I typically tend to prefer reasoned and balanced pieces, and have a tendency to start debates in my head when I read posts that seem too one-sided or do not explore the reasons “why” behind fairly direct statements. This is exactly the reaction I had when I read a post by Jason Falls titled “Small Businesses Need A Wake-Up Call.” First, before I get to my Devil’s advocate post, I’ll say that I think Jason is one of the smartest people I’ve had the pleasure of coming across in the social media space. I also realize that the post was written in part to provide an answer to the “why did you write this book” questions that a soon-to-be-published (congrats!) author receives.
So, caveats out of the way, I’m going to challenge the basic premise of the post: that small businesses need a “wake-up call” with respect to social media.
I spent some time jotting down some small businesses with which I frequently interact, then checked to see if these businesses had a Facebook page. Results:
- Dry Cleaner – No
- Dog Boarding/Day Care – Yes
- Cat Boarding – No
- Vet – No
- Local Pizza place – No
- Coffee Shop – Yes
- Hair Salon – Yes
- Corner Superette – No
- Small music venue (Tupelo Music Hall) – Yes, but an Open Group, not an official page
- Favorite sushi restaurant – No
- Several new restaurants in the area – Yes (and the distinction of ‘new’ has significance)
- Several established, but higher-end restaurants in the area – Yes
I do not have access to the above businesses’ books, obviously. But I can tell you that the Yes/No split does not appear to directly correlate with foot traffic. Some of the “noes” on here–like the facility where I board my cat when we go out of town–are beyond busy. I recently had to beg a neighbor to check in on the cat while we were out of town because the boarding facility was full up. I have to call months in advance for a spot–even during times I wouldn’t assume were peak vacation times. And Sully’s–the corner superette near my home–has near-constant traffic all day long.
Conversely, there are a few “yeses” on the list that I’m fairly regularly concerned about the lack of foot traffic. So am I stating that there’s an inverse relationship between having a social strategy for small business and business success? Of course not–I’m just pointing out that a Facebook page doesn’t equal sudden loads of people in and out the door, and a lack of one doesn’t mean your business is going to wither and die.
From my viewpoint, there is one observation that threads through the Yes/No list. For a lack of a better term, it seems to boil down to image. Established businesses that need to appear highly polished and are appealing to a higher-end clientele (on my list) seem to have a Facebook page. (And yes, I know a social strategy goes beyond having a FB page, but I didn’t want to spend several days researching this as I’d never get the post written.) Additionally, the new businesses I checked out seem to have Facebook pages. I’d be surprised if the local businesses that have Facebook pages didn’t have some type of formal marketing help. This makes sense. Higher-end businesses carve out the budget and need to look polished, thus a formal strategy. New businesses realize they need to make a splash and plan for/budget as such–plus, they are probably receiving formal advice from marketing professionals.
The longer-term businesses with an established clientele and low prices don’t seem to have FB pages. This really isn’t surprising to me–nor do I think that these businesses *need* a Facebook page. The key word in that last sentence is NEED. Could they? Sure. Would it be a good idea? Probably. But *need*? Probably not.
Look at the business model of low-cost local businesses. First, the area they serve is likely to be quite finite. My dry cleaner is my dry cleaner because it is close to where I work. Their #1 advantage to me is not some super-duper high tech cleaning process, it is their proximity. This is probably the case for many–so what is the advantage of me “liking” my dry cleaner on FB? My list of FB friends is overwhelmingly from out of this area, so no new business from those circles. Second, of course, is the time involved in the care and feeding of social networks. A social strategy isn’t free–time is money, and no one knows this better than a small business. So is it worth the dry cleaner’s time and money to pursue a social strategy that will net very few new clients? Probably not. The same holds true for Sully’s, or my cat boarding facility, or my vet’s office. The net benefit of new customers is likely going to be less than the time invested in trying to develop and properly execute a social strategy. ROI, anyone? (Actually more of a cost/benefit analysis, but whatever.)
“Properly execute” brings me to another point. In my 20 minutes or so of “research” for this piece, I discovered that the facility where we board our dog and take her to daycare has a Facebook page. I’m there once a week at least, and I had no idea they had a page. The last update on the page was made back in February. This isn’t a criticism, not by a long shot. It’s reality. Small business owners don’t have dedicated social media employees, and most don’t have piles of extra money sitting around to pay social media consultants. They update when they can, but the core value of the business–taking care of dogs–comes first. As it should be–and thank goodness.
Let’s give small businesses some credit for knowing their businesses and their markets. Until the perceived value catches up with the perceived need, many small businesses will skip a formal social strategy.
And they’ll be just fine.