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Should Every Business Invest in Social Media?

June 20, 2011
Leah Horsch
Branded

I was taking the shuttle bus from an off-site airport parking lot this week when I noticed a large poster on the window of the bus. “Like Us on Facebook! Tweet Us on Twitter! Watch Us on YouTube!” it beseeched travelers. Really? Will someone please tell these people that they’re running a parking lot? Not that the video on their YouTube channel showing a natural gas fueling demonstration wasn’t compelling.

I’m not a snarky person, but I watch companies pant, like a dog chasing a truck, to have a big presence on social media, seemingly without pondering whether it’s a good investment for them. In some cases, they seem to be checking a box that says they are relevant and with the times. But just because you build a social media presence, doesn’t mean people have the time or interest to explore it. Before you dive in to social media, here are some common myths to consider. Then you can make a decision to jump in with cannonball gusto — or not.

Myth 1: It’s Free Advertising

There is a widely held perception that social media is free. But to do it right requires good strategy and an investment of staff time and giveaways and advertising to build and keep a following. SocialTimes released an info graphic in May that pegged the average cost of a social media campaign at $210,000. Those numbers are for some bigger brand campaigns, but even scaled down, it can require a chunk of change. And if it’s not free, does it still make sense for your business to be using it as a tool?

Most small companies have limited budgets and should evaluate social media with the same rigor they would other marketing tools. Tending the social media garden takes lots of time. And, time is money, whether you do it yourself or pay someone to do it. It’s like saying it’s free to install your own kitchen cabinets. It’s not.

Myth 2: Every Business Should Invest in Social Media

All businesses can use more awareness, and social media can certainly help shore up customer loyalty. At a minimum, if your target audience is on Facebook and Twitter, you probably should create placeholder pages that give basic information and redirect people to your Web site. But what in the way of resources should you devote to a social media presence?

If you are selling services people rarely need, is this a good investment? Do people have the time and energy to follow a company that is not relevant to their daily lives? We tend to shy away from places that are a downer in our lives, and yet I was surprised to find a number of such places with Facebook pages: funeral homes, for example. I wondered what they talk about. It turns out some use them as a placeholder for contact info and announcements of funeral services. Some even invite people to stop by for a business happy hour. O.K.

Other funeral homes have built a following, and the comments range from people thanking the home for how their loved one’s hair looked to saying they’ll be back. Not sure what they mean by that. Joyce and John Herzig, owners of the Toland-Herzig Funeral Homes (with more than 1,000 “likes”) posted a photograph of Joyce standing by Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s casket. Professional courtesy? My winner for the most check-ins goes to a Las Vegas funeral home with 158. (It doesn’t say whether they checked out). Does this generate business?

Recently, I visited a public relations person who has a group of high-end divorce lawyers as clients. The lawyers wanted a social media presence but specified they only want to pay someone to spend an hour or two a month on the initiative. We talked about how most social media avenues (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Yelp) probably were not a good fit for them. For divorces among couples with lots to divide, it’s a race to saddle up the highest-octane divorce lawyer in town before the soon-to-be ex gets there first. For recommendations, combatants turn first to trusted friends in their social circles, not to Yelp or Angie’s List. Yes, LinkedIn could be a good venue to use to push out articles of relevance to other professionals who might be a source of referrals. But much more than an hour a month would be needed to research and write articles of interest and to re-post other relevant content and develop commentary. Most important, it should be done by one of the firm’s lawyers, not a third party.

Myth 3: Everyone Will Really Like Us

I see Facebook pages for companies that beseech others to “like” them: “Come on, only 80 friends right now, and I’m aiming for 500 by the end of the week. Friend me folks!” It feels a little like a kid on the playground begging to be picked for a team. It makes me feel uncomfortable for that company and question why I would consider a relationship with them.

Few consumers feel they have too much time. Your audience has only fleeting moments to engage with a brand each day on the social Web. You must reward them by making it a positive part of their day. Start your social media presence with a strategy that includes a solid plan (and budget) for driving people to your page and keeping them engaged. It’s essential to offer something of value. This could be coupons, freebies, contests, specials or articles of interest.

SpiritHoods, a California maker of animal-inspired outer wear, does a great job of getting its loyal tribe together for online campfires. The company does this with contests, giveaways and feel-good donations to wildlife preservation groups. Another effective, inexpensive way to get friend traction beyond your current customers and your mom is to develop an interactive quiz that relates to your business and your customers. There are inexpensive interactive quiz apps out there to plug into your Facebook page, such as Kwanzoo and SnapApp. People love to learn more about themselves and to share those insights with their friends.

Remember to aim for entertaining (this is social media) while giving your audience something that makes them look smart. That way, they will pass your message along to others. Consumers also have a personal brand to maintain. Every company someone “likes” on Facebook or “follows” on Twitter is out there for their universe to see.

As a company, think about what associating with your brand is doing for your customers’ personal brands. When we help them look and be smarter, hipper, savvier, more interesting and successful to their own audiences, our companies can win, too.

MP Mueller is the founder of Door Number 3, a boutique advertising agency in Austin, Tex. Follow Door Number 3 on Facebook.

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