Bottom Line Advice Regarding Social Media For Small Business


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Q: You’ve made a lot of negative comments about the effectiveness of social media for business purposes. Do you have bottom line advice for small businesses about what they should be doing with respect to using social media?

Robert: Yes, I can sum it up in one sentence. Don’t depend on or expect ANY returns on your use of social media in terms of business results or any measurable, and RELEVANT outcome. In fact, to add a second sentence, don’t bother with it, and spend your time on other business development activities.

Q: That flies in the face of almost every other expert’s suggestions. How can you justify that position?

Robert: Actually, there are a few legitimate experts and commentators on social media who hold similar opinions, but you are right that it’s a tiny minority. The odd part is that I can justify the position in so many ways that it’s frustrating for me to see how resistant people are to thinking critically about what they are told.

Q: Can you be more specific?

Robert: Sure. let’s start with the “research” about social media and its effectiveness for….well, anything business related.

I’ve looked at hundreds of studies, and reports of studies and have not been able to find results that are convincingly in support of the notion that businesses will, on average, profit from the use of social media. What you do find is lots of studies that cite irrelevant numbers, or data which has nothing to do with customer buying behavior. They are based on what people SAY they MIGHT do, not on what they actually do. The results often sound good, or point to the importance of a strong social media presence, but it’s misleading.

Q: Can you give us an example of misleading findings?

Robert: Lots of reports from “reputable” firms suggest that customers “prefer” to interact with companies (for customer support) via social media. Sounds pretty convincing until you realize that the surveys didn’t ask the right questions. The reality is that customers are so turned off of LOUSY phone and email support that they HOPE things will be better if they try through social media. That’s because social media hasn’t been subject to the terrible misuse for customer service as has phone and email. So, the comparision people make is between really really bad phone/email, and potentially much better (for the moment) social media.

It’s actually so obvious and simple. Customers want their issues addressed conveniently and quickly and they simply don’t care very much about the medium used. They’ve given up on phone/email support, and eventually they will give up on social media for the same reasons. The quality of customer support is not determined by the medium, but by how easily customers can get their issues addressed.

Simplistic research surveys don’t ask questions that will get at this reality.

Q: Is the research misleading in other ways?

Robert: Yes. In many ways, small businesses WILL be mislead by the reporting about social media and the “research” because everyone is repeating things without asking: “Hmmm. Could this be wrong?” There are so many flaws, it took me a number of pages to explain them in lay terms in “Giving The Business To Social Media Research” which is available, for the moment, only in e-format (Kindle). I think the sale price is $3.49 and I recommend it to any business wanting to understand social media better and to separate the junk thinking from the real world. Heck, it’s less than a price of a fancy coffee, and we aren’t making but pennies on it, but I believe it’s essential reading.

Q: Have you got more reasons to advise small business folks to stay away?

Robert: I do. There are a number of others. First, social media will pull small business owners and managers “off-focus”, where the focus no longer is bottom line thinking, but becomes an issue of how many people can we tweet to, or how many followers we can garner. Those numbers are almost entirely irrelevant to business success, but they are seductive. People end up spending way to much time with social media, unintentionally. It’s a seductive medium. Five hundred MILLION Facebook members sounds like a market one just HAS to access, until you realize that about 400,999,950 of them have no interest in your business, are not there to learn about your business, and are profoundly not “there” for shopping or even information about companies. THINK! You don’t go to biker gatherings if you sell tuxedos.

Related to loss of business focus but slightly different is the time issue and opportunity cost. When you do “A”, it means that you are NOT doing “B”, and when A is insignificant and not related to business success, and B IS, you damage the business.

Businesses, particularly small businesses that are not as resiliant as multi-nationals, succeed by doing the right, relevant things at the correct times, and NOT being pulled into spending time on the trendy, buzz worthy, or faddish techniques.

It’s that simple.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Robert Bacal
Robert began his career as an educator and trainer at the age of twenty (which is over 30 years ago!), as a teaching assistant at Concordia University. Since then he as trained teachers for the college and high school level, taught at several universities and trained thousands of employees and managers in customer service, conflict management and performance appraisal and performance management skills.


  1. And it’s not only true for small businesses. Large corporations as well throw tons of dollars at social media with zero result. Some of the campaigns even fire back and make the bad company reputation even worst.

    My mantra: Every second you spend on social media are seconds stolen from your customers. If you meet a customer in the social web, you meet the customer – not the social web. And since it is easier to meet customers in the social web – use it to meet THEM – but not the net.


  2. I guess your rant about social media makes sense – because many are after popularity these days that they forgot to keep their feet on the ground. I’d rather have a hundred followers or friends who truly cares for my brand or business… than thousands to millions who are just going with the flow. Sadly, many small business owners don’t realize that numbers lie after all. Cheers! -marissa @ garious

  3. Robert,
    first of all maybe I’m out of time for this comment, but if you’re still there, it would be very interesting to have a little extra-time to discuss.

    I’m even more skeptic than you about the whole world of measuring effects of customer relationship policies. We try to “measure” feelings, satisfaction, and other unmaterial things. The only way to do that is not numbers, but feelings.
    The feeling about why customers increased (for our new website or because a competitor went bankrupt two blocks ahead?)
    But we can’t say that in a world, and in a market, in which people communicate and exchange opinions and impressions through social media more than “face-to-face”, the role of these devices is not strategic.
    It’s important to understand the best way to use that, I agree, but forgetting these opportunities would be a bad mistake.

    A customer giving a good rating to a company’s service would be a perfect testimonial for relatives and friends to try that company, and “tie lovers group” can be effectively addressed by tie makers to present their new collection only to those who really care. No more tons of wasted fliers or tv spots sent broadcast also to “we-hate-ties” group members.

    So I think, as usual, that any tool must be well known and well understood to be used at its best, without expecting miracles, and without expecting to enforce unmaterial things to quantitative rules and metrics. Time will say who’s right and who’s wrong.

    My best regards
    Massimo Ligrani


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