Is social media better than traditional marketing? No. Not by a long shot.
Can it be a good complement to traditional marketing? Maybe.
Are there potentially better ways to reach consumers? Absolutely.
Let me explain.
Not very long ago I discussed this very point, on Facebook (ironically), with a social media influencer from Utah.
Turns out she was hosting a “social media party” for a new boutique and there were two kinds of guests they were wanting: One kind had to have X number of followers and, I believe, they were going to get a goodie bag for attending, while the other kind of guests didn’t need a specific following but wouldn’t get anything in return.
As I understood it, both types of guests (even those who weren’t getting anything) were required to post about the boutique and the party on their channels while at the event.
As someone who does digital marketing full-time and who understands that social media isn’t the end-all, be-all, I have a problem every time with businesses that think that a so-called influencer with X followers will generate many sales.
Because after all, that’s what a business should rightfully care about in the end: Sales. Not mentions, not retweets, not reposts. Sales! If something you’re doing ≠ Sales (even if you thought the mentions, the retweets, and the reposts would ultimately lead to sales), it’s time you move on.
So I brought up this point to the gal planning the event and she reminded me that there were two kinds of invites: One for those who lived out their entire lives through their social media and who therefore had more than enough time to
waste spend projecting a certain lifestyle*, and another for those who didn’t spend as much time on it. She then reminded me that I was welcome to apply for the latter [because, between you and me, my follower count doesn’t scream “I’m the best!” as I don’t waste spend enough time posting about me on social media].
(*And no, she didn’t put it in those terms, but that’s how I see those who live out their lives on social media.)
She didn’t like how real I was getting when saying social media shouldn’t be anyone’s main strategy and that my own following isn’t very big because I frankly don’t care to spend so much time away from more worthwhile things (like family, which so many if these influencers just fake-cherish online for the sake of Likes).
I also suggested that she keep doing those parties meant to garner short-term growth while I do the real work of actually generating businesses long term growth and success.
She hilariously ended up disinviting me from said party, which I hadn’t even applied to attend (yes, as if working AT the event wasn’t enough, one also has to apply to attend these circuses!) because I honestly don’t care for getting involved with businesses with such misguided assumptions.
Before I proceed, I should explain a little about the client requesting the party so you see why I got so fired up about this one event in particular, and then I’ll go into what other businesses are doing to grow their online activity, leads, and sales.
The business is a new boutique started by a Colombian and her (I believe?) American husband. From what I could tell, they bring nice stuff from Colombia and resell it here.
(Fun fact: nice Colombian items aren’t expensive in American dollars. I’m Colombian..I should know.)
The first time I went to the site I could see stuff I could easily get in Colombia for maybe the equivalent of USD$20, which they were selling at their store in Utah for $100+. That’s not wrong: Capitalism is one of the things that make this country great, and I applaud anyone and everyone striving to make a living through smart, legal means.
But here’s the thing about these so-called “social media parties,” and what I’m about to say may offend those who know I’m right.
Influencers, by definition, are cheapskates. They don’t want to pay for what the average consumer has to pay because they want it for free. There’s nothing wrong with this, either: after all, if YOU want me to write for your product X, it’s only fair that you give it to me for free!
(And before you get testy, know that I know that there are influencers who buy Chanel, Dior, and Louis Vuitton for themselves, but most influencers get products for free, and specialize in selling that image on their sponsors’ behalf.)
Again, there isn’t anything wrong with only wanting to buy economical things (though there is with being entitled and expecting everything to be free just because you have a following, but that’s for another post).
Utah, like many other regions, is full of cheapskates. The way it’s been told to me is that having such large families instills more frugality in them than perhaps someone who didn’t come from having a larger family. They’d rather go for the more affordable off-brand item than the more durable (name-brand) products.
Before you think I’m speaking from a high horse, know I’m not–not by a long shot! Being newlyweds with a puppy and a mortgage, my husband and I decided long ago to not be crazy and overspend, but to instead put our money in worthwhile places and set reasonable budgets for things. Put another way, as someone who’d rather shop designer names at TJ Maxx or Nordstrom Rack, I know I wouldn’t be a good customer for that boutique I described earlier.
I may own my own LV bag and drive a Mercedes, but that doesn’t mean I’d make a good spokesperson for either since I don’t pride myself in wearing super expensive clothes and accessories. (And frankly, I’m not in love with Mercedes-Benz cars, but I’ll write a post on that later!)
That influencer from earlier was inviting everyone and anyone in this particular Utah-based group, something I considered inappropriate since people looking for more affordable items weren’t this boutique’s ideal customer, but hey..it wasn’t my party to plan.
Here’s another fact regarding the modern world of social media influencing.
