Social media marketing has reached a point where it’s as commonplace in retail as cash registers and coupons. However, social media is just one marketing option among many. To automatically jump into social media and devote valuable resources to it is a mistake — especially given the fact that retail margins are thin to begin with and cannot afford even an ounce of excess weight pulling them down.
Here, then, is the argument against social media marketing. Perhaps this is not a popular view, but one worth considering, if for no other reason than to force you to justify your social media campaign.
Social media is a time suck
The appeal of social media, particularly to small and midsize retailers, is that it requires very little cash investment. Platforms are free and easy to join, and all it takes is someone’s time and attention. But businesses almost always underestimate the gargantuan amount of time required to get serious social media traction. Building a community of several hundred relevant, engaged users on Facebook or Twitter can take months — and turning those users into website traffic, foot traffic and/or sales can take much longer.
What’s more, social media management requires ongoing, and in some cases, 24/7 attention. If a business fails to respond quickly to comments and questions, never comments on or shares other posts, or simply runs the whole campaign using automated tools, the chances of building a devoted community drop to about nil.
The question for retailers is this: Can the time devoted to social media marketing be better applied elsewhere? What is the return on my investment on social media compared to what it might be for other forms of online or offline marketing?
More direct routes to revenue are available
If the retailer’s goal is more website conversions or foot traffic, social media is the long way around the barn. Other online and offline options are available with a more direct and meaningful impact on these goals. For example:
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising gets a retailer to the top of Google instantly. With the right ad, offer and landing page, results can come quickly and the ROI of the campaign can be measured to a “t.”
Email marketing is proven and popular — and effective with the right strategy. Email can be used to distribute coupons, announce sales, introduce new items and other messaging points that inspire conversions.
Sponsorships work very well, especially for local retailers that support local charitable causes and community events. Besides getting free, positive online and offline press, sponsorships build strong brand affinity that a tepid social media presence will never match.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a long-term proposition, but the payoff can be huge. When a retailer is prominent on Google in organic search, those search engine users see credibility, reliability and popularity — attributes of your business that inspire people to do business. When people are searching online with local intent, they are usually in the market now. And, with more people searching for local companies on mobile devices, SEO becomes more promising than ever before.
We could have discussed 14 options, but these are enough to make my point. In addition to being more directly tied to conversions, these four options have other advantages.
Email and PPC are flexible and easy to ramp up and down. Don’t like the results? Change the strategy, change the tactics, pull the plug instantly. Love the results? Expand the budget, and ROI will increase. Social media, in contrast, takes an ongoing, time-intensive effort, and results are hard to measure.
Sponsorships and SEO are long-term campaigns, similar to social media. However, sponsorships and SEO are proven strategies for retail marketing. Social media sites come and go. While Facebook and Twitter are hot today, who can say with certainty whether they will exist in their present form five years down the road? Google’s dominance and the entrenched habits of search engine users make Google a much safer bet. Sponsorships — they have been around as long as business has been around. Another safe bet.
Think it through
Spreading marketing resources too thin is a major problem for any small or midsize retailer. Without a critical mass of investment in time and/or money, results will never come. This makes dabbling dangerous! The smart approach is to evaluate all of the top options carefully, test them in a controlled way, and then settle on one, two or three options that show the most promise. If social media turns out to be one of the chosen few, that’s terrific — you’ve found a way to succeed where many others have failed whether they admit it or not.