The Big Social Media Lie

by Adam Kreitman

The time has come to address the 800 lb. gorilla in the Internet marketing room…

Social Media.

Almost every “online marketing” firm is pushing it these days…

“Hey, we’re gonna build you an awesome Facebook page that gets you lots of Likes…and also build up your Twitter account with lots of followers…and then build up your LinkedIn profile…and don’t forget about Google+…and, oh, we can’t leave out Pinterest…”

(It makes my head spin so I can’t imagine what it must do to the business owners who don’t do online marketing for a living!)

Problem is, there’s almost never any talk about how doing these things will actually lead to more business or otherwise justify a business’ jump into social media.

An Increasingly Common Conversion

Just the other day I was talking with a business owner and about 20 minutes in he asks me “What about Facebook?”

“What about it?” I asked.

He replies, “Well, you haven’t mentioned it yet. And all the other Internet marketing firms I’ve talked to are telling me I have to build up my Facebook page.”

To which I said…

“No you don’t. It may make sense to build up a Facebook page down the road…more as a way to communicate with your existing customers than anything else.

But based on our conversation you need to generate more sales right now.

So why spend time trying to get people to Like you on Facebook, hoping they’ll become a client at some point in the future, instead of focusing on strategies that target people who are actively looking for your service TODAY?!

You have to remember that people aren’t on Facebook to make decisions, people are on Facebook to avoid making decisions. (Note: credit goes to Perry Marshall for that gem!)

I’m not saying that, with the right strategy in place, you can’t get some business from Facebook. What I am saying is there’s a ton of stuff you haven’t done yet that’s much more likely to put cash in the coffers sooner rather than later.

And since you don’t have unlimited time or budget doesn’t it make sense to focus on that stuff first instead of building a pretty Facebook page, trying to get a lot of Likes and then sitting around with your “fans” singing Kumbaya hoping the money will start pouring in?”

At first I was afraid I’d gone a bit too far. But, as it turns out, my fears were unfounded because when the business owner replied I could hear the relief in his voice…

“I’m so glad to hear you say that. It makes sense. Quite frankly, I’m 58 years old and have no interest in getting on Facebook unless there’s a good reason to. I just thought I had to do it because that’s what everyone’s been pushing.”

Who Really Profits From Social Media

Here’s the thing…most of what’s being pitched about social media is garbage. It’s more about lining the pockets of the companies selling social media packages than the companies they’re working for.

A lot of business owners wind up getting sucked into the world of social media because they’re told by some “expert” that they have to, not because it’s the right decision for their business.

Listen, most businesses are in the business of solving problems. And people aren’t on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to solve their problems, they’re there to avoid their problems.

That’s a huge challenge anyone trying to sell directly on social media has to overcome. (And very few have actually overcome it.)

The companies that are having some success driving sales on social media are selling fun and entertainment or are speaking to people’s passions (ie. things which are more in line with the mindset of people on social media sites).

So if you’re a B2C business like a restaurant (and where would food trucks be without Twitter?!), you sell ring tones, or are promoting a special, fun event, then social media may be a good place to be.

But if you’re a DUI attorney, no legitimate prospects are gonna Like your Facebook page! 😉

In all seriousness, for most B2B companies, FB isn’t the place to spend your marketing time, money and effort. For B2B, if you’re going to jump into the realm of social media, you’re better off networking on LinkedIn.

The Hidden Cost of Social Media

A lot of people gravitate to social media because it’s “free”.

And, true, you can set up a FB page, Twitter account, LinkedIn account, etc. without spending a dime.

But if social media is going to be a big part of your marketing plans, you have to be prepared to put in a lot time to do it right by regularly…

  • Posting compelling content
  • Engaging in meaningful conversations with prospects and customers
  • And basically just all-around demonstrating your value and authority as an expert

And that stuff’s hard to outsource.

You know your business and customers better than anyone.

How’s a green account executive at an agency who’s 18 months out of college going to be able to truly and authentically represent your company on social media?

At the very least, you’ll have to provide them with the content to post on your behalf. But if you have to spoon feed that info to them anyway, does it really save that much time over just doing it yourself?!

