Social media is the rage right now among marketers of all shapes and sizes — and particularly among those dealing with small businesses. According to a recent AdAge article, SMBs spend more on social media than on any other marketing channel, using an average of more than 21% of their budget on the medium. In the article, Steve Marshall, director of BIA/Kelsey rightly points out that social media “Is a convenient and user-friendly platform by which they can connect with their local market. It’s very inexpensive — which is a big deal — and there are low-participation barriers.”
But what the article doesn’t address is whether — despite its massive popularity — marketing via social media is actually working for local businesses?
From my experience, the jury is still out. Way out.
We work with home improvement companies all over the country. And every single one asks me if we have had any success with social media marketing. They have all tried using Facebook, Twitter and even Google Plus. They casually ask about Pinterest and Instagram and whatever flavor-of-the-month social media platform happens to be hot.
After telling them about my unsuccessful experiences buying advertising on the different properties, I ask back “Have you had any success with it?” And I have heard “no” dozens of times.
Now, this is not to say that social media can’t be a strong marketing channel for certain local businesses. And it’s also not to say that social media isn’t going to somehow become massively successful at some point. But it is to say that the hype of social media marketing has far, far outpaced the actual results it has produced. And this leads to the heart of what I view to be the problem: Social media simply isn’t right for the vast majority of local businesses.
Most local businesses are strapped with small staffs, small budgets and way too large of a workload. So the use of time, energy and financial resources is incredibly important to them. Social media, with extremely low out-of-pocket-costs, do take a tremendous amount of ongoing effort and diligence to have any hope of generating what a local business would consider to be results, let alone a positive Return On Investment.
As with any new medium, social’s rise has been aided and abetted by an army of consultants, agencies, management tools and software to help local businesses to capitalize on the hottest new trends. All are telling local businesses that social media marketing is the future and that they need to be there.
But that same army is at a loss when it comes to defining and measuring what social media success looks like for that local business. “You need to be there” is never followed up with “These will be the tangible results for your business.”
Add to that the ever-changing social media channels and policies, and the landscape becomes even more confusing for SMBs. How many days, hours and years have been spent developing “likes” and “friends” on Facebook, only to see results from those campaigns tank as “free” advertising is slowly going the way of the buggy whip and the pet rock?
Many will correctly say that these are massive generalizations, and that every local business is different. And that’s my point. Local businesses that have a natural affinity or loyal following will certainly benefit from robust social media — I’m thinking of the popular local craft brew store or hot yoga program.
But for most other businesses, that’s not the case. No one has a natural affinity for plumbers or HVAC work. The local cab company isn’t necessarily going to have a loyal following. People don’t choose a tailor on Facebook. They still, in massive numbers, go to Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Social media probably isn’t the right path for those companies. Yet they’re being misled into thinking that social media is the answer. As my parents always said, “just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you need to do it too.”
Todd Bairstow is the Founder and a Partner at Keyword Connects, which specializes in online lead generation for remodelers and home services companies across the country. He is a popular writer and speaker for the home improvement industry and writes a blog that speaks to all things internet- and home improvement-related.