Posted May 26, 2009 10:37 am by with 15 comments

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Ok, we have turned a corner. We are on the other side of a holiday weekend. The unofficial start of summer has come and gone. social-media-collageMany people have walked away from their computers for a few days and have actually continued to breathe. Many are coming back refreshed. And, in the case of Gene Marks over at BusinessWeek, coming off the weekend with a contrarian’s view to social media especially as it relates to small business.

What, you say? Someone who doesn’t think that social media will solve our communication issues, global warming and provide world peace? How dare he speak up and say something against the 140 character world makeover that is revolutionizing how we communicate? Here’s his points and, as always, your response, pro or con, is welcome.

Marks states

We’ve been misled as to the benefits of social networking sites. Many of us are finding that these tools do not live up to the hype, especially for small business. Once we start digging deeper, we’re finding a lot of challenges.

He then goes on to look at a few of the biggest myths about the magic that is social networking.

Social media sites are free – This is the most popular mantra spoken by those whose sole purpose is to promote something via social networking (usually themselves). The real cost, however, is time. If you can’t make something happen on a consistent basis then you look like you are slacking. Less activity implies less to say which implies less to pay attention to which translate into less interest. Not a good path for anyone to take. How do you get past it? With time. Many businesses are finding that they need full time people to keep this up to speed all the time. People are not free. Time is not free. Social media then is not free.

Social media means new customers – Marks uses a bit of hyperbole here but his point is clear.

Twitter has millions of users, but apparently only four of them actually understand what it does and spend much time updating their tweets. Are these the people who will buy the plastic polymer gaskets your company manufacturers? I don’t think so.

Social media has its place in business for sure. For most, however, it’s better to consider where people of value to their business actually go when deciding how to use the concept of social networking. He points to sites that are designed specifically designed for small business people like one for Bank of America and to the good old fashioned ‘user groups’ that exist for the right reasons. He puts it perfectly

You don’t hear about these sites much because they’re boring as hell. Then again, so are most of us who run small businesses.

Most small business folks will take information and sales over the latest thing.

You have to be on all the major social media sites – This one goes back to the time issue. Marks’ point is simple. Because time is so valuable it is best to pick one venue that is the place where your business will benefit the most then work it hard. Don’t try to be all things to all people on all social media sites. In other words, if your market isn’t on Twitter then, gulp, you shouldn’t be either. There, it’s been said. Not everyone needs to be on Twitter.

Social networking sites are for marketing – Well, since most people hate to be ‘sold’ on social networking venues then it seems almost contradictory to be really marketing on them. I have to admit, when people push products / services on Twitter I personally get turned off. Most efforts to ‘sell’ or even heavily promote on Twitter and Facebook come off as desperate. Best use is actually customer service. Social media is a place to connect and learn about and from customers. They may buy more simply because you are interacting and caring. Now that’s true sales.

Social networking is the future – Marks isn’t convinced that social networking is the beginning and end all of communication for business. He points to MySpace traffic decreases, the closing of GeoCities and the Twitter retention rate numbers as evidence that the media is more enamored with this than the real world is.

He sums it up this way

So should a business owner use social media sites for business? Maybe. Then again, maybe other customer service approaches make more sense. Remember newsletters, phone calls and support, seminars, partnering, and the like? Just because the media have determined that social networking is “in” doesn’t mean your customers are there.

Can’t say I disagree.

  • I absolutely love this post and the original author's post! Small business, in particular, need to pay special attention to the opportunity costs of chasing all the hype involved in social media and as with everything they do in marketing — align everything with their business objectives and their audience.

    Maria Reyes-McDavis

  • I think social media marketing is still trying to find it definitive voice and an industry standard on figuring out ROI. There have been many brands recently who have really had a lot of success from social media but then you also look at things such as the Domino's Youtube ordeal and it makes you think that companies should have influence on those websites to help calm the storm when things such as this happen. I am in the industry of online reputation management which now seems to be growing faster than social media marketing and it really makes more sense to some companies. I would agree with the writer in that you do not have to be on every social network because if you are selling to a certain market and they do not frequent the site then you are wasting a lot of time.

  • What the authors are missing is that social media is not an end-all solution for reaching customers. Social media is a set of tools available to use in the larger context of your sales, marketing, and customer service strategies. You can choose to use the tools or not based on your situation and strategy.

  • Very interesting post, Frank.

    I agree that I think there's a lot of hype around social media and in particular twitter. It's the trendy thing to do.

    Just from my own observation, I've noticed that social media tools may not be as influential as some might think. For example, I observed a blog contest where one of the contestants had well over 20K twitter followers. This contestant periodically asked his/her followers to vote for them. He/she wasn't overly annoying with the requests and voting literally took a just few seconds. This contestant couldn't even muster up 900 votes.

    That situation leads me to wonder a few things:
    – are people using social media tools to talk and not listen?
    – is there too much noise in social media?
    – are people just selectively tuning out certain folks they follow?
    – if you aim is to pile up followers and the number of people you follow, can your participation in social media really be effective?

  • EH

    This was a great post. I agree, social media is not for everyone. But it can be a great asset to those who use it wisely. As with any form of media, in order for social media to be a success, you must be where your target audience is. If your audience is on Facebook, concentrate your attentions there. Likewise, if they are on twitter go that route. The key though is knowing your customer.

    • “…you must be where your target audience is”

      That's so true and, sometimes, that customer isn't interested in ANY social networks. Whenever someone asks me for a recommendation on which social media to “use” I typically ask them what their goals are and who are they trying to reach. Being active in a social network because others are, is the wrong answer.

  • Thank you for sharing that post, Frank. The author makes some good points, and as a small business it gives us some things to consider as we plan our social media strategy going forward. So far we have emphasized customer service and interaction over marketing, and it has been successful in that regard. As a web development company it would not make sense for us to ignore social media, but it stands to reason that some firms will find it more beneficial than others.

    Greg @ iGoMogul

  • All valid points. I recently spoke to a client who said a competitor had recommended that they setup 60 different profiles on different social media sites. Yikes. Most people seem to be skipping the research phase with regard to choosing profiles and just activating the most hyped ones out there en masse. Too bad. A focused approach can yield some nice results when you are realistic from the inception with regard to goals, strategy and tactics.

    Social media isn't a “cure-all” but it can help solve certain issues with regard to brand and customer experience. There have been plenty of examples of very smart people struggling to find their stride in social media. As is true throughout life, things that are hard often have large rewards to those who figure them out. Crafty folks will find a way to leverage these tools while not over-committing resources. Isn't that true of all areas of marketing though?

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  • Excellent post! I absolutely can not live without social media. Social media marketing is one of the most effective way of online marketing.

  • Now that I really think about it, you're right…social media does cost valuable time and I am always wondering if it is really worth it or not? Often times, I find that it's not.

  • sarah

    i agree with bob williams down below…i'd like to wager this author is your typical 'old school' type marketer. nothing wrong with that – except today's world is an online world. if you know what you're doing with social media – i.e., getting involved in the CONVERSATION – then can you bring some business benefit? surely. whether it's through a customer service/reviews focus or building brand awareness, social media can HELP with marketing. it's certainly not the be-all-end-all, but if you think you have something to say about your business, then say it in the medium the world is using.

  • This is good post! I think social media marketing nowadays is good option for doing effectively online marketing. But the thing is that its not like all that. Social media is not for everyon but today it has big value who know their use. You should know where your customer is whether on facebook or on twitter and thats the perfect use of social media for good online marketing.

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