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. Many 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.
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.