Feb 02

Three Fallacies of Facebook Marketing

If you run a business, you’ve heard a marketing or sales pitch about why you must have a Facebook page.

It’s hard to ignore the numbers. Facebook has nearly 1.4 billion active users worldwide. Of all adults who have regular access to the Internet, 72 percent visit Facebook once a month. In the United States and Canada, there are 157 million daily active Facebook users (44% of the combined population of 355 million).

Each day business pages on Facebook generate 5.3 billion likes. 5.3 billion. Every day. The average user has 130 friends, creates 90 pieces of content a month (posts, comments, photos) and spends 700 minutes a month on Facebook. The statistics go on and on, all pointing to the same inevitable conclusion: the world is on Facebook, and your business should be there, too.

FB-f-Logo__blue_1024And you know what? It’s free. Those schmucks at Budweiser paid an average of $4.5 million for each 30 seconds to advertise during the Super Bowl, and the giant brewing company only reached a lousy 114 million people (less if you assume bathroom breaks during commercials). On Facebook, you can reach a billion. For free.

The Free Fallacy

As many economists like to remind, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Facebook is no exception. It’s easy to debunk the “free fallacy.” Even a one-man shop who wants to build a Facebook page on his own has to devote time, which, economists also remind us, equals money. If you run a small business, you might need to hire somebody to build and manage your presence on Facebook. Larger businesses are likely to either divert other marketing resources to Facebook or hire somebody new to handle it. The dollars add up.

The Audience Fallacy

Then there’s the “audience fallacy.” Facebook is not a Field of Dreams. If all you do is build it, people most definitely will not come. Even if you write Nobel-winning prose with museum-quality photographs, no one will see your content until people start liking the page. Even after hundreds of Facebook users like your page, your posts and photos won’t get much traction until your fans start to like, share and comment.

Is it difficult to encourage people to like your page and then produce content that people want to read and share with their friends? Not really. There is plenty of material online, including on Facebook, to teach you. And it takes time, focus and often, a little cash.

The Sell More Stuff Fallacy

Finally — at least for this article — there is the “sell more stuff fallacy.” It’s a simple extension of the first two. It’s free, so it’s easy to justify the “expense.” There’s an audience of more than a billion people, so if you convince just one in a million to buy something, you’ll have 1,000 new customers. Your sales destiny awaits.

Eh, maybe not. Because there are so many people and businesses posting content, and because Facebook wants to show only the content most relevant to each user, no one sees everything. That also means that your business page posts are not seen by all your fans. In fact, on average they’re only seen by 6.5 percent of your fans. If you’re a small business with up to 25,000 fans, the average is higher, 10.6 percent. That means if your Facebook page has 1,000 fans, only 106 will likely see any given post. That’s your real audience size, not 1.4 billion.

If you’re a small business, can Facebook help you sell more stuff? Maybe. If your business is set up for e-commerce you can create an online store on your Facebook page. You can post coupons or information about sales and deals (but remember, the audience is limited). I will tell you in no uncertain terms that if all you do is launch a Facebook page and post a few times a week, you will not sell more stuff.

Success on the Other Side of the Pitch

Small and medium-sized businesses can succeed on Facebook. They can grow audience. They can reach new potential customers. They can increase sales and even track them to Facebook. They can also use Facebook to talk with customers, learn about them and share with them. That kind of interaction helps make better customers and clients.

Given the present online and social media marketing environment, Facebook is a necessary and effective marketing tool for just about every business. Don’t let the fallacies of “free,” “audience” and “sell more stuff” inflate your expectations. Effective Facebook marketing is not free. You need to build your Facebook audience, and it’s not limitless. Facebook can help you sell more stuff if you inform, entertain and inspire your audience.

Have I missed any Facebook marketing fallacies? Add your thoughts in the comments, and let’s kick it around some more.

Jan 25

Is the Internet Disrupting Our Language, too?

My daughter and son hated to show me their English homework. Despite my intention to be gentle, their writing never completely satisfied their old man, who spent his days prodding journalists to write better.

I remember being perturbed that papers graded by their teachers would come home with spelling and grammar errors uncorrected or with no points deducted for those mistakes. At a school open house once, a teacher stood in front of parents and pronounced that she was more concerned with storytelling and creativity than grammar and spelling. The horror.

strunk&whiteThe problem, however, is that writing a good story depends on sound grammar and correctly spelled words. Without those basic elements, the story you’re trying to tell won’t make sense to many people. It’s not a surprise the education system drifted away from focusing on grammar and spelling. For people of my generation, those lessons about past participles, prepositions, articles, subjects and predicates were excruciating. Very few 12-year-olds enjoyed diagramming sentences, and we all thought that what we had to say was more important than how we said it. So, when my generation became teachers and principals and school board members, English language education shifted away from teaching all those hard-to-understand rules.

Let’s examine how the rules of written expression were preserved and perpetuated in the 20th century. Through most of the 1900s, almost all of what people read was published in books, magazines and newspapers. Most of the writers for those publications needed to meet generally accepted standards for spelling and grammar. One of my college courses in the 1970s was almost entirely about the Associated Press Stylebook, which described how certain words must be spelled, when to use capital letters, where to use certain kinds of punctuation and how certain words should be used.

