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Why Many Small Businesses Fail at Social Media

"I’ve Done Social Media and it Doesn’t Work"

As a social media manager, I’ve heard many clients say these exact words. It took a while but I have now learned how to hear those words without laughing. It’s the whole concept that social media is something to be “done,” like it’s the end result of a process. Social Media isn’t a thing to be done. It’s just a part of a process of business promotion that includes of advertising, marketing, communication and most importantly, creating relationships. 

In the business world, social media can be a great tool to use to promote your products and services. Social media sites can help you build relationships with potential customers, increase the responsiveness and effectiveness of your customer service and find new and creative ways to generate more sales.  For the small business owner, social media can be especially effective if approached in the right way.

For the small business, social media needs to be about the conversation between their business and its customers, or potential customers and building a level of trust and loyalty.  In their rush to do social, there are some fundamental errors that many small businesses make when they initiate a social media strategy to further their business. The initial mistake occurs when they use social media to showcase their own products and services and fail to connect with other business or their customers. In order to succeed using social media, social media must be used as one of the strategies to increase business. Take note of the following truths:

Social Media Isn’t Quick

As a small business owner, time is money and typically, there isn't a large marketing budget to go around. The first mistake many small business owners make when starting a social media campaign is thinking that because of the numbers – 900 million on Facebook, 200 million of Twitter – social media is a quick fix. As a result, the small business owner often gets excited about the potential of social media. They sign up on various social networking platforms, they post and tweet and get a few followers. They toot (or tweet) their own horn and can’t figure out why their company hasn’t gone viral yet.  They fail to realize that social media is a long-term process that should be integrated into their overall marketing strategy.

Social Media Is About Listening to Your Audience

When a small business owner creates a social media plan focusing solely on marketing and sales, they have totally missed the boat. The key word in social media is, of course, social. While an end result of a complete social media and marketing strategy is about increasing your business and, ultimately, sales, it needs to start with a conversation. No one goes on a social media site to be talked at, sold to or to see constant advertisements. While there is nothing wrong with a bit of self-promotion, it’s a mistake to spend the majority of your time promoting yourself and your business. As an entrepreneur, it is up to you to listen to your customers instead of just sending out messages all the time. Listening to your audience, responding and providing them with excellent service and value is the best way to create a strong and loyal following who will, in turn, promote your business for you.

Social Media is about Having Realistic Expectations

For the small business to be successful with social media, they need to go into the process with realistic expectations. You will not get rich overnight just because you join a few social media sites and start promoting them. It will take time to be successful with this form of marketing. As long as you go into it with the expectation that social media is not a panacea for a failing business and that it will take some time to develop strong relationships with your audience, you’ll be fine.

Social Media Isn’t About Being Everywhere

One mistake many small business owners make it that they believe for social media to work, they have to everywhere, at all times. While it’s true that there will always be a new network to get involved with but as a small business owner, it’s likely that you only have a limited amount of time, money and manpower to devote to their social media social strategy.

In reality, creating an effective social media well doesn’t mean you need to be everywhere. In fact, a neglected social media presence can do more harm than good. It’s actually better to not have an account if you don’t have the time and resources to actively manage it and participate. Instead, choose one or two of the most appropriate and effective channels for reaching your customers and focusing on these channels.

You Are Not a Big Business (And That’s OK)

While small businesses do not have the money and staff power that large companies do, they do have a distinct advantage. They are able to move faster, be more personal, more flexible and build a stronger, more intimate relationship with their audience. Because of the nature of small business, you know your products and services inside and out. Most of your tasks are performed in-house, which means you aren’t outsourcing your social media.  You are better able understand what motivates their clients. While the content they create may never go viral, small businesses can create a more personal experience for their audience than a big brand ever could.

Social media is here to stay. Using small business social media as part of a well-thought out social media and marketing campaign is definitely worth is. It takes persistence, time, confidence, tweaking and a positive attitude. If you’re going to do social media, do it well, and do it like a small business.

