5 unconscious biases that impede effectiveness of social media

eNitiate | Unconscious Bias Against Social Media

In my 11 years of digital marketing practice, I have been confronted by many theories about social media. Through passage of time, the often repeated theories have become accepted as truths. What has been concerning is that a fair number of these theories are untested and some are downright misleading. 

The misleading theories result in unconscious biases that are not good for social media – the subject of this post.


Here are two stories for context. 



eNitiate receives requests for quotations for various digital marketing services frequently. And, on a number of occasions we have been told that we are expensive.
Initially this did not make sense. We diligently provide detailed costing that reflects the quality of our services, backed by many years of market experience. 

The penny dropped when a procurement official from one of the requesting companies responded with dismay to our quote by saying:

Haibo (Zulu word)! You charge so much for t-w-e-e-t-i-n-g?

The response above reflects one of the issues about social media.

We now make it our business to emphasize to prospects and clients that we do not just tweet. There is a lot of science and insight that we apply in the development and deployment of digital content, and there is a cost to it. 



Have you ever read an article and thought: ‘EXACTLY! I have been trying to say this all along’.
An article that a good friend recently sent to me on Whatsapp quotes Adidas Global Media Director, Simon Peel, saying that the sports brand over-invested in digital advertising as compared to online brand development in the past 4 years on a 7:3 ratio.

READ: Simon Peel says Adidas over-invested in digital advertising in the past 4 years

Did you know that the recommended advertising:brand development ratio is 4:6? Now you do 😎.

What do you think drove Adidas to focus on digital advertising for the past 4 years? What has now lead to the change of heart? What can other brands learn from this?


Q: What is common between the two stories above?

A: These demonstrate how unconscious biases can lead to wrong decisions about social media. 

Let me explain in the rest of this post.

But first…


What is the definition of “the unconscious bias”?


Let me quote Dr Renee Navarro, VC of Diversity and Outreach at the University of California:

Bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences.

INVITATION: Click here to participate in the Digital Marketing Skills in Africa Audit 2020

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

I stole a leaf from Dr Navarro’s definition for the purpose of this blog, it will become obvious how it applies to social media.


Here are my top 5 unconscious biases that impede the effectiveness of social media

eNitiate | unconscious bias | anybody can do this | Nov 2019
  • 1️⃣ Anybody can do this.
    Social media marketing appears to be easy to the uninitiated. The result is the under-resourcing of this channel. Let me illustrate.

    Example 1. The barriers to entry into the digital marketing industry are deemed to be low. “Everybody and their computer” can offer services from the get-go if there is access to the Internet. Instances of bloggers, vloggers, Twitterers and Instagrammers graduating to become commercial content producers are abound.
    And the result? Commoditisation of services, driving down of costs but declining quality of service. Thankfully, in the end the market sheds the unwanted weight and worthy service providers remain standing. I include eNitiate among the worthy lot 😎.

    Example 2. The practice in many companies with in-house social media marketing resources is that this channel is manned by interns and junior employees who may as yet not have the expert skills.
    While there are no stats for Africa at the moment, indications are that there is a social media skills gap at senior company levels. My hypothesis is supported by the findings of the UK’s digital marketing skills benchmark 2018 report. You can read more about it in the link above.
    With limited or no skills, company seniors will not have a handle on how social media works. This leads to their inability to provide required leadership and guidance to the junior employees and interns manning this channel.
  • 2️⃣ With social media metrics, there are many options.
    Currently, there is a plethora of social media metrics and there is no common agreement about industry standards. This challenge has thwarted attempts to establish a standard for determining economic value equivalent (EVA) for earned media. As Public Relations practitioners will tell you, this is the golden standard in their industry.

    The “anything goes” bias is exacerbated by instances where some of the social media metrics are called by the same names but use different algorithms. Take ENGAGEMENT, for example. Facebook’s formula is different to that of Twitter for this same metric 🤷🏽‍♂️. Assess this against established media such as tv and radio, where there are tried and tested metrics across the globe.

    This unconscious bias inspired eNitiate’s development of the 1+4 Metric Matrix ebook that was published in September. Click here to download it.

  • 3️⃣ Brands can achieve overnight success on social media.
    The titles Twelebs and Insta-Stars refer to social netizens who became famous first (and at times only) on social media. In some of the cases, these statuses were acquired almost instantly.

RELATED POST: “O jewa ke eng?” – The tweet that broke Twitter norms

  • Social media influencers rule the roost, and increasingly brands are prepared to pay to tap into their fame. But questions are now being raised about the effectiveness this type of marketing, or the way brands are going about it.
    The phrase “people are famous for being famous” is finding resonance on this channel.

    So, if social netizens can become overnight successes, so can brands, right? Wrong!
    The temptation to achieve overnight success with limited effort has lead many brands down the wrong path, such as buying Twitter followers that have turned out to be fake accounts. Ironically, services promising instant growth of followers are still in existence. Is this proof that there are still brands using these bogus services?

eNitiate | unconscious bias | content is still king | Nov 2019
  • 4️⃣ Social media advertising is the silver bullet.
    Social media advertising has exploded in the last 3-5 years. There are 3 interlinked reasons I would like to advance for this.

    First. Without fail, engagement continues to be directly correlated with engaging content that is published consistently. Numerous reports show that production of sticky content is one of Content Marketers’ biggest challenges, year after year. To maintain high engagement levels, advertising has become the bandaid solution.

    Second. Linked to the above, Marketers are feeling increasing pressure to show their bosses that this channel is the real deal. So, the system is “being gamed” to show the desirable short-term results. However, this tactic is not sustainable for successful social media marketing.

    Third. In the quest to make more money, the likes of Facebook are throttling organic reach, currently estimated at average 6%. The carrot to brands is that paid reach is more than triple the organic reach (estimated at average of 27%). Thus, the logical thing is to (overly) rely on advertising for the higher reach!

    Here is a sobering reality. Even this channel subscribes to “the more things change the more they stay the same” adage. Content continues to be king, and there is no getting around the challenge of producing bad content by throwing money at it.
eNitiate | unconscious bias | social media ROI means different things to different people | Nov 2019
  • 5️⃣ Social media ROI means different things to different people.
    I saved this unconscious bias for last, as it is a major talking point at the moment.
    I ask Marketers how they measure social media ROI, and I get different answers. This is unique to this channel, and it is yet another example of missing industry standards. It is not surprising then, that measurement of social media ROI ranks as the Marketers’ number one challenge!

    I cannot help but wonder whether there is confusion related to the understanding of impact versus ROI. Yes? No?

READ: Social Marketers Still Can’t Prove ROI


What can be done about the unconscious biases related to social media? 


To the digital marketing practitioners:

Like all other media channels, social media has its unique features; mainly user generated content, engagement and virality.

Also like all the other media channels, there are common features that will enhance effectiveness. These include industry standards, professional skills, performance measurements and metrics that use same or similar algorithms. Social media has come of age, 15 years since it was introduced to the world through Facebook. Thus, there is no escaping these common features anymore.

To the Digital Marketers:

Brand development principles for social media are nuanced but are not vastly different to the other media channels. One such principle is that brands have to put in the effort to grow sustainably on this channel. Stop looking for shortcuts that may have longterm negative impact on your brands.


On a closing note… 


eNitiate is in its 11th year and 7 days of digital marketing practice. To celebrate this milestone, we will be focusing a substantial part of the company’s time and resources in the contribution of knowledge and experience towards the achievement of digital marketing standards and norms, which are sorely missing at the moment.   


Are there other unconscious biases you are aware of that impede effectiveness of social media? Note them in the comment section 👇🏾👇🏾.


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