My good friend Bill Tibbles and I have been working together for the past 7 years. Bill has recently relocated to Fergus Ontario and so I don’t see him as often as I used to. So it was a very pleasant surprise when he showed up for coffee last night. We sat in our crowded little formal living room, which is really our main living room, while our basement family room is being completely redone from the floor on up. Long story.
Bill is one of the best designers and marketing thinkers I know. For years he ran one of Toronto’s premiere graphic design studios, Tibbles, Bird & Company. Now he’s what he calls semi-retired. But really what he has done is taken a step to the left and is now designing and installing custom kitchens. Bill is a builder. He’s built his own ‘37 Ford hot rod from just a body, and had remodeled just about every house he’s ever lived in.
But what we have in common as creative people is the thing that binds us together. And this is an abiding belief in the basics of marketing and fundamental skepticism about the Internet and its ability to establish and grow a creative services based business there, especially when it comes to things like social and business media.
We both believe that the Social Media world itself is simply a cluster of huge pyramid schemes. LinkedIn being one of the big three, along with Twitter and Facebook. Everybody using these media is primarily there to further their own agenda, either for themselves or on behalf of others. And there is nothing wrong with that, except for one little thing. Lets take LinkedIn as an example because it’s the most obvious.
First, let’s set aside the job recruitment aspect of it, which has to be kind of hellish for anyone advertising a job, having to sort through hundreds of applications. Seems like there is a lot of people looking for work in marketing these days.
LinkedIn markets itself loosely as the way to build your business on line by posting your wisdom (or the wisdom of someone you hired to be wise for you), repeating and repeating and repeating some more until the world finally starts beating a path to your door.
As a side feature LinkedIn allows you to form or join groups in which you can discuss various aspects of your business with other people who do pretty much the same thing as you. LinkedIn also suggests people for you to link with, who of course also do pretty much the same thing as you do too. Why you would want to be linked to a bunch of people like that is beyond me. And if you do a search and try to link with someone who could potentially do your business some good, they come down on you like a ton of bricks, which always struck me as a bit paradoxical until I started to figure out their strategy.
The marketing principle (skeptical view) here is that if you get depressed enough over the startling number of people who do the same thing as you do, you will try and get a leg up on your competition and start paying a monthly fee for premium services, which basically just allows you to email people and a couple of other things. Of course you can do this on your own, using LinkedIn as a directory, with an internet connection and an email program, but you have the cache of having your email come to them via LinkedIn. Which, according to LinkedIn, at least makes it special somehow.
The establishment of social media and business media marketing as concepts has been brilliantly done. It has pretty much sucked in a high percentage of the connected world’s businesses, and almost every creative and marketing person around. In a relatively short span of time LinkedIn has made itself a household name and, at least according to its own publicity, has become the place that people check you out in order to assure that you are real. Screw your web site. Screw your blog. If you’re not on LinkedIn with at least a network of 500, you’re simply not a serious player. I know people whose LinkedIn address sits right under their email address and phone number on their business cards.
Business media like LinkedIn operate on the principle of critical mass. If they have a billion users and they can count on at least 10%, jumping up to the premium service, that’s a whole lot of moolah at 29 bucks a month. And more power to them. But it’s not like you get what you pay for…what you get is the perception that you are somehow better equipped to grow your business via this premium service than you could all on your own or being one of the plebes who use the free service.
But in my discussion with Bill Tibbles last night, we both violently agreed on one simple thing and that’s this: Even if you value your marketing time at an obscenely low rate, say $10 an hour, the ROI that you can achieve from diligent activity, directly on LinkedIn and through even just a few groups that you contribute to, will be pathetic, and really in post analysis, not worth doing in the first place.
Now Bill and I are creative people and we really don’t want to talk for other businesses, who may very well get some sort of return on investment from Social and Business media. Certain types of commodity and retail based small businesses can get a return…in fact for them, it’s probably the most cost effective way to promote their businesses. And of course, anyone involved in helping others master the art of marketing their business in social media can do just fine as well.
My friend Barbara Munshaw who is one of the smarter social media people I have met, has a great handle on which businesses can benefit the most from social and business media. But at this point it’s more intuitive than statistical. The other things Barb has going for her is that she is honest and an experienced entrepreneur and marketing person, which a great many of these social media ‘gurus’ are not. She is not a shill for these media, but a facilitator who, once you have made the commitment, will help you get set up and running in a way that will give you the best possible chance for success. This gives her the objectivity that’s needed in order to fairly assess viability in these media.
The Little and Big Catch 22s.
Social and business media are facts of marketing life in today’s world. But they are such relatively new facts of marketing life that it’s virtually impossible for them to provide any level of result expectation. So it’s hard to know where they sit in the marketing tools hierarchy.That’s the little Catch 22. The big Catch 22 is the staggering amount of work you have to do, in order to just find out if these types of media are viable for your business.
Bill Tibbles and I both agree that, like any media out there, the decision to be there is one that needs to be made objectively, and not have it rammed down your throat by the social media cultists who believe, almost religiously, that all businesses should be there. When it gets to the point where they can say your business should be there and here are a couple or three really good reasons why, then you can move ahead confidently.
But that’s not the case right now. In a way you’re like the Viking tribes of Norway who had the capability of navigating the North Sea, knew there was something out there before they got to the edge of the world….but had absolutely no idea what that was and how it was going to make their journey worthwhile.
You can call it old school thinking if you want. And the gurus can ramble on about SEO, content marketing, storytelling etc. But the bottom line is that, if you are trying to build your business through marketing and communications in addition to sales, you really need to understand the up and downsides of all the media you choose to do that with.
Right now, social and business media don’t really have enough evidence to support specific levels of efficacy. And so they have to use a lot of smoke and mirrors to get you on board. This is why a lot of companies who chose this path a year or two ago are frustrated. Let’s face it, patience and budgets are finite. Customer engagement is fleeting at best in these media. And for the vast majority of companies pumping content into this gigantic butter churn, ROI is virtually nowhere in sight.
If you are a stats freak and you want to know more about how LinkedIn is doing what it does, check out this post: http://qz.com/199702
Jim Murray Creative Director
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