Social media is broken. Actually that’s not true but I hear it a lot from business owners. The reality is how businesses use social media is broken.
I was speaking at an event recently. While there I spoke at length about social media with an individual at a company that runs a website for highlighting local businesses. They put out event listings and articles about local businesses in various cities.
I had researched all the attendees and companies coming to the event. I knew this individual’s business model was built for the desktop internet era of 2002. This means they were trying to get lots of “visits” to their website to claim they had lots of website traffic to then sell advertising on their site. They were also trying to get lots of social media followers and count this as part of their “reach” — again to sell more advertising on their company website. This is the same thing that local newspapers still do and claim that a high number of “impressions” is a good reason to spend money with them solely for their advertising “reach”.
Guess what? Impressions don’t equal customers. Reach doesn’t equal sales.
(I’m not saying categorically that there is no place for local newspapers or local media websites. I’m simply saying that the business models are outdated and their value is limited. This especially true if they are not producing any valuable content themselves.)
So back to my discussion about social media. I was talking about the future of marketing and commerce and how social media platforms are becoming integrated with shopping. This individual from the above local business website company then spoke up and commented about having thousands of Twitter followers. He said he couldn’t understand why local businesses didn’t advertise more with their website and why they couldn’t see the value in how great his company was on social media. He essentially said in the nicest way possible that local businesses were too stupid to see why they should be advertising with his company all the time.
I had some deep insights for him that I couldn’t share with the whole group. So I simply point out that just like with newspapers, his website impressions don’t actually equal customers — and followers don’t equal customers either. What businesses want is results and he had to show results to get more customers.
Afterwards I privately took him aside to offer some insights.
What he didn’t know as his company was one of the sponsors of the event, was that I had admin control over the event page website. I posted an invitation to the event on my social media channels. I was tracking inbound and outbound links and referrals. On the event page website I managed, I listed their company as a sponsor with a link to their company website.
Guess what? People who visited the event page website who came from my social media invitations clicked on the link out to their company website 102 times.
The same event was listed on their website as a local event with them as a sponsor.
Guess how many people came to the event page website that was linked in the description of the event posting on their company website? Zero. Guess how many people came to the event website from their posts on Twitter? Zero. Guess how many people came to the event website from their Facebook posts? Zero.
I got them 102 website visits from my smaller network of engaged friends and customers. They generated no traffic to the event page website that they were one of the sponsors for and mainly responsible for creating awareness and attendance.
Seeing a lack of engagement and activity coming from their website 2 weeks prior to the event, I further tested the ROI of their local business website platform (this was primarily because they tried to sell me advertising as an event speaker and I wanted to test their “reach”). I personally emailed many of the businesses who were advertising on their website to invite them to the event. Guess what? I got 5 responses from 30 emails with 2 who ended up attending the event. So good old fashioned email marketing was working better than their website for our event.
I’m not pointing out these details to highlight a fault, I want to highlight an opportunity. That opportunity is that businesses can use social media better and get results that exceed what they are currently using — like traditional advertising or very old methods of digital advertising they are accustomed to using because it’s familiar. You have to be willing to learn new ways to exceed. I am not the world’s top social media guru and am learning every day what works and what doesn’t.
The bottom line is that when you are running a business you don’t just want a bunch of followers, you want potential customers. This doesn’t mean to blatantly use social media to send out annoying sales messages all day, every day. It also doesn’t mean that everyone who follows you or likes your page must be prospects.
However if you focus your social media content on things that your potential customers are interested in, then they will self-select and follow you. And when you engage with them, they will actually engage back.
You can get loads of followers by posting pictures of fast cars or models in bikinis, but you have to ask how having followers who like this type of content is honestly helping your software company, sandwich shop, real estate business, etc. This example seems obvious but if you look at your own content, you might be putting stuff out that is interesting to you or that you really hope customers are interested in — but take the time to make sure they actually are.
As a business owner you have to fix how you use social media before you write off social media as broken.