The top 4 things about social media that freak out small businesses

18 Jun

Trisha Lees, one of our Tartan partners, and I conducted a seminar on social media for the Whistler Chamber of Commerce this week. There were about 20 small local businesses in attendance, with varying degrees of investment and experience in social media.

They were, in part, a reactive group: some were there because they had to be and were reacting to pressure from the market and other businesses that are a step ahead. So already social media is a tough sell to those businesses, reluctance not being the greatest motivator. On the other hand, Whistler: who wants to be inside on a computer?

Listening to the questions and comments throughout the four-hour long session we can conclude that these four things have kept them out of the SM waters thus far.

1. It’s too overwhelming. We popped up this image of a bunch of social media tools and spaces, and people in the room literally gasped. For some, it was an elegant confirmation of all their fears: Social Media will take over your life. The reality is, you pick and choose, just like with traditional media. You don’t have to understand every publication and broadcast outlet to build an effective media strategy. You just have to know where your punters are.

2. Social Media is just noise. People yakking at each other. Wasting time. The latest trend for trend-obsessessed societies. In reality, to people using social media, advertising is noise, precisely because it’s one-way communication. What they’re engaged in is communication. And while it may be trending, it’s continuing to trend up, like the Internet itself.

3. There is no proof that this stuff works. That rather depends on your definition of “works”. Does it replace traditional advertising? No. It supplements it in an area of social interaction that simply didn’t exist five years ago. Proactive companies have recognized the benefits of monitoring, engaging in and analyzing these influential conversations for some time now. Social media is a slow-burn and it’s hit and miss. But the potential for buzz is awe-inspiring, as viral videos have shown. If your company gets it wrong to the wrong person, they are going to be talking about it here. And then you will know its power.

4. It will take too much time. A blog, some tweets, a few Facebook updates, a YouTube video, some pics on Flickr…where is the time for the rest of my life? Here you have to learn not only best practices but efficient ones. A blog one day, some tweets the next, a Facebook update on day 3…a bit of monitoring every morning. It’s manageable if you make it so. It will overwhelm you if you don’t.

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8 Responses to “The top 4 things about social media that freak out small businesses”

  1. maureen sullivan June 18, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    Excellent info, I agree that there is a lot of skepticism out there. The biggest fear is that it will take too much time…didn’t people learn this one with the advent of cell phones and email?? It only takes as much time as you allow it to take!

  2. Reg June 18, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Cogent thinking, as usual, Doug — sounds like an enlightening session. The one area where I think it’s still a struggle for many businesses, big or small, is #4, i.e. Time. You’re right — it’s not a question of if one should invest the money or time in social media, but why (i.e. strategy), how (i.e. tactics, which sites, etc.) and how much (time, resources, $s). This last one is really proving a tough one for companies, since the ones that seem to be doing it well HAVE invested in the resourcing to post, monitor, respond, engage, etc.

    The biggest piece missing, however, from the discussion, is measurement. WHAT to measure, WHAT it proves, and WHAT is gained (e.g. is it about clicks? eyeballs? $s? Brand building/equity, etc.?) — no disagreement that with the right strategy and tactics, companies should be in the social space. However, proving ROI or brand equity, etc., ESPECIALLY if/when it turns the marketing team’s heads away from other channels (there IS only so much time/resourcing/$ to go around) starts to become a difficult balancing act.

  3. Corey June 18, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    Great entry. We struggle with this type of skepticism constantly up here in the north. Your four points are exactly what we hear alot. It is getting better though, slowly. Thanks for another good read.

  4. dougbrowncreative June 18, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    Comments all much appreciated. The time issue arises constantly. Seems that we are always able to make more time for new things that actually work, doesn’t it.

    So to Reg’s point…measurement. What does work and how do we know? That’s a specific drill down from Pt.3 I guess. We walked the participants through a variety of tools for monitoring and measuring, but I maintain that trying to measure the effectiveness of social media as you would traditional media ie. through metrics, is doomed. After all, someone clicking on that irritating rich media ad to get the intrusive and obstructive image off the content you’re reading is likely to take you to the micro-site: a victory for the advertiser in traditional methods of measuring. It may be a click-through, but it was also a negative vote.

    Ultimately the proof will be in the pudding. If you test with and without a social media component, there will no doubt be great learnings. It’s still early days, there are so many opinions out there and the landscape is changing constantly.

    Maureen and Corey, great to have comments from you on our blog. Thanks for reading.

  5. amy joseph June 18, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    Great depiction of the audience, Doug. I can almost feel their pain. Small businesses may say that time is a huge constraint, and I’m sure it is, but as you said, the whole thing must seem overwhelming.

    I haven’t used this myself, but what I read about FourSquare is brilliant. Location marketing, with easy, cheap, automated recommend-a-friend functionality is completely revolutionary. I hope some of your clients give it a whirl and you report back.

  6. dougbrowncreative June 18, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    Amy we have seen some of our clients, and certainly many familiar local businesses, on FourSquare already. They combine it with Twitter to close the loop. I don’t know yet whether it’s working for them. But one thing I know from the users I have spoken to is that they are quite passionate about it. Good things are likely to flow from that.

  7. MaryAnn Swan June 18, 2010 at 8:11 pm #

    Hey Doug, great article.
    I’m right in it with all those small business SM newbies. It does take time to create the habit, and my learning curve is building. I’m not quite there yet with blogging, but I do check in on FB, Linkedin, and Twitter. I’ll check out this FourSquare one you mention above.

    • dougbrowncreative June 20, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

      Thanks for the comment MaryAnn….FourSquare is taking off and is really the one to watch. We have such short attention spans don’t we: Always looking for the next big thing. I think it’s this “moving on” attitude that freaks small businesses out. They get comfortable with one social space only to find the crowd’s moved on to a new party.

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