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Seven deadly sins of social media

Dell's social media guru Richard Margetic

Dell's social media guru Richard Margetic Photo: Supplied

Social media is either too hard, too scary or too ridiculous to waste time on. I hear these sentiments constantly from business owners of all ages. Of course, prolific users of social media probably find these attitudes archaic. But they are real – and more common that you'd expect.

For example, I recently met a business owner who runs a small nutrition practice. He told me that he studied Facebook for six months – researching what it does and how it works – before finally registering for an account. Six months! Seriously, Facebook is not akin to nuclear physics. It doesn't require this level of study.

Similarly, I recently did a video interview with a business owner, profiling her work and products. At the end of the interview, she told me that she didn't want it on YouTube. I was perplexed. She was happy for us to film, she saw us set up the cameras. I wondered if I had unwittingly offended her or if she was unhappy with the interview. It turns out that she thought the interview was just fine. "I just don't want it on YouTube."

Still confused, I asked if she cared if the video was uploaded to Vimeo, or Blip.TV or any of the other video-sharing sites. "Oh yes, that's fine, just not YouTube. I don't want to be with the silly cat videos."

Sin #1: Overcomplicating social media

The incidents above illustrate that there is a clear lack of understanding of what social media is and, more importantly, how powerfully it can impact your business. It's a trend that social media expert Richard Margetic often sees as well. Margetic is director of Dell’s Global Social Media. "Small business owners are afraid of social media because of a lack of knowledge but also a lack of familiarity with social media tools," says Margetic, who was in Sydney earlier this week. "This develops an element of insecurity. They don't want to jeopardise their business."

Margetic says small business owners are also scared by social media horror stories that range from "stupidity" to those that spawn legal issues. "If common sense ruled, then Twitter would make sense to them," he says matter-of-factly.

To this end, Dell has produced an updated version of it's free resource "Social Media Toolkit: A guide to how small and medium businesses can make the most out of social media."

Sin #2: Broadcast versus conversation

Margetic says that many business owners confuse social media with traditional marketing. That is, while they may understand that it's a different channel, they don't grasp the fundamental tenet that social media is a conversation.

"People look at social media like it's a broadcast mechanism," says Margetic. "That's the wrong way of looking at it. And that means they're missing the opportunity that social media brings to the table."

You can see examples of small business owners who merely use it to "shout out" sales, promotions, marketing campaigns and company information. Social media users eventually tire of this approach, preferring to engage with businesses who take the time to interact with followers or customers.

"The benefit of social media is that it's not one-way messaging. It's a dialogue – you engage in conversations. Too may companies just use it as a way to broadcast campaigns .. and that happens far more often than it should."

Sin #3: Spray and pray

Too often, I see small business owners plunge headfirst into social media, because they know they need to "be there", without a clear idea of where to expend their energy. Instead, they end up with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn, and every other social networking platform out there. But few get traction because their efforts are spread too thinly thus leaving little opportunity to interact or engage. The "one-way broadcast" approach strikes again.

Margetic discusses two pillars that small business owners need to be aware of in order to make the most out of social media: value to the customer and value of the business. "You need to play in the area where they intersect," he says.

So what does that actually mean? Margetic points out that you first need to determine the value of the social media interaction to the customer. "Understand the reasons why people are motivated to engage socially," he says. "There could be any number of reasons: to create meaningful relationships; to be heard; to have meaningful interactions with others, and so on. All those things are what bring value to the customers.

"The other side is the value these interactions bring to the business. You need to understand the elements that drive your business – that could be anything from conversions, or web traffic and so on.

"When you focus on where the customer value intersects with the business value … that's the core of being successful in social media."

Sin #4: Talk then listen

Again, this underpins the concept that the biggest mortal social media sin is the one-way broadcast. Margetic says: "A fundamental truth about engaging with anyone in any situation you're not familiar with is that you don't lead by talking," he says. "The very first thing you need to do is listen."

Margetic emphasises that this is particularly true for anyone new to social media or unsure of how to develop a social media strategy. "If you listen, you will get all the signals you need to understand what your customers are talking about. You'll understand the nuances and determine how to involve people in conversation."

Sin #5: Assuming it costs a lot a lot of money

Clearly, a company like Dell has a big budget to spend on social media strategy and implementation. However, Margetic points out that you don't need big dollars to embrace social media. "There are a lot of free ways to monitor conversations – using tools ranging from Google Alerts to Hootsuite. There are a number to monitor your social media presence that don't require a dollar investment. It just requires time."

This is where I see many business owners fall down. Many assume that mastering social media takes far longer than it really does. I spoke to a business owner last week who told me: "I know I need to understand social media. I just haven't had the time. I'm going to do that when I'm next on holidays – I'll have two weeks when I can immerse myself in it full-time so I can do it properly." Honestly, it's not rocket science. It won't take you two weeks to understand this. (Granted, if you have 10,000 employees and need to train them in how to use social media, it's a different story).

