It’s OK not to have a social media strategy (really)

I have heard various product owners beating themselves up about how they don’t have enough of a social media presence. Well, I have been running a profitable one-man software company for the last 12 years and I am here to tell you that neither of my products have a social strategy worthy of the name – and that’s OK.

My seating planner software, PerfectTablePlan, has a Facebook page and a Google+ page. Whenever I publish a newsletter for PerfectTablePlan I publish a link to the newsletter on these sites (which is a few times per year). That’s pretty much it. My visual planning software, Hyper Plan, has an even smaller social media presence than PerfectTablePlan. To be honest the small amount I do on social media is intended mostly for the benefit of the mighty Google.

My forays into social media have not been encouraging:

  • I once sent out a newsletter to over 3000 opted-in subscribers and encouraged them to follow a newly created PerfectTablePlan Twitter page. Exactly 0 of them did.
  • I created a Pinterest page for PerfectTablePlan and paid someone to post to it for a few weeks. It generated a bit of traffic of questionable quality, but the traffic dried up as soon as they stopped posting.
  • I have tried paid ads on Facebook and Twitter and the results were miserable.
  • The PerfectTablePlan Google+ page has just 14 followers.
  • The PerfectTablePlan Facebook page got a miserable 4 views last week.

The question isn’t whether social media can bring you traffic, but whether that traffic will convert to sales and is social media the best use of your limited time? Social media is a productivity black hole and the opportunity costs of noodling around on Twitter should not be underestimated. Also various studies show that email still out-performs social media by quite a margin.

“E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined.” McKinsey

People go on social media to chat to their friends and look at cat videos. Not to buy things. They use search, Amazon and Ebay for that. When is the last time you even looked at an ad in the Facebook sidebar? Or clicked on a sponsored post in Twitter? Exactly.

Making an impact on social media is hard. 90% of tweets are not retweeted. And even the followers that are real humans may only be interested in discounts:

“The IBM Institute for Business Value found that 60-65% of business leaders who believe that consumers follow their brands on social media sites because they want to be a part of a community. Only 25-30% of consumers agree. The top reason consumers follow a brand? To get discounts – not exactly ideal for a company’s bottom line.” Forbes

A lot of the ‘engagement’ on social media is fake. You can buy 1000 Twitter followers for less than £10. The BBC advertised a fake business with “no products and no interesting content” as an experiment on Facebook and got 1,600 highly suspicious ‘likes’ within 24 hoursCopyblogger deleted their facebook page due to the amount of fake followers and the low level of engagement.

A thread I started on the Business of Software forum showed that many other small software product companies had tried and failed with social media. Why do you think you will fare better? Most software products just aren’t inherently social. There is a limit to how much you can usefully say, day after day, about seating planning. I could try and create a social media presence talking about the latest wedding and catering trends and try to sneak in some references to seating plans. But I would rather commit suicide with a cheese grater.

As a rule of thumb it might be worth putting serious effort into social media if yours is the sort of product people are likely to talk to their friends about down the pub. In that case social media may be able to usefully enhance your visibility and reach. But for the vast majority of software that doesn’t fit this description, you are trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. At the time of writing the pop star Taylor Swift has 74,638,154 Facebook likes. While Intuit, one of the world’s largest software companies, has 221,130 likes.

Next time somebody tells you that you must have a social media campaign ask yourself:

  • Is your product a good fit for social media?
  • Do they have an agenda, e.g. a social media tool, ebook or consultancy to push? Or an article quota to fill?
  • Have they produced any real evidence that a social media campaign translated into actual sales?
  • Is social media the best thing you could be doing with your valuable time?

Ignore any vague waffling about ‘engagement’. Nobody ever paid their mortgage with engagement.

10 thoughts on “It’s OK not to have a social media strategy (really)

  1. shobhitbakliwal

    Clear and to the point. I have a similar experience (although with mobile apps) with social media. I’ve been trying my best to get downloads/sales via SM but it never clicked. I gave up, thinking it’s not my cup of tea, and decided to focus on ASO (SEO for App/Play store) and that gave much better returns in one week than 2 months combined on Social Media.

  2. smcleod

    Spot on, Andy. I spent much time on a Facebook advertising campaign for Poker Copilot. This led to a large amount of downloads of the 30-day trial version, but as far as I could discern, no sales. And sales is really all I care about. Engagement, schmengagement.

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      To be fair I guess “engagement” has paid the mortgages of lots of pony-tailed “social media consultants” who would otherwise be teaching sociology or robbing old people.