In my experience, there are three kinds of influencers:
- Some will wait to get a free product to write about it (some of them will be biased and the others unbiased)
- Some will seek out free products or services before they decide to write about them (it’s these people who actively look for hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc. that may offer free nights, meals, tickets so that they can “partner” with that business, go on that trip, and write about it)
- Some will buy products and services with their own money and write about them
Influencers who are unbiased are, I bet, few and far between. When a company invites me to do X, for instance, I’ll tell you the good AND the bad ugly because I put myself in your shoes and imagine you’d like want to know all that. Go ahead and check my product and restaurant reviews on my blog’s IG to see what I mean.
Unfortunately, not many other influencers are that honest. (I mean, would you expect someone looking for a free nights’ stay at Hotel X to offer an unbiased review of said hotel? #letsbereal)
Therefore, the problem comes when there are these parties meant to serve as gatherings for only influencers who, in most cases, would NOT have been there had a business not invited them. Being cheapskates, do you think an influencer would willingly visit a place where the merchandise was so expensive that they know neither them nor their followers would actually buy any if it?
So why invite them?
By contrast, dear business, you should study your clientele and the clientele you wish to have, and invite THEM to your event–if you absolutely MUST have such an event.
(Why do you think real estate agents invite homebuyers and other realtors to their events and open houses à la Million Dollar Listing? Could it be because they have or know someone who has the money needed for that house? Hmm.)
At first I didn’t think I could plan such an event but thinking about it more, I happen to know real people, who are local, who’d be the ideal customers for that boutique in particular. These people would help bring more repeat business than economical influencers ever would.
Being in digital marketing has taught me more savvy than the never-ending game of social media, with its algorithms and abstract rule changes, ever could.
Perhaps I’ll get to someday coach smart businesses wishing to host parties to people who matter as part of my marketing services. (I already make websites and do SEO for local businesses as a side hobby so who’s to say this wouldn’t be a nice transition?) Until then, I’ll let the n00bs advocate for the importance of (cheapskate) influencers who’d in reality never visit certain businesses.
(This is along the lines of those chain giveaways on social media. [That links to a post I wrote years ago on my business blog about that kind of giveaways. You’ll find some pictures are missing, for which I apologize, but I promise you’ll get the gist!] I’m sorry, but short-term gains–the kind of gains that those giveaways yield– are not my cup of tea, so I’d never recommend them, either.)
So what are small businesses doing to combat social media algorithms?
Glad you asked!
When the big players in social media started becoming “pay to play” and only letting those with the big bucks show their content to consumers, small businesses who lacked those big bucks had to get creative and advance in other ways that required little to no investment.
Online newsletters have been gaining more and more traction because they cost anywhere from $0 to so-very-little to maintain and grow. A photographer friend from North Carolina hasn’t given up with social media, but she recently started sending out newsletters with local tips and other interesting bits of information to keeps herself relevant and top-of-mind in her subscribers’ minds and inboxes. She doesn’t offer coupons or send out spam. Instead, she send out free valuable things to the people who want them, and she doesn’t have to pay their inboxes to show her message.
If you really
must want to conserve your social media, you can also take advantage of Facebook groups and Instagram Stories. Both are free, and (at the time of writing) neither is pay-to-play, meaning everyone has a relatively equal chance at having their stuff be seen by people who chose to follow you.
(Actually, let me rephrase that: Instagram Stories has now began showing Sponsored Stories–quick and intrusive messages from accounts you may not even follow. If you want to reach NON-followers, this is something you may consider doing. But remember, if you want to keep costs low to $0, just go the free route.)
Facebook Groups are communities built around a theme or interest where people gather to discuss everything related to it. The photographer friend I mentioned above started a group about her area. Notice it’s not for photographers or even sales-y: She and her group’s members simply discuss upcoming to-dos and other fun local activities. (G, if you’re reading this and have anything to add, let me know!) I think this is genius!
Instagram Stories offer a raw, more realistic/less edited look at your goings-on–behind-the-scenes, your commute, the view out your window, your works-in-progress, etc. They allow your followers to see another side of your business by letting you show what else makes you YOU without you having to spend hours editing that one picture or coming up with that perfect caption.
Facebook Groups and Instagram Stories are good ways to keep up with your social media if you really care that much about it. But if you don’t, don’t worry: there are also newsletters you can send out to your subscribers and that always famous good old word-of-mouth. (I’m not talking about reviews because those are lame, but that’s for another post.)
The #1 takeaway is you must OFFER VALUE, especially if you communicate via online newsletters.
People hate spam and they’ll be quick to report you as Spam if that’s all you send them. OFFER USEFUL THINGS and they’ll love you.
PS: A quick Google search for basic terms that would describe this boutique yielded no relevant results. I forgot its name so now I guess I won’t be able to offer to help them work on their website or SEO. Their loss!
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How do you combat the all-too-common mentality of social media allegedly being the best marketing strategy out there? What else have you started doing to promote yourself?
Have you attended any social media parties for a business? What dod you like or didn’t like about it?