To Facebook or Not To Facebook – That is the Question!

By Amy Lahti | January 15, 2014

In my job as a consultant at WESST, I talk to a lot of business owners about social media. A question I get frequently: “Is it really worth it for my business to invest time into using social media?” Great question! Smart business owners know that investing significant time into something that doesn’t promise a healthy ROI (return on investment) isn’t a good strategy. Over the past few months I’ve been reading a lot of interesting information about whether or not small businesses see an ROI for the time and money they put into social media. “Does it work?” seems to be the million (billion?)-dollar question everyone is trying to answer. A few folks have tried.

For example: early last year, business-information site Manta conducted a survey of small businesses, specifically about social media. The survey revealed that only 40% of small business owners said they see a return-on-investment from their social media efforts. The good news is that 30% of those folks saw significant returns (which Manta defined as $2,000 or more in “value” – not specifying whether that was cash, in-kind, value of goodwill, etc.). The bad news is that 60% of small businesses saw no return – zip, zero – on resources they invested into social media. Here is a link to the small business social media survey >>.

Another interesting survey about social media I read was released in late 2013 by Forrester Research. In the survey – which was later widely discussed, dissected, and criticized – 395 marketing executives said they were least satisfied with results from the social media tools they were using – with YouTube, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook making up the bottom four tools on the list. (If you’re curious, on-site ratings and reviews, search marketing, email marketing, and branded communities were the top four tools).  There are criticisms of the survey, but I think it’s a mistake to completely discount the sentiments expressed by the respondents – especially because at least one follow-up survey done by another organization was able to partially replicate the results.

The question I ask myself, every day, is: What is best for my clients? What is going to get them the maximum return for their investment of their (very limited) resources? In looking both at nationally-collected data, and also my own clients and their successes and struggles with social media, I’ve come to a few conclusions. Here’s my hot-off-the -presses 2014 advice for small businesses about social media. (Good news! It’s not that different than what I’ve advised before.)

  • Social media marketing CAN work for your small business – but only if you are CONSISTENT and PERSISTENT and make a COMMITMENT. The biggest issue I see with many of my small-business clients is that they can’t keep up a consistent posting or engagement frequency on social media. They just don’t have time. Unfortunately, consistent updating and engagement is the crux of social-media success. Posting random updates every other week for eight weeks is not a good test of whether or not social media marketing will work for you. (I’ll save you time and trouble, and just tell you right now: that’s not going to work.) As I say in my social-media classes, social media is a TACTIC, not a STRATEGY. You need to know what you’re going to do (and what you want out of it) before you start creating a social-media presence for your business. You need to commit to a structured schedule of planned updates. There’s no easy, frustration-free path to social-media success for any business owner, no matter how tech-savvy you are. Those small-business social media success stories you hear most often come from people who have gone “all-in” on social media, and were willing to stick it out through months of little to no activity, in order to get their payoff.
  • Be brutally honest with yourself about whether or not you have the time, inclination, resources and commitment to make social-media marketing work. This is especially true if you feel you are “technologically challenged.” ANYONE can master the mechanics of a given social media site, and I mean ANYONE. But there must be a commitment of time and mental energy given to the learning process, and for small-business owners with many flaming batons to juggle, sometimes the commitment needed is just too much. Before creating social media accounts for your business, sit down and ask yourself “Self, do I really have time for this? Do I like writing? Am I good with the computer, or do I have time to get good with it? Do I dread the very idea of having to deal with social media every day?” (If that last one is true for you, that’s a big red flag that your efforts might not be successful.) As you spend more time with a given social-media network, using it gets easier and easier, and less time-consuming. But there’s an uphill learning curve for almost everyone when they get started, which is steeper for some than others.
  • More brutal honesty: would you be better off working on your other marketing efforts, or your sales process? Would that get you more revenue? The “s-word” (sales) is scary for a lot of people. But if you run a small business, you are selling something – products or services. A Facebook page is a great TACTIC for your marketing and branding, but it cannot replace a comprehensive marketing strategy, and for many businesses, it will never come close to being as effective as a well-managed sales effort. Setting up some social-media accounts and then waiting for customers to come rushing to your door (or website) feels safer, for many people, than doing things like cold-calling, personal networking, or lead follow-up. I can say with confidence that for 99% of my clients, social media is a useful adjunct activity – but they still have to get out and actively sell, in order to make enough income for the business to succeed.

What if, after brutally-honest soul-searching, you decide do-it-yourself social media isn’t for you? You have a few options, including completely foregoing social media (yes, you can do this, and for many businesses it is advisable). You can hire a social-media consultant that can do a lot of the work for you. Or you can table the discussion and set a date to re-evaluate social media marketing for your business at a later date. All those options are okay.

The bottom line: do what works for your business. Not what your spouse, mom, child, cousin, or best friend thinks you should do. Not what you read about in Forbes or Inc. or Fast Company. Not what you went to that seminar about last year. Is what you’re doing working for YOU and YOUR BUSINESS? (Hint: if you’re not making enough sales to make a profit, or make a living, what you’re doing isn’t working.)  If you decide to make the commitment and need some guidance on how to use the tools, check out our upcoming Social Media 101 workshop … we’ll hold your hand.

About the Author


Amy Lahti

Amy Lahti brings nearly 15 years of experience working for small and large companies to the WESST team. Her expertise spans a wide range of areas including strategic communications, marketing and sales, training and development, and social media. She graduated from ENMU in Portales with a B.S. in Communications/Journalism, has an M.S. in Organizational Leadership from Colorado State University’s Global Campus, and is certified as a Professional of Human Resources (PHR).

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