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Have you read the Forrester report? If not, do you know what the Forrester report is? Don't worry, neither did I until someone asked me what I made of it, prompting me to run away and look it up.

In some quarters, however, this report is hot stuff. In fact, it's regarded as the little boy, pointing at the emperor and suggesting he may be naked. Because this is a piece of research which asserts: "...it's clear that Facebook and Twitter don't offer the relationships that marketing leaders crave. (And they are) wasting significant financial, technological and human resources on social networks that don't deliver value."

"What appears to be a cataclysmic revelation, is a bit too broad and glib."

Shocking, right? This fresh universe of novel communication, user-generated content, 'likes' and re-tweets is, it transpires, bunkum. What's more, it's fooling every advertiser and costs a small fortune. That's it then, the game's up.

But hang on. Shouldn't we put some sort of framework around these conclusions. Because, what, on first inspection appears to be a cataclysmic revelation, may just be a bit too broad and glib.

Firstly, before we can agree that social media is failing to satisfy the cravings of marketeers, we must establish exactly what it is they are craving. And that is far from obvious. Every brand and every advertiser is seeking something different; that may be sales, or engagement, or publicity, or brand awareness, or market research, or many other things. The report calls these 'relationships', but that is a generic term, covering a multitude of aspirations. Immediately I can think of a swathe of businesses finding a real advantage from their use of social networks. Are they really not being offered the connections they crave?

Then there's the notion that gormless advertisers have spent the best part of a decade pouring money into communication platforms which bring few or no returns. This is a nonsense. In a very depressed economic situation, clients have been guarding their shrinking budgets very jealously - seeking greater value from their spend and channelling sparse resources only into campaigns which make a difference. There is no conceivable way that paid-for social activity would have been tolerated for so long, if it was utterly hopeless.

Besides, social media does work. I know this because I have deployed it successfully, on behalf of clients and to promote projects of my own. Perhaps I am unique in this, but I doubt it. As with any platform, social media only fails when it isn't used appropriately. Send a tweet that invites users to buy a pizza for £6.99, and the expected uptake will be very modest. But use Twitter to drive traffic to a 'build-your-own-pizza' tool, and you'd probably be onto something. Social networks aren't direct sales channels, but they are incredibly useful for pushing an audience in a particular direction.

Let's just say the Forrester report is correct, and these systems are a waste of time and money. Then what? Are we to abandon some of the most popular sources of attention and information in the world, in favour of age-old posters, press ads and telly spots? Would that demonstrate a smart understanding of customer behaviour and media use? Of course it wouldn't.

There is an onus on the advertising and marketing industries to spend their clients' money wisely, and produce solutions that meet their expectations - but the idea that Facebook and Twitter have no role to play in that process is frankly ridiculous; whatever the Forrester report might say.    

Magnus Shaw is a blogger, copywriter and consultant   

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