You’ve got a Facebook Page for your business. You’ve probably got a Twitter account too, and maybe even Instagram and Pinterest account.
You’ve been told time and time again by gurus, experts, marketers and bloggers, that small businesses need a social media presence.
But have you ever stepped back and thought why?
Why am I spending time sharing “content” to “engage” my “audience” on Facebook? Is there a point to all this tweeting?
Maybe there is. Maybe not.
Sure, there are some businesses that benefit from active social media accounts—and we’ll come to them—but there are also plenty of times when throwing time and money into social media is simply a waste.
It might be just the right time to rethink your social strategy.
In this tutorial, we take a critical look at social media marketing, and examine whether it’s adding value to your business or simply misdirecting your resources.
Wondering if social media might be a waste of time for your business?
Or, whether it's exactly what you should be investing more into?
Then read on:
Let’s Start With an Example
I’ve got a friend, let’s call him Lester, who inspired this article. He’s a corporate and wedding entertainer in Ireland.
For a show, he charges upwards of €1000. As long as I’ve known him, people have been encouraging him to spend more time and money on Facebook and Twitter. They bring up his competitors who have pages with twice as many likes. Surely he doesn’t want to lose gigs to his competition?
Every year or two someone will manage to convince Lester to give social media a go. They offer to run his page for him, or know a great social media manager who’ll do it. Sometimes he even does it himself.
The same thing happens every time.
After a couple of weeks of “engaging” with his “audience”, he starts to get messages from people interested in hiring him for a show.
When the people who message him find out that a show costs €1000, rather than €100, they look elsewhere.
The problem is that he has two audiences: the people who have seen him perform and like his act, and the people who are prepared to pay his rates.
Although the first group is active on social media, the second aren’t. Corporate bookers don’t look to Facebook to find entertainers.
This gets to the root of the problem: most of his competitors are either targeting a lower price point, or are going after Facebook Likes just because they feel good.
For Lester, there really isn’t a social media strategy that’s going to pay off. Social media is a waste of his time. He's better off spending investing his energy elsewhere.
Let's look at how this example applies to you and your small business.
Why Are You Using Social Media?
To work out whether social media is worth it for your business, you need to work out why you’re using it and what you hope to achieve.
There are plenty of good reasons to use social media but the three broad categories they’ll fall into are:
- To reach new customers/clients/partners.
- To stay engaged with existing customers/clients/partners.
- To provide customer/client support.
Trying to get Likes for the sake of Likes or sharing memes because your competitors are using social media, are not good reasons for you to invest time and money into it. To paraphrase my mother, “would you jump off a bridge just because your business competitors did?”
Sit down and spend some time thinking about the why. If you can’t come up with a good reason, you’re probably wasting your time. For the kind of businesses that social media helps, the reasons are very clear.
Even if you have a good reason, your efforts might be misguided. Let’s take the three categories one by one, and make sure you're investing in social media in a way that actually pays off.
1. To Reach New Customers
To reach new customers is one of the biggest reasons small businesses use social media. Customers are the life blood of a business and having too many is rarely a problem.
Note: I’m going to use the word customer for simplicity’s sake but it also applies to clients and business partners too. Which you’re trying to reach will depend on your business.
Although it’s true that social media can be a good way to reach new potential customers, you have to be sure that you’re reaching the right customers.
Think back to Lester. There were plenty of people who wanted to hire him on social media, they just didn’t want to hire him at the rates he charges. Twenty years ago when he was just starting out, social media might have been a good place for him to pick up new business, but now that he’s one of the top entertainers in Ireland, it’s not.
If you’re planning to use social media to reach new customers, you had better make sure they’re there. If you have a B2B software company, trying to get Likes on your company Facebook page in the hope that a potential lead will stumble across you is probably misguided. It might work from time to time, but it’s probably not the best use of your limited resources.
For Lester, he finds most of his clients when he’s performing. They see his show and want to book him. Rather than run out after an event, he always makes sure to stay somewhere visible for half an hour once his set is finished. That extra thirty minutes of waiting is a far better way for him to pick up new customers than the same time spent posting on Facebook.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Are the people I want to reach on Facebook? Twitter? Pintrest? or LinkedIn?
- If they’re there, how best can I reach them? What’s my equivalent to half an hour after a gig?
- If they are on social media, do I have a way to take them from “engaging” to actually purchasing something? Is it even possible to?
If you can’t come up with compelling answers to these simple questions, you’re probably wasting money chasing customers on social media.
2. To Stay Engaged With Existing Customers
The easiest people to sell to are people who’ve already bought from you.
You’ve convinced them of your business proposition once, doing it a second time is a lot simpler. Social media can be a really good way to stay engaged with your existing customers.
To my mind, this is by far the best use for it.
Let’s say you’re a small business that sells handmade goods on Etsy. Your customers aren’t going to visit your store everyday. What they might do, however, is Like your Facebook page.
When you have new products in, or see something online that they might like, you can share it on your page. You already know that they’re at least somewhat interested in what you have to offer.
This same strategy can hold true for lots of different businesses. Restaurants can share the latest menu and opening hours. Websites that sell information products (like Envato Tuts+) can promote their new courses and announce sales.
That isn’t to say this is a surefire strategy.
It’s entirely possible that trying to stay engaged with your customers on social media is a waste of time.
If you sell a product that customers normally only buy once, like a house, then trying to keep them engaged on social media is not going to pay off. Similarly, if you’re in a B2B company, most of your existing customers won’t be active—or at least not in a professional capacity—on social media.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Do I have existing customers I can keep in contact with through social media?
- Do I have something that I can offer them? Or am I just keeping in contact with them for the sake of it?
- Is the amount of time it takes to stay engaged worth it?
3. To Provide Customer Support
Most major companies have someone sitting in their customer support department just watching Facebook and Twitter. When someone has a problem with their cell provider or cable company, it’s normally the first place they turn.
Rather than call a customer support line, they’ll complain loudly and in public. Having someone watching for it ready to swoop in and offer assistance is a solid investment.
This isn’t always the case for smaller businesses. Unless you have a large number of customers who need help immediately, social media is a pretty poor way to offer support. You’re far better redirecting them to other options like a knowledge base or FAQ.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Is social media really the best place to offer customer support? Why?
- Are you just using the excuse that you’re monitoring customer feedback to browse Twitter?
By now, you should have a pretty good idea of whether or not social media is a good fit for your business. If it really will help you reach new customers, stay engaged with older ones, or provide customer support, then it’s a solid investment. If it won’t help you hit any of those goals, you’re probably wasting your resources.
Even if social media is a good use of your time and money, then you need to approach it in the right way—only investing time into those social channels that work for your business. Chasing the right goals in the wrong way is just as bad as chasing the wrong goals.
Here are helpful tutorials to learn more about how to start using social media the right way and make sure your tracking your results:
- Social MediaHow to Use Social Media for Small Business (Beginner's Guide)Brenda Barron
- Social MediaHow to Track Your Social Media ROI (Get Better Results)Brenda Barron
The next step is to come up with that strategy. At Tuts+, we’ve a whole guide on social media for small businesses which can help you through the process. Start with the Beginner’s Guide above, and then work your way through the rest of the lessons, paying particular attention of how to measure your ROI to refine your approach.
As much as marketers and gurus like to say otherwise, social media isn’t a sure thing. For some small businesses, social media is a waste of time.
There are lots of small businesses out there that simply don’t need to have an active Facebook or Twitter account. In this tutorial, I’ve walked you through how to identify if your business is one of them.
If it isn’t, and you would benefit from a social strategy, then now's the time to get a solid plan together and start implementing it efficiently.