There are a lot of social media experts out there—including the ones who claim there’s no such thing as a “social media expert”—and they’re telling us how social media works, how it doesn’t work, and how we all must behave in the social media arena.
Much of this advice is framed as “universal truths” that every business must follow. Unfortunately, a lot of it is based on the expert’s personal experience. And that may not be appropriate for you. Even the most well-intended advice is often off the mark when it comes to your business.
There’s nothing wrong with sage advice, but when guidelines become rules, they need to be scrutinized.
What follows are some of the oft-quoted “rules” that you need to question as you use social media for your own business.
Claim 1: Social Media Has Changed Everything
Balderdash. Yes, we’ve got shiny new tools, and consumers can give more public, vocal feedback on your products and services. However, leads still need to be generated, sales need to be closed and invoices need to be sent; no business survives otherwise.
Furthermore, networking didn’t start with LinkedIn. Before there was social networking there was real-world networking. And you know what? It came with drinks and hors d’oeuvres, so it wasn’t all that bad.
In fact, arguably the best book on social media marketing predates social media marketing: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Go and (re)read that book; everything he talks about is still true today, it’s just that now it happens on Twitter.
Claim 2: You Can’t Sell in Social Media
This statement is the mantra of early adopters who remember “the good old days” of social media, before Facebook had ads and all the spammers realized how powerful and inexpensive the medium could be.
It’s well-documented that Dell has sold million of dollars of PCs and accessories through Twitter promotions. Local coffee shops use Twitter to take orders that are ready when you arrive or promote themselves using location-based apps like FourSquare or Gowalla. (In fact, if you’d like some advice on how to sell in FourSquare, check out Why Foursquare Drives Business.)
Now this doesn’t mean that you should go out and spam everyone you can reach through social media. In fact, that’s probably a quick way to lose followers and even get banned from popular networks. However, when you put the right message in front of the right person in the right social medium, sales happen.
Claim 3: You Have to Stay On Message
This is preached by many of the most successful social media experts out there. But you know who stays on message? Politicians and boring corporations. If you don’t count yourself in either group, then staying on message isn’t for you.
I’ve bonded with people over my love of Phineas & Ferb, photos I’ve uploaded to my personal Flickr account, and my fear of a zombie apocalypse.
In fact, my interest in zombies is so well-known that friends tweet me zombie news and I’ve even received several zombie-themed gifts at events. It seems strange, but the undead have helped build my network.
While that may not lead to direct sales—Google Analytics still doesn’t list “zombies” as a traffic source—it has helped me make new connections and opened up new opportunities that have led to business.
While zombies may not be your cup of tea, sharing your interests—whether it’s gardening, cooking or skydiving—will attract like-minded people to you and help build your network.
As Chris Garrett says in his post “How to Boost Your Personal Brand with Social Media”:
Using light humor, being kind, sharing about more than just your work—including your interests—allow people to connect with you on a human level as well as a business and technical level.
Claim 4: You Need to Have a Lot of Followers
When I asked my network about expert advice they disagreed with, the focus on developing a large following was the most often cited.
There are two types of experts who talk about social media as a numbers game. The first is the social media “guru” whose Twitter bio promises to teach you how to get hundreds of new followers a day, but is somehow stuck at 17 followers himself.
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The second is the social media evangelist who is almost always on message and has a business model that requires a large number of customers to succeed. For her, a lot of it is about the numbers.
And in defense of this particular piece of advice, the bigger your network, the more people you can reach. All things being equal, that’s a good thing. If you ask a question and you have few followers, expect few answers. If you have hundreds or thousands of followers, expect a lot more responses.
There’s also the matter of “social proof”: without anything else to go on, we often “trust” someone with a lot of followers, or who gets a lot of comments on his blog or video. Twenty-five thousand followers can’t be wrong… right?
But beyond that, social media is not an arms race. It’s better to have 100 followers with whom you regularly engage than 10,000 who never pay attention to you.
Some people spend each day following as many new people as they can, then unfollowing those who don’t follow them back in 24 hours to free up space for more new followers. What kind of return on investment are they getting for that behavior? When your followers are following 20,000 people, how much attention is being lavished on you?
Likewise, if you’re following tens of thousands of people, how many can you truly engage with? The rule of diminishing returns is at work here.
Claim 5: You Need to Have a Lot of Comments on Your Blog
Nothing gives you a warm feeling like posting a blog that garners a lot of comments. It’s nice to know that your work is having an impact.
That being said, comments aren’t clients. They may make you feel good, but they don’t impact your bottom line. In fact, focusing on comments can be detrimental to your business. I know of businesses that quit blogging because they weren’t getting many comments on their blog. They stopped creating new blog posts that would have increased their online visibility and generated more online leads.
If comments are your business goal, then blog about politics, religion or American Idol. If growing your business is your goal, then focus on whether your blog appears in the search engines and delivers warm leads to your website.
Claim 6: You Can’t Measure Social Media ROI
Of course you can. There are “soft” numbers, like how many people viewed your last YouTube video, how many people subscribe to your podcast, and how influential your blog is according to Technorati. It’s also easy to know how many Facebook friends you have, how many people follow you on Twitter, and how often your most recent blog post has been “dugg.” (Keeping in mind that not all friends or followers have the same importance and social media is not an arms race.)
There are also “hard” numbers, like the traffic social media and blogs send to your website, and how much of that traffic converts into business. If your contact form asks “How did you hear about us?” you may be seeing more people respond with “I follow you on Twitter” or “Your video came up in a Google search I did.”
As you can see from the graphic above, most of the non-search traffic to our site came from blogs (our own and those of other companies) and social media sites where our company and employees are active.
Claim 7: You Have to Be on Facebook (or Twitter, or Have a Blog…)
There’s only one reason to use a specific social platform for business: your audience is there.
There’s no platform that’s right for every company. If you’re using social media to grow a business, you need to focus on the sites and applications that are already being used by your target audience.
You should still reserve your “handle” on as many social media sites as you can, for two important reasons:
- It protects your brand and keeps someone else from using “your” handle.
- What seems like an unimportant platform now may grow into a popular place where your audience hangs out.
The important thing to remember is that there’s no one rule that’s right for every company. While much of the advice you hear might be solid, it may not be appropriate for your business. Just because it worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Except for this one rule…
One Rule Worth Following
Provide value. That’s it. In social media it’s all too easy to unfollow, unfriend or unsubscribe from someone who’s not providing value. Every tweet, status update, blog post, video, or check-in should provide value to your audience.
Value means different things to different people. Your value may be in creating thought leadership blog posts. It might be in always posting links to great resources. Or it might be creating irreverent, sarcastic or even off-color commentary on what’s going on in your audience’s lives. The key is to just keep providing that value to your audience.
Now it’s your turn. What social media advice have you heard that you feel is completely off base, or has been the key to your success? Please add your thoughts in the comment box below…