My personal advice to people is: just get on it. Lurk and observe. It's like going to a party. If you're new to a crowd, you don't hog the limelight as soon as you walk in the room. Watch, listen and at some point you'll be comfortable enough to join into the conversation. When that happens, the rest occurs naturally.

Sin #6: Get your tech priorities right

Margetic says he believes that commerce and social media will become inextricably combined. He also realises that late adopters may feel the need to embrace a range of new technologies at once.

While the desire to become tech-savvy is positive, it's important to prioritise your efforts. "It's a lot better to socialise an ecommerce site than it is to commercialise a social site," says Margetic.

In other words, if you're not yet selling products/services online, do this first. Focus on ways to conduct sales online. This is typically a scalable and essential element to growing a business. Margetic says you then bring in the social element.

Sin #7: Ignoring visuals

Pinterest. Infographics. Instagram. Videos. And so on. Margetic predicts that the emphasis on shareable visual elements – like photos – will become more popular.

"Images provide you with the ability to communicate information quickly," he says. "Because of a lack of time, people will increasingly need to get their message across quickly. They'll focus on visual entities to do this."

We live in a world where our short attention spans are only getting shorter. Mastering the art of conveying your message in a single image will become a valuable skill, particularly if people then feel compelled to share that image with their friends/followers. This is the new "word of mouth".

Ultimately, if you commit one of these seven deadly sins, you might end up in purgatory. However, forgiveness can be right around the corner. The key is top remain authentic, sincere and, as Margetic points out, simply "use common sense". Social media doesn't have to be too hard, too scary or too ridiculous to waste time on. It can be a powerful tool to grow your business. It just depends on whether you want to see it that way.

twitter Follow Valerie Khoo on Twitter @valeriekhoo

30 comments so far

  • Social media isn't the only technology that's changing industries, business and lifestyles. Apps, search, 3d printing, cloud computing, gestural technologies and others all have. They have integrated as well-search, social, apps, etc - all these and more can be found with articles, videos and infographics including from Harvard Business Review under the humble and ok WordPress blog 'Technologies including social networks changing industries, business models and lifestyles completely'.

    Additionally, it's sadly AUSTRALIA that has failed with technologies. Australia's online retail/eCommerce came late and is 10 years behind just like its transportation payment systems. The social media failures including statistics of Australian organisations can be found under Fifth Quadrant Report which have been given under Craig Thomler's eGov AU blog (Craig Thomler is a leading Australian expert of technology for government and business). Technologies have failed time and again including last year's Click Frenzy event. Australia isn't recognised as an innovative country (GE Research of 2012) and sadly, innovative start-ups land in the US as they aren't encouraged including with funding. Also, innovations these days-low cost innovations or blue ocean strategies(under Globality video-Youtube) & those innovations are coming from China,India,Brazil, etc-2 examples-Tata and Embraer.Where are Australian industries today? Many are finished or falling.

    Manufacturing is nearly over though if Australia does what USA did 20 years back, it could regain that sector because US manufacturing was over 30 years ago though now it's shifted to the high value end and is doing very well (that video is 'Made in USA', the 4th episode under America Revealed under PBS.ORG). Australia for decades had put all its eggs into 1 basket and last 20 years, that was mining via Chinese. What's happening now? China has alternatives. AGAIN, MOST INDUSTRIES ARE JUST HANGING BY THREAD DUE TO TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATIVE FAILURES+OUTDATED.

    Date and time
    February 28, 2013, 4:26PM
    • tldr - haha - no, really this is a good article. The most successful use of social media to promote a small business that I have seen is a woman who makes garments to order. She is an active member of the on line community - a person who engages, comments, makes jokes, posts things unrelated to her business and a lot of people are very fond of her. People get involved and watch the progress of each garment, and join in when she posts her thoughts or asks advice on different ways to develop her business. She is much different to the 'broadcasters' who tend to use pages.

      Date and time
      March 01, 2013, 6:35AM
      • Quote: "The incidents above illustrate that there is a clear lack of understanding of what social media is "

        On the contrary I think this whole article demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of what most business owners think about facebook / youtube.

        Facebook and twitter in particular are both completely underwhelming platforms now being used by business for purposes they are not suited for. Facebook and twitter are at best a social time waster and at worst a financial drain on business resources.

        Use of the social media has been disastrous for some companies and therefore your comment that it does not require research and consideration (e.g. 6 moths) demonstrates your lack of understanding of the business risk in getting it wrong.