Your time is valuable and it must be factored it into the true costs of running a social media campaign. (Here’s some help to figure out what your time is actually worth.)

It’s Not All Bad

I tend to get worked up over social media because I see so many business owners being pushed into it for all the wrong reasons!

But just to prove I’m not a total Social Media Scrooge, I’d like to point out that there are some things social media is good for.

1. Listening/Research

“He who knows his customers best, wins.”

And I mean truly know your customers best…

  • What makes them tick
  • What are the deep emotional benefits they’re looking for when buying your product or service
  • What keeps them up at night
  • Who their enemies are
  • What / who they love

You can interview or survey clients to get this information. But by listening to what they’re saying on social media, you can often gain even greater insights into what’s going on in the minds of your prospects and customers.

Twitter searches, Facebook groups, and Amazon reviews are all great places to eavesdrop and/or engage with prospects to gain vital insights into what itches they’re looking to scratch.

2. Search Engine Optimization

The search engines, in an effort to create more relevant search results, have been busily making big changes to their ranking algorithms.

The biggest change is that “social signals” are now a growing part of the SEO mix. Your site’s ranking is being influenced more and more by the number of Facebook Likes, Tweets, +1s, etc. that your site and content get.

You can still get good results from SEO while ignoring social media, but I’m not sure how much longer that’ll be the case.

3. Building a List

It’s very hard to make direct sales on social media sites. But social media can be an excellent place to build a list of prospects. The trick is, however, to sell to them you have to get them off of social media.

Get them on your email list. Get them to your website. Engage them in the “real world” either on the phone or in person.

That’s where sales happen!

Because once you knock people out of the “avoiding solving problems/making decisions” mode they’re in on social media, they’re more likely to be receptive to your marketing messages.

4. PR/Customer Service

Social media is a great publishing platform to get news, articles, and other information about your business pushed out onto the web.

It’s also a great way to reach out, engage, and keep in touch with existing customers.

Keep them informed of interesting developments at your company. Monitor social media for mentions of your company and respond appropriately when people talk about you.

Does Your Business Have to Be on Social Media?

Listen, I’m not saying that social media is a complete waste of time and you’ll never get any business from it.

I have seen a few examples of companies in very specific niches doing quite well selling directly on social media.

But they’re the exceptions rather than the rule.

I’ve yet to come across a proven, repeatable system or strategy that most businesses can use to consistently make money through social media.

So the truth is this…

Your business does not have to be on social media to be successful!

No matter what anyone else tells you it’s very possible to grow your business without ever being active on a single social media site.

So the next time someone tells you that your business has to be on social media, think long and hard about who stands to make more money by you being there…you or them.

Think I’m being too critical about social media here? Please weigh in with your thoughts about social media in the comment section below.

 

John Beidle December 6, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Well said.

Adam Kreitman December 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Thanks, John!

Lee Pelletier December 6, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Adam, you have spoken what I’ve known in my heart all along. If you are a restaurant, and you post a weekly Facebook deal, I understand why people may “like” your page to get the specials.

As you know, I run a flooring store, and ALL the mills are telling us we need to get on Facebook and other social media. We are, but . . .

I ask them pointedly: What exactly is that going to do for us? How exactly will that help us?

All I get are vague answers. They don’t know. My gut feeling is people don’t want to be bothered on Facebook every day by a flooring store. Like you, I won’t say that no one will get any benefit, but for the effort I would need to invest, I could get returns many, many times over what I could on Facebook.

So much on the internet is relatively new to people, and everyone will learn what is real and what is not. You CAN advertise on the placemats of low-end restaurants and church bulletins. But the return is . . . (holding my sides laughing). Facebook for us is like advertising on placemats. A lot of effort to get (almost) nothing.

Regards,
Lee

Adam Kreitman December 6, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Great insights, Lee…thanks for sharing and hope you’re doing well!

Russ Henneberry December 7, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Adam, thanks for writing this my friend.

