Why Social Media May Be A Bad Idea For Your Business

Lots of organisations get involved with social media because they think they ought to but then do it badly and are disappointed at the result.

Part of the problem seems to me to be that social media are ‘free’ and therefore of low value in the eyes of people who are used to spending money on various forms of advertising.

The other part is that it’s difficult to measure the Return On Investment in terms of short term gains, so there’s no incentive to use social media consistently, let alone well, when other more pressing uses of time come up. Certainly you can promote an offer and see how many took it up but much of the use of social media is about increasing brand awareness, building loyalty and spreading word of mouth, none of which provide immediate revenue (although they can be measured against targets).
So, in my experience, many organisations get involved in social media because they think they should but let that involvement slide as soon as other demands on resources come along.
There is something else. Using social media requires a huge change in approach, from the traditional marketing role of leading your customers to the brave new world of being led by them. Many marketing people either don’t understand this or they don’t want to do it. Social media, whether it’s blogging and microblogging (Twitter), social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn), sharing (YouTube, Flickr) or forums and comments, is a conversation not a monologue.

So, best not to get involved in social media if you don’t have the commitment or an appreciation of why you’re doing it. All that will happen is that you will produce a half hearted effort that won’t impress your followers and may even alienate them and that will waste your time.

If you want to do it properly, start by looking at my 10 Tips for using Social Media.

Free Isn’t Cheap

I wasn’t surprised to read that Which? has concluded ‘free’ banking costs a fortune. The fact is, nothing in the commercial world is really free. If you buy one and get one ‘free’, it may be true that you pay the same if you only purchase one but the price allows for you buying two. The same applies to ‘free gifts’.
Businesses use ‘Free’ offers because it’s the most emotive attention-grabbing known to marketing but the reality is, as Mrs Thatcher once said, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’. Your Life Your Style recently followed the example of others including the great Amazon and started offering free shipping on most online purchases. Our courier hasn’t become a charity so we are still having to pay for shipping. In most cases, our customers are not paying more. The additional cost has been paid for by the increase in turnover this offer has generated. Nevertheless, if we were in Germany, we would probably have to say, ‘Shipping included in the price’ but that doesn’t sound anything like as exciting.
At least Your Life Your Style’s free shipping genuinely applies to everything over £20, unlike a packaging supplier I came across recently who offered ‘free shipping on all orders’ but made a ‘small order surcharge’ of £9.99 on all purchases under £100!
The use of the word ‘free’ can sometimes be disingenuous becasue everything has a cost to a business and has to be valued against the revenue it generates. It’s the same with a free gift offered if you subscribe to a magazine, or a donation to a good cause in order to enhance their brand. This is not sinister or underhand, but equally it is not altruistic.
Take Your Life Your Style. We offer things for free to attract people to my business websites in the hope that they will stay and buy something. So we provide free cocktail recipes and a free tourist guide to the Winchester on our shop website, and there are pages of free basic marketing advice on my consultancy website.
Of course, free gifts from businesses can become unsavoury. David Cameron is probably too young to remember Margaret Thatcher’s cautionary words, which may be why he didn’t realise the potential fallout from accepting an invitation to a ‘country supper’ from News International’s Rebekah Brooks. Neither should he have been surprised that businesses donating to the Conservative Party coffers might expect to be invited to Downing Street where they could lobby ministers over the canapés.
My mother was always rightly suspicious about anything free. She would be confused by today’s world in which the low delivery costs of the internet have led to lots of services being ‘free’. We get free searches from Google, free social networking from Facebook and free mailboxes from Yahoo. However, she might not be as surprised or outraged as some people have been to discover the companies in question are using the information they gain about us to target advertising in our direction. When I use Google’s free search, I’m like a fish caught by bait: Google’s customers are the people who buy the fish, in other words advertisers. As my mum wqould have said, ‘You get what you pay for.’

How To Sell Last Minute Tickets

No matter what price you put on a seat, it’s a diminishing asset that will be worth nothing the day after the event. If a show hasn’t sold as well as you hoped and you’ve got too many seats left, you need to shift them.

Emails, texts, Facebook posts and Tweets are the media to use for getting instant last minute responses- so put maximum effort into collecting email addresses and mobile numbers (with permissions and preferably interests) and social network followers. Start with your ticket buyers but also use competitions and cheap offers to get audiences to fill in forms with their email address or mobile number. To build your followers on Facebook and Twitter, include lots of interesting stuff about your local community and the arts scene in general (i.e. not just your own organisation) as well as offers (which are a major reason for joining).

Use ‘whats on’ websites (e.g. local newspaper) and other media like BBC local radio that might carry news of last minute offers. Create a story for a last minute press release- last minute hitch, charity event link up, appeal for prop, audience member’s special anniversary- there’s always something.

I Guess I’m Right or The Importance of Research

We’re all guilty of thinking we know our audience. Often it’s based on what we are like ourselves or what we would wish our audience to be like. I came across this article on Social Media Today which illustrates the gap between what managers believe their customers use their Facebook page for and what they actually use it for.

We would probably all like to to think that when someone signs up to follow our Facebook posts or our Tweets, it’s because they like us, they like what we have to say and they want to know about us. That’s what the marketing officers surveyed thought. However the majority of consumers said they signed up because they wanted offers, games and info about new products. Only 38% said they wanted to show they were a fan. (I assume this leaves out all the people who sign up purely to try to sell you something.)

If we don’t research why our customers follow us, buy our product or visit our venue, how can we hope to market effectively to them? We often can’t afford to do our own research but that’s no excuse when there’s so much available on the internet. You may be right that your customers are different to those in this particular bit of research but it can’t harm to make sure that your postings on Facebook and Twitter include plenty of offers and news about new products.

Your Life Your Style Minds Its Language

Too wordy for Twitter?

Language has certainly moved on in the last fifty years. And I don’t just mean that authors who once used better words now only use four letter words, as Cole Porter put it. We expect people to write as we speak and are increasingly attuned to a false tone. Even so, modern forms of communication like websites or Twitter, when used by artists, journalists or advertisers, can touch the user, just as much as Shakespeare, Dickens or P.T. Barnum once did. Writing in the style of the reader is only the starting point. The rhythms of the language and the choice of words still separate the best from the rest.

Getting the words right is important to successful advertising. Your Life Your Style’s shop business is growing steadily, maybe 10% a year, but our online business is mushrooming. Last month we saw a 166% increase on the previous year. A great deal of our internet success comes from writing copy that connects with the reader and helps them understand why they might need to buy our products. Doing this on Twitter (@yourlifeshop) with its 140 letters restriction (think news headlines) is different from Facebook (think gossip) and different again from an tiny advert on Google (think market trader).

More than this, the same people need a different approach in different contexts.  The same person will have a public and private persona- and the private persona will be different with one’s friends to one’s significant other. I run pages for Steiff and Dora Designs collectors. These could be hard nosed professionals in their jobs but at home they are usually gentle, fun people very much in touch with the child within themselves. The enthusiastic open language on those pages is different to the professional approach required on, say, these pages aimed at serious marketers and retailers.

Even writing at length on a website or blog requires a brevity and informality in tune with modern times. I’ve been told by one of my severest critics (my wife) that these blogs are too formally written. But, y’know, that’s me, innit?