Social Media Alone Won't Change a Consumer's Mind

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

If marketers need a concrete example that social media can't cure their ills, look no further than college football's Bowl Championship Series. Two weeks ago, the BCS took to Facebook and Twitter and was immediately pummeled by thousands of angry college-football fans. The BCS learned quickly that if your product is hated, social media might not be the place for you.

We give the BCS a couple of points for trying even though execs must have known the reaction the move would be faced with. And perhaps it deserves a couple more points for saying the right things some of the time. BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said the series wants a "two-way conversation. ... That's the great thing about social media: It gives everybody a chance to weigh in."

Of course, that sentiment was undercut by other statements, including the claim that the BCS is encouraging active debate on its Facebook page (where it seemed the only comments on its wall were from inside the BCS), and Hancock dragging out the standard statement the BCS has been issuing for years: "We think a lot of the feelings out there are because people just don't understand it."

That's right. The problem isn't the product, it's the consumers. The truth is that other than the executives of the BCS, the sponsors who have money tied into the current bowl system and the coaches who are at the top of the BCS standings when interviewed, it's hard to find any actual fans who support the system as it now stands.

One of the overriding themes of the last decade has been consumer control. That's led some major marketers to recently seek more input from consumers, some even going so far as to crowdsource everything from ads to design. The results have been mixed. And the BCS could have a point in saying a playoff system may be controversial. But the fact of the matter is, real fans of college football want change, and the powers that be have never provided a believable rationale for why it can't be done -- especially considering every other major NCAA sporting league has a playoff system.

Yes, the BCS has turned to social media to get its message out, but it seems to have closed its eyes and jammed its fingers in its ears even as it goes on saying the same thing it's always said. If doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is the definition of insanity, saying the same thing over and over again expecting people to start believing isn't much better.

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