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Why small businesses fail at social media

Why Small Businesses Fail at Social Media

The reason most small businesses fail at social media marketing - scratch that, the reason most businesses, period, fail at social media marketing is that they bring social media into the equation too soon. They've jumped to the conclusion without really getting a handle on the problem.

Social media is a tactic. It is a channel. Social media is not a strategy. When you start with social media as your "strategy" you are asking it to do too much, and maybe the completely wrong things. Think of it like a telephone. A way to communicate and build relationships. Telephones are very useful tools, but I can’t think of a single company with a telephone strategy.

For social media to make a difference for your business, you have to begin with a strategy. It shouldn’t be, “Okay, how am I going to use social media?” Or, “I need to get lots of people liking my Facebook page.” You have to know what you are trying to achieve with your marketing. Social media may be a pathway to successfully executing that strategy, but if you start with social media your chances of succeeding are slim.

The reason you have a slim chance of succeeding is that you won’t really know what success looks like. When I read about small business social media successes, so many of the results touted are secondary metrics that don’t show evidence of any real business impact.

Measuring Social Media Success

If you give away a car on Facebook and get 50,000 fans, is that a social media success? What are you going to do with those fans? How will you convert them to sales? Will they even see any of your content on Facebook with the network’s algorithms geared to push brand content out of the feed, forcing them to buy ads?

If you hire someone to run your Instagram profile and they churn out some great content that gets you a bunch of new followers, was it worth it? How are you tracking the return on that investment? Will those followers ever buy from you?

The only way to know for sure if social media can help your business is to start with a business goal and work it down through strategy and into the tactics that will achieve that goal. If that process points to social media as the way to go, your chances of succeeding - and measuring that success - are much greater.

Here are a few ways that social media can help a business achieve those goals.


If you’re trying to generate leads or increase awareness, then you need to look at social media as an advertising platform.

As an advertising platform, social media networks like Facebook are relatively inexpensive and allow you to target an audience pretty effectively. You can target people who have visited your website or upload an email list and have Facebook find those people on Facebook. You can target geographically down to the neighbourhood, and/or demographically using income level, interests, etc.

Your ads can drive people to a web page where you can capture leads, or do it right in Facebook with a lead capture form.

Customer Engagement

If your goal is to improve customer engagement and retention, social media can be a useful tool. You can do it on your own Facebook page. Or you can create a search plan for comments being posted on Twitter or Instagram related to your company or a problem you can solve. Then you can respond and connect with your customers and help, and in doing so build stronger relationships.

Many companies also create customer service accounts and have dedicated people to respond to customer questions and concerns.

Inbound & Outbound Sales

This last point combines two approaches other than advertising where social media can help with lead generation.

Many companies are having success with social selling on LinkedIn. Social selling is basically good old consultative selling done online. Here you find ways to build relationships by adding value and participating in the social activity of the platform and use the social capital you build up to generate sales. There are a lot more rules to doing the right way than that, but that’s a whole blog post in itself.

Social media is also a great channel for you to distribute your content. Are you writing great blogs, or making great videos or podcasts that provide real value? Use social media to get the word out. This can help you build a following and create an inbound lead generation machine.

These are just a few ways you can use social media to achieve your business goals. The important part, though, is to start with those goals. Build the strategy to achieve them and, if it makes sense, use social media to help you deliver the results.