Let's get to the point then: social media has become so saturated that it is on the brink of implosion. A bit extreme, you may think? But let's consider it -- it is hardly an even playing field for small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups.
Big brands have big budgets. And they have even bigger content megaphones from which they broadcast all of their content. The so-called ROI metrics used to proudly proclaim "success" have barely evolved since businesses first started using social media.
The situation reminds me of the trap Public Relations was stuck in for a long time with the ridiculous AVE -- Advertising Value Equivalent. "Let's work out some big numbers that looks impressive. Even better, let's put a financial figure on it to impress the bean counters."
Reader warning: time for me to get on my soapbox for a bit of a rant. ..
Ok, so social media is thankfully no longer about the size of your following on Twitter. Or how many fans you have on Facebook. Or whether you're a LinkedIn power user with thousands of connections.
And thankfully engagement is certainly playing a bigger role in demonstrating that people are interacting with a brand's content and responding to social media updates and tweets and so on.
But "engagement" is more than "our hashtag got used a bejillion times," or "we got 421 retweets of our content." Big deal -- that doesn't mean anything in a business sense. Where are the social conversations to back up these claims of engagement?
As a clear example, Facebook for businesses is dying. There's been plenty written about that. We've all seen the stats of how a pathetically tiny percentage of your followers will actually have your status update on their timeline, and an even smaller percentage will read it. Take ten different brands' Facebook Pages at random from start-ups and small businesses, to large multi-nationals and the engagement levels are shockingly poor.
The onus is on brands to spend money on Facebook ads and on boosting posts. But even then, no matter how hard you try or how clever you are with the targeting options, you get random people Liking that status update who don't become fans, who rarely actually click through to your website, and have no intention of buying anything from you. But if you spend enough then you will get some business coming through by simply playing the numbers game.
For me, the clue is in the name "social media." Yes, perhaps surprisingly when you look at how brands and professionals use it, it is about being social with others.
That means conversing with people (not talking at them), building trusted relationships (not simply "Thanks for sharing!"), and sparking debate to inform and learn (not "You are wrong and my army of devoted fans in my wonderful community will now shout you down!" This is meaningful engagement, not vanity metrics.
Now I've got that off my chest, let's take a step back and look rationally at the social media landscape today. Businesses are in business to do exactly that: business. This means selling "stuff." It means sales. Sales are the lifeblood of any organisation. Without it, they will die. It really is as simple as that.
Yet businesses seem to be scared of actually "doing business" on social media. "Oooh, you can't sell on social media" is a comment I hear a lot. Come on...really?
There are of course plenty of examples of brands using social media to actually "do" business. Campaigns and offers and discounts are all designed to have a direct impact on sales funnels -- well, at least they should be.
They intend to push prospects along the coveted customer journey to go from "target audience" to "unqualified lead" to "qualified prospect" to "customer" and then the pinnacle of it all: a "brand advocate."
But it seems impossible for small businesses in particular to actually do this. Too often, these social media mavens seem to have forgotten how the Internet should be used to bring people together (old school networking in the digital age), to "talk shop" and pass leads and recommendations to trusted contacts, and to close business deals.
This is why I founded SunZu -- a free business tool that puts business first to help entrepreneurs and SMEs generate exposure, traffic and leads that in turn accelerate the growth of their businesses locally or internationally.
Businesses, small ones especially, have got to re-think their social media strategy and go back to basics and ask: "Why are we in business?" If it is to grow revenues and, ideally, increase profit margins, then network properly. This means putting a stop to trying to compete in popularity contests or trying to win the battle to be heard above the cacophony of noise.
Talk to people. You can't do that effectively in real-life, so do it online. Even better: talk to people that can help your business, that will buy from your business, or that you can learn from.
If you're still with me on this, then here are some final thoughts from me. Re-focus your attentions on growing your sales funnel to create customers. Give recommendations, referrals and leads, and make introductions -- you will be respected for this and will become trusted...this will come back to benefit you later on down the line. Create more business and less noise...this way, you will get a return on your time.