Social Studies: Are ‘Follows’ and ‘Likes’ Right for All SMBs?

Connected Modern WorldSocial 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-BairstowTodd 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.

  1. jeff fagel
    December 15, 2014

    Todd – Some good points and some others that are contrary to what we’ve seen (some examples of social success can be found here:

    Agree if your product or service is an emergency fix, consumers are going to go to a search engine to get the information they need right now. . However, if people are already talking about the kinds of things that relate to your brand (lifestyle, entertainment, fitness, food, shopping, etc.), you’re going to have a much easier time becoming a part of those conversations through social media.

    What we’ve found with our clients – for whom we run thousands of social ad campaigns across a wide range of small businesses from heating and air companies to non-profits and dentists – is that small businesses can spend as little as $500 a month and in just one month’s time they can see a 10-fold increase in sales. The way we make this type of ROI happen for our small business clients is through local targeting, ad optimization and personalized content – all of which is made possible by our social advertising platform designed specifically to help small businesses.


    1. December 16, 2014

      Thanks for the input Jeff. Love to read about social media success stories. But I take issue with the one you linked to. I know that social media works in conjunction with paid search and SEO. It works because those two channels tend to do all of the heavy lifting. What I am looking for – and what I think many small businesses are looking for – is for social media to pull its own weight from an budget standpoint. And I don’t see much evidence of that outside of the agencies who promote social media. There’s an incredible gap between doing something that looks amazing on Facebook, drives Likes and builds Fans, and something that drives proven sales and ROI. Certainly open to being proved wrong…just need to see the evidence – Todd

  2. December 16, 2014

    Totally agree that SMBs are misled into thinking social media is the way to go. I’ve seen some sending out promotional tweets to an account with oh, say, 16 followers. Meantime, they neglect their own websites, which is THE way people will find them initially (or, the way that they are found from other types of advertising). But if they decide to play in social and think they might build a following … what they really need to do is to share information about their business (even behind the scenes, who we are, what’s happening here today) and industry … NOT random stuff like “Oh, here’s this cute cat we found” or worse, if people are paying money to non-neighborhood consultants, sharing information from outside their service area. And then the other unfortunate mistake is … abandoning it entirely. I have a Twitter list with hundreds of local businesses that had Twitter presences at one point. If I dip into the list for a look at who’s doing what … barely dozens are tweeting.

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