Why Social Media Hasn’t Worked for Many Businesses

iwannapunchuI have been quietly observing a large number of business professionals jumping into social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) as if it were a conveyor belt they can simply throw their product pitches onto. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

See if the following example sounds familiar and then check out the ways to leverage social media correctly to actually build a passive lead generation and reputation building machine. 

I get why people come up with the conveyor belt perspective. They have been told by “leading experts” in their industries that the hard part of social media is to be constantly pushing fresh content. Well, if that’s the hardest part it can’t be that hard, right?

They then start studying up on how to use social media and everything they find talks about optimizing profiles, writing killer copy, how to post pictures and videos and how to use this cool newfangled thing called a “hashtag.” It all appears very doable and so they set out ready to discover a multitude of new leads and build their reputation to industry leader levels. They create accounts and set up their wonderfully optimized profiles.

Now they’re ready to launch. But wait. They realize they need to be connected to others for their pitches to reach a target. Well that’s quite easily done and they start sending connection requests of anyone in their market (and maybe a few who aren’t). They start making friend requests and instructing their friends and families to “like my page.” They put a sign in their office window to “Like” them online. Even their business card says to.

So now they are set. The time has arrived to start plumbing these channels with proclamations of how great and wonderful they and their product/service offerings are. And so they do just that. Hourly, daily, several days a week, whatever schedule they can make fit. And then the most amazing, surprising and mystifying thing occurs.


So they chalk it up to “this takes time” and “nothing happens overnight.” They continue posting their fodder for months. Friends and family proclaim that they are seeing this great stuff and it looks good. But even they aren’t being driven to act.

annoyedLooking closer they realize that a lot of the people that accepted invitations to connect via social media channels are no longer connections. “What?! When did that happen? Why did they do that?,” they wonder.

It’s at this point they proclaim social media a waste of time, at least for their industry or their products or their customers.

Sound familiar? When people discover that I help businesses make effective use of online marketing channels they will tell me of their failed social media attempts and how it would be great if it could work for their industry but it doesn’t.

Well, long-story short, social media probably does work for your industry. It’s just that no one ever showed you how to make it work. All the tidbits being tossed around by “leading experts” provide directions on how to do things but do not tell you why you would want to or when you should or shouldn’t. It’s like if you took a shop class where they showed you how to use all the tools but never provided any material for you to use them on.

Ways to make social media an effective marketing channel

  1. Stop being intrusive
    For most of the last century, every method of marketing was intrusive. Magazine and newspaper ads were injected between articles that you were reading. Commercials were injected during television and radio programming that you were watching and listening. Billboards were injected into your commute. People stood on street corners and handed out flyers whether you wanted one or not.Today most of this has fizzled down to a small fraction of its previous volume and/or is used mostly by large companies unable to manage any better visibility in local markets where they have a presence.

    Instead, the marketplace is annoyed or avoids channels with intrusive marketing. Instead they prefer to proactively seek out information and advice. Consumers (B2B also) today are able to perform most every step in the buying process online. Maybe on their smartphone or maybe at the computer at work or at home, either way they are able to step through the phases of discovery, research, evaluation and selection on their way towards making a purchase.

    An important resource for buyers today is social media. It’s where they discover resources already used by their friends, associates and family. It’s where they can get advice about what or who to trust. It’s where tips, tricks and traps get revealed making for smarter and more confident decisions. It’s where a buyer feels safe to ask questions and reveal their lack of knowledge and their real motivations.

    So if your social media presence is simply a constant stream of “this is what’s on sale today” and “check out our new product,” you better be selling something people buy at least weekly (e.g. groceries, baked goods, restaurant, gas) that changes with as much frequency. Otherwise, you are seen as intrusive and not really providing any value to all the conversations and useful information exchanges going on.

    Instead, step back and just listen to the social media channels you’re in. What are your best prospects discussing? What are they interested in? The answers may have nothing to do with the widgets you sell but have everything to do with earning a place at the social media table.Think of social media channels as you would any gathering of people who don’t all know each other. Would you go up to someone and say, “Hi! I’m Joe and I am offering a special this week on my extraordinarily wonderful widgets. You can order yours today by visiting the website on my business card. I hope you buy one,” and then walk off to do the same to the next closest victim? No, of course not. Although you’d likely be one of the most memorable aspects of the gathering and you might actually end up selling one or two widgets, the greatest result would be the damage caused to your professional reputation. You would probably start noticing people crossing the road to avoid encountering you on the same sidewalk.

    Now let’s do this again but with less intrusiveness.

    You walk up to a group and smile and listen to the topic at hand. You contribute to the conversation when relevant and when you actually have something worthwhile to contribute. On occasion there will be opportunities for you to point out your areas of expertise and product knowledge. People will be appreciative of your free advice and assistance as it was given without a sales pitch. Everyone within earshot will have increased awareness of you and your expertise.

    Next time they see you, instead of crossing the road, they may stop you and want to chat or even, gasp, ask about the products you have available.

  2. Don’t connect with people just because
    Yes, social media marketing is a “numbers game.” You want to build a large following but more importantly you want to build a large “engaged” or interested following. Don’t start following hundreds or thousands of people on Twitter in the hope they will follow you back. Don’t start connecting with people on LinkedIn just so they will see your posts. Don’t ask everyone and anyone to “Like” you or your page on Facebook. But “Why not?” you ask?Because a large disinterested group is just that. They’re easily annoyed and not likely to help you accomplish your social media goals of lead generation and reputation building.

    On the other hand, if you listen to conversations going on and contribute when appropriate, you will find you will build a following that is not only engaged and able to accomplish your goals but one that will also become an important referral source.

    Facebook puts a unique value on audience engagement levels. They decide what to include in newsfeeds based upon a complicated algorithm that promotes posts from sources that have seen a lot of audience engagement in the past. This is how they try to fill users’ newsfeeds with the most potentially interesting posts.

If you want to turn this directive around to something more positive that explains what you should be doing, hopefully you’ve already figured that out. You should be listening and contributing. You should be creating relationships based upon your ability to help others without a sales pitch. Being informative, providing relevant and open-minded advice and, if possible, being entertaining. Because, as you now see, social media, when used correctly, isn’t a conveyor belt of intrusive messages. It is a gathering of people eager to ask for and provide information, tell stories and share humor.

In many ways this aligns with Dale Carnegie’s best-selling self-help book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” His advice from 1938 has even more importance today since technology has changed but people haven’t. You can now win far more friends and influence far more people anywhere around the globe without leaving the comfort of your desk.

And, yes, this takes time. Time will be your biggest form of investment when developing social media as a lead generation channel and reputation building resource. So it’s not always an option for everyone. There are few professionals and business owners who are able to afford an hour (and sometimes more) a day to listen to the conversations (monitor) and make their contributions. But this has also created a new industry of social media managers who have developed efficient and effective tools and processes to listen and contribute on your behalf while also alerting to opportunities in need of your personal involvement.

Social media management is a part of what I provide my clients as it is an important part of today’s marketing mix. Feel free to contact me if I can help you get started developing social media channels for your lead generation and reputation development.