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 hours. Copyblogger 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.