It’s not news if you own a business that you have to be on Facebook. It’s not news if you’re on Facebook that you have to post regularly in order to maintain engagement and draw new people in. It’s not news if you’re on Facebook regularly that some businesses are absolutely killing it online, while others are just chasing the dream—nor that what works for some businesses on social media doesn’t work for others.
What is new is social media itself. It was barely more than a decade ago that Facebook opened itself up to any college student if his or her school was on the Facebook roster. And many of the other top platforms—Pinterest, Instagram, Periscope—came out years after that. So it’s no wonder that many small-town businesses and solopreneurs are still figuring out how to use social media as a marketing means to drive their businesses forward; there doesn’t seem to be any way to use these platforms that is universally tried and true.
As I’ve spent the last several years studying under the tutelage of such prominent online influencers as Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess, Hilary Rushford of Dean Street Society, and Marie Forleo of B School, I’ve absorbed more when it comes to online presence than most undergrads in business will learn by the time they get their diplomas. I’ve done everything I can to learn about photography for business, brand development, social strategy, blogging, web design, leading teams, launching startups and more, by reading books, attending workshops and seminars, and watching hours of YouTube interviews with names like Seth Godin, Tony Robbins, and Ned Hallowell. But as with almost anything, I have learned more in a year of practice than I ever did from studying.
I am still not a master of social media. I honestly believe that social media is too young and too quickly evolving for anyone to be an expert at it, because “expertise” implies that a person can conform a knowledge base to almost any situation and succeed. Many, many social coaches out there know what worked for them and their businesses on the platforms they chose, but their templates do not conform to all business models and types. No one has performed Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours on every platform there is available today.
In spite of my belief that social media expertise is still a fleeting notion, I do observe many ways in which the small businesses in my old-fashioned New England region definitely use social media the wrong way; and in spite of the fact that most of us can identify the ways I’m talking about, small businesses open every day and fall into these same traps.
So below I outline 5 reversible mistakes small business owners make when creating their online social presence, as well as some ideas for how to correct course.
1 - Believing that simply existing on Facebook will offer endless free marketing opportunity.
This one is a variation on the idea, “If you build it, they will come.” There are many reasons that this is a faulty assumption, not the least of which is that Facebook’s algorithm for business pages is to not favor their posts in users’ home feeds. (Facebook intentionally prioritizes everyone else’s posts above the posts you make from your business page—which is why even if you have 500 followers already, only 40 people have seen that thing you wrote three days ago.)
One really big reason this is a faulty assumption is that it bets everyone who follows your business online cares about what you create as much as you do. It bets that if you have 800 followers on Facebook, 750 of them will come rushing into your business every time you post about a new offering. It assumes that everyone who follows you will want to share your posts, or will have money to spend at the same moment you offer a coupon deal, or will be on their mobile device in the hour you offer a flash sale. These expectations are unrealistic.
A social presence should always be attached to an experience you want to pre-create for customers and a posting schedule—and these should be determined based on specific, measurable goals you have for your social strategy. If you’re going to invest time and energy into social posting, there better be a specific outcome you want that is measurable so you know whether or not you succeeded, and it’s very likely that that goal will be attached to revenue.
2 - Assigning social media to an existing staffer without making social media that person’s dedicated job.
This one is huge. I actually don’t know any business in my area that has hired a person whose sole job, or primary job at the very least, is social media. Plenty of businesses assign it to a young person on the team who raises a hand and says, “I’ll do it!”—but then during peak business, that person gets pulled away from social posting to do other, “more urgent” work, and it’s not until slow season that time opens up for posting again. Since consistency builds trust, having this kind of sporadic social media presence does more harm for a business than good.
Conversely, every brand I follow religiously online clearly has a dedicated photographer behind the scenes, making sure that there’s something eye-catching to post every day, and that the business’s social feeds look polished and cohesive at all times. Some businesses have more than just a good photographer; they have a person who enjoys testing out which hashtags bring in traffic, what kinds of promotions or collaborations build social proof (followers) quickly, what kinds of images boost engagement, and more. Because there’s someone at the helm all year long, these businesses’ social followings grow much more quickly than any of the businesses in my corner of the world, and this creates a larger pool for the businesses to market to over time.
I highly recommend, if you cannot hire a professional photographer or social storyteller, to make sacred for social media at least 10 hours per week of an existing staffer’s schedule. I recommend also paying that staffer to attend Score workshops and seminars on the subject, and perhaps even enrolling that individual in an online course to start generating smart ideas for social posting. Invite this staffer into manager meetings to plan out promotions and stories to tell, images to capture, etcetera. It will make a world of difference.
