The greatest lie the Devil ever told the world was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.
Social Media is billed as a revolution for being connected with more people, reaching out to customers, and rolling up your sleeves and getting into the trenches of managing your own public relations. Large companies are slowing customer attrition by reaching out through Twitter. Small companies are finding new customers. Why wouldn’t you want to be in on “Social Media”?! Why wouldn’t you want to hire a new employee to handle all of this complex new communication? Here are some common arguments for Social Media, and why they’re bullshit:
Fallacy #1 – “If we don’t have Social Media, we’ll never know if people are unhappy with our brand or product!!”
Call me jaded, old fashioned, or any other slur you’d like to use to insinuate that I am “behind the times” but in my opinion, if a problem has made it to Twitter or Facebook, it’s really not the problem. If you sell a physical product, and somebody is unhappy with, they’ll usually look for a way to contact you. In the last 5-10 years there has been a trend towards giving “Support” email addresses and 1-800 numbers that lead to poorly trained personnel after long wait times. This is unacceptable.
Often times people turn to Twitter when they have no where else to turn. You should have prominent documentation written and illustrated by someone in the native language of the probable consumer. On the front of said documentation you should have something elegantly stating in BOLD with BIG print, “QUESTIONS? 1-800-YOUR-NUMBER”. Staff the phone number with people who understand the product, the problems, and have the power to solve them. They should be able to issue RMA’s, Refunds, Exchanges. Nobody wants to talk to a “handler”, they want to talk to someone who can help them right now. It’s disrespectful to have them talking to anyone else. Though The Oatmeal is hilarious in this comic, he backs up my point.
It should never get so bad someone has to turn to Twitter. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t keep an eye on your brand via a column in Tweetdeck or pop on to search.twitter.com every once and a while, but instead of hiring someone to troll Twitter all day for you, or build Facebook friends, you should put another capable, talented person on the phone to answer customers more than 140 characters at a time. At the end of the day, Twitter is a gateway to a more robust communication medium: cut out the middle man.
Fallacy #2 – “Without a presence on every single Social Media platform known to man, we’ll whither away!!”
No one is saying Social Media can’t be valuable to you. However, instead of hovering over Tweetdeck, or updating your Status, why aren’t you going out of your way to make your customers “Jump up and down” happy? Then they can update their Tweetdeck, or their Facebook status. Rather than creating fans, create evangelists who will tout your product and recommend it to their friends. Business hasn’t changed just because some company burning money in Silicon Valley called themselves “Twitter”. It’s great to have people recommending your product, but you want them to do so because the product and service were GREAT, not because you’re their follower on Twitter.
I expect this fallacy to garner a lot of comments about “But Gary Vaynerchuck used Twitter to …” blah blah blah. If you ever LISTENED to Gary you’d know he also spent HOURS every day on the phone talking to people about wine. He’d answer the same question passionately 100 times a day about what is the best Red to go with a steak, or what White will accompany fish. Gary wasn’t just sitting there saying “This White wine is great. Buy it here!” Gary was hustling and connecting with people, and most importantly, he was creating evangelists who will help him build his brand. If I were having a dinner party, and someone said how great the wine went with the filet, you can bet your ass I’ll be doing business with Mr. Vaynerchuck again.
Fallacy #3 – “Everyone uses Twitter, We need that! Facebook is vital to reaching our cool clientele!”
Facebook and Twitter can be valuable tools for reaching niche markets. Unfortunately, so called “Social Media Experts/Gurus/Strategists” are trying to cultivate a market based on the “Me too!” principal. However, the ice cream store on the corner probably doesn’t need “Advanced Web Strategy” to convert more customers. They need common sense.
I take no hesitancy in saying that I have never tried a store or place because someone has checked in there on Twitter, or because they’ve suddenly become my Follower. There is a Hawaiian place just down the street from me called Paradise Hawaiian BBQ. It’s freaking amazing, and I love it. I don’t tell all my followers to try it, but I do *shock* take my friends there if I can. They generally love it as it’s great. I think that as more and more local little places get on Facebook, the efficacy will be diluted. If you followed every single place you went on Twitter and Facebook, and each one sent you one update per service per day, your feed would look like a billboard. The classic Social Media Bullshittery to this is that, “No problem, you followers can hide you so you don’t annoy them”. The common sense response to this is “WHAT IS THE POINT THEN?”
If I sell really obscure blue widgets out of my garage to a very limited audience, Twitter is a great way to cultivate brand recognition and find new customers. However, if I’m just Josh’s Ice Cream Store (I think I’d like to own an Ice cream store one day btw) I can see getting a lot more benefit out of doing promotions for my existing customer base and for those passing by. Ice cream, classically, is a crime of opportunity. A “flavor of the week” promotion seems a lot more sensible than tweeting about Organic ingredients. A “Pink Ice Cream For Breast Cancer” promotion where every bit of profit for that day/week is donated to charity would probably do a lot more good than “Today we’re making chocolate and it looks great!”. And who knows, someone who thought the Breast Cancer promotion was cool just might Tweet about it.
Fallacy #4 – We don’t want to get left behind.
Scarcity is one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book and Social Media Bullshit Artists will paint a very serious picture of a virtual gold rush happening. They paint it as if Facebook is going away, or Twitter won’t be there tomorrow. “You’ve got to act now”. The curious part of all of this is they may have a point. Does anyone remember Myspace? How about Friendster? These were passing social media fads that were eclipsed by new services. There was a time where it was IMPERATIVE for your business to be on Myspace. When did that stop being neccesary? When there was something new to sell.
Instead of building equity in things like Facebook pages, and Twitter profiles which in reality you don’t own, and have no control over, why not build a robust website and a mailing list. This is data you’ll always have despite the hot social media service of the day. As long as you don’t spam people to death, most won’t object to an occasional email about a Breast Cancer promotion. I always like to go look at businesses who have thousands of followers on Twitter and are Tweeting all kinds of things. Often times, they have TERRIBLE websites. So when Twitter introduces their new API that allows advertising, and suddenly while talking to you all your customers are seeing ads for your competitors, all your brand equity is now worth nothing. Your competitors are capitalizing upon your hard work to gain relevant active followers. However, had you been building a list and equity in your website this whole time, you wouldn’t have this problem.
Sure, you should include the Facebook widget on your website to show your connected. That makes sense. But when Zuckerberg eventually pisses everyone off, and Facebook has had its heyday, you can remove it and put in whatever happens to be the hot service of the moment. And since you’ve built brand equity to your website, it will be easy for your consumers to add you on “Bablur” or whatever the new trend is.
This is by no means an attack on the pragmatic use of tools to garner customers. Instead, it’s a call to action to consider whether or not you’ll see a positive return on investment and brand equity. Social Media Gurus/Experts/Whatever aren’t legitimate. Period. At best, they’re specialized public relations folks. At worst, they’re snake oil salesmen. They’re selling something that’s difficult to measure the efficacy of and tough to understand for the average business owner. They’re selling something that doesn’t build equity in the small business and instead is another gear in the machine of some big corporation. For many businesses Social Media will be a learning experience: they’ll learn to be more weary of things they don’t understand.