Small Business Marketing News

Is Social Worth It?

Written by Tim Morral
Published: 7/7/2015

As a business owner or executive, you may be wrestling with how much time and money to invest in social media. Here's perspective that will help you decide exactly what to do.

Will you really get business benefits from actively investing in social media or is it all hype?

Social Media Emperor Has No Clothes

You Dare to Even Question the Value of Social Media?

It wasn't too long ago that you'd be viewed as being stupid or naive if you said that spending time figuring out social media was a waste of time for most companies.

There's a massive marketing engine behind all things social, powered by myriad social companies, Wall Street and the venture capital world, that wants us to believe we will perish if we do not invest in social.

LinkedIn is valued at $27 billion. Twitter is valued at $24 billion. Facebook is ten times that, at $250 billion. To say that the social emperor has no clothes flies in the face of the wisdom of the investing crowd, which is expecting big things from social media in the world of business.

But, periodically, cracks in the "social as savior" story appear.

Just this week, a survey of 272 marketing professionals commissioned by the Marketing Executives Networking Group determined that nearly 40 percent of senior marketers say social analytics information is not useful to their business.

Last month, a survey of 540 small business owners conducted by Manta indicated that more than half of small business owners (59 percent) don't realize a positive return on their investment in social media.

I Confess: I'm a Social Media Doubter

The pro-social folks counter that anybody who isn't seeing value in Social is not executing well: "It's your fault than this isn't working, Mr. Marketer. Don't doubt Social!"

Listen, I'm a partner in a Chicago marketing firm that helps people with social marketing, along with many other marketing services, and I have to confess that I myself have been a quiet doubter for many years and remain skeptical to a large extent.

"Twitter is like yelling into a canyon," I told a colleague. "What are the odds that somebody will hear you when you yell and will care even one iota about what you say?"

My colleague, who is overseeing our social program now, responded that he would yet prove me wrong. "We posted something that Howard Tullman said at a conference recently, and he retweeted us," he said. "These are the types of people we want to know. We are getting on their radar."

It was a bad example since I have known Howard for years, and I think Howard would take a lunch or coffee meeting with me anytime if I simply requested one. That would be a much more straightforward path to Howard than yelling into the canyon and hoping he hears the yell.

And is it even Howard that heard the yell or does he have an admin or social person who is doing his retweets, which is often the case these days? (As in: "It's important we spend time on social. Let's delegate all of our executives' social activity to the new intern."). Howard's a pretty active, hands-on guy so he probably did retweet that tweet. But he's the exception -- a lot of execs who appear to be on social are not really there. Trust me on that one.

My thinking on our Twitter yelling is essentially this: "If we're doing this to get on the radar of twenty or thirty key people, wouldn't it be much more efficient to just pick on the phone and call them? Either we can add value to them or we can't. If we can, they'll take the call. If we can't, then the Twitter yelling and even the phone call are both just a waste of time."

To be fair, our own internal social program has resulted in loads of followers, re-posts, and engagement, but what I don't see is us closing tons of new business from our social programs. Our content marketing programs, our SEO efforts and a host of other marketing tactics have way better yields.

It's Easy to Throw Stones at Social Media Doubters

There's lots of rationalization of tepid results from social.

When I express doubts, they tell me that you have to touch somebody six times before they buy. It's not a short-term investment. You have to be in it for the long haul, Ken.

If we don't do this, we aren't marketing to Millennials, and they are tomorrow's decision makers.

Or another one: this isn't about lead gen, it's about brand awareness.

No, actually it is about lead gen because lead gen pays our bills and keeps us all employed. For most of us, unless we've got a monopoly or are riding effortlessly on a strong brand created by a bunch of now-dead founders, marketing is about tangible results that drive business growth. It's about the allocation of scarce marketing dollars to the most productive marketing activities.

Given everything you can do with Marketing, is Social the biggest bang for the buck? I'm not sure.

Despite My Doubts, I'm a Believer in Social Media

OK, this may sound like a mixed message, but I still believe there's potential in Social, and what I'm really skeptical of is people who throw money at Social without having a clue.

Those of you who are attentive might recall that I started this article by telling you I would help you determine how much time and money to invest in social media. I've not done that yet, have I?

A promise is a promise, but, unfortunately, I've run out of room in this article, but will pick this up tomorrow, at which point I will explain why Social does in fact have potential, how you can tap that potential, and how to decide how much time and treasure to spend on Social. See you then.

Spoiler alert: Tomorrow's advice will not involve recommending that you yell into a canyon.

Here's the article that continues our discussion on social media marketing: How To Approach Social Media

Share this article


About Our Entrepreneur News

Our entrepreneur news feed is packed with useful information for people who love entrepreneurship. Learn about small business management, financing, marketing & technology.

Additional Resources for Entrepreneurs

Lists of Venture Capital and Private Equity Firms

Franchise Opportunities


Business Glossary