To social media, or not to social media

By Peter Schuster

Excuse the nonsensical heading but every time I think of social media Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to be” pops into my head.

Social media is one of the hottest topics right now. Twitter, FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, not to mention blogs, forums and other vehicles, are all gaining the attention of businesses.

Personally, I am a social media sceptic but my views are balanced by some in our company that can see potential. Regardless where we as a company stand on social media, we all admit that it warrants consideration in any business-to-business engagement plan.

This consideration does, however, have to be measured. Instead of just jumping in and saying “Yes, let’s get some social media activity going”, companies need to stand back and determine if social media really is right for them or if they are just jumping off the cliff because everyone else is – lemmings spring to mind.

A considered and planned approach to social media is important for three reasons:

  1. Social media represents a time commitment
  2. Social media represents a monetary commitment
  3. Social media may not resonate with your audience
  • Social media represents a time commitment

You need to dedicate yourself (or someone) to creating content regularly. Nothing looks worse than a Twitter profile with one tweet saying “test” that was posted 6 months ago.

You also need to dedicate time to monitoring social media sites to look for useful content that you can repurpose (for example, “re-tweeting” someone else’s post that is relevant to your audience but non-competitive).

Finally, you need to commit time to respond to postings or content you find that mentions you, your product or your company.

  • Social media represents a monetary commitment

Even if you handle social media in-house, you still must count what we call the “opportunity lost” of undertaking social media activities (we like the finality of “opportunity lost” over “opportunity cost”).

This means, you need to think about all of the other things you could spend time (ergo: money) on and the value they would provide compared with social media.

Most marketing and communications teams nowadays are running lean and mean – either in manpower or budget. This means that if you add something to your marketing mix, you typically have to give something up (unless you secure more recourses or outsource the function).

You need to assess the value social media could provide against the value an alternative activity could provide. This assessment needs to include time and costs.

Even if you manage social media internally, it still comes with a price. Throw into the mix the price you will pay if you outsource this function (this isn’t a novel concept; rather it’s similar to outsourcing your media relations).

Joe Pulizzi from Junta42 suggests a budget of $10,000-$30,000 per year just for blogging. Add Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube to this and no doubt you could get to $50,000 quite quickly, depending on frequency of course.

In another post, Pulizzi also suggests a formula for how frequently you should be generating content in a variety of formats. We don’t necessarily feel this formula or the costs are right for everyone, but it is an eye opener (and exhausting just to read).

  • Social media may not resonate with your audience

Even if you decide you can afford the time and money to undertake social media activities, your audience may not actually be receptive to it.

Now, social media purists will argue that all audiences are tuned in and if they’re not, they soon will be so by getting in now, you’re positing yourself as a front runner.  

Well I don’t think so. This philosophy is all very well if you don’t have anything better to do with your time and money but I’m pretty sure most of us in business don’t have that luxury.

We often see companies pursuing social media when it just doesn’t make sense from their audience’s perspective. They’ve been caught up in the hype and are jumping off the cliff because all the other lemmings are.

The reality is that some audiences just aren’t using social media. No, they really aren’t.

It’s like the existential question “If a tree falls in a deserted woods does it make a noise?” If your audience isn’t using social media why would you spend your time creating content for them?

It reminds me of the old “Build it and they will come” mentality from the dot com boom, we all know how that played out. If your audience isn’t using social media a big question has to be – why should you?

The upshot

Social media may be hot right now but it may also not be for every business. You need to carefully consider if your audience is ready for social media and the commitment required and balance this with planning and implementation.

In the next post I will cover how we are seeing social media work in a business-to-business context. I’ll also share some tips for using social media in your business.