I had not previously written from this perspective, but by framing things this way, thanks to Dan King's "Why Your Website Isn't the Field of Dreams", I've come to realize why so many misunderstand the value of social media, of online presence, to their business.
I've spent much of my time educating my readers and workshop attendees on the value of social media, based on it's design. I've highlighted that if we, as business owners, scare off the very users we hoped to attract in the first place (usually by excessive self-promotion), then we diminish the very value of social media to our businesses. Businesses that add value by demonstrating expertise, meeting immediate needs, sharing followers' content or joining their conversation, get a relevant following. Many, however, are already aware of this.
The Truth About Numbers
What continues to be a source of frustration to social media clients and client prospects, is the rate at which they are rewarded for their efforts online. The "sales pitch" that attracted so many businesses to social media has largely revolved around sweeping statements, like:
- The "number of followers/month" metric is the primary measure of success.
- If you're not online already, you're behind the curb, and are likely to fail.
- If your social media manager can't deliver a ROI of $XX sales in 3 months, let them go.
The expectation of an almost immediate return on investment (ROI) leaves businesses salivating but, sadly, while some industries and causes can rely on these "sales pitches", most businesses can't. They simply aren't true, if you're running a more focused business or if you're a small company in a large industry. You have to be in it for the long-haul.
The true metric you want on social media - the one from which all other success stems - is "number of RELEVANT followers". This takes longer, and that means your ego may take a hit when your "number of followers" isn't as high as the next guy's. Still, it holds us to a higher standard of community. Community is the very source of value of social media for business.
Relevant Followers, Sustainable Community
- Appreciate the value of what you offer
- Buy your product or service
- Champion your cause - referrals, volunteering, donations
- Drive relevant traffic to your sites
- Engage with you in a relevant way for more than a week
then they probably aren't relevant. How do they add value, if they do none of the above? How do you define "relevant" in terms of community? They don't all have to do ALL of the above, but if they deliver on one of these, of their own free will, then you're okay. You need to take a look at your online community and your business goals for that community, to determine relevance.
Investing the Time
How long does it take to establish a community that hits at least 2-3 of the above business goals? At the end of the day, the answer is "it depends".
- If you have a great social media and content strategy but execute poorly.
- If your personality intersects with your brand in a way that requires more engagement.
- If there are a lot of other organizations doing what you do, online.
- If your product is in a very unique a niche.
These, and several other unique attributes, determine how quickly your social media community will grow. The key is to stay focused, pay attention to analytics (what works, what doesn't) and keep going. Stay committed.
The point is this. A large number of followers on social media "feels" great, until you realize they probably don't know your name; they followed you on a whim, and forgot about you. The true challenge is to develop a community of followers who followed you because they made a conscientious decision - relevant followers.
How big is your network - social or professional? Does quantity or quality matter here? If you can answer this question, and remember how long it took for you to establish these relationships, you'll have an honest idea of what it takes to build a network - a community - online.
Quick tip: getting your 'offline' network to connect with you online, acting as genuine advocates of your brand, goes a long way in increasing the rate of organic social media community growth. The same is true for your online presence in general. Whether it's clients, partners or past colleagues, getting them to spread the word to those who trust them, builds credibility online.