Apparently, many small business owners view social media as a “necessary evil” for successful marketing.
In a survey taken in late July, some 60 percent of more than 200 small business panelists told Borrell & Associates that social media is, as the Cambridge Dictionary puts it, “something unpleasant that must be accepted in order to achieve a particular result.”
For a purveyor of social media and online marketing services, the survey answer is, well, disturbing. Nonetheless,, 48 percent of those surveyed said social media is the best way to reach customers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Poorly worded question?
In fairness, both Borrell CEO Gordon Borrell and Executive Vice President for Local Market Intelligence Corey Elliott have said the “necessary evil” wording was theirs on the survey, and some respondents suggested “evil” is a bit much. Gordon and Corey discuss the survey on Borrell’s Local Marketing Trends podcast.
Poor choice of words or not, I have some follow-up questions.
In its heyday, was traditional advertising — newspaper, magazine, radio, TV — a necessary evil?
Why would any business owner consider any type of marketing or advertising a necessary evil instead of just “necessary?”
Doomed from the start?
There’s a clue to the answers in another survey response, but I’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s go back to those social media salespersons knocking on your door. (I’m sure there are more than a couple.) What chance do they have when you wrinkle your nose, eye them suspiciously and see a “necessary evil” (or even just a necessary unpleasantness)?
And what kind of client are you going to be when you know you need something, but you don’t want to need it? It’s like taking some foul-tasting medicine as a child. Everyone tells you to swallow it, but you’re not convinced it’s going to make you feel any better.
One underlying attitude related to “necessary evil” is the notion that marketing and advertising are business expenses rather than business investments. This approach came to the fore at the beginning of the pandemic, when many businesses simply stopped marketing as their sales tumbled. Despite lots of evidence that continued advertising during a downturn is smart investment, advertising was among the first expenses cut.
This brings us to the clue in one of the other Borrell survey responses. Only 45 percent said social media metrics are easy to understand. If the metrics are difficult to interpret, it’s hard to appreciate the value of social media.
Faced with numbers they don’t quite understand, business owners are left with squishy anecdotal evidence — everybody else is doing it; Facebook makes a lot of money selling ads so there must be something to it; I see lots of ads on Facebook, etc.
The rest is mystery, and where there’s mystery, we humans tend to attribute events to magic. Where there’s magic, there’s good, and there’s “evil.” (OK, OK … unpleasantness).
Transparency and value
Being viewed as a “necessary evil” creates a challenge for marketers, who generally do not view themselves as evil. How do marketers lift that gray veil of mystery to demonstrate, ahead of time, that there is value in social media marketing? And as a potential client, how does a small business owner get marketers to be more transparent?
Better communication would be a good start. Marketers need to be better listeners. What are the client’s business goals, what do they need to reach those goals and how do they think social media fits the picture? Based on those conversations, marketers should present a strategy and tactics to meet those goals.
On the other side of the coin, as a client, you should be specific about your goals — more than just “increase sales.” How are you doing that? Introducing a new product? Engaging more with customers with an email newsletter? Holding a sale? Improving customer service? Talk it all out with a marketer who can then draw up a plan.
Connecting the dots
The final piece in the demystification of social media is better reporting. Too often marketing agencies issue standard reports that contain the same metrics, no matter what the clients’ goals. A report should reflect the client goals and then show how the strategy and tactics are helping to meet them.
When business owners can connect the dots — from strategy to tactics to results to goals — social media is bound to seem less unpleasant, and maybe not evil at all.
The author of this article does not assert that social media marketing is magic or that he practices magic to achieve social media marketing results.