It’s true, there is a huge gorilla in the room — and many are afraid to talk about it. But it’s coming, I am beginning to see a slow backlash against social media. You don’t have to look far for ammunition — check out IBM’s latest Black Friday report here – http://www-01.ibm.com/software/marketing-solutions/benchmark-reports/black-friday-2012.html

The report shows that social media generated only .34% of sales for businesses using IBM’s Benchmarking service. And Twitter scored a goose egg. Zero, zilch, nada.

But let’s not be too hasty. Social is important and it’s here to stay. The rapid adoption of social media as a form of communication cannot be ignored.

The difficulty lies in treating social media like it’s a direct response tactic. I put X dollars in the top of the funnel and X+Y dollars come out of the bottom. That’s not social media.

Social media is more like a TV commercial than a TV infomercial. It pays off over time.

If you want to “put cash in the coffers” sooner rather than later as you say it definitely pays to use a more direct response tactic such as PPC.

Thoughts?

Adam Kreitman December 7, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Hi Russ-

Thanks for the great input (as your input always is!).

There’s only one thing I’d quibble with and that’s about social media being like TV commercials. People expect to be pitched when watching a TV commercial. On social media, they’re not…which is a big part of the difficulty with selling on social media.

The offline equivalent to social media in my mind is networking. In fact, my post next Tuesday is about networking. I originally built my business through offline networking and met some great friends through networking (including you!).

However, when it comes to building a business, I’ve come to realize there’s one big problem with networking. And I’m not gonna let the cat out of the bag today…you’ll have to read my post next week to find out what that is. 😉

Thanks!
Adam

Russ Henneberry December 7, 2012 at 11:26 pm

I look forward to your post on networking. As for social media’s offline equivalent being networking you are spot on. My comparison to television commercials was a poor choice of words or was, at least, incomplete.

My comparison lies in the fact that you would never try to tie a direct sale back to a single airing of a television commercial.

It is the frequency of the message over time that leads to the know, like and trust of the sale. You trust Coca Cola because they have been dripping on you since you were in the cradle and they will continue to do so until you are in the grave.

For those of us that don’t have the money for this kind of carpet bomb branding initiative, social media is an inexpensive way to keep “showing up” over a long period of time for little financial cost.

Josh Turner December 14, 2012 at 1:15 am

Hey Adam – I read this post as part of your newsletter a week or so ago, and it stuck with me.

I work in the B2B space…so I’ll comment on that. The main problem I see are with business owners who engage with an agency without metrics to track success. If it’s all about “brand recognition” then go for it. But for most companies I work with, they need more than that.

There’s not a whole lot of justification for B2B companies to be on facebook or twitter, aside from setting up the outpost just to have it and maybe plugging in an update now and then. Just doing it because people say it’s the best thing goin’ isn’t the best reason to do something. However if you’re generating leads and sales through these channels, and it can be directly tied to that effort, it’s certainly worth it. The thing is…the companies that are succeeding with this stuff aren’t doing it because they’re being lied to or are riding the latest online fad.

The most successful businesses have a balanced approach online and off. There are some pretty smart B2B companies out there doing a fantastic, measurable job of integrating content / social / crm / email to convert qualified leads to their sales team. They aren’t doing it because it’s a lie.

But I agree, most of the market does not measure up to that standard.

Adam Kreitman December 14, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Great comment, Josh!

As I mentioned in the article, there are certainly exceptions to the rule. In fact, I was talking with a friend the other day who works for a big IT company. In their industry, the buyers and sellers pretty much know each other. Also, at least in this enterprise level of IT, when someone’s having a software/hardware problem, they tweet about it to see if anyone has a solution.

In a scenario like that, I can totally see where social media can lead to direct sales.

However, I see situations like that, especially in the B2B world, as the exception rather than the rule.

There were a few studies that came out recently that show the challenges. One by IBM (that Russ linked to in his comment) that shows the paltry sales social media generated on Black Friday. The other is from Mike Blumenthal and shows the disconnect between what SMBs use Facebook for and what consumers use it for.

Most people aren’t going to social media with their problems…they’re there avoiding their problems which makes selling to them there quite difficult.

While there are businesses can make it work, the idea that businesses have to be there is a lie.

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