Hey, Small-Business Owner: Maybe Social Media Isn't For You
It's now conventional wisdom that if you have a small business, you should be regularly earmarking time to cultivate your fan base on Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps you should post news that's relevant to your product or service. Funny pictures are also good for increasing those "Likes" and circulating your business's name to new, potential customers.
However, not everyone is buying this argument. A recent survey of 500 SMBs by online marketing firm Vertical Response found about one-third of small business owners would like to spend less time on social media. If you're among them, rather than feeling shame about your lack of zeal, consider the case against trying to become the next George Takei:
1. Time you spend on social media is time you're not spending improving your core business. Say your job is making bicycles. Are you better served by making sure that everyone who buys a bike at your store is insanely happy with it by increasing your PTAT rating on Facebook? Imagine for a minute that you decided that you'd only use Facebook and Twitter as a digital billboard for your business and you spent zero energy trying to cultivate new fans. Instead, you took all the time and thought that you would have spent marketing on Facebook instead on providing the best customer service possible and making sure that no one left your store unsatisfied. Would your customers then be motivated to say nice things about you on Twitter and Facebook? Isn't that type of interaction preferable to merely liking a funny photo you posted?
2. Apple doesn't do social media. Apple was the No. 2 brand on Interbrand's Top 100 Brands list this year, and it lacks both an official Facebook Page and a Twitter account. Consider that Apple was No. 41 on the list in 2005, before the social media revolution began in earnest, which means that Apple has profited mightily by ignoring the rise of Facebook and Twitter. Apple is a great example of a brand that's too busy—or likes to present itself as too busy—for social media because it's improving its products. The strategy works because fans are so excited about the products that they do the heavy lifting.
Small businesses can enjoy the same kind of lift from providing a product or service that consumers are authentically interested in. Ed Keller, CEO of Keller Fay, a marketing research firm, says that nearly 90 percent of discussions about brands happen in real life and the rest are occurring online. "There's no question in my mind that good experiences are what spark word of mouth to a greater degree of just about anything else," he says. Keller adds that while he believes social media outreach is important, if it's a case of limited resources, "I'd focus on the experience."
3. You're not a publisher. It's commonly accepted wisdom in social media marketing circles these days that all brands are publishers since they fill the role that publishers have, traditionally. For instance, Coca-Cola now has 50 million fans on Facebook, which means it potentially has a much bigger audience than The New York Times. However, it's reasonable to ask why this means that Coke should now put some of its energies towards publishing. After all, that has nothing to do with Coke's core business. Instead, you might ask why Coke doesn't just buy ads on publications with which it wants to be associated rather than trying to become those publications. That's the way that advertising has worked for 80 years or so. Why reinvent the wheel? If you argue that Coke would save money by enhancing its Facebook and Twitter feed rather than buy ads, consider that it takes money to create compelling content and that to reach all of your fans you still have to buy ads on those platforms.
4. Truth will prevail on the Internet. One argument for keeping a social media presence is to correct critics of your brand who are in the wrong. However, while the Internet acts as a petri dish for rumors and misinformation, it also has a self-correcting mechanism in which consumers act as a truth police and aim to disabuse readers and consumers about such bunk. Consider how much effective it is when a fan of yours comes to your defense instead of you. Not surprisingly, Brian Solis, principal at Altimeter Group, a marketing consultant, takes issue with the idea that small-business owners can ignore social media. In Solis' view, getting fans to talk about you in social media is "incredibly rare." Solis acknowledges that updating your Facebook Page may be a chore, but then again, so is marketing in general. Businesses, he points out, should funnel 80 percent of their profits into marketing or they will soon be out of business. Says Solis: "Solely focusing on what you do very well is not going to benefit you if no one knows about it." Rather than posting funny pics on your Facebook Page, Solis recommends connecting with the passion that prompted you to start your business in the first place. Fair enough. But not everyone is gifted in transmitting their passion via Facebook.
As for marketing: There's no reason why that 80 percent can't go into ads instead of Facebook activity. At the very least, it might be worth taking a break from Facebook to see if it really does harm your business. Perhaps if you don't build it, they will come.
Read more posts about small business and social media.