Times and technology change so fast. It can be hard for small business owners to know if they should use social media or avoid it. I can make the argument for and against it.
The Cons of Social Media
Free Brand Exposure
Who doesn’t want more free exposure to their business? A few years ago, I wrote a series about best practices for social media using Twitter as an example. I read the article again, and the practices are still sound. But, what had not happened during that time were the bots. Did you know there are studies, as of this date, that estimate as high as 37% of the Twitter activity is bot-generated? And that’s just Twitter. Bots are on all social media platforms and they’re churning out a lot more content than the average human. So how are you going to stand out from the human and synthetic white noise? What is realistic in today’s social media environment?
This begs a series of related questions:
- What are you expecting your social media activity to do for your business?
- What are you willing to invest to gain results?
- Do the results outweigh the cost?
You may not need social media. Even if you have a plan and you sell to consumers, social media is fraught with downsides and hidden costs.
Social Media Hidden Cost #1: Staffing
There are plenty of agencies out there that prescribe social media as a “must” as part of a generic marketing strategy. It certainly keeps a social media manager employed, or an Influencer on the payroll (at the agency), but is this costly social media activity contributing directly to your bottom line? What money is going out and what money is coming in?
Social Media Hidden Cost #2: Reputation
Consumers have figured out by now that if they want to bring a company to heel publicly, they’ll do it using social media. One of the other tasks of social media management is to “listen” for negative mentions of your brand. If they’re skilled (many are not), they’ll respond publicly in a way that demonstrates that the complainant is being heard, will be given consideration, and that the company is publicly showing it is responsive.
Meanwhile, the other potential consumers are sitting back and enjoying the popcorn. They are entertained by how your brand walks a very public tightrope. The consumer with the gripe may very well be a human trolling or a bot. Welcome to the very expensive and potentially permanent brand quicksand.
Social Media Hidden Cost #3: Censorship
Censorship. There. I said it. Social media platforms have incorporated censoring into their algorithms. That’s a big problem for businesses that may believe free speech is real and they have nothing to fear. It’s not and they do. There is no free on social media, period. Those days are long gone. Don’t send me letters, because I’m talking about those businesses who comply with ‘right-think’ and still get strikes on their accounts.
I had a client who wanted to post a simple animation. It depicted the order in which their stairs and ladders assemble. There was no wording depicted, no voice-over narration. There were no people depicted. Not even a logo. It was literally a video showing all the parts assembling. It was 19 seconds long. YouTube banned it. I appealed. Twice. No explanation, no response – nothing. So, for that client, no YouTube (a social media platform). We opted to pay for a private video hosting account where we could post at will but without YouTube’s audience exposure. Ouch.
Social Media Hidden Cost #4: Negative Hits to Your Website
Most business owners don’t know that when they post with a link to their website from social media, there is a very high risk of “negative traffic” to the company website. What is negative traffic? I’m talking about people (and bots) who come to a website and immediately leave. The technical term is “bouncing” and Google algorithms are monitoring this closely. The higher rate of “bounces” on a given website, the lower score Google assigns as part of its overall “ranking factors.” So what does that mean? It means your website becomes less visible in search results.
Say you sell transmissions. You post on social media some of your transmission work in the hopes that someone who is in the market to buy your transmission will be curious and come to your website. This thinking is understandable but ignorant of people’s behavior when they are on their social media streams. They’re taking a coffee break at the office, walking their dog, whatever. They’re often not immersed in social media with a high degree of attention for anything else – and they’re definitely not engaging with a span of attention where they will wander away from their social media feeds for long. If they’re curious and do click on a link, they almost always click back out and resume their engagement with their social media stream. That is the point of social media – to keep people on it (while they make a ton of money on advertisers). It’s no secret that social media platforms are hyper-aware of what makes people tick. From dopamine hits, rewarding us with some tasty snack, to enraging us with bot-generated political discourse, the object is to keep people sucked in. So visiting your website isn’t a priority for social media platforms and often not the people engaged on the platforms.
It used to be that Google had a tolerance threshold of around 40% for bounce rates. If a website has traffic averaging over 40% percent, Google interpreted this as something about the site that isn’t ‘right’. Either the user experience was terrible, like counter-intuitive navigation, or it looked untrustworthy to users, or any number of other issues. Something wasn’t kosher, and as a consequence, Google would rank the site lower in search results. A lower rank means literally that a competing site without a high bounce rate would appear above the lower-ranked site. Enough sites with better rankings collectively push the website with bounces over onto page two. Where people rarely go.
So what does that have to do with social media? It’s extremely common to see bounce rates as high as 90% from visitors who are coming in from social media posts and ads. Whatever you’ve invested in your website gets counter-acted directly from social media.
Social Media Hidden Cost #5: Echo Chamber
Yes, there are bots. Yes, there are unskilled people. The most important and understated thing about social media? It’s not real. It’s a highly manipulated environment where the majority of humans interacting with it are doing just that: interacting with it. Not people they know, not people they care about. The business exec (this was me!) that was engaging on LinkedIn for example is almost always engaging with bots and people they will never meet, never have a real conversation with, and will rarely sell to or buy from. Absolutely it can be a platform to share helpful information with others, and sharing for the sake of helping is good. But it goes sideways so fast. When engaging on social media becomes a contest to rack up the most followers, you’ve lost the game. When you’re only surrounding yourself with people and bots who have opinions just like you, you’re stripping away diverse points of view. It becomes an echo chamber.
I know of someone running a company that spends an extraordinary amount of time looking up other executives at other companies and asking for connections. But he never writes anything original to share with people. Never offers useful advice based on his experiences. Rarely even shares someone else’s good advice. He is creating the white noise we’re all trying to avoid. He’s building an echo chamber. Everything on his stream sounds the same: homogenized ersatz. From my perspective, this looks like building a job network for the guy hired to run the company and doing it on the company’s dime. Insofar as I know, not one sale, not one revenue dollar has been generated from this individual’s time spent on LinkedIn.
And now for the Pros of Social Media
With a few examples of the cons of social media, now we can have an informed (albeit one-sided) conversation about the pros of using social media.
I specialize in businesses that sell to businesses (B2B), but I’m no stranger to selling to consumers (B2C). There can be a great opportunity for having a presence on social media if your specific audience is there. If they’re present and if they’re in the mood to pay attention. That’s a lot of heavy lifting to ask from someone engaged on social media. Remember, the platform is actively manipulating people’s emotions in an effort to keep them scrolling.
Some industries that can do well on social media:
- Home Furnishings
- Celebrity Brands
I’m sure there are others, but these all have the potential to be highly visual and appealing. Video can work well for these. I’m still on the fence as to whether social media is really worth it as measured by brand awareness and loyalty, high retention from social media to websites, and most importantly, revenues. If it sells and the return is higher than the risk and the cost of employing a trusted social media professional (not to mention the creative professionals needed to create and edit videos, photos, graphics, scripts, posts, etc), then by all means – put a plan together and go get ’em!
Be prepared with a very specific campaign that involves more than just social media. Be prepared to safeguard your reputation publicly, walking that tightrope. If you direct them to someplace on your website, remember that they want to jump back on social media — you better offer up something more entertaining, more useful, and more dynamic than your competitor: the social media platforms.
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