Social Media is Probably a Waste of Your Time

The average amount of time someone is on Facebook is 15 hours 33 minutes per month. Americans now spend more time on Facebook than they do on their pets. There are 1.4 billion Facebook users worldwide.

With this level of popularity, it’s no wonder that everyone believes social media is THE ANSWER to every marketing problem.

But I’m not.

I believe in making business decisions based on credible data. But the vast majority of information I’ve seen on social media is not credible (in my opinion). It’s based on the conclusion that social media is a great marketing tool, and therefore all businesses should be investing time and money in it regardless of its success. It’s built on the assumption that if you’re not getting results you are “doing it wrong”, not that the system is flawed.

With limited time and resources, the real question is how micro businesses can use social media to grow their business.

Is Social Media Effective in Mass Marketing? No

As social media marketing is a new practice, the actual effectiveness of social media marketing has only recently been studied. Here’s a few enlightening facts:

  • A study of 77,000 online transactions over a two-week period in April 2012 found less than 1% of online retail transactions come from social media
  • 4 out of 5 Facebook users have never bought a product or service as a result of Facebook advertising or comments
  • 30% of consumer’s type the retailer’s URL directly into a browser
  • 39% of online retail transactions by new customers come from either paid or organic search results

Can social media help sales? Sure, maybe.

Should you overlook traditional marketing methods? No.

Does Social Media Increase Profits? Not really.

Maersk Line, a global shipping company has a huge social media platform. They have over a million likes on Facebook, and 111k followers on Twitter. They are also on Google +, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. They are consciously trying to increase business by leveraging social media.

But Maersk Line’s Head of Social Media admits social media is not responsible for an increase in business. Maersk Line describes social media as communication, not marketing. Here’s how they view social media:

“Does [social media] translate into more containers being booked? No, not necessarily. And certainly not right here and now”[1]

Maersk Line is not alone in their assessment. A Campbell’s Kitchen social media campaign also supports a lack of actual social media profit. It was conceded that social media didn’t translate to an increase in business and there was no formal expectations of profit[2]. Although organic search still yields the best results, email marketing is a close second. Social media, including Facebook & Twitter, barely register. Simms Jenkins, CEO of BrightWave Marketing says:

“Social media is a valuable tool—it’s great for customer engagement—but it’s not the best way to drive sales. If you have just one bullet left in your gun to sell something, then email should always be that bullet”

Do these business believe their campaigns will pay off someday? Yes.

Do they expect short-term profits? Not at all.

Is Social Media Good for Anything? Yep.

Organic search, paid search, and email marketing are considered more effective than social media[3]. But that doesn’t mean social media isn’t valuable in other areas. Research shows social media is effective in both networking, and branding[4].

As social media is a way to communicate online, both individually and in groups, using social media for one-to-one networking makes sense. Using social media for branding also makes sense, if that’s your goal. You can increase consumer engagement and brand awareness.

Networking online takes time, just like networking in person. But you can connect with clients, potential clients, and referrals using social media. Branding should be a thoughtful process. You need a set of online branding rules and project a professional image.

But Wait…People are Building Their So-Called “Tribe” Everyday?

Absolutely. They use social media to drive traffic to their website. They use social media to lead people to sign up for their email list. Social media is only ONE piece of the puzzle.

One-third of new customer transactions involve more than one trackable touchpoints, and approximately half of repeat customers also use multiple trackable touchpoints[5].

This means it’s a combination of various internet marketing positioning that drives sales: organic search, paid search, email marketing, AND social media.

None of these components works alone. It’s the combination that works.

What This Means for Your Micro Business

I firmly believe that all micro businesses should build an online presence. A representation of your business online, across various platforms. Start with a great website, then build your brand using social media, paid and organic search, and great content.

This is how you find your tribe. This is how you connect with your market. You have to create a complete strategy. You can’t put up a Facebook or Twitter page and expect great results.

Resources are limited in every business, regardless of size. If all you are doing is putting out status updates and tweets, you’re wasting your time. The time, effort, and money could be better spent elsewhere. If you want to harness the power of social media, be prepared to invest a lot of time.

Social media is not the same as mass media. Social media is a conversation, while mass media is merely a statement. Be realistic is your social media expectations. Create a strategy, then test it. If you’re not getting the results you want, change it. Don’t assume something works, just because everyone is doing it.

Because your mother was right…you wouldn’t jump off a bridge because everyone was doing it

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[1] Katona, Z., & Sarvary, M. (2014) Maersk Line: B2B social media–“It’s communication, not marketing”

[2] Mandviwalla, M., & Watson, R. (2014) Generating capital from social media

[3] Duff, B. L. (2013) Study dismisses social media as effective direct sales channel

[4] Duff, B. L. (2013) Study dismisses social media as effective direct sales channel, & Leung, X. Y., Bai, B., & Stahura, K. A. (2013) The marketing effectiveness of social media in the hotel industry: A comparison of Facebook and Twitter

[5] Duff, B. L. (2013) Study dismisses social media as effective direct sales channel


About Liesha Petrovich

Liesha Petrovich is the creator of Micro Business Essentials, a data-driven business blog exclusively for micro businesses. In her free time, she’s working on a Doctorate in Entrepreneurship. If you’re looking for more fast, affordable, and effective tips to help your business grow, grab a copy of Micro Business Essentials Toolkit: Free and Low Cost Resources.

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