When are businesses wasting time on social media?

Bruce WilsonInc.com recently published an article entitled “Social media is a waste of time” in which a social media expert offers advice to business owners about how to make the most of their social media investment.

But when is social media a waste of time? This is a tricky question, really. No business can ignore social media entirely, if only because they can’t risk having their reputation trashed behind their backs. Restaurants need to keep an eye on Yelp, for instance. At the very least, and if you’ve read this far this probably applies to you, you need to have a simple monitoring strategy like setting up an automatic search for references to your business, product, and/or person name(s) every day using Google Alerts.

And let’s not forget the community-building effect of social media on employees and potential recruiting benefits, which are strong but often overlooked reasons to invest in social media.

Businesses can’t afford to sink too much time into social media, either. Does a local bookstore really benefit from a Twitter account with a 67 Klout score if that translates into a significant chunk of employee (or owner) work hours and little or no revenue? Sounds like somebody is noodling around on company time to me.

Most very small businesses really only require someone who knows what they are doing who can regularly put a little time in, strategically monitoring, engaging, and publishing. This can be a difficult match for a lot of companies who don’t want to hire an outsider or divert an employee to work on something so amorphous seeming, but the alternative can be even more costly in terms of lost customers or damaged reputation.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, for pure “social media plays” like those insanely popular Zynga games on Facebook the whole POINT is wasting time! A social media commentator recently summed up the business case for Facebook in one sentence: “Come Waste Time With Me”.

Most companies can fuzzily justify supporting a consistent social media presence along the lines of attractive signage, comfortable lobby furniture, or even advertising — you can be certain it impacts your customers, and you will collect some positive feedback, even when you can’t quantify the benefits, exactly.

In addition to the Insights about interactions with Fans on your Facebook page provided by Facebook, check out SimplyMeasured’s free Facebook competitive analysis to compare the level of engagement on your business’s Facebook page to your competitors. It won’t tell you anything directly about ROI, but it will help you understand what’s “working” in terms of engagement, and maybe you’ll discover some good ideas you can borrow.

Of course marketing ROI is almost always a little tricky. The addition of social media to the equation just shifts the problem slightly and adds more complexity. On the plus side, the measurability (or potential measurability) of customer interaction via social media using a variety of mechanisms is tantalizing. When we speak of “social media” most of what we’re talking about relies on the Internet, which makes a surprising amount of information readily accessible to counting and sorting. Contrast clicks on an online order form that can be tracked back to a link in a particular Tweet, or to other social media campaigns, with the unknowable number of new customers attributable to the average billboard.

Experiment. Make a plan, measure results against expectations, adjust and repeat. You’ll be able to zero-in on how much or how little to put into social media marketing and find the right balance between wasting time and burying your head in the sand.

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