“Social media is great for marketing!” “Social media is a powerful tool for deepening relationships with customers.” “Social media … blah blah blah.”
By now, you've heard—probably dozens of times—just how important social media is for small businesses. Yet why do some small-business owners find themselves disappointed with social media? Or find themselves spending money, yet not seeing the results they expected? Or worse, find themselves in a social media nightmare of their own creation?
Social Media Missteps
Not long ago, I happened upon a forum discussion with a business owner who was bemoaning what a waste of time Twitter was, in his opinion. He said he'd spent a lot of time and effort setting up an automated system to tweet about his products and offers—50 times a day! Months later, he'd seen no increase in sales.
Other entrepreneurs on the forum gently—or sometimes not so gently—pointed out that tweeting dozens of times per day was part of the problem. Another obvious part of the problem was what he was tweeting: Every tweet was a sales message to buy the goods his business sold. He made no effort to connect with his Twitter followers, or provide useful information, or engage in two-way discussions with them.
He was genuinely puzzled by his lack of results. He’d bought a tool that promised all kinds of wonderful things by automating his tweets. He’d read somewhere that social media followers like to follow businesses because of their ability to get special discounts and learn about new products. He felt he was being businesslike and efficient—he was giving followers what they wanted (or so he thought). So why wasn’t it working?
Another business owner recently confided how she'd lost one of her best clients because of Facebook. She loved taking pictures, and one day, she took pictures of herself at a protest march. Now, it’s certainly her right to engage in a protest march. When she shared the images on her business Facebook page, however, one of her clients took offense because of the nature of the protest.
The business owner felt the client was being unfair in censuring her for her societal beliefs and lifestyle. After all, she'd always done a great job and gotten great results from her work for the client. But fair or unfair, it was the client’s decision to make, and the decision was final—the client took their account elsewhere. Had the business owner not put her beliefs front and center by interjecting them visibly onto her business’s social media page, the client may never even have been aware of her position.
Both of these examples are vastly different—some would say at opposite extremes. In one case, we have someone who was hyper-focused on using social media for a business purpose and executing it with the utmost efficiency. In the other case, a business owner blurred the line too much between business and personal, and ended up paying the consequences.
What exactly went wrong? In each case, the business owner lost sight of what social media is best suited for and the role it should play vis-a-vis their business.
First and foremost, social media is social. It’s about relationships—it’s not well-suited to be a sales vehicle. Those who try to skip the relationship part and jump directly into sales pitches often find themselves frustrated. And the harder they work at pushing sales, the less impact they have on sales.
That’s because, by making so many sales pitches, they never get to the point of developing and building relationships that would make the recipients open to hearing their sales messages. These businesses pass up the opportunity for followers to get to know what the business stands for, or to connect at any level.
The saddest part is, these businesses may have great offers, but by overdoing it and never providing anything except hard sales pitches, followers soon tune them out. Had they limited the number of offers and promotional messages, however, and combined those with two-way conversation, helpful tips and useful information, they might have created a more receptive audience. Then their discounts and offers may have had more impact. The bottom line: moderation in all things.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the small business that becomes too casual and doesn’t focus enough on the end goal. If you forget that social media is, after all, part of your business’s brand, you may pay a heavy price. Injecting too much personal information at the very least distracts from the business messaging or, in the case above, can have adverse consequences.
Not screwing up your social media presence is really all about understanding what social media is best suited for and keeping your business end goal in mind at all times.
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