  3. Lewis

    Thanks for sharing Andy – really interesting. It’s easy to get caught up in the social media hype; however, time is precious and need to focus on the core elements that make a profitable business. Agree that social media has it’s place, but definitely not suitable for all products. I’m an avid follower of your blog and appreciate all your business insight.

  4. Peter Van Hove

    Do get pages for your product and/or company name everywhere, just to make sure you have them and to avoid frustration later one should someone else start using them.

  5. Justin from POSLynx

    I hope you don’t mind my presenting a slightly different view here. I understand where you are coming from, and agree with a couple of your key premises:
    1. Social media can be a waste of time if you let it – and it isn’t worth switching over to it as a primary means of publishing your message.
    2. Any benefit from social media engagement is typically a ‘slow burn’ – therefore its hard to pinpoint a correlation between effort spent and direct income.

    However, I will say that social media can play a role in increasing product awareness and website traffic – and have seen it happen myself (I work in niche market software distribution and support). ‘Awareness’ is at the top of the marketing chain – whereas ‘conversion’ (the turning of leads into income) requires a different level of communication The flaw in your described ‘non-strategy’ is that it doesn’t account for the developer/business spending a small amount of time actively attempting to engage potential target markets or clients using their social media platform.

    For instance, if you spent half an hour searching for and ‘following’ other businesses in the market you are targeting, or related business associations, then your name/product would at the very least appear in their notifications. A percentage that receive that notification will look at your profile, and a further percentage of them will click on your web link. The upshot of this is that there are a group of potential clients that know about you and your product when they otherwise may not have.

    What makes searching like this somewhat time-effective is that social media platforms have decent search functions, and its easy to respond to search results (in simply following the resulting accounts). So in the aforementioned half hour, you may be able to connect with 30 – 50 target businesses that might be interested in your product. You are also more likely to get a connection response from businesses that are active in the medium, which is probably why sending out an email to ask the recipients to connect doesn’t work – the perception is that they are already connected. (I’ve seen this myself)…

    The other advantage of spending a small amount of time doing this is that there is a flow on effect when a percentage of your attempted connections do respond – in that your name/product/account then appears in the suggestions of others that are connected to your recent ‘followers’ – again increasing awareness.

    I’m not suggesting that this should take over as a primary means of marketing, but it does have a place. Will it directly result in increased sales? I don’t know – but if it increases product exposure, puts your product’s name out there and targets businesses that are already active in the medium – it might be worth a try.

    1. Andy Brice Post author

      >I hope you don’t mind my presenting a slightly different view here.

      Dissenting opinions are welcome.

      >For instance, if you spent half an hour searching for and ‘following’ other businesses in the market you are targeting, or related business associations, then your name/product would at the very least appear in their notifications.

      Perhaps. But it feels a bit dishonest if you know you are never going to read anything they tweet. Also it doesn’t look good if you do this from an account with no tweets. And that means taking the time to built up a twitter account for your product. Then you have to keep tweeting or it looks abandoned. It sounds like a lot of work.

      1. Justin from POSLynx

        Fair comment.

        I do wholeheartedly agree that social media can be a time waster if allowed to be, and if you feel that it doesn’t work for your market, its probably not worth getting into at all.

        But being involved in social media marketing involves buying in to the premise that engagement = awareness. But it doesn’t automatically lead to consideration and conversion unless you do something to take the conversation to those next levels – ie. providing content that is meaningful and seeking opportunities to switch over to a more meaningful form of communication. (No one signed a contract via Twitter)

        So yes, if you create a Twitter/Instagram account and put a couple of posts on there, and not go seeking connections to engage with, while hoping that those in ‘social media land’ that you do want to connect with will come and find you, then yes, you have wasted your time.

        The real question is: ‘Would you realistically find the same volume of potential customers in your target market and have an opportunity to let them get to know about your existence in another marketing forum (without far greater investment of time or money)?’ – eg. industry specific trade magazine advertising, researching email addresses and cold-emailing, or traditional snailmailouts.

        As far as feeling ‘dishonest’ – have you ever signed up for an eNewsletter and then just delete the emails without reading them? That’s pretty much the same thing. (In saying that, I do take the time to engage with those that have connected… but as you can tell, I do try and make social media marketing work for me.)

        In any case, you’ve got to be comfortable with the way you market – so as you said, if what you are doing works for you and it does put bread on the table (and seems relatively likely to continue to do so) – then great!

        By the way – I like your articles. Well thought out and written.

  6. garduino

    Your article put in exact words my own experience trying to boost the sales of PasswordsPro using social media, only a waste of time and resources and no conversions.

    At the time that I did the tries, from the around 1000 likes that I get in Facebook, they do not produced a single sale!!! All the sales comes from the traditional ways.

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