You’re an entrepreneur, so there’s a good chance you’re not much for conventional wisdom.
You’ve gone against the grain a hundred times, and you’re used to beating the odds. You know that conventional wisdom often paves a straight, safe route to reasonable success—but you have no interest in doing what everyone else is doing.
The thing is, conventional wisdom on the Internet has been telling you for years that all entrepreneurs need social media marketing. “If you’re not on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and everything else under the Silicon Valley sun, prepare to get passed up by the digital world!”
But is the conventional wisdom, in this case, correct? Or are those internal doubts of yours onto something?
Let’s find out if the conventional wisdom applies for you—or whether you need to switch strategies:
The Arguments: Pros and Cons of Social Media Marketing
It’s easy to claim that social media is either definitively good or a complete waste of time. But the truth is, results will vary. There’s no right or wrong answer here. Each unique business has its own unique market. In some cases, social media’s good for accessing that market.
In other cases, not so much.
So let’s take a look at the pros and cons to social media marketing and see which benefits (or complaints) jive with you:
Easy audience targeting. Sometimes, you may have to resort to sponsored ads, but the truth is, social media allows you to get in touch directly with the customer—or, at the very least, qualified leads.
Viral potential. Sharing a juicy tidbit on social media is a sure way to attract buzz and attention—and the platform of social media allows each tidbit to reach its full viral potential.
Real-time interaction. A promotion goes live the instant you click “upload.” Customers can have real-time chats with you. Social media is only one half-step away from in-person, real-time interaction.
Some assembly required. Let’s face it: not every entrepreneur has the tech-savvy or digital instincts to make the most out of social media. Some people have other valid ways of reaching their customers that are far more efficient for their purposes.
Investment of time and energy. Social media marketing, as convenient as it is, is a “you get what you put into it” proposition. Without taking the time to make your social media updates engaging and interesting, you’re not going to see many results—and for many entrepreneurs, this time could be better spent elsewhere.
The “echo chamber” effect. What happens if you fail to grasp the finer points of acquiring followers, Facebook likes, and connections? You end up spending much of your time on social media giving out offers and coupons to a small, uninterested audience. No thanks.
If the “cons” resonated with you far more than the “pros,” it may be time to face the truth:
No, Social Media Marketing Isn’t Working for Everyone
If you’ve given social media marketing a try—or three—and haven’t seen any results, it may be for one of the following reasons:
Your Company Simply Doesn’t Lend Itself to Social Media
The digital world is full of case studies of social media success, with companies from Cadbury to American Express finding creative ways to utilize these platforms even though nothing about their respective companies screams “social media!”
Even so, as a small business owner yourself, it’s only intuitive that one type of company has a broader range of social media appeal than others. If you run Cadbury, you have delicious candies to sell. Everyone likes that. But if you run a business repairing water pumps for factories, then is your audience even on social media?
You, the Owner, Don’t Jive with Social Media
Far be it from us to suggest that simply because you’ve never run social media, you’ll never be able to. That’s hogwash. “I’m just not the Facebook type” is not an excuse to avoid social media marketing. (For an interesting case study on one such entrepreneur, check out “When Social Media Marketing Doesn’t Work For You”.)
That said, there are occasions when your time as an entrepreneur can be better spent on activities that don’t include updating your Facebook account or upgrading your LinkedIn membership.
Sometimes, it’s simply better to focus on your strengths. And even more powerful: it’s important to recognize where most of your new clients and customers do come from. And if the overwhelming majority of them don’t find you on social media, maybe there’s no rush to set up your Twitter account.
You're Not Actually Being Social
If you're trying to sell water pump repairs geared at manufacturing plants, you'll probably fail on Facebook. It's not the right place to promote your products, and people will glaze over your messaging. If you use social media just for the sake of being social-- to make connections, share what you do, and educate your audience-- than social can play a role in building your company. But if you don't have the time or energy to create a fun and whacky Facebook page that's a bit tangential, then you probably don't need social for success.
What You Need to Make Social Media Marketing Work
We’re big believers in social media marketing here, so we don’t advocate throwing in the towel. But if, despite struggling with social media, you still want to make your social media marketing work for you, you would do well to follow a few rules:
Know the limitations of social media. Don’t go into a Facebook or Twitter campaign believing that you’ll be the next viral star. Set realistic goals, such as uncovering insights from your customers, or even a specific ROI. This will give you a much better handle not only on your limitations, but the strategies you’ll need to utilize to achieve each goal.
Other stuff. Social media marketing is a great tool, but it’s not the whole toolbox. Entrepreneurs who created businesses before Facebook and Twitter understand that, as should we all. Incorporate social media into your marketing strategy, but don’t make it your only strategy.
Define your audience first. It’s easy to reach people on social media. But what about reaching the right people? Knowing your audience is half the battle. So ask yourself: what social media platforms do your ideal customers use? How can you reach them on those platforms?
A desire to experiment. “But what if I fail?” Who cares? It’s only an experiment. Don’t let your success—or lack thereof—on social media define your company. View it as an experiment and you’re far more likely to enjoy the process.
Make marketing that works on social. If you sell pool filters, it might seem like you'll never prosper on social media. And, to be honest, your pool filters might not do so well if you promote them on Facebook. However, if you were creative, you'd post pics of beautiful pools around the world, as well as kids jumping off diving boards and babies in floaties. Those posts would better connect with your audience.
You don’t have to pay an expensive P.R. firm to handle your social media—heck, it might be good to run it yourself for a while just to learn the ropes. But what you do need is a willingness to try out social media out for yourself before you decide it’s not for you.
Digital Alternatives to Social Media Marketing
Of course, just because social media isn’t an ideal fit with your marketing strategy doesn’t mean you can’t branch out a bit. Here are some digital alternatives to social media marketing that you may not yet be using:
Sponsored search advertising. If you had more success in the Yellow Pages than Twitter, Sponsored search is an avenue more likely to bring you online success. This is especially great for companies that need to focus on local business.
Blogging and building a website. Sometimes, your social media platform is far superior to your actual website. Don’t be that company! Create a web presence that is actually worth visiting and eventually the customers will find you. Better yet, add a blog to attract more web visitors. Keep in mind that social is a great way to distribute what you post, so social media can work in tandem with your blog.
Search engine optimization. If you want to attract visitors to your site naturally, SEO is a strategy as old as search engines themselves. If your industry doesn't get much heat on social, it may still be getting lots of traction via search.
Personal social media use. If you don't think your company will jive on social, be on social yourself. Twitter and LinkedIn are especially good for sharing your expertise.
What Has Social Done for You?
Remember: just because you don’t believe you’re the right kind of entrepreneur for social media doesn’t mean you can’t still do great things in the digital age. But it will take persistence, adaptation, and a willingness to try new things if your company is going to get noticed on a larger stage.
Your Turn: What social media strategies have (or haven't) worked for you? Please share in the comments.