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Friday, Jul. 17, 2009 at 8:26 am

What Social Media Can and Can’t Do for You

By Bryan Eisenberg
July 17th, 2009

social network courtesy of shutterstockUnless you’ve been living under a rock, you don’t need me to tell you that social media has legs. And it’s getting leggier by the minute.

Many companies don’t fully understand what to do with social media. They don’t see the path to benefit from it. Others have tried using it and walked away not seeing the value of social media. Others still don’t get it at all, and have left themselves completely to the mercy of the online mobs.

Most of us are somewhere in between.

Social media is at its best when used as a tool to listen and interact with buyers in the early-to-middle stages of their buying cycle. This is the time to focus on providing consumers with content that matters to their buying process. While it’s possible to direct sell and find customers “in the market” today, it’s also difficult. Most of today’s companies are overly obsessed with late-stage buyers; thus, this kind of thinking seems to them less valuable.

What It Can Do

Relationship building, goodwill, and improved customer service are what social media can do for you. Also, social media can:

  • Help your company communicate with early- and middle-stage buyers more effectively and push them closer to a sale.
  • Help your customers communicate the bad and the good, with you and everyone else they know.
  • Help you listen to what potential buyers in your sector are talking about.
  • Help you find opportunities to delight customers.
  • Push you to become more focused on the customer.

What It Can’t Do

If you think putting up a Twitter account or a Facebook fan page will build huge gobs of closable traffic overnight, you’re kidding yourself. Relationships need nurturing. Social media can’t:

  • Drive hundreds of thousands of new qualified visitors (yet) to your site or store.
  • Let you take control of the customer dialogue about your company. Those days are long gone.
  • Be your primary channel for marketing your mid- to large-sized company.

More on Buying Stages

A short example: early-stage buyers have only identified a need (e.g., “I need a winter vacation this year”). Middle-stage buyers know approximately what they want (e.g., “I want to go to Florida this summer”). Late-stage buyers know exactly what they want (e.g., “I’m going to Florida and I’m making reservations and buying plane and park tickets now”).

Do you think someone in early or middle stage might be influenced to by social media? If you aren’t convinced, look at what happened to United Airlines.

YouTube Preview Image

Anybody who is thinking about going on a winter vacation and happens to cross the “United Breaks Guitars” video (now watched over 3,000,000 times) will think twice about United. That is a negative influence on early-to-middle stage buyers.

Now, say it’s 10:30 a.m., you’re starting to think about lunch, and you come across this video?
YouTube Preview Image
Andy Sernovitz, an interactive marketing consultant and author, writes about P.F. Chang’s brilliant use of Twitter. They’re clearly trying to influence early-stage buyers, but this isn’t easy to bring to mass scale.

Still, Not Everyone’s Convinced of Social Media’s Value

Patricio Robles, tech reporter at Econsultancy, recently wrote specifically about monetizing Twitter and real-time search. I agree, because Robles was talking about social media as an ad platform.

Where we part in our agreement is in thinking that real-time search and social media have no monetary value. Remember, social media can build relationships, though not paid traffic generation.

Some Practical Steps for Getting More From Social Media

  • Reward customers who talk about your company in social media, both good and bad.
  • Remember, bad word of mouth can be good for your brand too.
  • Quit talking about yourself all the time. It gets old, really. Talk about your customers. Heck, just share a joke to break things up so you aren’t “wewe-ing” all over yourself.
  • Unconvinced that social media has legs or is a match for your company? Test it. Offer a social media specific promo code and see if it gets traction.
  • Use social media to take an interest in your customers needs. For instance, are you selling items in a vertical sector? Search for “follow” and “friend” people in that space. Add value to the conversation about their needs. (Early-stage buyer prospecting.)
  • Use it to meet people. Meeting people is good.

Where’s the Value for You?

Social media isn’t everything people are hoping it will be, yet. Still, there’s value in participating and investing resources to be a part of the online 2.0 conversation. Just temper your expectation, and use it for what it’s good for.

Have you had to prove that social media has value to someone?

Add Your Comments

Comments (44)

  1. [...] What Social Media Can and Can’t Do for You…   Conversion Rate Marketing [...]

