Do I need to use social media to grow my business?

Behind closed doors (Zoom doors, of course), in hushed voices, clients and colleagues confess the same thing to me over and over again: “I hate social media.”

It’s said with a variety of emotions. Some, it’s exhaustion and exasperation because they’ve been using it consistently and feel like it’s a necessary evil. Some it’s resignation, because they think they have to use it and they’ll just have to suck it up. Others, it’s indifference or loathing, and they really never plan to use it at all.

Before I go on, this article has a few disclaimers. There is no right way to grow a business. All the different ways work for some people, or they wouldn’t be taught. There are also no black and white rules because lots of people use these tools to varying degrees. If you are using social media, that’s great! If you aren’t, that’s great too! Do not read this as the “right” way to use social media in your business. My intention is to give you permission to do what you want to do in your business. Okay, let’s get on with it.

Why do we think we have to use social media in the first place?

Here are a few guesses I have:

· When Facebook became a “thing” for business, it worked extremely well. A decade ago I used Facebook to get my health coaching business off the ground quickly, and then a few years later it was extremely helpful to run ads to promote webinars for my business coaching business. It worked, it felt ethically fine, and it was reasonably easy. Most people saw your posts, you didn’t have to overthink each post, and the algorithm wasn’t as complex. Since then, it’s been a slow decline of effectiveness, and a slow increase in complexity. There’s a bump when new platforms come on the scene, and the cycle repeats.

· We see it working for other businesses. I’m embarrassed to admit how many things I’ve bought after seeing them on one of the platforms (some paid ads, others not). And even if you don’t use social media for your business, you likely still use it for “fun”. You’re still bombarded with messaging and a feeling of obligation rises.

· I’m confident that many business owners use social media as a way of hiding, avoiding, or procrastinating. As weird as it sounds to “hide” behind social media, I see it causing overwhelm preventing business owners from taking the actions that would give them immediate results. This is self-doubt taking the stage.

· It’s an obvious option. Growing a business is a massive undertaking, and it’s hard to know what strategies to use, and when to use them. If you don’t know much about growing a business, then it might feel like social media is your best bet so you just go with it without questioning.

Importantly, we may be following or listening to people who actually like using social media for their business. They are using it, having fun with it, and seeing results, so they share it with others. There are LOTS of great things about social media, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Why do we hate social media so much?

Taking it up a level, I think a lot of entrepreneurs just hate marketing, period. With or without social media, they want to get clients without marketing, and do great work with them. That is a legitimate business model (one which I have used and still use), but you compromise other things when you do it this way.

Then, when you resign yourself to doing marketing, or even embrace it, it still takes a lot of time and effort to run a business. In addition to becoming better at your job, you also have to get better at a million other things! You need to become a copywriter, a designer, a project manager, a content creator, a bookkeeper, a sales person, and of course, a marketer. Yes, you can hire people for these, but most people aren’t in a position to hire for all of them, especially in the first few years.

Social media can easily become the most time-intensive of all the things, and on top of that it can be slow and tedious. It’s difficult to measure what’s working, and it seems to change constantly. Not to mention the near-constant scandals and news exposés. And, for lots of us, it just doesn’t feel good. Tara McMullin wrote a really interesting article about the creator economy and unpaid labour which gets to the heart of the problem of what the platforms were built for and who they’re meant to benefit.

Many of us also just aren’t good at it. We don’t know what to say, and we’re confused about all the changes and new features. Yes, we could get better, but we don’t want to. We don’t like writing or creating in this way, and interacting with people on these platforms is a skill in and of itself. For me, it really doesn’t come naturally. I’m super awkward and it makes me anxious. I also don’t like putting so much effort into someone else’s platform, or into something that disappears over time.

Why do people use social media at all?

Despite my bias against social media, I feel it’s important to show both sides, since there are lots of benefits of social media, like:

· It’s a way to reach lots of people, because almost everyone uses it

· It’s an effective way to reach people you don’t know, especially internationally

· The search functions are amazing so you can find almost any demographic

· You can get feedback quickly. It’s a great place to test ideas.

