Friday, January 24, 2014

Why Social Media Are Not a Strategy

Are you in business to be popular? Connected? Engaged? You are, or at least you should, be in business to make profit. Because that is what business is about. You may have chosen to be an entrepreneur for many reasons, but if you don’t have a profit you don’t have a business. It really is that simple.
There are many compelling blog posts and snazzy videos that strongly promote the notion that social media are imperative to the success of business. These posts usually incorporate something along the lines of “Social Media, can you afford not to?” Well, I want to put it on record that yes, many businesses can absolutely afford not to “do” social media. In fact, I would go so far as to say that for some businesses, engagement in social media is actually damaging.

The Personal Hygiene Analogy

If personal hygiene were an analogy for marketing, then social media would be perfume. To put this bluntly, perfume is no substitute for the fundamentals of personal hygiene. You need a 365 bathing plan, and perfume is no substitute for that.

What are social media?

The answer is partly in the question. Media, being the plural of medium, are ways to store or communicate information. There are many flavours of media:
  • Newspapers ~ print
  • TV stations ~ broadcast
  • Social media ~ digital
Social media can, like any other media, be used to achieve certain personal or business objectives. And used wisely, these media can work very well for business, but only as part of an actual marketing strategy. It will not work for every business and it is time to be honest about that. A radio advertisement will not work for every business, and it is ridiculous to presume that social media will work for every business. You need to pick the media that is most relevant and appropriate for your business. Sparkplugs on Facebook? I don’t think so.

What Social Media is not

  1. A Business Plan
    There are many components to a business plan, but frankly some businesses are so busy faffing around with social media that they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture.  How does your business make profit? What products or services should be sold to optimise profit? These are some of the big questions that need to be answered before you can develop a business plan or a marketing plan or even dream of engaging in social media. For a business, there are really only two business numbers that matter – Cash and Profit.
  2. A Marketing Plan
    You need to define your brand and identify your customer before you even begin to draft a marketing plan or select marketing media.
  3. A substitute for relevance
    The number of followers you have in any social medium is not an end in itself. Neither is building a community, engagement levels or indeed, (social media aside), the  number of website visitors you have. So many businesses focus on their social media metrics that they forget about the cost of acquisition of a customer or about the profit margin that they should be making. Social media needs to be relevant to your business objectives. There are many worthy and relevant business objectives for social media other than sales, such as brand building, awareness marketing and customer service. These all contribute indirectly to profit. What you and your followers do when they engage with you or visit your website is what is really relevant, not the number of followers that you have.
  4. Free
    Social media are not free. Even if you do not allocate an employee or outsource this function, it takes time to create and collate content, to broadcast it and to engage with your community. Time spent on social media can have a massive opportunity cost, if it diverts a business owner from focusing on making profit.

The Social Media Mantra

The bankers’ mantra is well known:
“Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity but cash is reality”.
Here’s my adaptation for social media, which I’ll call “The Social Media Mantra”:
“Followers are vanity but profit is sanity.”

What do you think?

Social media are not a strategy. They are, well, a collection of mediums. It seems likely that social media are here to stay. The popularity of individual social media networks may wax and wane, but people have an inherent desire to be connected and social media fills that personal need. However, when it comes to business, relevance is the name of the game. What do you think? Is it really relevant to every business to be using social media?

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