Since social media's earliest days, businesses have been trying to figure out the best way to capture users' attentions. Anecdotally, social media marketing is often considered a top way for business owners to reach potential customers and engage with their loyal brand enthusiasts.
But there are reasons to believe those tweets and updates aren't providing much in ROI. Facebook's organic reach has plummeted to as low as 2 percent in 2014—and that's for large pages with 500,000 fans. There's also the amount of time it takes to execute a social media strategy: A 2014 survey by Constant Contact found that small-business owners spend 20 hours a week on marketing efforts.
Spending so much time on something that may give so little in return could be why a number of companies are bucking popular convention and ditching their social media marketing strategies ... or never having one to begin with, in the case of one popular grocery store chain. According to an article in The New Inquiry, Trader Joe's doesn't do any social media marketing, favoring Luddite tactics like its Fearless Flyer mailer "that conjures quaint images of old letterpresses and coupon-clipping grandmas." (Apple is another large brand known for not using social media.)
Aalap Shah, co-founder of SoMe, a social media agency based in Chicago, made the decision last year to shut down their social media efforts. He hasn't looked back since.
"We found that as a marketing channel, social media ... did not generate businesses leads, regardless of what type of content we distributed," Shah explains. "We tried both content curation, creating our own content, promoting our content with paid boosts but yet, time and time again, we’d generate visits to our social media channels but relatively few businesses in our target markets. Based on our analytics of when we were using social media, about 10 percent of our [site] visitors came in through those channels ... For the time and effort in creating content, adhering to a cadence of posts, monitoring analytics and meeting time to plan content, we were investing significantly more than the potential return on our investment, [so] we discontinued our social media efforts on mainstream social channels."
No Social Media? No Worries
Social media marketing seems to have been positioned as the only game in town for years. But a number of small-business owners and experts I spoke to claim they have experienced success by using other forms of brand awareness building. Public speaking, radio ads, affiliate marketing and traditional PR outreach were mentioned, but these two were mentioned the most:
"We have significantly shifted focus to our blog and content marketing efforts," Shah says. "We have seen a dramatic increase in leads—almost 310 percent year over year—by focusing on creating quality content, guest posting and other efforts."
"My company rarely uses social media," says Alex Reichmann, CEO of iTestCash, a counterfeit money and identity theft security solutions company. "I find my time is better spent finding websites and magazines to be published in rather than posting on Twitter or Facebook. Many of our business customers find new companies in the media they read and on search engines like Google, so I put more of a focus on those avenues for building brand awareness and reputation."
Getting out there and talking to people may yield new and valuable leads for your business, according to Garrett Collins, founder of Nu'u SEO, an Internet marketing firm in Honolulu, Hawaii. Collins claims he achieved 80 percent year-over-year growth by networking. "I would habitually and regularly attend networking events, seminars and professional gatherings to make real connections with decision makers at various companies in my target areas of interest," he says. "These connections [took] time to blossom, but when they did, I was amazed at the caliber of people who became my clients and, sometimes, my friends. Now I have a network of over 1,000 key players and entrepreneurs in companies of varying sizes."
Don't Go Completely Dark on Social Media Marketing
While it may work for some business owners, not everyone recommends leaving social media behind completely. Instead, they recommend being more strategic when using platforms.
"Does social media have great potential? Yes, but unfortunately, that potential takes a budget to be recognized," says Garrett Mehrguth, CEO of Directive Consulting, a digital marketing company. "We have found that the only true value that arises from social media campaigns is a result of paid advertising. Of all the channels, we have seen the greatest return at the lowest cost on Facebook. When doing such advertising, we have found it is important to focus on giving and [to] avoid self promotion. Instead of spending money to get likes, it is far more beneficial to send clicks to your website."
"Put all the articles away about 'how your business must be on social media in these 5 ways' or the '7 ways to generate sales from XYZ platform,'" says Shah of SoMe. "All businesses are different, cater to various demographics and are at various phases of maturity. I strongly advocate that more is less. Pick one or two key channels that you actually have the time to build out, create content for, take amazing photos for and that you are actually interested in working on. For a B2C retailer, this might mean leveraging Instagram and Facebook. For a B2B wholesale distributor, it could mean creating a robust LinkedIn presence with optimized profiles and sponsored posts on the company page. There really is no one way or guide on which channels to use, but I would recommend that the business owners measure success and defines goals from the start. If the purpose is awareness and influencer outreach, then measure impressions and your count of ambassadors. If the goal is sales, [properly] install analytics and keep an eye on social media referrals/conversions on a monthly basis.
"Also, don’t give up easily," Shah continues. "There is no pot of gold in the social media arena. Test content types and mix—pictures, witty, helpful, custom graphics, filters/no filters—have a budget behind your posts to boost them, and give it time. Time is important, as you have to build an online community of enthusiasts to support your brand. The community won’t come overnight, nor can it only be from paid likes."
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