Let me be perfectly honest, I don’t think the social media is worth much as a marketing tool. I define social media as networks whose primary goal is keep you on their platform, in order to show you paid, targeted adverts. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest and the others.
Why do I exclude YouTube and LinkedIn? Because their strategy of placing adverts in front of their readers is closer to well-known advertising channels like magazines and newspapers.
Being anti social media makes me something of a pariah in the marketing world, where so many people and companies are trying to make a living from convincing companies that it’s critical. Why am I out of step with the rest of my industry? Well… experience. I have found that it quite simply doesn’t work.
It doesn’t work for my clients in South Africa, Mozambique, Indonesia, the UK, Australia or Canada, so it isn’t about geography.
It doesn’t work for my engineering, mining and construction clients. No big surprise. Those guys don’t communicate when you put them in a room together liberally oiled with a few beers, they certainly aren’t going to sign up with TikTok.
But it also doesn’t work for my clients with an ultra-feminine demographic (you don’t get more Facebook-friendly than a beauty spa, a bridal boutique and a restaurant!
When DOES social media work?
That said, Facebook works amazingly well for my client Harley Owners Group (HOG Africa). Why is this group so different?
- Harley Owners may be “macho” (even the Ladies of Harley) but they are inherently social
- The H.O.G. Facebook page is only about upcoming rallies, socials, rider training and fun events. It avoids anything remotely like selling.
- I post daily, and at least half my posts are sharing other members positive comments about rallies, socials, rides and riding, or congratulating people on milestones or achievements.
- The Ladies of Harley are a powerful sub-group within Chapters, and they are VERY chatty and supportive. almost all shares on my posts are ladies and not the gents.
- The gents are the strong silent type. They do read (I can see that on my stats) but rarely comment, like or share unless its a joke.
The dangers of social media fame
Social media isn’t a communications platform your business CAN own and control.
Before the pandemic, Harley Owners Group used Facebook as a place to meet fellow members, run webinars, promote events. I set and ran the account for Africa and the Middle East for over 5 years. During that time, Facebook changed it’s rules TWICE in a fundamental way. The group had to be restarted each time. Luckily HOG is a real-world organization, so we could regain our followers. But if it has been an online group, it would not have survived.
Whether it comes from hackers, disgruntled customers, or is simply a backlash against something you post, negative social media content can destroy trust in your brand in a matter of minutes. Followers don’t tolerate mistakes and outrage spreads fast. The more you post, and the more famous you are, the more you are going to be targeted by people trying to boost their own profile by taking you down.
People are fickle, and entire social media channels can fall out of favour. When they go down, you lose years of hard work. If it is your core marketing channel, you might find it impossible to recreate yourself. This means that most businesses have to create and post on multiple channels to mitigate their risk.
Myth #5: Social Media is about making friends
The assumption is that friends and followers become customers – if they agree with what you say, they will buy from you. They will share your products with their followers and friends. The more popular you are, the more you will sell.
Confession: I have a really popular cat on Twitter. I’ve learned a lot about how social media works from him. But top #CatsofTwitter like my close friend Scruffkit has been unable to turn his massive following into sales. And Scruffkit’s Mom makes great candles and jewellery.
Tweeting and sharing draws attention to the best information to be found on the internet about a topic that you are interested in – whether it’s cats, climate change, entrepreneurship or dealing with depression. When you follow someone, you’re simply saying “I find what you have to say interesting enough that I want to be able to keep tabs on it easily.”
My personal experience: social media is what you make it. A marketing tool, a branding tool, a social tool, a source of useful content on a specific topic. But it can easily eat up a lot of time without introducing you to new prospective clients, and getting people to call your business. If you find after a few months that social media is driving business to your website (easy to check with analytics), keep going – you’re a winner!
Myth #4: Social Media is only for creative people
When you craft, write, paint, and create videos, social media seems sensible. If you’re a business coach or sell widgets, it’s less obvious what you will talk about that’s worth sharing.
Egotists will use Twitter in a narcissistic fashion. But Twitter isn’t much fun unless other Tweeters take notice of you – which they won’t if your tweets consist entirely of navel-gazing (unless you’re a celebrity of course).
The people who get the most out of Twitter over the long term are those who identify ways to reach out and engage their potential customers in conversations. Painfully obvious observation.
If you know that your customers tend to have a certain interest in common (other than what you offer), talk about that.
For example: you would think that owning and loving a cat was a fairly generic thing. However I was surprised to discover that cat owners have a lot in common: they a somewhat anti-social and anxious, they are often creative and crafty, they tend to be kind and more supportive of diversity than the general public. They have a reasonable disposable income but are rarely rich. They are a bit cynical, and read a lot.
My personal verdict: I assumed when I started that creating original content would attract the most attention, but often retweeting is a better way to be noticed and followed. Being interested in other people is more likely to get them interested in you. I guess that is a universal truth that I should have learned before now!
Myth #3: The short length is a liability
Having limited characters to work with can be frustrating but I believe the 140-character count is one of the best things about Twitter. It requires you to get to the core of the topic you’re tweeting – the key points that will make it interesting. It helps you become a better writer by forcing you to delete superfluous words (it’s amazing how many you can end up doing without). It makes tweets – the really good ones easy to read and follow.
I have found that all social media posts do better when the first sentence is exciting, and the post is less than 2 paragraphs. Emojis do well, and ALWAYS have an image.
My personal verdict: It is one of the few internet applications actually improving human literacy. You ever hear anyone make the case that haiku would be improved if it involved twice as many words?
Myth #4: There is one right way to use social media
There are social rules, and a few technology requirements. But saying there is a wrong way to use Facebook and Twitter is like saying there’s a wrong way to hold a conversation (actually the wrong way to hold a conversation is to forget to let go!) You should use social media any way that works for you.
For example it’s not rude if you don’t read every tweet or post your followers send. The more followers you have (hundreds, thousands) the more difficult this becomes. It’s also not rude if you don’t follow everyone who chooses to follow you. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t — it depends if you find someone’s twitter feed interesting or not.
My personal verdict: The profoundly wrong way to use social media is as a vehicle for spam, chain letters, fake news, hate speech and stupidity.
Myth #5 The more followers you have, the better.
There are already applications coming out to “increase your followers”. Sometimes you pay a few dollars per 500 followers. Sometimes you agree to follow everyone in the system (and they agree to follow you). The result is a figure for “followers” almost identical to the figure for “followed”.
But you have to learn to not get too excited when you get a boom of followers. I wrote an article on “Network Marketing” and I picked 60 followers in that business. A few then went on to READ the article, and realised that it was extremely critical. And promptly unfollowed. So don’t be upset when you get a a “bust” of followers either.
My personal verdict: social media is a very good way to get instant feedback. It’s not a competition – concentrate on being interesting in your niche field.