When Social Media Isn't The Answer

“We need to be on Facebook,” they tell me. “Everyone’s on Facebook.”

“Yes,” I say, “but you’re a B2B company. When people are on Facebook they want to hang out with friends and family -- they're there to avoid their job, not do more of it.”

“Yes,” they say, “but our chief competitor is on Facebook.”

“Yes,” I say, “but they have 12 Likes. Nine of them are staff, and the other three are teenagers.”

“OK,” they say, “then what about Twitter?”

“Well,” I say, “you have a very specific target market. Twitter is more of a shotgun medium.”

“Yes,” they say, “but our chief competitor is on Twitter.”

“That’s true,” I say, “but they are following two people, they have no followers, and they’ve tweeted twice in the six months since the account’s been active.”



“So how can we tell everyone how great our product is on social media?”

“I think we need to rephrase the question,” I reply. “It’s called social media. It’s not called product media. It's a place to build relationships and connect with people. It’s not a place where you can just barge in and push your stuff on people.”

“But if we don’t use social media,” they say, “How are we going to get the word out about our product?”

“For your product you don’t need social media,” I offer. “You have a relatively small group of potential customers. They are easily identifiable and easily contactable. Your offering solves a major and pressing problem for them. They gather regularly in a forum where you can join them and where it’s appropriate to discuss your businesses. They offer speaking opportunities at these gatherings, and invite potential vendors to share new products. Or perhaps you’re a wholesale distributor for a product that’s purchased almost entirely at tradeshows. Or you have a local Thai takeout and nobody on staff who understands social media or thinks it’s fun. Or your product is one that people primarily use Google to find.”

“But you’re the social media person,” they protest. “How come you’re telling us not to use social media?”

“Because social media is not always the answer,” I respond. “There are a million and one situations in which it makes more sense to spend your limited time and energy elsewhere. Social media takes effort. It takes persistence and sustained investment in relationships that may or may not produce sales.”

“So what should we do instead?” they ask.

“Imagine for a moment that you’re your customer,” I say. “But not your existing customer. Imagine you’re your customers just at the moment they realize they need your product. Where are they? Are they at their computer? Are they watching television? Are they in the car? When they realize they need your product, what do they do? Do they call a friend? A colleague? Search Google? Issue an RFP? You ask yourself all these questions. You find exactly the path that your customer travels to arrive at the solution you offer, and then you place yourself exactly in that path. If they’re searching Google, you run Adwords. If they’re in the car, you try radio. You anticipate the when and the where of the question, and you endeavor to be at the ready with the answer.”

“Hunh,” they say. “It sounds so simple.”

“Yep,” I say. “It is.”

14 comments about "When Social Media Isn't The Answer".
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  1. Lisbeth Kramer from Identities, August 3, 2012 at 10:55 a.m.

    BRAVO....Indeed as an integrating strategy social media is a powerful ingredient, if as you say that garden is properly attended to when you plant the seeds. And even so, to truly engage and be relevant and where your target consumer is, there are other places to be and create the education, awareness, instill the value of your product/service in their life. So be social, of course, but why not be where your customers are and not just talk..touch, educate, create experience and value..wonder what iconic brands would eliminate all else and only opt for social media; think it would work?

  2. Kevin Bullard from ILFUSION Creative, August 3, 2012 at 11:02 a.m.

    Wow! What clarity. I have been saying this for years (OK, maybe 2) but dead on! Especially the "but my rival is on fb/twitter/etc..." Thanks!

  3. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, August 3, 2012 at 11:10 a.m.

    Don't look now, but the share price of Facebook would suggest that Social Media is not the answer.

  4. Rob Schmults from Intent Media, August 3, 2012 at 11:27 a.m.

    Great post. Social marketing suffers massively from the confusion of means with ends. Too many companies start with a premise like "what are we doing on FaceBook?" or Twitter or whatever. The goal shouldn't be to market through a particular channel. The goal should be something like "we want to increase profits by X" or "grow sales among 25-35 year old women." Then marketers can look at the available options to cost-effectively support those goals. If FB is one, great. If not, don't waste the time and resources as Kaila says.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 3, 2012 at 11:57 a.m.

