Are Facebook and Twitter overrated for business?

If you listen to what all the ‘experts’ have to say, then you’ll know you need to Tweet, Like, share and blog about your business if it’s to have any chance of success these days. That’s a given, right?

Well, after 14 years in a variety of IT/web/marketing roles and 3 years using Social Media for business I’m starting to question just how essential it really is.

Of course it all depends on the type of business you run and who your target audience is but I’d like to share with you some insights on why I think Facebook and Twitter could be a little overrated. This from someone who has had years of practical hands-on experience running websites rather than just a Social Media guru or consultant who has only ever advised rather than implemented long-term.

My day job is to manage ‘the UK’s biggest online community for young entrepreneurs aged 16-30′ and so it’s important for us to engage with our users on the Social Media platforms they use. Having read all the books and immersed myself in the ‘Social Web’, I’ve totally bought into the idea of giving users choice about when and how they can interact with our service. I agree that the old way of expecting people to come to your site and passively consuming the information you present them with is no longer sufficient, especially if you provide a service like ours.

In addition to a wide range of free articles, videos and how-to guides, our site includes a popular discussion forum where members can get free information and advice on starting a business and a social network which acts like a shop window to their business. We also use Twitter to share all our latest news and to signpost people to other useful business resources, a Facebook Page to do the same and a YouTube Channel to highlight all our latest videos which can then be embedded back into pages on our site or of others. Users can bookmark, share and comment on all content within the site and we have a LinkedIn group for former award winners too. We are indeed ‘truly social’ and our members regularly tell us how much they love this fact.

The downside is that as a small team (4.5 people) covering the whole of the country, our strategy of embracing Social Media the way we have has given us a lot more work to do. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been worthwhile. It’s certainly helped us reach new people, communicate with and nurture our existing online community, and provide even better (and faster) customer service to our users, partners, stakeholders and the media. It’s also brought increased traffic to our site through referrals, recommendations, Tweets and ‘Likes’.

However, despite daily, day-long Social Media activity, the referrals from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube are still tiny compared to visits from Google. In fact, over the past 3 years, organic search on Google has resulted in almost 20 times as many referrals as Facebook, almost 50 times as many as Twitter, over 350 times as many as LinkedIn and a whopping 1800 times as many as YouTube! Furthermore, 53% of visits to the site have been via search engines with Google way ahead of all the others (33 times more effective than number two search engine Yahoo). Another 26% of visits were from direct traffic (those who clicked on a bookmarked link or typed the web address into a browser) and the remaining 21% were from referrals.

So, rather than see Facebook and Twitter as the great panacea, I’m here to tell you that in my experience they are merely another (great) way to raise your profile, encourage and facilitate online conversations about you and your brand, and provide great customer service. But these are all intangible benefits which are difficult to measure when it comes to the bottom line. Therefore, I think you should think long and hard about whether you realistically have the time and resources to manage a Social Media presence effectively and whether it’s really necessary for the business you are in. For the time being and for the foreseeable future, great content on your site that is useful and highly relevant to your target audience is still the key to success and so don’t for one second think that it’s no longer important or that Social Media will give you a shortcut to success!

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