  2. Great article, Bryan! I couldn’t agree with you more. I see this all too often where social media is used for one-way conversations and wee-weeing, rather than relationship building and listening to customers. I’m sharing your article within my org. ;)

  3. Regarding the United video, guess who was listening to social media? Taylor Guitars:

    They even updated the homepage of their website with a giant image of a broken guitar.

    Listen…then leverage.

  4. Phenomenal Post.

    While there is no doubt social has huge influence and can create great results it’s becoming more and more common for companies to get confused with using social for relationship building to core customers and using it to replace mass marketing. Social may one day evolve into the way we all advertise but today the value is much about relationships, support and customer engagement and that’s not a bad thing.

  5. You’re getting to me, Bryan!

    You may recall that I’ve been “lukewarm” on Twitter, but your even-handed approach of what it DOESN’T do as well as what it DOES is winning me over…

    At this point I’m recommending Twitter implementation judiciously to clients, and ONLY after they’ve read the growing syllabus of Twitter references and best practices you write about!

  6. [...] What Social Media Can and Can’t Do for You | FutureNow’s GrokDotCom / Marketing Optimization… [...]

  7. Thanks for useful info. Keep posting.

  8. Agree that Social Media can be helpful but why most people walk away from social media because they need instant and quick results.The one who can’t wait too much, as you said building relationships take time,they are not ready to give that much time.

  9. Very complete and interesting article about Social Media. Building relationships is something more important than many people think. It shouldn’t be underestimated, some people just don;t get it. Really nice article.

  10. Totally agree with your comments, The most valuable use for social media is to ‘listen’ only that way can you be flexible to what your prospective customers want and its a great way to stay in touch during a sales cycle with useful information.

  11. Bryan,
    One of the biggest drawbacks to some of the social media sites is the huge amount of spammy followers. If not unfollowed, they can end up filling your stream/inbox with useless drivel. Anyone trying to use social media for business purposes – real business, not make a $1mil. in 24hrs junk – needs to develop a plan to deal with this junk. Might be a good topic for another blog post. Maybe I’ll do that on my blog :-) Keep up the good work, I appreciate your posts.

  12. Very good post. One of the things I’m finding very effective is cross promoting my brands. I have two: The Spirited Woman and Tales of Downtown. I use Twitter for both and cross promote. Also cross promote from blog to blog.

    What I’m finding interesting is that the friends I’m twittering for one are very different from each other – but the synergy of both are bringing me new rewards, I would have never thought of.

    Plus, by Twittering one of my brands, Tales of Downtown, the mayor of Los Angeles is now following me, which I find to be a hoot – but something that would not have happened by just putting up a blog.

  13. I have much clearer understanding now of the potential value of social media marketing as well as what could be unrealistic expectations. You are so right when you say that talking about yourself gets really tired. Many people that I am connected to on Twitter do not seem to realize that telling me about their lunch is not exactly news I enjoy reading. Thank you!

  14. Great points Bryan.
    I’m more concerned about the viability of the social networks themselves. None of them have figured out how to be profitable.

  15. “Let you take control of the customer dialogue about your company. Those days are long gone.” – I like this sentence. very true.

  16. You have made some valuable points. There are still so many sectorss that are virtually dependent on general public interest, yet make no effort whatsoever to be visible on social media. There’s a huge focus on large companies, especially tech stuff and related products, yet other sectors appear to forget that it’s actually people that partake on the web, not just nerds or specific types of people, it’s everybody. Just like the lunch video clearly shows. There are still many groups to be organised and/or targetted that just need an incentive. Then it will go on from there. Yet participatory sectors (say leisure or tourism) often maintain rather passive tactics.

  17. On my blog I recently posted my thoughts about social media.
    Here is the introduction to how I approach the thoughts you pose:

    Do you Twitter, Blog, Facebook, or Digg? Not the question to ask. Do your clients Twitter, Blog, Facebook or Digg? Your business leads should come from where your customers are looking. In marketing it is known to – always be testing – always. If we all knew how to find clients, we would… However, different businesses have many types of clients with many types of buying habits.

  18. [...] love our product and not use social media targeting everyone. They caution us saying it could be dangerous to our business if incorrectly used and it’s only helpful to build relationships and goodwill .  Sales? Maybe [...]

