Is Social Media a Waste of Time?

May 16, 2011

Posted in Marketing, Social Media, Strategy, and Web Industry.

Yesterday I taught a workshop on social media to a group of small business owners. Halfway through the session, I realized that teaching these folks about social media was all wrong. They didn’t need to learn about making friends on Facebook or video blogging on YouTube. Half the room didn’t have a website.

Time Flies by

What they needed was marketing help.

So we changed directions halfway through and talked about audiences, goals, and measurement. People shared stories about things they’d tried that worked (including someone who was doing some really smart SMS marketing). And we looked at some of the websites people did have and gave feedback.

In the end, social media is just a tactic. And for many of the tools and for many kinds of businesses, it provides little or no marketing value. We often describe social media as a party, one in which you have to know the right social rules and expectations in order to fit in. And experienced social media practitioners advise our clients not to be the guy who shows up at the party to sell.

So the question is this: when is it ever ok to sell at the party? At best, the relationships you form at the party are what will lead to a potential business opportunity. But let’s torture the metaphor just a tad more and ask what business markets itself by going to parties?

Now I’m not saying that social media never works for businesses. There are wonderful benefits for customer service and support, business networking, and communications. But the greatest use of social media is to amplify word-of-mouth. And that brings us back to the beginning: the best way to market your business is to be remarkable.


  1. Todd — May 19, 2011

    My wife goes to parties where they sell stuff. She buys things we don’t need, because they’re her friends. Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple…

  2. Brattstar — May 19, 2011

    @Todd – exactly the point. They should just call it peer-pressure purchasing :)

  3. Chas Grundy — May 19, 2011

    Good call. How much social capital do you want to spend in order to sell Cutco knives?

  4. Dan Woychick — May 19, 2011

    Amen! Amen! Amen! Thanks for posting. I wrote about this recently on our blog as well:

  5. Mike McCready — May 19, 2011

    I completely agree. Social media is part of your business strategy, not a strategy on to itself. Before embarking on the social media path, businesses need to have a few things in place first:

    1) A website – they need to have somewhere to drive people

    2) A marketing/business strategy – knowing what you want to accomplish is key, then work social into it.

    3) Amazing products or services – If you’re poor at customer service or your products are sub-par, then the real power of social media (WOM) will flop.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  6. TimN — May 17, 2011

    A nice, thought-provoking read that gets back to the mantra “goals first, then tools.” Any social media channel is just a shiny object if you have no content, no strategy, no real focus on audience.