Join The Conversation

  • Oct 29 Posted 4 years ago ElectricAlley

    Great advice Ali, the biggest problem I see is small businesses rushing into social media without doing proper planning, I've written a post about some of the things small businesses should think about before signing up.



  • adr101's picture
    Oct 5 Posted 4 years ago adr101

    Loved your comments, Ron. I think they're bang on too. Good luck "doing" social!

  • Brian Ostrovsky's picture
    Oct 5 Posted 4 years ago Brian Ostrovsky

    The Will it blend stuff is genius, of course that's not exactly a replicatable model. 

    I completely agree about fit-it tips and the like but my challenge is that unless you have a broken pipe or you're a DIY person a plumber is only ever relevant when you need them - likewise with many other local businesses. This isn't to say they should not blog or have social media accounts as those provide tremendous insight for the would-be customer or repeat customer but rather social media and content marketing for most is more transactional and engagement is driven by customer need rather than ongoing participation.

    There are clearly exceptions though I've yet to identify any type of strategy that could be implemented by a wide ranging of 'boring' local businesses.

  • Michael Lucy's picture
    Oct 5 Posted 4 years ago Michael Lucy

    Very nice article, thanks Ali and everyone that responded!  Great insight ..

    As I read this article, a few points made me pause to consider a few things;

    1) Social Media is About Listening to Your Audience - We are a new small business and as an IT and marketing company we pay A LOT of attention to this.  When we started, we thought "listening to your audience" meant simply reading and responded to posts - expecting huge amounts of engagement - NOT THE CASE - In our experience "Listening to Your Audience" means alot more than simply reading and responding to engagement on social media, "Listening" means measuring and interpreting - What posts are more likely to resut in reaching an audience?  What posts are more likely to result in engagement?  What posts are more likely to result in engagement.  We realized that even if we post, and we get ZERO direct engagement, we can still retain intelligence/value from that information (i.e. Facebook reach is a GREAT metric for this).  Once we started focusing on measuring and analyzing data, we immediately started to grow our reach and exposure.  ~~ As James said, measuring is very important ..

    2) Realistic Expecatations - YES YES YES!  One thing it took us a while to realize (once again we are a startup) is that expecting to close a sale or directly growing oue business from social media is NOT going to happen - at least at startup, you have no credentials.  Building a brand, growing your reputation and credibility conventionally is still the most important part of marketing - social media is simply an additional tool to help build brand and relationships.  Grassroots growth ~~~

    Lastly, we had a customer recently that was doing some of their usual social media posting and felt that they had some important content for their audience.  I receive a phone call into the evening hours and he says to me "Mike, how can I make this post go viral" ..... EGATS!!  How does one confront this question?  The fact that this question is even being asked makes me feel like I am a failure because I have not done my job to ensure that he understand that he cannot control "virality" or that I failed to ensure we had built a social media strategy with realistic expecatations.  Ultimately our conversation put us back on track and we agreed clearly on the expectations, but I will never forget that phone call :)

  • Oct 5 Posted 4 years ago RonFreed

    Hi Ali! 

    Thanks for this post! It brightened my day!

    I'm a "seasoned" (meaning old) marketing guy trying to see how Social Media marketing works so I can continue to offer my clients good information and insights. 

    Your opening line - "I’ve Done Social Media and it Doesn’t Work" made me smile. If you take out the words "Social Media" and insert TV, or radio or direct mail, etc., I've heard that same exact line hundreds of times! 

    And your truths are spot on, regardless of what marketing platform used. They are universal to marketing. Solid advice! 

    What I like about Social Media is the real one-to-one aspect that none of the other traditonal media can match. 

    So you've helped this old dog realize the truths I've learned are still applicable today - I just (and it's a BIG "just") have to learn the best practices and implement them properly.




