A few weeks ago I received a call from a prospective client, enquiring about content marketing. Although he had initiated contact, he was really quite sceptical about whether social media could help his business grow.
“I’ve tried it before, and seen nothing for it!” he declared passionately. “So I’m not going to put too much into it now.”
I asked him how deep his previous social media activity went.
“Well, we put up a few blog posts….. I’ve tweeted quite a lot.”
A quick check showed that he had been tweeting two or three times a day for three or four months. Well, of course he never saw results!
While this is an extreme example, it does neatly illustrate two important points that are rarely voiced.
1. To see appreciable results from social media – actually generate more business, really become more visible – you need to believe in it. If you are sceptical, you are unlikely to ever devote to it the kind of resources that are necessary to make it work, and then your doubts will prove themselves true. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This does not mean that you have to dive into social media with the jazziest, most ambitious, most expensive programme ever. I’m actually a big believer in pilot projects, which allow you to find your feet, convince your management or board that social media works, and perhaps gives you leeway to experiment and be more creative than you would otherwise.
It does mean that whatever you take on must be fully resourced, given a decent amount of time to work (at least 6, preferably 9 months) and that you must be fully committed to its success.
Half-hearted efforts are simply a waste of your time and money.
2. Success at social media takes time, money and a lot of effort. I’m sure you’ve read many blog posts telling that you can do social media in 15 minutes a day, or been to agencies who promise you results for a couple of hundred pounds or dollars a month. Well guess what? It’s not true.
Yes, you can be present on social media with that kind of financial and temporal investment. Over time (a long time), you’ll build fans and settle into a nice posting routine. Maybe you’ll have some interesting conversations on Twitter. But you’re unlikely to see results, not the kind of results that will transform your business.
While every social media programme is different, a serious one will involve large volumes of new content to provide regular value to your followers, and frequent posts to social media (multiple times a day). You will have a proper email marketing plan, engage frequently with your fans and (perhaps) be connecting to hundreds of new prospects on LinkedIn.
The companies whose businesses boom online are not doing it in their spare time, or with their pocket change; they have a team member, or have outsourced it to someone, who is devoting several days a month to it (at least). Because that’s what it takes.
The sad part of this is that the idea that social media is “free”, and that it has levelled the playing field between smaller and bigger companies because everyone can reach their prospects directly, without having to spend thousands on television or radio advertising, is just a myth.
Bigger companies still have an advantage, because they can afford the staff to build their social media machines (even if that is significantly cheaper than a spot on prime-time TV, and therefore more within reach for smaller companies).
Does this mean that companies with very limited resources should not bother? No – just as once upon a time, they still had to advertise in the local papers even if they couldn’t afford the nationals. But they need to realistic about what they are likely to achieve, understanding that while a daily picture on Facebook or a blog post every fortnight might raise their profile slowly or affect their SEO (and make no mistake – these are really worthwhile achievements!), it is unlikely to save a failing company.
They need to invest their resources wisely, finding one smallish thing they can do really, really well, rather than spreading themselves too thin.
The upshot? I’ve seen social media produce amazing results for many companies, generating streams of new clients and significant growth in turnover. But I’ve yet to see this happen to any team that entered into social media holding their nose, looking to do it on the cheap.
What do you think is the minimum investment of time and money necessary to see your business grow through social media? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments.