12 December 2022

Viral is vanity: The biggest pitfalls damaging your social media ROI

This year has seen some wonderful viral moments for brands. In September 2022, Amtrak tweeted ‘Trains’ and sparked a trend copied by countless others from Starbucks to Star Wars. One of the best is the low-cost airline Ryanair, whose sarcastic style sees it consistently score vast amounts of organic engagement. On the surface, this seems like a dream come true for social media ROI.

But here is an uncomfortable truth for most brands: By focusing and relying on organic social media, you may be wasting time, talent, and resources.


Ryanair’s Head of Social Media, Michael Corcoran, is proud of Ryanair’s depreciating demeanor on social media, and even more so its impact on lower-engaged users. However, he recognizes that what works for the airline is unique. If it were not, Ryanair would have to find a new way to differentiate.


Corcoran discusses the five pitfalls that see marketing budgets thrown away into a social media black hole.

Five pitfalls hurting your social media ROI

1) Believing viral organic impressions are the holy grail

How do you allocate resources between paid and organic? A series of viral posts that organically boost impressions, drive traffic, and influence low-engaged users seem like a dream come true. Unfortunately, that is all it is. Reality is quite different.


“The biggest pitfall is thinking organic social will boost your brand. It won’t work for 99% of people. Ryanair is the exception, not the norm. Taking a paid-first approach is the right way for most people to build their brand.”

2) Creating an unbalanced social media team

This misconception around paid versus organic results in misshapen team structures. Moreover, as social media platforms offer so much more than lead generation, they become difficult to manage.


“Investment in people and time (for organic) is a huge cost to the business. If you used paid as an effective model, you would invest more here. You would reach far more people with clever creative and impact awareness, consideration, or conversion.”


It may be far more effective to reallocate resources away from a team focused on organic to spending on paid media campaigns.

3) Ignoring the context of your wider communications plan

Your social media strategy should be informed by how your media is working elsewhere. If you are invested heavily in other marketing communication, granted you might not need to use brand-building paid social media campaigns. Social media marketing leaders should develop their understanding of traditional marketing practices.


“Learn the fundamentals of what marketing is and how to deliver communications. Find ways to deliver on the timeless traditional truths of marketing through social media.”

4) Over-targeting high-engaged users

The temptation for social media marketers can be to target an extremely specific segment of users. This can be your friend or foe.

“If someone is already highly engaged and will likely see a message, these aren’t the people you’re looking to contact quite as much. Don’t miss out on low-engaged users looking to purchase your offering because you over-targeted.”

5) Choosing vanity over sanity for social media KPIs

Reach and impressions are attractive. But they can only get you so far. Marketers should work to build a greater understanding of their campaign performance. Beyond the KPIs associated with the traditional marketing funnel, consider:


“Look at brand surveys, focus groups, and other methods to understand how social media is changing the mindset or perception amongst your customers, and if it is a channel where people are seeing the message and acting on it to purchase.”


Going viral has been an undeniable success for Ryanair. This does not mean it is right for every single brand.