When Small Businesses Shouldn’t Do Social Media

by · March 7, 201349 comments

I talk to a lot of owners of small companies and I get asked all the time, “What should my company be doing in social media?”  Most of these businesses are really small shops – solo practitioners, neighborhood retailers, nascent startups which may not even have a web presence.

As someone who is deeply entrenched in, and very much in love with, social media, it’s very hard to say “Don’t do social media.” But honestly – more and more, I find myself telling some of these entrepreneurs and business owners that social media may not be the most important thing for them to do (at the moment they’re asking me).

So how can a small business know when to not do social media, or which types of social media to use if they’re a very small or very new business?

For most, it comes down to a matter of time, money and priorities.

Do You Have a Website?

Small Business and Social Media

For most businesses, whether they’re neighborhood stores, bookkeepers or event planners, there’s no reason to do social media if there’s no online presence to back it up. Even if you only sell stuff at your store on 79th Street, there’s really little reason to have a Twitter account if you can’t have a link back to something to describe your business to someone who discovers you.

“Now now,” you say, “what if I have a Google page or a Facebook page or something else? Isn’t that enough?”  I say no. Any business in 2013 should have at least a single-page website with some info about the business, contact information, and links to any other presences you have (including your Google page or social presences).

So the first thing you need to do is spend time (and some money) on building your website. I recently discovered Onepager, which looks like a great way to build a really simple, yet good-looking, website; if you’ve used it please tell us what you think in the comments!

And, it should probably go without saying, but I’ll say it just in case: Your website should reside on your own domain (URL) on the web. Not at mystore.wordpress.com or theaccountantsoffice.blogspot.com – it should live at mystore.net or theaccountantsoffice.com.

Are Other Key Marketing Pieces Covered?

Beyond your website, there are at least a few other marketing things you should do before you jump into social media.

  • If you’re a local business, you need to cover off on everything Google. The world’s largest search engine is the front door to your business, and you must have a Local Google+ Page which includes a map, your contact info, and relevant links (like back to your website).
  • Be sure you have decent business cards and other marketing materials. If you’re a small or new business, all the Twitter followers in the world won’t be of much use if you can’t hand someone you meet (particularly someone who doesn’t use Twitter) a nice-looking business card with the correct information.  You may also need a simple brochure or postcard with a bit more information about your business, to use at events and while networking.
  • Your personal LinkedIn profile is also very important and very valuable. I don’t really consider a personal profile “social media” – it’s more like an online resume, highly searchable and totally key to making connections and generating referrals. Most small business owners feel that LinkedIn is their most valuable platform – so optimize your profile, and then don’t let your profile get out of date!

How To Focus Your Social Media Time

Now we’re into the hard part. If you’ve got all of the above and you’re ready to think about social media, you need to determine what you have time for, or what you have resources for. In order of overall value and return on time, here’s where I think a small business owner should focus.

1. A business blog

Yeah, you wanted me to say Facebook. But I’m not gonna. There’s no question in my mind that a blog, on your own website (that’s at blog.yourwebsite.com or yourwebsite.com/blog – again, not at wordpress or blogspot), will deliver the greatest value to most small businesses.  There are many reasons a blog is my #1 choice, including:

  • The blog will bring search engine visibility to your website, making it easier for potential customers or clients to find you.
  • The blog will provide personality to your business, making you stand out amongst all the other florists or accountants or babysitter matching services out there.
  • The blog will make you stand out as a thought leader: someone who is an expert in your space and really understands the needs of your clients or customers.
  • Once it’s setup (which does require a bit of time and money, unless you’re very tech savvy), your time in writing blog posts could be as little as an hour a week, or a couple of hours a week, and you don’t need to tend to it every day. You can schedule multiple posts in advance to send out over time, and you can get notifications by email if you receive any comments.
I know a blog feels intimidating, but I really believe that you have to tend your own farm before you can fish in the stream of social media. Think about what you might write about, or consider hiring someone to write about your industry or topic, and then make a blog your top priority.

2. Facebook (but only if you’re a business-to-consumer (B2C) or local business)

If you are in the business of selling to consumers, a Facebook business Page may be valuable to you, and it doesn’t take that much time to setup and manage. Facebook’s instructions are quite simple; the only thing you may need help with is finding and sizing the necessary graphics for your cover image and logo image.

At its most basic, Facebook will take only a few minutes each day (or about an hour or 90 minutes per week), to create status updates (which you can preschedule through the Facebook Page interface).  You can receive notifications of comments or interactions on your page via email, so you’ll log in as necessary to respond to people, thank people, and keep the conversation going.

