I have to admit that I was never a big fan of Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the social media.
Facebook seemed like a hangout for family and friends, not a conduit for business PR.
Twitter’s 140-character limit seemed too, well, limiting to make it useful. (I have to say that Stephen Fry’s much-trumpeted presence there put me off it a bit too. Yes, he’s very clever. But doesn’t he like to let you know it?)
LinkedIn used to be a useful if rather dull way of connecting with business acquaintances and building networks – a bit like FriendsReunited for the business world. But they’ve spoilt it in recent months by turning themselves into a sort of pinstripe Facebook – the number of unsolicited messages coming from them has exploded, and it’s become a sort of competition to see who can get the most endorsements. I’ve even seen cases on EmpireAvenue (see below) where members can earn rewards by endorsing other members with whom they may have had absolutely no previous business dealings whatsoever. How can that do anything other than debase the value of endorsements on LI?
As for Google+… well, everyone’s got a profile, but who actually spends time updating it?
A (slight) change of heart
That’s my view as it was about a month ago. In recent weeks I’ve been trying out EmpireAvenue (EAv), and that experience has caused me to revise my view a little. But not much.
EAv is fun. More than that, it encourages you to make an effort with the social networks and thus to improve your online business’s profile. (I’ve spent more time on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr in the last three weeks than I had ever done before I joined EAv.)
Has it made a difference to my business, though? I’m not sure it has. But I can see how it might do.
(Although, as ever, I’m wary of adding loads of my content to third-party websites. What happens if you’ve devoted a lot of time to building up your presence on, say, Facebook, and suddenly the plug gets pulled? Or if you’ve stored all your photos on Flickr and one day you get an email saying they’re changing their terms of service in a way you don’t like?)
Do you need to be loved?
The key point seems to be: how far does your business depend on a fanbase or a community?
If you’re a football club, then there’s obvious mileage in plugging into the social networks and giving the club’s fans something to look at there. Likewise, if you’re a newspaper – national or regional – then you can give your readers early notice of the big stories in the next edition of the paper (or, increasingly, on the paper’s website), and prompt a bit of debate.
Even if your business is in physical goods rather than intellectual property, you may be able to benefit from a fanbase. Cars are a good example, particularly the more aspirational makes. And food manufacturers may be able to build up their following by providing imaginative recipes or early notice of new product lines.
But the benefits are likely to be weaker. And by the time you get to the likes of Acme Screws and Washers in Tipton… well, essentially a Facebook page offers no more than a one-page website would. Sure, it has the benefits of easy creation and maintenance, and it may be easier for people to find (assuming that they don’t have many competitors on Facebook with a similar name). But it’s not their own website, and the plug could be pulled at any time. There have been recent news reports of instances where companies have been slapped with substantial bills for promoting their Facebook page, having already paid a fairly large whack to build up their FB following in the first place.
So yes, the social sites can be helpful, especially if there are a lot of people who are interested in your product for its own sake. But I wouldn’t advise making the social media your only Web presence. It’s too uncertain a base to build on.