3 - Assuming Twitter is essential.
Twitter is not essential for most business types. Unless you are a political figure, sports journalist, or celebrity, you’re probably not participating in World Events conversations in real time, which is what Twitter is best used for.
Understanding how social platforms are intended to be used plays a big role in whether or not you should use them, as well as whether or not what you post there will be successful in reaching your ideal clients. It’s not enough to post any image on Pinterest—it has to be the right dimensions and it has to be eye-catching in a feed that is comprised exclusively of images; and it’s not enough to post a beautiful image in the correct dimensions if it doesn’t lead back to valuable content, because Pinterest is a visual bookmarking system. If you don’t know that going into your Pinterest marketing endeavors, then you won’t be successful.
4 - Using a Facebook page in lieu of a website.
Yes, people are still doing this. This is a terrible move for a business. While before Facebook existed, there was still a little wiggle-room to go without a website—because this was the era before everyone had a smartphone and therefore there were still Yellow Pages floating around if you were looking for someplace to eat or shop—today, if you invest time and money into your business but don’t have a website, it’s like buying a car and then intentionally popping one of the tires and saying you only need three. You’re sabotaging yourself.
Having a Facebook page instead of a website is arguably worse than having no web presence at all. Facebook has its own brand—everything on Facebook is blue, gray, white, or black. The way they’ve structured business pages does not allow business owners to showcase what the experience is like to visit their establishments—which a website can and should do. When people who haven’t been to your business or had the pleasure of working with you in person go to your Facebook page because they can’t find a website, they really have no idea what they’re getting themselves into.
Using Facebook instead of a website is like saying the following to strangers:
- “I don’t really know what I’m doing on a computer, so I had a young person build this Facebook page for me.” This makes you look unintelligent.
- “I am not doing well enough yet in my business to afford a website.” This looks like you weren’t willing to invest up front and like you possibly won’t be open very long.
- “I don’t want new customers.” This is because in the off-chance that someone who hasn’t signed up for Facebook clicks on your Facebook page in a Google search, he or she won’t actually be able to view the page.
Even if it’s incredibly basic and communicates only bare-bones information, you need a website. Build a website, or pay someone else to do it for you.
CAVEAT: I don't think that this one is necessarily true for young freelance creatives or service providers. Guitar teachers, photographers, and a select few others can still get away with starting off with just a Facebook page. However, if you have a physical establishment, you need a website.
5 - Posting politically controversial content.
There is a school of thought among some business leaders that a great brand draws in the right customers and repels the wrong ones. The notion is that if you can make a few specific people passionate about your business on a personal level, you’ll have customers for life—ones who will be unlikely to experience buyers’ remorse, demand customizations, and submit mediocre reviews on Amazon and Yelp, while also being very likely to love whatever you come out with (and buy it even if they don’t need it), happily change themselves to fit your product or service into their lives, and champion your cause for you (free marketing). It’s the business owner’s dream if it actually works.
And honestly, it is not bad science. Every marketing research experiment ever conducted has concluded that relationship matters to buyers. The closer you can get customers to feel to the company, the more likely they are to feel safe working with your company and to buy again.
However, in recent years—say, maybe the last five—it has become popular to post increasingly controversial and politically-charged content on social media, in the name of, “If others don’t stand for this same cause, we don’t want them as customers anyway.” In most cases, that’s taking the idea too far.
I’ve written an entirely separate post on this subject (coming to the blog soon) because I am so passionate about it. Suffice it to say for the sake of this post that sharing politically-charged content can still alienate your ideal customer if whatever you sell is not affiliated with a political cause to start with. You might have two first-time mothers in their late twenties who both garden and love a good beach-side brunch who would be ideal customers to buy your nautical tote bags, and if one is a Democrat and the other is Republican, you can alienate one of them by posting political content, because it will make one person feel uncomfortable working with you, even though the political content has nothing to do with your product itself. If half your ideal clients feel uncomfortable working with you, they either (a) won’t do it, or (b) will do it, but will be much more likely to feel that unwanted buyers’ remorse, complain if anything is wrong with the product, and leave reviews online that explain their apprehension to work with you. If your goal is to make money in your business, then you don’t want to alienate half of your demographic because of your own political views.
What do you think? Leave a comment over on Instagram @alexisthegreek! As always, if this information was helpful, share it with a fellow business person and stop by my tip jar to let me know you appreciated it. And if there's a topic you'd like me to cover in a future blog post, let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.