Why Companies Fail at Social Media and What to Do About It


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Why do so many companies fail at social media? You see them all over the Web, Twitter accounts that were going gangbusters and stopped suddenly, LinkedIn Company Pages with two updates from 10 months ago, websites with one lonely blog post...they all look kind of sad and pathetic, like one of those Old West ghost towns. In my experience, failure at social media comes from one or a combination of these three reasons:

Social Media is Counterintuitive to Salespeople

Sales executives should embrace social media more than anyone in a company, but this usually isn’t the case. Done well, social media is a means of communicating a company’s story to a wide network of people, raising awareness and credibility amongst prospective customers, and solidifying the company as a viable option for when a prospect needs the company’s product or service. Social media is a way of planting hundreds of seeds. You don’t know which ones will grow and when. but you tend to them and nurture them and the opportunities will come.

Sales executives hate social media because it goes against the traditional sales ethos: Being a hunter. They get the heebie-jeebies at the idea of being a farmer. It’s not macho, it’s so...passive. Which brings up the second problem.

Using Social Media Gives the Buyer the Power

Social media is in tune with the way purchasing is evolving. The Internet has given all of us almost unlimited power to research purchases. The Internet is being used to answer two fundamental questions: “What is available?” and “Which company is good?” As a purchaser or user of a product or service I don’t have to rely on advertising or vendors finding me, I can go find them. The Internet is a trade show that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And social media is the trade show booth. Buyers can now use social media to research and follow companies that are industry leaders; that is, those companies that use social media to provide answers to the questions a buyer has. And when it is time to actually start the purchasing cycle, those buyers will invite the companies they have come to know and trust to participate. I have even seen several examples of companies just inviting one vendor they have followed on LinkedIn to bid for their business. They invite the one company they know, like, and trust, and the sales reps from other vendors are politely told that there are no opportunities.  

Social Media is Not Easy

Everyone is looking for a quick fix, a short cut, a silver bullet. It is part of our culture. Just because the idea is simple, doesn’t mean it is easy. My father was a doctor and he used to say that to lose weight all you had to do was eat less and exercise more. Simple, but not easy.

A good example is LinkedIn. For B2B companies, LinkedIn is the Holy Grail: Every possible customer a company could ever want uses LinkedIn. LinkedIn can be used to find prospective customers, figure out who is who at those prospects, introduce yourselves to them, and develop relationships with them--an incredible tool. But to use LinkedIn really effectively there is a reasonably hideous learning curve. I know, I went through it four years ago--things like searching for people who used PCBs bringing up people who worked for Pacific Coast Bank or were fans of the Pakistani Cricket Board. It takes a while to figure out how to do these things right the first time.

So what can companies do to get around these problems? Two things: Education and better goal setting. Companies need to have a really good idea of what can and can’t be done using social media. There are lots of different social networks and there are lots of things that can be done with those social networks. Figuring out what is possible and how those possibilities work is the first step. The second is to apply that education to setting realistic goals. Saying you want to triple sales in the next three months may not be realistic. But…you never know, tripling sales in the next five years just might be. Bruce Johnston is a sales consultant specializing in social media and especially LinkedIn. He has over 25 years experience in high-tech sales and management. He can be reached at brucej@practicalsmm.com or through his profile on LinkedIn.

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