    Logic and common sense. The 2 most overlooked actions of addictive behaviors that literally and figuratively have people walking into ditches.

  6. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, August 3, 2012 at 5:39 p.m.

    Very good post. As owner of we consider Facebook as a competitor. In fact there have been 4 large agencies who have said that we produced more quality sweepstakes entries than Facebook. These leads to a whole new round of questions about just how effective is Facebook really?

    After 8 plus years, and working with many Fortune 500 companies, these companies understand now that our sweepstakes website does work because we can target into their demographic group and that the members really do buy their products. Facebook on the other hand targets a much younger age group. Yes you will get “likes” but not much more. I see advertisers moving more into target market websites in the future the same as you are suggesting.

  7. Steven Threndyle from media tent, August 3, 2012 at 5:40 p.m.

    All true, but I don't think we are 'returning to our regular programming' (or marketing, or PR, or media habits) anytime soon.

  8. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, August 3, 2012 at 6:19 p.m.

    Thanks so much for your lovely comments, guys! @Steven, I'm not trying to suggest we 'return to regular programming;' I'm suggesting instead we make decisions based on what our circumstances and objectives actually call for, rather than based on the flavor of the month.

  9. Gwyneth Llewelyn from Beta Technologies, August 4, 2012 at 2:02 p.m.

    So well put. You know, this article of yours won't get many Likes from social media experts :)

    The truth hurts.

    So, well, what will the traditional media (anti-social media?) now write about, if they cannot continue to write articles about how cool social media "enables" businesses to make more money?

    Actually, this reminds me of one story. A tiny local health shop — doing massages and therapies — opened up a few months ago. They complained to the key therapists that they weren't doing much promotion efforts, and, as such, they had few clients. They have registered for Facebook on their first day and continuously update it — because, having few customers, they have lots of spare time to be on Facebook. When they organised an event to attract more people, they complained even more that nobody in the team was being serious about their promotion efforts. "You guys have thousands of followers," they said. "Why don't you post announcements about our place and let your friends know we exist?"

    In fact, the therapists did post some things — shared and liked to their content. The truth is, after weeks, few people ever came via Facebook. I could locate exactly two persons who did, in fact, come via an announcement on Facebook. Yes, "thousands" might have read about the announcement, but only two came.

    I suggested that they tried Groupon — because *there* is where their competition is (and not on social media), and Groupon really makes an effort to promote local businesses with the kind of services these guys provide. They read about Groupon, smiled with kind and patient interest — and went back to Facebook. Because Facebook is *free*.

    I could only shake my head and shrug.

    But the "Facebook generation" still believes that this is the best way to attract people to their business, since that's what the media tell them to do.

    Articles like yours will certainly raise a few eyebrows and make *some* people very, very angry :)

  10. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., August 6, 2012 at 12:49 p.m.

    Outstanding, Kaila! As Bob Hoffman, the "Adcontrarian" says on his blog, "There's no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer convinced he's missing a trend." We had a similar thing years ago, "All my competitors have a video." "All my competitors have a capabilities brochure." In spite of what B2C agencies like to say, B2B IS different.

  11. Wendy Kane from Slumberland, August 8, 2012 at 12:49 p.m.

    Very well said, Kaila. Like any other advertising vehicle, if you don't have a clear purpose of what you want it to accomplish, your execution will never match your strategy.

  12. Kathy Broniecki from Envoy, Inc., August 10, 2012 at 6:10 p.m.

    brilliant - and well said - may I borrow this;)
    Thank you Kaila!

  13. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, August 10, 2012 at 10:04 p.m.

    Hi Kathy! Of course; please do :)

  14. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, August 16, 2012 at 3:10 p.m.

    Yes, but Twitter amplifies word of mouth for B2B, so harnessing the power of crowd sourcing to suggest vendors is important for reaching the under-30 buyer.

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