  • heatherw143's picture
    Oct 5 Posted 4 years ago heatherw143

    Great post, Ali.  I work with a lot of small businesses helping them find their way into the social world. Social is such a personal and powerful tool to build those outside personal relationships with your customers.

    Social is here to stay - love it.

  • adr101's picture
    Oct 4 Posted 4 years ago adr101

    I agree, James. It's always important to post what your audience finds interesting and of value. Posting just to post will definitely not keep your audienced engaged.

  • adr101's picture
    Oct 4 Posted 4 years ago adr101

    Hi Brian, I guess it depends on what you mean by boring. Take the plumber - what about posts about fix-it tips. I know I'd come back to a site that helped me save money and it would keep the plumber front and center in my mind when I needed a professional.

    The whole You Blend It campaign relied on other people uploading videos of people blending weird objects. They didn't advertise the blender, they just showed their audience what the blender could do.  There are ways to be creative, even if the product is a bit less than exciting.

    What are your thoughts?


  • Brian Ostrovsky's picture
    Oct 3 Posted 4 years ago Brian Ostrovsky

    Hi Ali, I'm new to Social Media Today and I enjoyed your post. We work with a lot of publishers who's names could easily have been inserted into this article. I would add one thing specific to local SMBs however.

    Social Media is a form of entertainment and as a result many of us look for entertaining posts... most small businesses are boring. I don't really care to hear from a plumber until I need a plumber - doesn't mean they should do social or blog etc but it's definitely a limiting factor on anything resembling real-time engagement.

    I'm curious, have you found any "boring" companies that do social media effectively?

  • James Meyer's picture
    Oct 2 Posted 4 years ago James Meyer


    Nice article. Let me add in my opinion there are 3 huge mistakes being made by small businesses when it comes to social media.

    1.  Not having a goal

    2.  Not measuring

    3.  By just "posting stuff" they cause their followers to disengage.  These disengaged customers may never re-engage again.






  • adr101's picture
    Oct 2 Posted 4 years ago adr101

    Thanks, Stuart. Great idea!

  • Oct 2 Posted 4 years ago StuartWooster

    Great post Ali!

    This should be printed off and given to every new social media client that a company proposes to take on or consult. It is a harsh truith that many have to face, and will face if they do not heed sound advice like this.

  • adr101's picture
    Oct 1 Posted 4 years ago adr101

    Thanks for your comment, Rusty! Gald you enjoyed the article.

  • adr101's picture
    Oct 1 Posted 4 years ago adr101

    Very well said, Erica. I totally agree that small businesses are not big businesses (and, of course, that's ok!)

  • Erica Ayotte's picture
    Oct 1 Posted 4 years ago Erica Ayotte

    This is a very well done post! I work with small businesses and these issues come up time and time again. Specifically the "social media isn't quick" and the "social media isn't about being everywhere" are particular issues of concern. 

    I think small businesses have a tendency to compare themselves to big brands on social, and they shouldn't. Just because you don't have millions of Facebook fans doesn't mean you're a failure. What they're doing are creating relationships on a scale that's appropriate for their business. And often small businesses have an advantage over large businesses because they actually know who many of their fans are in 'real' life. 

  • adr101's picture
    Oct 1 Posted 4 years ago adr101

    I totally agree, Kent. Social Media is not a fixed activity to be done. It's a fluid, moving entity that is made up of all tiny aspects involved in creating a strong relationship.  Thanks for your comments.

  • Kent Ong's picture
    Oct 1 Posted 4 years ago Kent Ong

    Social Media is about building relationship. This should be our goal. As long as we focus on relationship building, we will appreciate every single comment, every single content, every single tweet, etc. And most probably you won't fail.

  • rustyk's picture
    Oct 1 Posted 4 years ago rustyk

    Great article Ali, and so many truths.  I get a bit frustrated when I hear small businesses complain.  I'm not going to point out your article and explain that Social Media is a much bigger strategy.



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