        Large companies that have spare capital to throw away on social media teams "might" have a chance of getting some benefit if they get it right. Small businesses need to be cautious that they understand the medium well before dipping a toe in.

        Nothing looks worse than a website linking to a facebook / twitter page with nothing on them or like so many covered with inane posts, that does more harm to the business than any "potential" for benefit.

        This article is poorly considered and I advise any business owner to think very carefully before investing valuable time and money into the social media platforms, your advertising dollar will probably be better spent on upgrading your website or improving SEO rather than twittering away.

        Many so called "users" of both facebook and twitter are simply dead accounts or fake accounts used by those selling likes and flowers.

        Lets be completely honest here there is very little genuine tangible use for these platforms other than mucking about 'time wasting".

        Date and time
        March 01, 2013, 9:56AM
        • Agree completely.

          Date and time
          March 02, 2013, 7:56AM
        • Bill,

          I think you make the most sense.

          As a small business owner, with the best roof repair website in Sydney, I have a direct experience of website vs the social media "noise"...

          Every effort on my optimised website brings me more dollars. I don't spend much effort on facebook, twitter, Linkedin,Printerest... because it does not bring me any dollars.

          As an owner of a small roof repair business, I know that social media is for FUN and a good website is for BUSINESS. A roof leak is no fun. It is serious business.

          jack yuen
          Date and time
          March 02, 2013, 12:39PM
        • Absolutely, completely and utterly agree. I would like to know the extent of research conducted by either the author or Margetic as to the value/thoughts of small business owners on 'social media'. The 'booklet' might apply more to large, large companies.


          Current Small Business Owner (Trades)
          Former media and advertising employee

          Date and time
          March 04, 2013, 3:28PM
        • I agree also. I run a small business and also consult on IT issues for other businesses. If you are a B2B (i.e. you are a business that sells to other business) then social media is pointless - not even worth debating. If you are a B2C (i.e. sell to consumers) most small businesses struggle to justify the time spent on social media versus the payoff. As I told one business client recently, when you put Facebook on your website and shopfront, all you are doing is advertising Facebook's business - not your own.

          It has also been proven that 95% of posts on social media are by a small percentage of people (around 5%) who are even in the target audience. So you end up hearing a lot of noise from a small bunch of people with way too much time on their hands, while you might be ignoring your real customers.

          The article fails completely to even justify why social media is of any use. It just assumes that everyone thinks it is - when clearly it isn't. The world's largest company, Apple, doesn't use social media. So why should any other business?

          Date and time
          March 04, 2013, 9:52PM
        • I don't think you can apply a blanket rule here. It depends on the product. I get updates on my newsfeed from retail businesses which I already patronise, in particular clothing stores. I have quite often gone to those shops after something came up on their FB page that I was interested in, whereas I would never go to peruse their website.

          I also get feeds from interstate and overseas businesses which have products that interest me and which can be ordered on-line. Once again, I would never bother checking their websites - in fact if it wasn't for FB I would never have known they existed.

          I administer FB sites for a small business owned by my sister and an art project which requires audiences. I know the posts I put up bring in people. As the article said, you have to have a clear idea of why you are on social media, and which platform is suitable for your business. I believe in creating a community of people who feel loyalty to the business because I make them feel welcome. I post items that are not to do with the business, but are connected to the business, and I create a dialogue.

          If you do have time to do it, or have someone who understands both your business and social media, it's worth considering. It is, after all, free (except for time) and advertising is not a precise art - no-one really knows what works and what doesn't.

          Date and time
          March 05, 2013, 12:50AM
        • Felix67

          You are playing the I don't know what I don't know line. My son and his girlfriend started an online business in May 2012 and now have 121,000 followers on Instagram. Guess what, many of these are repeat customers.

          At a certain age group, they are a phenomenon in Australia and the world is now their playground.

          Date and time
          March 05, 2013, 9:22AM
        • Well said Bill. I was national marketing manager for a market-leading global company with a strong presence in Australia (manufacturing/technology).

          I refused to start up a Facebook presence for our market. All the other managers of the business insisted I do it. I asked them 'why'. They said 'because we have to be on Facebook'. Again, I asked 'why'. Then I asked 'what do you want to do with Facebook'. They said 'talk to customers'.

          I suggested that they go out and talk to them in person - take them to lunch, walk around their factories, take them to the footy. Our customers ran 24/7 operations - they were males in the age range 35-65. They were not spending all day on Facebook. We knew our market, our customers and were not needing to attract new customers. Facebook was useless for us in that context.

          Business owners need to really think about what they want from Facebook/spcial media, and is it the best medium to achieve their goals. It DOES work well in some arenas, and it is completely useless in others.

          Relaxed Gal
          Date and time
          March 05, 2013, 10:54AM

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