There are a lot of articles and entire websites dedicated to social media and how it will help your small business. I’ve made the case for social media many times on this blog and to my clients directly. I’ve always prefaced any recommendations with the caveat that social media is only one of many tools. I do this so that clients don’t get wrapped up in one single marketing channel. The future of social media and specific networks of social media are still very much in question.
Think back to five years ago. MySpace was the dominate social media network. No one heard of Twitter. Facebook was growing, but slowly until they opened up the service to non-students (I remember having to use my alumni email address to sign up). Google Plus wasn’t even a concept, let alone a social media network.
Think about the social media platforms we have today. Pinterest is hugely popular, but I question whether it will last. After all, it’s just a photo sharing site‚Äö√Ñ√Æno exactly a unique concept. There is Instagram and Flicker, among many others. Will the cachet wear off or will something more interesting and exciting come along and render Pinterest a has been social media network?
Social location networks seem to having fallen away, though FourSquare is trying to change. I really thought social location had strength and staying power. Looks like that is probably not the case.
I have the concerns about social bookmarking networks as well. One friend of mine said, “Digg is dead.” It’s not, but it certainly feels that way. Other social bookmarking networks make the news periodically, but if you rely on them for traffic to your website you’ll be disappointed. It’s difficult to get traffic from social bookmarking networks and when you do, the traffic rarely engages and has very high bounce rates. I rarely recommend focusing on social bookmarking networks. The effort isn’t worth it.
Facebook and Twitter will probably remain strong social media networks, though likely in different forms than they are now. Twitter appears to be trying to stay ahead of the curve. Facebook always seems just behind. Facebook’s size gives it an advantage. Now that they are a public company they have other pressures to deal with and I fear that will be their undoing (disclosure: I own shares in Facebook).
I doubt Google Plus will be anything but a niche network. They simply lack a broad enough user base to be anything else. Google Plus counts its user base in an odd way, but what numbers Google actually releases show that the network is not a threat to Facebook’s or Twitter’s dominance. Google Plus is popular with men and the technically inclined, hardly something that defines mainstream social media users.
LinkedIn is a great network for small businesses and job seekers. It’s targeted and has solid growth rates. It doesn’t try to compete with Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus. LinkedIn slowly adds features and is careful to grow in a reasonable way. I see them staying around for a long time to come.
I even question the efficacy of most social media platforms. Several studies show social media works, but at what cost? Is it the best or most efficient way to gather leads and customers? I’m not convinced it is. Social media often feels like a big waste of time with self-congratulatory participants (I was really trying to avoid using the phrase circle jerk, but that would be the more appropriate term). Many social media users actually joke about the time they waste. Think about your own personal usage. Do you “engage” with brands on Facebook or do you just see what your friends are up to?
Since we can’t say that social media is a completely useless marketing platform (and I am not trying to suggest that it is), small businesses should continue to use it for their marketing efforts. Since you can’t know what will happen with social media networks in six months or a year, it’s a good idea to spread your marketing efforts across multiple channels (social and otherwise). Social location might be perfect for your small business. You should definitely use that as a marketing channel, just don’t neglect others. There is nothing wrong with submitting to social bookmarking websites, as long as your expectations are in line with what they can deliver.
Perhaps most important is to measure what is and is not working for your small business. If you get no return from using Google Plus, drop it. Don’t waste time and money on social media networks that don’t provide your small business a benefit just because you think that is what you are supposed to be doing. Don’t be afraid to try other networks as well. One of those might work out better for your small business. Social media is here to stay simply because it makes it easy for people to engage with each other online‚Äö√Ñ√Æsomething they have been doing offline for thousands of years‚Äö√Ñ√Æbut don’t expect that it will be the same players tomorrow as it is today.