Don’t Let Social Media Be Your (Only) Strategy

Keep Focused on What Matters Most to Your Business

If you’ve been lying awake wondering if you are tweeting enough, or if your Facebook page is getting ‘Liked’ enough, or if you should be ‘checking-in’ with Foursquare, organizing industry Meetups, or getting your blog posts ‘dug’ on Digg, Peter Shankman has this advice: get back to sleep.

Shankman recently delivered a scathing critique of ‘social media experts’ entitled “Why I Will Never, Ever Hire A “Social Media Expert”. In his posting, he makes a number of excellent points that are worth reinforcing, particularly as they pertain to small businesses struggling to make sense of this new world of social media marketing.

His key message: social media is just another part of your overall marketing and customer service strategies. “Social media, by itself, will not help you,” Shankman writes. Social media isn’t transforming business, revolutionizing markets, or reinventing B2C relationships. It is a useful tool, and one you may not even need.


(illustration by Hugh Macleod)

Haven’t We Seen This Before?

12 years ago, with the rise of Amazon, eBay, and the rest of the dot-coms, business writers breathlessly talked about the end of ‘bricks and mortar’, and how dot-coms would replace our concepts of the physical world by making all our commerce experiences virtual. Pricing transparency, fierce competition, and choice would drive consumers online in droves, leaving malls as empty ghost towns.

Then the bubble burst, and the crash landing was hard, painful, and expensive. Markets and consumer behaviour changed, sure,  but in 2010 Internet shopping had reached just 4.2% of total sales in the United States. Yes, 4.2%.

Social media is riding a similar wave. You can’t open the newspaper, or browse a newsfeed without seeing an article about the social media revolution. ‘Social media experts’ are everywhere, playing on widespread ignorance among small business owners about the impact of Twitter and Facebook. “Being an expert in social media is like being an expert at taking the bread out of the refrigerator,” writes Shankman, “The goal is to make an amazing sandwich, and you can’t do that if all you’ve done in your life is taken the bread out of the fridge.”

Go Where Your Customers Go

Before you start sweating your social media presence, ask yourself one simple question: “Are my customers using social media?”. Once you have an answer, ask yourself the more important follow-on question “Are they engaging with companies like mine?”

Coca-cola needs a social media strategy. A B2B business selling electrical connectors does not. I don’t use social media channels to shop for professional services, I use Homestars (Angie’s List for our US friends). If I want a restaurant review, maybe I will, but Yelp and Urbanspoon already do a great job.

As Peter writes, “Do you know your audience? Have you reached out to them? I’m not talking about “tweeting at them.” I’m talking about actually reaching out. Asking them what you can do better, or asking those who haven’t been around in a while what you can do to get them back. It’s not about 10 percent off coupons or “contests for the next follower.” For God’s sake, be smarter than that.”

Before you run out and invest in a ‘social media strategy’, take a hard look at your current online marketing program. Where are you ranked in Google on relevant search terms? Do you have profiles in relevant directories, or professional networking sites like LinkedIn? If someone searches on your business name, what do they see? (go and try it now)

If your customers are already finding you on Google, or Yahoo!, or Bing, you should really question the return on money (or time) you’ll need to spend building out, and maintaining, a social media profile. Despite anecdotal evidence that social media is influencing consumer behaviour and brand awareness, keep in mind 2 things: 1) that data is largely, if not exclusively provided by the social media companies themselves, and 2) the social media experience of Nike (or any other multi-national brand) is not at all comparable to your strategy.

No One Size Fits All

Finding your audience and speaking to them is an art. It is creative, organic, and evolves over time as we learn about our customers. Social media won’t solve your marketing problems, and it certainly won’t solve your business problems. Building a strong brand and a successful business is going to the gym every day, not popping diet pills. As Shenkman says, “It’s about generating revenue through solid marketing and stellar customer service, just like it’s been since the beginning of time.”

I couldn’t have written it better myself.

Remember the Power of the Written Word

And speaking of writing, Peter critique of today’s prevalent writing is spot on. If you picked up a novel and saw abbreviations, poor grammar, or incomplete sentences, you wouldn’t read past the third page. Great TV, like The Wire, or West Wing, is driven by an excellent script. The key to marketing, in whatever form, is good writing. “Good writing is brevity, and brevity is marketing,” Peter writes, “Want to lose me as a customer, forever, guaranteed? Have a grammar error on any form of outward communication.”

I’d tweet that 4sure  😉

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