One of my favorite examples of AP style were the prescribed usages of “more than” and “over.” The word “over” was NOT to be used when comparing something numerical — dollar amounts or distances, for example. According to AP style, it was incorrect to write “He made over 1,000 cookies for Christmas.” The sentence should be written “He made more than 1,000 cookies for Christmas.” The word “over” was reserved for “crossing over a bridge,” or “he went over there,” or “he climbed over the fence.” I still follow this rule. The Associated Press last year removed it from the style book, relenting to the overwhelmingly common usage of “over $9 million” or “the flood killed over 60 people.” (I blame television reporters and anchors for spreading misuse of “over.”)

Without rules about grammar and spelling, written communication degrades into something that is understood less and less. My children’s English teachers would have you believe that good writing is about expression, but that’s only half-true. Good writing is about communication and understanding. If I express myself in way you can’t understand — outside the bounds of the rules of grammar and spelling, for example — what I’ve written has no value.

Before the Internet Age, editors reviewed most published articles at least once, usually more often. They rightfully saw themselves as gatekeepers of language. Good editors — although they are a pain in the butt — are more than just enforcers of grammar, spelling and style rules. Good editors spot flaws in logic, recognize gaps in information and spot inaccuracies (Is it Whittaker Street or Whitaker Street?). They can also help turn a mundane phrase into something sparkling and memorable.

Today, in the Internet Age, anyone can publish what they write — no editor required. Poor, unedited writing appears next to good writing in Facebook posts, in blogs, on Twitter, in comments on articles, in self-published books and in white papers, just about everywhere on the Internet. Poor writing is spreading offline, too. I see it in printed newspapers, magazines and books. Here’s an incorrect construction I see a lot: “Children that write to Santa Claus don’t always get what they want.” What’s wrong with that sentence? Children are people, and that makes them “whos.” It should be written, “Children who write to Santa Claus …”

Another common grammatical irritant is a similar problem with pronouns such as “them,” “they” and “their” being used instead of “it” or “its.” For example, “The Mom & Pop Co. uses their website to sell merchandise” should be written as “The Mom & Pop Co. uses its website …” A business is a thing, an “it,” and as such it gets an impersonal pronoun, not a personal one like “them,” “his” or “hers.”

Is this a big deal? After all, even when the usage is incorrect, “you know what I mean.” That’s true, for now. But I worry that over time, widespread ignorance of good grammar will diminish our ability to communicate, to express ourselves and to have our stories be understood. The inability to understand each other through a common, precise language will have broader and damaging consequences.

If you care about whether readers understand your writing, take a little time to brush up on the rules. Every chance I get, I recommend “The Elements of Style,” a beautifully short book that covers grammar and usage. If you’re not sure how to spell a word, pull out a dictionary, search an online dictionary or just type “define:” followed by the word you want to spell or define into the Google search bar.

I understand that languages change and evolve. We create new words, and others fall out of favor. Sometimes we change the meanings of words (Remember when “gay” meant happy and festive?). For me, the bottom line is how well our use of language conveys our intended meaning. It’s a worthy cause, don’t you think?

Jan 23

How to Get Started: 5 Anti-Procrastination Tips

I get stuck a lot. In fact, I’ve been stuck for about an hour trying to figure out what to write for my fifth entry in the Your Turn Challenge. Lucky for me the challenge organizer prepared some daily prompts to help us get started.

Today’s prompt: What advice would you give for getting unstuck? Seriously.

Mark Whittaker looks for motivation with his cat

Looking for motivation

1. Look for a prompt. Not everything has to come from within. Take somebody else’s idea and give it your own spin. Sometimes you can set your own prompts. For a writer, it could be your own list of evergreen ideas. I’m in no position to offer weight-loss or exercise advice, but even I have a hard stop when it comes to weight. When I get close to that limit, I’m careful about my calories and I head back to the gym. It’s an internal call to action. (Joined the local YMCA and re-started the gym routine this week, as a matter of fact.)

2. Get angry. Anger is a great motivator for me. I quit smoking when I got mad at cigarettes for controlling my life. My nicotine addiction forced me to hide in the garage first thing in the morning, to exit a warm office on a cold day just to grab a few puffs on the loading dock and to head to the store whenever I needed a fresh pack. I hated it, and that anger finally pushed me to quit. I should add here that self-directed anger — I get mad at myself constantly — is probably counter-productive. For folks like me, self-criticism is crippling. You’ve got to direct that angry energy toward a situation you want to change.

3. Productive procrastination. When faced with something I need to start, but can’t, I stare blankly at my computer. Then I work on something else that’s easier to start. Or I walk away from the desk for a few minutes and check the weather. Sometimes I hold a cat. Doing anything but starting sometimes creates enough spark to get me back on track.

4. Talk it out. Telling somebody else (my poor wife) that I’m stuck is often enough to get things moving again.

5. Take a nap. Sometimes it works. And the headline says there would be five tips.

Have you got your own ideas on how to get moving? Share them in the comments.