3. Pinterest (if you’re in a product-driven or visual business)

If you’re a product-driven business, or if you are in a highly visual business (florist, event planner, etc.), you may see a lot of value in having a Pinterest presence. This “inspiration board”-like platform allows your small business to build a beautiful, visual social presence and generate traffic back to your website; I’ve spoken to a number of businesses who are finding that Pinterest is one of their top web traffic drivers, and often a significant sales driver as well.

Your time on Pinterest will mostly be in pinning a few things from your site now and then (especially product, blog posts, and other content, including video), plus Liking and Repinning others’ content from Pinterest to your boards.  In total, this might be 2-3 hours a week….but be warned, it’s easy to get sucked in to Pinterest and spend much, much more time!

Also be sure that your website is optimized for Pinterest, to make it easy for other people to pin your stuff to their boards.

4. Twitter

I am a huge Twitter fan, so it pains me to say this: Twitter is not great for most small businesses.  Twitter takes a lot of time, sucks up a lot of content, and is far more real-time (meaning, you have to really stay on top of it) than any of the social platforms outlined above.

That said, there are a number of different small business categories for which Twitter is a great platform. Twitter can be great for restaurants, to promote specials or drive traffic at off-peak times; for anyone working in marketing or advertising, to keep abreast of news and developments and to prove your expertise in the socially-connected world; or for people who really like to network and develop new relationships.

However, to do Twitter well, you should plan on spending at least 30 minutes a day populating your Twitter stream with content, and reading and engaging with the people you’re following throughout the day.  Sure, you can spend less time, but as with almost anything, you get out of it what you put into it, and with Twitter, time is what you need to put into it.

5. Everything else

Sure, there are lots of other social media platforms out there. You can have a Google+ Page, or a LinkedIn company page, or you can create video for YouTube. There are plenty of small businesses who see a natural fit in these or any number of other social networks.  But the four platforms above are the most likely place for most businesses to start, and I recommend that you consider them in the order above. If you find any of these four not resonating with you, look for other outlets. But don’t bite off more than you can chew – as your mother once said, “do it right or don’t do it at all.”

Finish What You Start

There are few things that make a business look worse than finding a dormant social media presence, so try not to start things you can’t keep up.  Small businesses or solo entrepreneurs should prioritize and not feel like they need to participate in every social media platform, especially to the detriment of their other website and marketing efforts.

Do you have a small business story which supports or debunks my advice? I’d really love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 Image source: Flickr (FD Richards)

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About Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at CrackerjackMarketing.com, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.BeVisibleAssociates.com Betsy Kent – BeVisible

    Hi Stephanie, 

    I could have written this article! Thanks

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  • http://twitter.com/joshanisfeld Josh Anisfeld

    Great article Stephanie, but I have to take exception here.  I feel that every business, including small businesses (solo practitioners, etc.) can always benefit from some level of social media engagement. I fully agree that the basics should be covered off first (website, SEO, etc.).  But whether that be a blog or a Twitter channel to answer any questions, there can be some benefit. Obviously resources and opportunity costs present a factor into this, but even a small toe into the waters can be a benefit.

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com/ Stephanie Schwab

      Josh, I think we really agree with each other. What I’m saying is that social is not a substitute for the marketing basics – and once you’ve got those covered, then yes, look at social as a next option in marketing as it can have great benefits. But you don’t need to do it all (in social media), and probably shouldn’t even try, if you’re a small business. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

    Great article, Stephanie! I think this is dead on. The website and blog are definitely paramount. 

    I’ve not heard of OnePager, but I am familiar with Populr – a Nashville startup that offers a similar one-page website service. I’ve tested it out and it’s very simple to use and would be a great place for a solopreneur or micro business to start with their web presence. 

    One thing I would add is that if you’re going to the trouble of building a blog, you should definitely set up Google authorship so your image shows up in search results. That’s a small thing that could have a big impact.

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com/ Stephanie Schwab

      Hmm…I could have sworn I replied to this comment yesterday, but I don’t see it here! Disqus, what’s up with that?
      Anyway….Laura, I’m always happy to have new tools in my arsenal to suggest to people, so I’ll check out Populr for sure.  I’m just starting to figure out all that needs to be done for Google authorship – maybe you’ll give me some pointers?

      • http://www.flybluekite.com/ Laura Click

        If you use the Yoast SEO plugin, they have a place where you can add in your Google Plus account and it does all of the dirty work for you. It makes authorship a snap. This might help: http://spinsucks.com/social-media/eleven-steps-for-setting-up-and-using-the-yoast-seo-plugin/

        • Social Media Marketing

          that’s a good idea.

  • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

    On the money honey. Great advice top to bottom. I always say you get out of social media what you put into it. Clearly those that put in little TLC get nothing back, but frustration. I wrote a similar article about content marketing. http://feldmancreative.com/2013/03/content-marketing-isnt-for-everybody/

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com/ Stephanie Schwab

      Thanks, Barry! And your post is the perfect corollary to mine! Appreciate the comment and link.

  • Dma

    Good comments, all.

  • http://twitter.com/1ad_dad David Schwartz

    You nailed it Stephanie. Rushing into social without taking care of the rest of the house first is s recipe for failure. Well stated. 

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com/ Stephanie Schwab

      Thanks, David! It’s all about the foundation, right?

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  • http://www.oursocialtimes.com/ Jeremy Taylor

    Not sure I agree with all of this… My Father-in-law is a driving instructor with no website (and no intention of creating a website). I see creating a Facebook Page as a fantastic alternative for him. If a pupil wants to recommend him to a friend, it gives them somewhere to send them where they can find out a little more, see some photos and read some testimonials.

    Of course it’s not ideal, but I see the fact that he has no website as even more of a reason why he should be on Facebook.

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com/ Stephanie Schwab

      Jeremy, I do agree with you that in the absence of everything else, Facebook might be an alternative, particularly for a business selling to consumers (as your father-in-law does). But I’d still maintain that even a one-page website would ultimately benefit him more than Facebook. What if Facebook goes the way of the old MySpace? Where’s his web presence then? (And he’s missed all those years of linkbuilding and SEO juice that he’s now sending only to Facebook.)

  • http://twitter.com/natbpat Natalie Patton

    I work closely with small business owners to help them strategize the best use of their time and resources to generate their own web presence. This article was packed full of great advice! Couldn’t agree more with the advice on social. Thanks guys!

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com/ Stephanie Schwab

      Thanks, Natalie! Appreciate you reading and commenting.

  • http://twitter.com/BeyondBayStreet Beyond Bay Street

    Frankly, another reason to center on your own blog domain and/or website is because you are in control of it. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. …all potentially great, useful tools but ones that can change their TOS in a flash…or change their layouts/features, altering the way you communicate with your audience. You have to have a principal environment where you are the one in charge.

    Good article…thanks for posting.

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com/ Stephanie Schwab

      Exactly – what if Facebook went the way of the old MySpace and just totally dried up? Build your house first!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1456652528 Richard Betts

    As an acupuncturist, chiropractor and nutrition expert I appreciate the great information.  However, it seems as though my profession wants to really get involved in social media but they don’t realize that people want more than just an FB page.  They want some substance and a place where they can find out more about the doctor and his expertise which a blog and website fill this bill. Stephanie thanks for the article as it has solidified what I have thought for years.

  • seodmw

    Someone once said “nobody cares about your business – they care about what your business can do for them.”   Actually a lot of people have said that, because it’s true.  If you social media isn’t providing value in the form of entertainment, information, discounts and special offers, etc. you’re wasting your time and everyone else’s. 

  • http://www.finestpapers.co.uk/assignment/ General Giko

    Small business have more opportunities to discover during the time of hunting for revenues.

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  • http://www.squarefishinc.com/ Squarefish

    I completely agree with this. Indeed, social media marketing is among the methods and strategies considered to be most promising but it definitely isn’t the “for everyone” variety. Before rushing to social media marketing, business owners first has to make sure that their foundations are secure.

  • cboulanger

    Really happy to read this post. You do a great job of setting priorities and explaining the value in the main social networks. Too many SMBs try to engage in every channel and end up doing a poor job in all of them. Social media can be especially time-consuming, so it’s important that they know what they are getting into. My only criticism of your post is that you didn’t talk about Google+ more. As a standalone network it isn’t a huge traffic driver for most (yet), but it ties in directly to SEO and gives you an across-the-web identity (authorship, YouTube, email). If you are doing a business blog, then you should at least setup your G+ profile, add your author info and then share your blog post there.

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  • http://www.carvermediagroup.com/ Website Development Company UK

    Social media engaging around with people, and participate in the discussion and dialogue, and even talk to the customers, and answer their questions better, ask them questions, too. You have to understand the customer base a lot better and they may share your great content without even ask them.

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  • carrie

    Wow! Awesome post! This was a good suggestion that you put up here. Digitalmarketinguk

  • Rabby Hossain

    As Simple Filipina said those facts above are very depressing for people like me and she who are trying to make some little bussines on the BlogSpot. I will also need to move somewhere else or start to use my own domain name. Thank you for that info and experiences.
    http://www.diybizvaluation.com

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  • Jahidur Rahman

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly
    about it and love learning more on this topic.
    international business marketing
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