Why Social Media is a Waste of Time for Most Local Businesses

I’m in China this week so I have a guest blogger with a piece that should get some attention and discussion. I’ll be doing more of these in the future, don’t worry, but please interact with the thoughts presented in the comments below:

Why Social Media is a Waste of Time for Most Local Businesses

For the social pundits and new media “experts” out there, this may come as a shock – engaging in social media (a la Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogging, etc.) for most local businesses is a complete waste of time, and worse – it’s a waste of their money.

I’ve been working with small, mostly local businesses on-line for almost 8 years. “Local” meaning the business has a geographically constrained clientele. ie. you’ll only travel so far to visit a dentist, go to a restaurant, hire an electrician, or even buy a car.

I know, I know – the interweb is all atwitter (sorry, had to) about social media. Facebook has more pageviews than Google, there are more Twits tweeting everyday, there are anecdotes of company X or Y claiming marketing success with social media – and always in a fancy press release, no bias there.

Don’t get me wrong, social media can be an effective marketing channel – but so can b2b and b2c networking, referral marketing, radio ads, TV commercials, print advertising, trade shows, direct mailers, email marketing, etc. etc.

Folks, there are A LOT of options to advertise your business. Just because you could market with social media doesn’t mean you should.

If there is one thing I’ve learned working with so many businesses in these past years is that time is the single greatest commodity out there. Period. Sure, if you’re business is flush with cash, you can mitigate some of the time limitations by outsourcing some work, but for most small local businesses that’s not even an option.

So the question is not “could social media work for your local business,” but rather “is social media the best use of your available time/resources.”

So what should a local business do?

The formula for marketing success has been largely unchanged for thousands of years. You are selling a product or service, presumably of good quality and at a price people are willing to pay. You find out where your potential clients are hanging out, then you can advertise or otherwise interact with them there. Pretty straight forward.

This formula hasn’t really changed much at all in the online world either. If your audience hangs out in bowling alleys, you may want to advertise there. If they are in Facebook, then by all means, advertise or interact there.

An electrical contractor company I am working with specializes in work on home remodels. His target audience? Not the home owners, but the general contractors who manage the whole project and bring in their sub-contractors (like electricians). Where do general contractors hang out? Do they spend a lot of time on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube? I can’t speak for every geography, but here in the Northwest they certainly do not. They do, however, hang out with groups like the Home Builders Association, the Oregon Remodelers Association, and the Associated General Contractors, among others.

For this electrical contracting company, in business for 15 years, quite successful, where should the owner be spending his time? There are only so many hours in a week – should they spend time on a facebook page or blogging, or should they be networking with other general contractors? Also note – they’ve never even had a website (nor ever needed one).

Now for the flip side, there is the local bistro who also has a wine bar – and of course, has a lot of wine tasting events. A huge chunk of their customers at the wine tastings are stay-at-home-moms. Stay-at-home-moms are becoming notorious for the amount of time they spend on Facebook — so suddenly social media could be interesting here. The owner puts up a Facebook page, posts upcoming events, put’s up photos and videos from previous events, opens up the page for comments and recommendations from the participants about the different wines and events, and now you have an avid interactive following.

So, if you’re a business owner hearing all the hype about social media, be wary. Treat using social media like you would any other marketing or advertising decision for your business.

Kelly Hodsdon
Intentional Internet Inc.
Website Design and Interweb Marketing

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