Is the answer a simple “yes, of course! Let’s all jump on this bandwagon!”?
Do I need need social media marketing? If we read online forums for business owners, we can see that this is a commonly asked question. It is a good question. We read and hear about social media. We are on social media ourselves. If people are on social media, as business owners, should we take advantage of this forum? Should we all start social media marketing?
I have an MBA. I recall that, in business school, professors would often post questions to the class and call on students to answer. The running joke in business school is there is an answer that works for virtually all question. That answer is “it depends”.
In business, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all answer to any question. If that’s the case, how do we determine if social media would help our business? The good news is that there are various analysis frameworks we can use. One such framework is the 5C’s framework. We can use the 5C’s framework to evaluate if social media marketing is a strategic fit with our business model.
The 5C’s are as follows:
- Company?—?What is our company’s objective, strategy, and capabilities?
- Customers?—?Who are our customers, and what do they want?
- Competitors?—?Who are our competitors, and what are their strategies?
- Collaborators?—?Who can be our partners and help us?
- Climate?—?What business climates within which we are functioning?
Company: There may be cases where social media may not fit with the Company’s objective and strategy. However, a more interesting question is if the company has the capability to execute social media marketing. There are various suggestions from experts on how to structure a sustainable social media strategy. However, all such suggestions include one thing: Identify who will dedicate his or her time and effort to maintain the social media channels. This may seem like a question of who has social media savvy. However, the more important question is who has the time, and more importantly the commitment, to maintain the channels. Many social media channels have been started and abandoned?—?last updated months and months ago.
Customers: In these expert suggestions on how to build a sustainable social media strategy, most also include an analysis of our Customers. Are our customers currently on social media? Again, this question may seem obvious. At the time of this writing, there are over 1 billion daily active users on Facebook, according to Facebook. Surely, at least some of our customers are amongst those 1 billion users socializing on Facebook every day. However, while our customers are undoubtedly active on social media channels, it is a completely different question if our customers are willing to engage with us on social media channels. We can also flip that question around and re-visit the first C, would we, the Company, want to engage with our customers on social media channels?
I was just watching a television show on oil drilling. While I do not have knowledge of the oil drilling industry, I would hypothesize that social media is not an effective channel for a discussion on multi-million dollar equipment?—?even if people relevant to that discussion may be active on social media personally.
Nevertheless, for many types of businesses, it is likely that social media is one of the channels we can leverage for engagement. The question becomes is it the channel we would want to use, in a world of limited resource and time.
That is when we may turn to the other Cs.
Competitors: What are our Competitors doing? Are they active on social media or not?
If our competition is not active on social media, we should ask the following questions:
- Is there a good reason that they have not leverage this channel, and does that reason apply to us?
- Should we be the first to be active on this channel? What hurdles would we need to be overcome as a pioneer? Is there an advantage to be gained?
If our competition is active and successful on social media, we have two choices.
- Find an even more effective way to engage with our customers. Often, face-to-face is the most effective way to truly engage with people. Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, built his business by flying around the countries attending tech conferences. He tried to reach influencers and thought leaders in-person, in the hallway, over coffee, or over drinks. However, it is often difficult and expensive to rely on face-to-face engagement.
- Engage on social media, and take our fair share of the conversation. If our customers are having conversations about the type of product or service we offer on social media channels, as a provider of that type of product or service, we need to insert ourselves into that conversation. However, if our competitors are already active in this space, we need to find a way to differentiate our efforts from theirs. This may mean developing a unique voice, nurturing a specific channel, or find gaps in the vast social media landscape that haven’t already been addressed by competitors.
Collaborators: This is where Collaborators may be of help. Social media is complex and ever-changing. If in the analysis of the company, we identified that we do not have the internal capabilities or knowledge to address this complexity, an external partnership may be a good supplemental resource. There are many social media experts. However, there may be too many self-proclaimed social media experts in the world, too ready and willing to help those of us who may be a bit intimidated by social media. It’s like hiring contractors for home remodeling. We put our homes in the hands of experts. In the hands of good contractors, we get better results than even we imagined. In the hands of bad contractors, we end up living with the consequences or needing to hire someone else to fix the mistakes. In the process, we lose money and time. Therefore, ask for referrals from other business owners we already know and trust. Find a social media partner who is willing to understand what is the real business needs before proposing any one-size-fits-all answers.
Climate: Finally, we need to be beware of the Climate in which we operate. In the model itself, this is most often referring to the legal and political climate. Imagine how important the climate is for businesses like e-cigarettes. It may be a business that is legal one day and illegal another. In social media, we need to consider that the social media landscape is ever-changing. New ways of engagement emerge. New privacy laws are introduced. New algorithms are launched. We may never get caught up with all the ways social media would be changing. Therefore, the best thing we could do is to make sure that we’re never reliant on this one method of communication. Facebook could go out of business tomorrow. Consider Lehman Brothers, it was a giant in the financial industry until it went belly-up overnight. Consider Mark Zuckerberg’s need to testify before congressional committees, and how laws on social media can change. We must build our business in a way that can still thrive under changing climates. If Facebook (or whatever social media channel we choose) disappears tomorrow, we have other ways to engage with our customers. We have other ways to promote our business. Our business success was never resting on being successful on social media.
In short, can social media marketing really support my business?
It depends, but probably. To find out, we have to analyze our business and the landscape in which we operate. The 5C’s model may help with such analysis.
- Company: Who has the time and commitment to maintain the social media channels?
- Customers: Is social media the way our customers want to engage with us?
- Competitors: What are our competitors already doing on social media? How do we differentiate our efforts from theirs?
- Collaborators: Who may be a good partner to help me execute social media marketing?
- Climate: How can we leverage social media, but not becoming reliant on a specific channel of communication?
In the end, social media marketing may support our business, but our success never relies on social media marketing alone. Our business thrives because we have a valuable product or service to offer our customers. We are successful because we make our customers’ lives easier or better.