The Real Utility of Social Media

Over the last year or so, I seem to have stumbled into several pissing contests over the real and imagined virtues of social media. (And after such a hyperbolic statement, I fully acknowledge many of you are running immediately with looks of astonishment plastered on your faces to check my bio picture to determine just how I really am!) Today, I want to discuss social media within the context of B2B finding and getting customers.

In the last ten years or so since cell phones became our computers on steroids –there has been a massive uptick in the hew and cry for savvy digital marketers and experiments on Facebook and Google advertising. These have had mixed results and now the latest pontifications are such that we must use video because frankly, nobody reads anymore, because the human race has an attention span less than a guppy. (that’s an amphibian, less than two inches long.)

Add to this, the fact that over the last few years, we have been bombarded with all kinds of (real) news reports about Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn fixing their systems which got (yikes) breached, hacked, trolled, taken over because, oh goodness, there was just not enough security in place and since this is a community thing, we can’t censor or police the bad guys, doncha know!

Now many folks, including my past partner have some pretty hard-assed ideas about social media. You’ve likely read his mildly opinionated thoughts here, and here and here and here. As an aside, let me tell you. It’s one thing to read them. It’s a whole different kettle of fish to LISTEN to them in person.

However, one thing most of us DO agree on is that most business owners and entrepreneurs are completely oblivious to one very important fact. That fact is this: the big companies, the ones worth billions of dollars, the ones with very deep pockets and staffed by extremely smart people have actually pulled out of or are in the process of drastically reducing their activities on Facebook and Google and Instagram and YouTube and pretty much anything social. Surprised?

The Main Reason Is Social Media Is A Big Money Pit With Virtually No Return

Let me be clear.  I believe everyone must embrace social for one simple reason — everyone must go where one’s customers go. And some portion of one’s customers is somewhere on social. So, I have said and will say until the cows come home, NEVER spend more than 15% of your total marketing budget on social. But, and this is a big BUT, do not expect social to deliver any huge and immediate monetary returns for you.

A Little History Lesson

In the early 80s when room-sized computers became the personal computer, the concept caught fire. Suddenly everyone needed their personal-sized IBM or Mac machine with either Microsoft Windows or Apple software. Imaginations went wild. And a bright rosy, connected future was promised.

But, one of the biggest problems in the technology world has always been the fulfilment of the actual promises made. What was advertised — never materialized as advertised – in terms of ease, or of security, or of cost or, of well pretty much anything.

I can make that statement because I implemented or led over 100 system implementations – for mini, micro, personal, and app installations ranging in price from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of million dollars. Alone or with teams of 50, in one location and across several locations throughout the entire world. NOT ONE ever went flawlessly, ever stuck to the budget, ever worked perfectly as advertised. NOT ONE. Despite the best planning, the best engineers, the best consultants, the best ANYTHING that money could buy. I never met one technology implementation live up to what it was advertised and sold as.

The truth is, I was not alone in this circumstance; and nor was I the only one. I am married to an ex-IT guy and I spent my entire career with really smart and brilliant people — some of whom were IT techs and IT consultants. I have good friends who are tech folks. I have worked with brilliant business people who were way better than I at planning and getting IT projects done. NONE of us in 30 years across a massive span of companies, sizes, and industries had success with technology working as advertised the first or even the second time and often the third time.

In the last five years, I have not implemented any major systems. But I will tell you, I have heard horror stories galore from all kinds and all sizes of companies. I have personally invested way too much money and time in apps and systems that I chalked up to ‘investigating on behalf of clients’.

While I viewed with a jaundiced eye, many, many, many of the latest and greatest things, I have successfully kept my intimate involvement to what most would call today something lukewarm at best. But here is what I have found:

The Char-Eyed View

In the instances where I have personally gotten involved, (an automated lead generation program, an autoresponder mail program, two website developments and a new-fangled way to incorporate video and podcasting into a regular email marketing program), I have been massively disappointed.


Because the biggest problem in the tech slash social world remains the same as it was thirty years ago. The fulfilment of the actual promises made is still not as advertised – in ease, in security, in expense, in anything. Ergo, investing in technology – insert social anything – remains a near bottomless money pit.

You see, if I need a new car, I decide on the version, model, the colour, the options and the price range that fits my budget. Within that price range, I know the performance, the safety, the security, the gas mileage and the maintenance schedule I will have to follow. And if I need upgrades or changes, I can always see a charging chart of some sort which will explain what my ultimate budget amounts will be and from which I can make the decision to go/no-go and at which time.

It does not work that way in the technology world. It never has worked that way. It does not work that way in the social world. It never will work that way.

Recently, you have likely heard much hype about using video for communicating with prospects and customers. Being a fan of solid email marketing, I thought a video would be a great way to mix things up. I was surprised to learn that in order to do a half-assed professional job with one’s cell phone as the camera, (not a professional crew), one needs to spend either three or four hours of one’s own time and buy a few pieces of software (and learn how to manipulate those pieces of software) OR ‘hire a guy’ to do all the back end stuff. I was also surprised to learn there is a huge up-front learning curve.

The technology has not caught up with the users’ skill level.  And surprise!  There is a lack of desire to be a movie producer in addition to their regular duties by most normal business owners. There is also a hierarchy of spending here. Layering in a couple of minutes of video into an email marketing campaign could cost up to $500 per email broadcast! For many businesses, that $1,000 a month is way more than my recommended 15% of the total marketing budget.

So you can see how social has become for too many businesses a bottomless pit of money. It is no wonder the P&Gs of the world threw the towel in a few years ago and it is no wonder, my partner, rants about the vagaries and injustices of social all the time.

I recently chatted with a friend of mine — very smart (younger than I) American marketing guy. He is a hybrid – having both the old-school emotional training AND the newer technical Google and Facebook certifications. After trying valiantly for three and a half years to make a go of it in the social side of life he finally threw in the towel. He went back to the creative agency side of life, in a narrow niche and ONLY uses Facebook and Instagram to source some customers.

He does not advertise; he engages. I love that concept because it is so old-school. He engages on LinkedIn, on Facebook and on Instagram. That is the extent of his social. (Engages means having a complete profile, a solid mobile-friendly website and good articles or content.)

Once engaged, he chats via Skype, Zoom and even face to face. Again old-fashioned. We compared notes and it turns out I too have been doing the same kind of thing. Using social to find the prospect and then using old-school to get and keep them. Anyway, he swears the faster the new social ideas are coming out, the faster they are dying. Because users can not keep up with and are losing attention.

These days I spend a lot of time trying to educate business owners about maximising their marketing and sales investment. I won’t win every argument with every person. But I will consider myself successful if

  1. I can convince enough people that social is nothing more than a tool, and,
  2. spending more than 15% of a marketing budget on social is entirely foolhardy.

In the meantime, I officially cede to one argument.  When done with no thought or planning, social really is a near bottomless money pit.

Buyer be very aware!

Want some ideas specific to your business?  Give us a call.  We are always happy to chat.

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