Over the better part of the past decade, I’ve used social media to help over a dozen companies reach their customers, build their brands, popularize their offerings, and make millions of dollars in sales.
I have put together expensive social media campaigns worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that have put brands at the center of their industries with millions of followers, and I have worked projects that cost my clients a few bucks a day just to maintain their most loyal customers and keep their heads above water in a sea of vicious competition.
I believe that my background gives me ample insight and authority to address a very dangerous misconception within my industry; one that too many aspiring business developers have mistakenly taken to heart:
There is a very popular myth in the field of social media marketing that many buy into because it’s a simple way to shift the blame from yourself onto the monetization dynamics of the platforms you use. That myth is the belief that as long as your product, service, or idea is good enough, it will automatically gain massive traction on social media if only you’re consistent with your content output.
“Built it and they will come.”
In a perfect world this would very well be the case, but as we all know, consumers today are more withholding with their attention than they’ve ever been at any given point in history. Our smart devices make sure that we’re always digitally connected to the world and the millions of businesses in it, meaning that no matter where we are, there will always be somebody trying to sell us something. Sometimes it will be in the form of a tangible item, sometimes a service, and sometimes a different way of thinking about a given topic — but it will always be there.
Because of this constant barrage of digital salesmanship, we have successfully conditioned the public to not pay attention to most of us anymore. The second that we identify a piece of media as an advertisement, we instinctually shut down.
We understand that Fortune 500 companies don’t make their social media pages brand based works of art because they want to give us something nice to look at. They do it to tell their story to their audience with the end goal of selling more of their offering. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, it’s the way our modern economy works. But startups and small businesses need to understand that they cannot take the same approach that a behemoth like Nike can.
Social media is not some silver bullet that will exponentially develop your fan base if only you consider yourself to be interesting, and I never understood why so many marketers view it as such. It is an advertising platform, just as radio was in the twenties through the fifties, and television from the sixties all the way through today. The only difference between those platforms, and say, Instagram — is that the latter doesn’t bar your entry if you don’t have two hundred thousand dollars (or ideally much more) to produce a commercial or a show around your brand.
Getting started is indeed free, but reaching the big leagues of companies like Mercedes (10.7 million Instagram followers as of September 2017) still requires having very deep pockets and access to a sea of creative talent and production resources. One look at their account should tell you straight away that they don’t hire photographers or videographers that charge less that a thousand dollars per hour of shooting, and rightfully so.
Yes, you’re more likely to build organic traction if the material you’re putting out is visually appealing and tells a captivating story. But if it was that easy, then companies like Facebook and Instagram wouldn’t be raking in billions every year from their advertising platforms — it is in their best interests to limit how easy it is to grow organically.
Don’t be fooled by all the self proclaimed experts who say that all it takes to rack up astronomical numbers on social media is tenacity. “Put your best food forward, post ever day, leave comments, interact with your followers, etc…” is not a predetermined formula for success in the virtual economy. Of course those things contribute, but it’s extremely unlikely that they will make you an overnight success.
That’s not to say that without a significant budget, social media doesn’t matter. If approached with the correct strategy, it can steadily develop your brand and slowly start attracting the attention of the community you’re looking to reach. If you’re a software startup with a great offering and 25 loyal customers, then you damn well better make sure that you’re talking to them at least once ever two weeks via Twitter — that kind of individual attention will guarantee that they don’t leave you for a bigger competitor.
It won’t be instantaneous, but rest assured that word of you will spread, and your community of several thousand people will be built over the course of several months. They won’t be Mercedes numbers, but they will be enough to carry your business to profitability, after which you’ll need to decide whether you’re taking your bonus home with you, or investing it into more potent social media marketing efforts — such as influencers or Facebook PPC.
If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, let it be the fact that self awareness relating to your business is utmost key. When you don’t have a ton to spend — grind it out. Promote yourself creatively on forums and post enough content to let your customers know you’re not out of business yet. Results won’t come fast or easy, but they will come.
But when the budget is there, I strongly implore you to take advantage of it. Spend it intelligently based on all the relevant data you can find. When done correctly, a paid media strategy can add thousands of new fans to your brand’s social channels every single day.
It will then be up to you to develop a story powerful enough to covert those fans into paying customers who will ideally bankroll future marketing efforts, letting your cycle of business development work at its most optimal.