· People say lots online, so you can learn about your ideal client without talking to them (though you still should talk to them)

· There’s a very low barrier to entry to create content, so you can publish without jumping through hoops

· Whatever your preference is (video, audio, written, visual) you can create and publish

· You can go as deep as you like, staying an amateur or becoming an expert, at whatever pace you want

· People willingly sing your praises online and it’s a great way to collect social proof and testimonials

· Lots of people find it fun and a great creative outlet

· It’s relatively easy to find help, tutorials, or assistants to make the job easier

· Even if you don’t post often or create your own content, it’s a fantastic way to see what is resonating with others, or to connect with others (in comments or in private messages)

· It can be an effective way to share content that you’ve created off the platform (like a blog or podcast) to bring people back to your main platform

So does social media work?

Of course it does! And…of course it doesn’t!

The number one way to get it to work for you is you must energetically want it to work. You have to believe that it will. If you don’t, you won’t put in the effort required and your content will fall flat. If you’re excited about it, you put in the effort to learn what’s what, and you’re having fun with it, your chances of success with it go way up. And if you dread it, don’t like it, and don’t put in the effort to learn about it, of course it won’t work as well.

But you also have to look at your goals and your business model. You need to define what “success” looks like to you. You must find ways to measure and test so you can see what’s working and what isn’t. And it needs to be part of your plan, not just something you feel obligated to do so you neglect it and hope for the best.

And that brings us to the ultimate question…

Should you use social media for your business?

I think by now the answer is pretty obviously “it depends”. You’ll have to weigh the factors.

Does it line up with the goals you have for your business? Do you have the time scheduled to do it? Are you willing to commit to doing it long-term? Do you have the skills or are you willing to learn the skills to do it well? Do you need results quickly, or do you have a runway for it to build? Are you doing it as a way of avoiding something else in your business?

There are no wrong answers, nor should there be any shame or guilt involved in your decision.

What could you do instead?

If you aren’t going to use social media, or it isn’t going to be a main part of your strategy, you still have thousands of other options. You can absolutely grow a successful business without social media if you want to.

I won’t list all your options here, but these are some examples to get your ideas flowing:

· Affiliates/Partnerships/Joint Ventures — this is where other people promote your stuff. One client had her best year ever in business in 2021 selling through webinars, and over 75% of her sales came from affiliate partners. She paid a commission for each sale, but she had the added benefit of growing her email list exponentially in the process.

· Referrals and Repeat Clients — they get a bad reputation because they can be unreliable and unpredictable, but if you sell high-ticket, high-touch services, you can absolutely build a waitlisted business with referrals. One of my clients who is an interior designer doesn’t do any marketing, but she is consistently getting enough referrals and repeat business to keep her busy.

· Google AdWords — one of my clients compared Facebook advertising to Google AdWords, and consistently got better leads for her business through Google. She experimented, tested, and measured so was able to make an informed decision. She is still using many other social platforms to get the word out, but advertising didn’t make the cut.

· Podcast Guesting — you don’t need to have your own show, but you can grow your own audience quickly by being a guest on other shows. Lots of my colleagues have found success doing this, and they’ve also become much better at explaining their work because they’ve gotten to practice it lots and hear what kinds of questions come from it.

· Content Creation and Outreach — these are my go-to strategies for 2022 that work very well together. I write articles about questions that come up (just like this one), then when I connect 1:1 with people I can share what I’ve been writing. It feeds back into itself because then I write about topics that come up in my 1:1 conversations. When people look me up, they can see what I’m all about.

· Using Existing Networks — a friend of mine is studying to be an art therapist and she asked if she needed to start using Instagram even though she really didn’t want to. I helped her brainstorm the communities she was already a part of and who already see her as an expert, and now she has lots of ideas for how to leverage those communities to get clients.

Very few things in entrepreneurship are requirements, and social media is no exception. I firmly believe that every business owner can have their business exactly the way they want, they just need to figure out what that is. You can create a business that fits with your values, your lifestyle, your talents, and your curiosities. It might take some creativity, but don’t give up!

If you’d like to discuss what business model and marketing strategies you need to build the business of your dreams (I know, so cheesy), let’s talk. Every business is as unique as the entrepreneur who runs it, and you should be treated as such. Book a gift session and I can point you in the right direction.