Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Small Business Social Media B.S.

I recently attended a free seminar where an "expert" talked—for about two hours—about the importance of social media for small businesses.

The presentation, although entertaining, was not really applicable to the average small business owner and, at the end of the talk, I think few in the room left knowing any more than when they arrived, which is ironic, since the workshop was advertised as "Social media marketing made simple." A few attendees were even more confused when the presenter started talking about hashtags, a topic that she was not qualified to discuss.

To the average (and dare I say older) small business owner, social media seems to be both intimidating as well as a quick and easy path to reach thousands, nay, millions of potential customers.

In reality, however, social media is neither quick nor easy. It can certainly be a valuable asset to any enterprise, but for reasons far removed from the examples used during the presentation I attended.

Citing examples such as people losing their jobs because they posted a photo of a sales receipt online which went viral, and the company's failure to swiftly react to it and capitalize on that post by addressing the problem and blah, blah, blah, are a total waste of time and useless information to the great majority of small business owners.

If the point is that you have to handle problems swiftly, then say so, instead of using "The sky is falling" scare tactics to illustrate it.

I attended the presentation because I thought that maybe (for a change), one of these "free" seminars would teach me something I could use for my new small biz. But no. These freebies appear to be nothing more than a way for speakers to market their services to a captive audience, some of whom—like in this case—want to learn what to do about social media and how to use it to their advantage.

The biggest benefit of social media is that Facebook, Google+, et al, get all the free content and traffic in the world, remain popular, and their stockholders make lots of money. Benefits to average small businesses are questionable.

If someone has the time and energy to spend hours posting (usually meaningless drivel) to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc., or uploading photos or videos to Pinterest and Instagram, more power to them. But, if you run and operate a small company, chances are you do not have the time or energy for such endeavors. Most of which do not augment the bottom line.

Am I saying that you shouldn't start a Facebook, Twitter or Google+ page?

No.

Am I then saying that you shouldn't upload photos or videos to Pinterest, Instagram or YouTube?

No.

I have pages for my company on several social media sites, and if you have a business, regardless of size, you should secure its name in most of the largest or most popular sites that will let you do so, even if you never use them.

Other than that, wasting precious time worrying about producing content, getting "likes," visitors, or "engagement" (another way of saying participation), is an exercise in futility.

Social media channels can be helpful—when used correctly—for search engine optimization purposes and even to generate interest and sales.

However, I think that the great majority of small business owners opt to devote time and effort (which to me are the same as money), only because these services are "free," and they've heard stories about someone who made a small fortune or became an overnight celebrity, when their social media post went viral.

I believe that the average person has a better chance to be struck by lightning than hitting the "social media lottery."

If you decide to start a Facebook or Google+ page for your business and  give it enough attention so it will serve a purpose and represent your company properly, that's great. But if you think that a "set-it-and-forget-it" approach will work, I have bad news for you. No one likes to see web pages that are not current, and if someone who "likes" your page takes the time to post a comment or question, you have to be ready to post some sort of a reply, and in a timely fashion.

Like with a business phone, you have to be ready to respond to prospects and customers swiftly and efficiently. And if you're not ready to do this online, you might as well not even bother giving social media a shot. It just won't work.

In other words, the moment you launch a social media effort of any kind, you've created another job for yourself.

The other question that I thought would be answered during the free seminar, was whether it's necessary to have a social media presence on every major site.

The answer, again, is NO!

Having said that, if you do have the time (and/or resources) to post at least three times a day (as the presenter recommended, which is absurd) to your Facebook page, and you also want to devote a few additional minutes to update your Google+ account, maybe another 5 or 10 minutes to communicate with your LinkedIn network, upload some photos to Pinterest, make a quick post to Twitter, then click over to Instagram to make a post there, and then film, edit and upload a 2-minute video to your YouTube channel, then you're all set.

However, if like the great majority of small businesses you have to devote, at least, a few hours each day to actually work, then maybe the approach described above is not for you.

Social media channels take time, usually a long time, to grow organically so you can acquire a significant number of likes. You can always buy likes, of course, but that's absurd and it could have negative search engine optimization consequences. Besides, if you have money to waste on buying likes, you might as well buy some ads on Facebook. How effective those are I question, but if you have the extra money, go for it.

Panicking about not having a social media presence is absurd.

If you have decided to make the necessary effort and time commitment to develop a social channel, then start right now!

Be patient and allow it to grow slowly but steadily. Again, you do not need several social channels. Simply pick the one you like and/or use. If not sure which, either Google+ or Facebook are fine. If your prospects hang out on LinkedIn, then develop a network there. Just don't try the "jack of all trades, master of none" approach.

And start now.

Don't get to this time next year wishing you had started today.