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Grow Your Business Social Media

Reality Check: 5 Things Social Media Can’t Do


This article is part of week-long series of social media stories, which you can read by clicking here .

Social media and our interactions with it have changed the way we relate to each other, how we conduct business and even the way we talk. The words “friend,” “tweet” and “check in” have taken on entirely new meanings in the past few years.

But for all the value these communications tools offer, you should think twice about relying too heavily on social media as a replacement for doing things the old-fashioned way via one-on-one face time.

While social media can be used to bolster your existing marketing and customer relations program, there are five big things it can’t do.

Read body language

While the field of nonverbal communication has only been a recognized form of study for the past 20 or so years, its findings are powerful. Researchers at Duke University studied investor earnings calls and found that nonverbal cues that detected anxiety in the speaker were predictive of the company's future stock market performance.

Linguistic research has also proven that deceptive speech has fewer first-person and third-person pronouns, and contains more negative words. When a person is not telling the truth, they also tend to speak faster, hesitate and give longer answers.

Social media misses all of these important clues, and more. For Zele Avradopoulos, professional organizer and owner of ZOrganize, relying solely on social media creates a business blind spot to what is perhaps the most powerful tool she can offer her clients: sensitivity.

That’s because her services are often needed when a person is going through a major life change such as a divorce, death or a child entering or leaving the home.

“It doesn’t matter if I have the best website, Twitter every day, Facebook my friends, blog the night away ... if my prospective clients don’t meet me in person and we don’t click, they don’t become clients,” said Avradopoulos.

Furthermore, social media allows people to share their “idealized” versions of themselves, but does not necessarily represent their real thoughts, feelings and emotions that can make or break a business relationship.

Express your core values as a businessperson

How important are core values? Ask Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. He built his wildly successful business on the foundation of ten of them, according to Zappos' company site.

Among them, Hsieh touts the value that that “passion and determination are contagious.” Aside from typing in all caps, and posting every inspired thought you have (which are social media “don’ts”), your genuine, heartfelt enthusiasm for your business is nearly impossible to convey when relying on technology alone.

Perhaps most surprising of all is that Zappos, a brand recognized for having mastered the art of social media, firmly abides by a customer experience commitment founded on old-school customer service. Part of what has made the company so successful is its commitment to always being present for customers. It is contactable every day of the year, at every minute. Sales staff responses are not scripted, and customers are encouraged to call and interact with a real human being.

Isha Edwards, who teaches business communications at Clayton State University’s Center for Continuing Education and is a brand marketing consultant for EPiC Measures, said that social media is not a cure-all for businesses.

“Keep in mind that social media is not a panacea for all communication. It is just one of many means to an end," Edwards said. "When weighing how to communicate the intrinsic aspects of a product or a brand, consider the pros and cons of each social media platform as well as their ability to reach a specific target audience while supporting core values."

Establish your brand

In October 2010, Mashable recognized the brands most engaged in social media: Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Oreo, Skittles and Red Bull. However, social media is not the only way these companies work to develop their brand.

Social media can provide great value to small businesses. The tools offer an easy, affordable way to stay in front of your clients and be a part of industry conversations. But experts advise that it just can’t be the only way — social media must be part of a well-crafted and actively managed strategic communications plan.

“Social media has provided most businesses with amazing opportunities for branding…but if the brand is not managed at a strategic level, these social media efforts can lead to brand chaos and confusion in the marketplace,” said
Stephanie Hackney of Branding Masters.

Although it may be tempting to rattle off tweets and posts and call it a day, social media requires an investment and commitment, just like traditional marketing channels.

John Crawford, academic chair of the marketing department at Lipscomb University, elaborated on the importance of strategic communications in social media. “Adequate resources must be devoted to the use of effective social media…a firm will still have to use the time and talents of staff to first of all attract a base of recipients and then keep that base active by keeping them engaged and interested," Crawford said.  “If a firm is not careful to create new and exciting material for readers to access, the initial momentum gained can be lost.”

Expand opportunities to their full potential

Back in 2004, when the word “tweet” conjured up the image of a bird and Facebook was just for college kids, Entrepreneur magazine published an article called “10 Ways to Grow Your Business.”

Among the tips were to expand to other locations or channels, partner or acquire other businesses, offer franchise opportunities, and form alliances. Despite the technological evolution of the past seven years, the advice still rings true, and is rooted in one key principle: relationships.

Jeanne Callahan, director of The Center for the Advancement of Business Leadership and Entrepreneurship for Women at the Women's College of the University of Denver, believes personal relationships are key to building a business.

“In regards to financing the launch or expansion of a small business, it is important to cultivate relationships with banks and lending institutions by attending networking events and through one-on-one meetings and phone calls,” Callahan said. “Using social media tools might be effective to identify potential contacts, but it won't replace the interactions that will create the relationship and ultimately close the deal.”

New social media trends such as crowd funding have mistakenly led some entrepreneurs to believe that financing no longer requires relationships.

Thursday Bram of Hyper Modern Consulting shared her experience with businesses who have attempted to raise capital through social media methods.

“Successful crowd funding needs the coolest idea you've ever had — something that everyone wants to be involved in. It also requires a business model where it's easy to reward your funders (such as by giving them the first product made),” Bram said. “For the average business owner, finding capital requires taking the old-fashioned approaches, like taking a loan from the bank or bootstrapping the business.”

Replace old-fashioned employee communications

Successful brand building requires that internal staff buy into the message and pass it on to customers through experience. On the surface, Yammer — a social media tool created with the intention of joining a company's employees together in a private and secure social network — should do nothing but great things, right? It certainly has some positive aspects — it promotes idea exchange, information-sharing and serves as a virtual solution to the proverbial “open-door policy.”

But, like all social media tools, it also requires constant management and monitoring.

“A firm cannot jump in and out of the use of social media — it requires constant attention to constantly create and edit new material and to respond to comments of recipients,” said Lipscomb University’s Crawford.  He also warned that social media marketing is a two-way communication, and those that respond may not always respond in favorable or accurate ways.

Advances in social media have changed the face of marketing and can be a powerful resource — particularly for small businesses and entrepreneurs with limited resources and budgets. But the key to effective social media use is remembering that like any communication that represents your company, it must be strategic, understood by all users and managed relentlessly. And sometimes sharing a simple cup of coffee with a customer, prospect or peer, will tell you a lot more about your business than a tweet or post ever could.