I admit, I bought it. I bought it so hard that I was actually speaking and training to SMB about the virtues of Social Media for the SMB. The reason I stopped ? I came to realization that it was all bullshit. Granted this was five years ago, but I don’t think the situation has improved one bit. As a former member of the vanguard, leading the charge that Social Media will be the primary reason your business succeeds, I can clearly remember the ominous slide that “If you ignore Social Media, your business won’t exist in 5 years”; well, that was five years ago.
I realize that there is a huge machine out there who has bet the farm on Social Media. I assume they will not, or cannot, agree with my assessment. To them I say “Show me the Proof”. Not the isolated incidents, but the proof that Social Media has helped mainstream SMB increase profits. I know the line, I used to quote it, “ROI is not a good measure of Social Media impact”. Instead, we came up with all of these other “R’s”, ROE, ROT, ROF, etc. in order to avoid the real question. Were we Charlatans? I don’t feel like I was at the time, I truly believed that Social Media would work. But over time, I was unable to see enough proof to continue suggesting it as the end-all-be-all. Had I continued anyway, then yes, Charlatan would have been a fair addition to my title. I remember thinking, as I was removing all of my online tutorial videos, that it was possibly just too early. The dots had simply not connected enough yet. That was five years ago.
After my stint in Social Media promotion, I made a big move to a “Legitimate” business: A Microsoft Cloud Partner. There is a big difference providing something that SMB truly needs and uses, from selling pipe-dreams. I still get asked about Social Media… some struggling business owner grasping for a lifeline, “I just need a good Keyword”. Wouldn’t it be nice if it actually worked that way? I am not saying that you could not actually get some kind of a measurable result from Social Media, rather is it the best use of your time, versus other things you could do. I mean, what has a better chance of success, two hours posting crap on Facebook, or two hours on the phone with prospects?
I used to sell out packed rooms back in the day, full of eager business owners looking for a magic bullet. Fortunately, SMB is a skeptical bunch, and thankfully they did not buy everything I was selling at the time. I doubt that anyone fired their sales staff and replaced them with a Social Media campaign… if any did, they are surely gone now.
So why doesn’t Social Media work for SMB?
Well, we know that one part works, bad news about your company. Just check out Glassdoor to see a bunch of anonymous people bashing their former employers. Since we know “Review Sites” are all bullshit now, and good reviews of your company were either posted by you or your friends, their value is neutral at best. Maybe, if you are an expert in Nordhammer Flanges, you could start tweeting about them, #flanges might start trending. Even though it may never be a trending topic, #flanges might get a few followers, because we know all the flange buyers look to twitter first. The fact is that mainstream social media is about entertainment, your clients are not on there looking for your products or services. Even LinkedIn, the Social Network for Business is mostly of value in getting information than giving it.
And now we have “Internal Social Networks“. As a Microsoft Cloud Partner I am keenly aware of the Yammer push, but I will say for most of SMB, I think Yammer is a waste of time. It is an enterprise product. Who are you going to follow, they guy you can see from your desk? We also have Netbreeze coming, which will allow you to visualize the Social Media sentiment around your company. I am not sure that the two people who liked your post last month will give you much to go on.
And what about paid ads in Social Media or Search Engines? Google makes a ton of money on this, as does Facebook, and Twitter is trying to figure it out also, so it must work right? I think most of Google’s ad revenue is derived from users who do not know what they are doing. With no clue how to accurately measure their results, they just continue to spend the same money across the board. Google, of course stops just short of giving you the information you would need to be an informed ad buyer, lest you realize that 1/16 of your spend is actually generating customers. BTW, a Click is not a Customer. The whole online ad game works the same on all the networks. You cannot spend enough money to gain customers without far surpassing the value of the customers gained. Oops, there’s that ROI thing again. Not to mention that more and more people are not even going to the websites anymore, but just the mobile app, where you ad really does not stand a chance.
The “Social” of Social Media appeals to lazy people. Instead of crafting a nice email, or picking up the phone and going through prospects, or going to a networking event and meeting new ones, I’ll just post something and wait for them to come to me. What? That’s not working for you. Clearly you just need to tweak your approach. You have already tweaked it ten times? Well maybe just one more tweak will open up that chest of gold. Your Facebook and LinkedIn company pages have a combined 12 followers… how much effort did that take… how long have they been out there?
Okay, as I read this back it is starting to look like a rant, and maybe it is. But if I could keep just one Lawn Care business from believing that social media will keep his mowers humming, well, then I will feel good. I think SMB will feel a lot better about Social Media, once they give up hope.
I am sorry if your business is promoting Social Media to SMB, but if you plan to comment that I am just plain wrong, you best be prepared to back it up.