There’s little debate that social media has dramatically changed the way people communicate with each another. You can keep in touch with best friends, casual acquaintances, coworkers, distant relatives and mom all with relative ease, while also sharing information and ideas at instant speed. Because social media offers such easy interaction with any target audience, it was only a matter of time before the world of funny cat videos and humblebragging collided with the world of business.
Log onto Facebook or Twitter to see what’s going on with friends and followers and you can’t help but notice the sponsored posts or tweets from businesses mixed into your feed. Whether you’re a local business or a national chain, you start to wonder whether social media offers the potential to help your business grow by generating new leads.
While it’s hard to deny the opportunity social media offers businesses to reach a wider target audience when billions of people across the globe use social media on a daily basis, you need to step back and examine the constantly evolving landscape of social media marketing before making any significant investment of time and money.
With the number of users expected to grow from 1.8 billion to 2.3 billion between 2014 and 2017, according to digital media research firm eMarketer, social media can certainly help your business grow. Just don’t subscribe to the idea that social media should be the most critical part of your business’ marketing strategy. Here are a few reasons why many businesses are overrating social media marketing.
Little Organic Reach
Any social media marketing plan will feature the prominent use of the two biggest social media platforms, Twitter and Facebook, with the idea that the more “likes” and followers you receive, the bigger your reach to a target audience becomes. However, considering the dozen or potentially hundreds of other businesses a follower may interact with, how much of an impact can you realistically expect any one organic post or tweet to really have?
As a culture, our attention span has already decreased significantly in the modern digital age. This is especially true in the realm of social media, where the lifespan of any update can be measured in minutes.
A statistical study of social media interaction conducted by Moz found the average organic lifespan of a tweet to be only 18 minutes. Author and social media expert Jeff Bullas on his blog estimated the chance a follower interacts with an organic Facebook post to be approximately 2.71 percent.
Since social media platforms are built around being free to use, Twitter and Facebook have already started basing their ability to generate revenue around “pay to reach” models that encourage businesses to buy sponsored posts or tweets that appear in users’ feeds. This type of model completely eliminates the need to organically build a follower list, while also lessoning the impact organic updates have on reaching a target audience.
Followers For a Low, Low Price
It’s safe to assume that you probably have received an email or noticed a status update that promises hundreds of new followers or “likes” for a low, low price. Businesses can easily buy followers to artificially inflate the number of subscribers their posts and tweets reach. Taking a closer look at some of those new followers, however, you may find many bare bones profiles that include few updates, photos, or other signs that whatever name is associated with the account is an actual person.
Even if the followers you buy are authentic, what value do they actually represent to your business? Ideally, your social media followers will be individuals that qualify as solid leads. If you have a local business, they will be members of your community. If you offer a service or product online, they will be become frequent customers of your website. By generating followers organically, you can reasonably assume an individual had some interest in your business before hitting “like” or “follow.” When buying followers, you have no such guarantee or idea whether your message will resonate or even be heard.
People log on to social media to talk about the latest episode of Game of Thrones, watch videos, share ideas, catch up with friends, and comment on photos of their grandkids, not to receive a sales pitch. Most users understand the necessity of ads as a trade off to keep social media platforms free, but only to a certain point.
While a “like” or “follow” of your business’ social media page or feed entitles you a certain amount of permission to make a sales pitch, ad fatigue can quickly set in for many users when subjected to a never-ending stream of updates asking for their business. You can easily alienate or lose your target audience by overreaching into their feed.
Facebook Doesn’t Care About Making You Money
Like any publically owned company, Facebook and Twitter have an obligation to make their shareholders happy by growing their bottom line, not yours. It’s easy to lose sight that the followers and leads you generate from social media platforms are yours, but in reality, anyone following you on a social media platform is their customer, not yours.
While you might have their “like,” Facebook has access to that follower’s email address and dictates what that person can see from you. Overnight, Twitter or Facebook could install an algorithm or policy change that completely eliminates or reduces your business’ ability to reach followers organically.
This type of change has already happened slowly with the way Google lists organic search results. In the past, solid SEO work and ensuring the content on your site remained fresh and relevant would help improve your organic search results when compared to the competition. Now with the growth of Adwords, the search engine giant’s ad revenue division, Google has placed a premium on paid results and has started burying organic search results behind ads and local listings.
Basing the majority of your business’ online marketing on a system you don’t have full control over does not seem like a very savvy move.
Email Marketing a Better Tool
In the end, email marketing offers a better and more effective alternative when compared to social media. Even though social media platforms offer a “free” way to generate leads and reach potential new customers, email provides the same benefits with few of the drawbacks.
The number of email users is expected to grow from 3.1 billion in 2011 to approximately 4.1 billion by 2015, according the Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, good for an annual growth of 7 percent. That means email already offers twice the reach of social media.
Social media platforms can limit what individuals that follow you can see, but everyone on your business’ email list receives your email when sent. Unlike a post or tweet that can easily get lost in already overcrowded user feeds, an email will sit unread in an Inbox until opened or deleted (an interaction either way). Most importantly, you never need to worry about an email provider changing their policies to limit what users can receive and reduce your ability to interact with those on your email list.
Social media can play an important role in any online marketing strategy, just be careful about how much of the hype surrounding the medium you’re ready to believe and how much your business is willing to invest.