A landscaper once told me that he found social media to be a useless marketing tool. His attempts to expand his customer base by way of social networking consistently fell flat, and his time investment gave him little, if any, return. He wanted to know why he should spend so much time cultivating his Facebook page if it wasn’t going to help his business.
It's a question that a lot of business owners have. There’s a never-ending stream of buzz lauding the terrific marketing powers of social media, but let’s face it. It’s not working for everyone. The aforementioned landscaper’s Facebook page currently has about 20 fans, despite being created more than three months ago. He’s right, social media clearly isn’t working for him. So what gives?
The simple fact is, he was promised too much. All too often, small business owners buy wholeheartedly into a few fallacies of social media marketing that are showered down upon them by their friends, family, and news media, only to find that social networking doesn’t live up to their expectations. When this happens, it’s easy to become disillusioned with the idea of social media marketing in an extremely short period of time.
In order to help curb such negative experiences, here’s a look at a few of those misconceptions and the corresponding truths about social media marketing.
Myth #1: Every business should be on every social network
In today’s world, it’s critical for you to have an online presence. Social media accounts should either help drive business to a company’s website or offer the information one might expect to find on the website. If you want to do business, you have to have an Internet presence. That’s just how it is. But just because you need to be online doesn’t mean you need to be everywhere online.
Don’t get me wrong, for some companies, being on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google+, and LinkedIn simultaneously is the smartest thing to do. But for some companies, not every major social network is going to be a good fit. Take Facebook. Facebook is a place for people to go to check in on their friends and family, to share photos, swap stories, see where they are and what they’ve been doing. It’s a fun place for people to be social. If your product isn’t about fun, it's possible Facebook isn’t the best digital venue for your marketing.
Take our landscaper, for example. Landscaping is a serious domestic and commercial business. Although the design aspect of landscaping can certainly be fun, hiring a landscaper involves serious decision-making and investment. It’s a business business, so maybe it’s better suited to a business networking platform, like LinkedIn. Starting a discussion group on water features and mulching tips might lead to more business than posting status updates about waking up at 4am to get that concrete fountain installed before the day really gets hot.
Familiarize yourself with the specifics of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Myspace, and Google+. Maybe all of them work for your business, maybe only one or two are a good fit. Never sign up for a social media network just because someone says you should.
Myth #2: Creating a Facebook page will increase your business
A Facebook page is going to do absolutely zilch for your business if people don’t find the page and like it. Before you start seeing a return on your social media investment, you need to connect with potential customers. Just because you set up a page doesn’t mean you’re using social media. Really using it means making regular updates to your page and interacting with the public on a daily (or almost-daily) basis. Facebook is just a tool, and like all tools, it’s useless unless someone comes along and puts it to work. The same goes for every social media outlet.
The landscaper who told me social media doesn’t work for him specifically meant his Facebook page. (He’s not currently utilizing any other social network.) A quick look at his page, though, shows that it’s not the page that’s failing. It’s his dedication to the page. He’s posted just six times in three months. That’s less than some companies post in a single day. His Facebook page isn’t working for him because he’s not working on his Facebook page.
Myth #3: Online fans equal online business
It’s nice to have social media fans and followers. After all, 200,000 eyes are better than 20. But no matter how high your social media fan base gets, you’re still going to have some work to do in order to turn those fans into customers. This is especially true for people in the service industry, such as accountants, or lawyers, or consultants, or, yes, landscapers. Landscaping isn’t a digital business. It’s not something that can be sold over the Internet. It’s a real-world service with tangible results. Eventually, this landscaper is going to need to find a way to move the conversation off of social media and start meeting with some potential customers face-to-face.
We here at Gremln recently heard an analogy that we liked: Social media marketing is like online dating.
When you use online dating, you know that you’re not literally going to be dating online. You’re just using an online service to find someone whom you hope to date in the real world, a person with whom you want to connect.
The same is true for social media marketing. The point of using social networking for your business is to connect with people you think might benefit from your company’s products or services. Eventually, you’ll find people who agree that yes, they could benefit from your services. Then, depending on your type of business (I’m looking at you, here, service industry), it’s time to take the relationship into the real world to make the sale.
Social media is just one of many tools that help you land the opportunity to sit down with a potential customer face-to-face. Social networking is a strong supplement to your other marketing efforts, but it can’t replace them. No matter how effective social media marketing is, you shouldn’t abandon the traditional business practices that have gotten you this far.
Myth #4: Social media is a free and easy way to market your company
Most social networks allow you to create accounts free of charge. But that doesn’t mean they’re free of cost. It costs nothing to create a Twitter account, but be ready to spend some resources to keep it properly maintained. I’ve already discussed the true cost of social media in an earlier blog post, so I won’t belabor this point. If you’re curious about the specifics, check out “Social Media - The Cost of Free.” Suffice to say, social media is never truly free.
Nor is it particularly easy. If it were, legions of social media consultants would be out of business. Using social media for your business isn’t the same thing as using it for yourself. If you have a Facebook page, you can check it when you have the free time, maybe sometime later today, heck, maybe not until next week. You can post or not post, and let’s face it, who really cares if more people request your Facebook friendship or not.
Business usage is different. People follow you on social media because they expect great things from you. They want regular updates, photos, videos, insights, research, humor, fun, and anything else you can throw their way. They also follow you in order to be able to communicate with you. If you check your business’s Facebook page once a week, you may not be doing a very good job of communicating with your followers. How can you expect them to stick around if you’re not there for them?
How much time and money you put into your social marketing strategies is up to you, but if you don't invest the resources, you won't see much of a return.
The Bottom Line
The running theme with these truths about social media is that marketing your company through social media is a lot of work. It takes time, energy, and focus. If you want social media to work for you, you have to be ready to work for it. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Google+ -- they’re just a few of the many tools in your marketing toolbox. They can certainly help you reach untold numbers of brand new customers, but only if you wield them correctly.
Not that you’re on your own, of course. There are plenty of tools out there, Gremln among them, that are designed to help make the task of successful social media marketing less daunting. Gremln can help you maximize your efficiency when it comes to social media, and it allows you to easily measure the success of your efforts.
And your efforts will be successful. Just keep at it! A little dedication can go a long way.