By John Follis. (Reprinted from “Small Business Trends”)
Last month both Forbes and USAToday ran stories on how social media isn’t working for small businesses. The Forbes piece was titled, “Why Small Businesses Are Losing On Social media.” The USAToday piece was a bit stronger, “Study: Social media a bust for small businesses.” Both were in response to a survey recently released from Manta revealing that most small businesses (over 60%) don’t see any return on investment on their social-media activities. That bares repeating, most small businesses don’t see any return.
When I came up with the title for this I was not yet aware of any of this. As a business owner myself who’s done extensive research with years of direct personal experience with social media I feel the need to share my perspective with fellow business owners trying to decide the best way to spend their marketing money. The Manta study was not a surprise.
Despite the social media hype I know that many small business owners are having a hard time justifying the expense of a social media marketing effort – and for good reasons. For one, it’s hard to be certain what a social media marketing effort even means. Talk to four SM experts and there’s a good chance you’ll get four answers. Assuming you get an answer you like, it’s then hard to interpret the results. Not a strong case for investing a ton of money, or time, in social media.
No one likes to be unclear about what they’re paying for and that’s especially true with small business owners. It’s hard to spend hundreds, or thousands, on something you can’t show or clearly explain to your spouse. While we know there’s no guarantee on ROI we like to see what we’re paying for and have a good sense of its value. You’d think things would be different from 100 years ago when John Wanamaker famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” If he were commenting today, referencing social media, it wouldn’t be “Half the money I spend is wasted”, it’d be “60%”.
Social Media experts will argue that it’s not working for 60% of small business owners because they don’t truly understand it, they’re going about it wrong, they’re not working with the right people, and they’re not giving it enough time. All of those things may be true, and all of those things can be said about all marketing.
While some liken social media, and social media experts, to the necessary evil of auto maintenance, and auto mechanics, journalist B.J. Mendelson takes it a bit further. He calls social media bullshit. In his new book, Social Media Is Bullshit (St. Martin’s Press) Mendelson examines popular tales of social media “success” and reveals some unsettling truths behind the surface. While I appreciate Mr. Mendelson’s perspective, “bullshit” seems harsh. Anything that provides a platform to present our product, service, or perspective to our target audience, and potentially engage them, isn’t bullshit. Confusing? Yes. Over-hyped? Probably. However, Mr. Mendelson is right about one big bullshit aspect of social media: Facebook “Friends” and Twitter “Followers”. As we all now know, most Facebook Friends aren’t really friends, and most Twitter Followers don’t follow. Adds Regina Hartt of Hartt’s Pool Plastering adds: “No amount of Facebook Likes is going to sway a prospective customer to spend 5 to 40k on a pool plastering job.” So, that’s the problem I see with social media.
Even social media rock star, Gary Vaynerchuk admits it’s a confusing landscape. I just returned from a Digital Summit where Vaynerchuk spoke and stated that “Marketing in 2013 has never been harder.” He then added, “But you have no choice. You have to do marketing.”
He’s right, we have to market. There just may be better ways to do it than with social media.
John Follis is President / Creative Director of BIG IDEA VIDEO!