  19. Thank you for sharing. I actually found this article via Twitter and I must say, though I am a bit “late to the party” with social media I LOVE what it is doing for business… not from a money making standpoint (though as you say here it can certainly help there) but from a better business standpoint. I truly hope social media can help eradicate the indifferent impersonal (only want your money) big business model.

  20. Some excellent points made here and the do’s are a valuable list for pitch stage. Really simple but very effective. I shall be quoting you!

  21. [...] love our product and not use social media targeting everyone. They caution us saying it could be dangerous to our business if incorrectly used and it’s only helpful to build relationships and goodwill .  Sales? Maybe [...]

  22. [...] What Social Media Can and Can’t Do for You – Future Now [...]

  23. Great post. I think I can say I’m definitely convinced social media is powerful; I’ve witnessed its effect on me anyway. Getting promotions through social media and finding videos that subtly promote a brand are all in my own interest as well. And that’s the power of social media — bringing marketing to the customer in a way that the customer not only accepts but enjoys. Who doesn’t share YouTube videos with their friends? And it doesn’t have to stop at YouTube — to maximize the exposure of a video a small business should probably want to put it everywhere, like Vimeo, Veoh, AdWido, DailyMotion, and so on.

  24. One of the things that I struggle with in giving online marketing advice to clients is the way that social media is such a double edged sword given that most organisations need people to transact at some point (store their details, buy something, read something etc) on their own site. Every time you create a piece of compelling content (and a lot of social media aint compelling!) you’re basically undermining your own PageRank. And if you’re video blogging your content to a large extent isn’t even being indexed!

  25. First let me say I know nothing about Social Media. I am curious thou.

    I have seen a widget for webpages called ‘AddThis’ this widget allows people to bookmark, etc…. pages of your website on Facebook, Twitter and many others.

    Question, does anyone have an opinion about this widget and how effective it is? Is there a ton of traffic coming from Twitter and Facebook and others?

    Please let me know…..thanks.

  26. [...] love our product and not use social media targeting everyone. They caution us saying it could be dangerous to our business if incorrectly used and it’s only helpful to build relationships and goodwill .  Sales? Maybe [...]

  27. [...] 27, 2009 by jeffespo What is social media? What can it do for me? How can I become an active [...]

  28. nice article
    I completely believe that social media is powerful; I’ve witnessed its effect on everywhere.
    thanks for sharing

  29. Social Media is really an effective strategy which can be used to promote brands and services. Social media is common today and every single person knows it effect.

  30. Social media is like a relationship your connection grows stronger over time. It is not something that just happens, you have to put a lot of work into it. If you are successful and dedicated, Social Media can be a really great thing for your business.

  31. As bloggers we all know that they are extremely useful for community building and traffic generation but there is a difference between using them for what they were prescribed for , social media is fun and connecting with people is great but if we as bloggers don’t limit ourselves in our social media time suddenly we’ll find that we are not spending real time helping our blogs.

  32. I love Social Media! – Feel free to share this with friends!

  33. Thanks for the useful information about social media usage.

  34. Thanks for the great post.

    I think that the strongest point of Social Media is this losing of control over your dialog with the audience.
    You can still influence it, but it’s the “power in hands of people” that is driving socail meedia deeper and deeper into our lifes.

  35. Thanks for the great post

  36. [...] Tags: business, campaign, customer, demographic, effect, facebook, help, marketing, media, on, [...]

  37. Social media is great, but lets face it, it can’t bring in thousands of visitors to your niche site every day and make you thousands of dollars every month. It just doesn’t work like that.

  38. Well i agree with all your points. Social Media can do many things for us but somethings are also which cannot be done by social media. Thanks for sharing the difference.

  39. Social media has really become more important recently. To be evaluated in terms of SEO, is really of great importance in this regard. I thank you for writing, was a descriptive article.

  40. [...] [...]

  41. Thanks for the great post. But can someone explain me how negative response can help in promotion.

  42. Social media sometimes gets a bad wrap because it’s hard to measure it’s effectiveness. However, I think in the long haul it’s going to pay dividends for the companies that have been paying it attention and have the followers.

  43. So, with the recent revelations from Google and Bing ( we now have an even clearer indication of the SEO benefits social can bring. Time to learn to love that little blue bird and his friends.

  44. Great post, it helped me to rethink our social media marketing strategy and I hope results will be good as well

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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