Why social media marketing doesn’t work for SME’s

The rise of social media is a revolution that has put the power of understanding and awareness into the hands of those that participate and I doubt there’s a business on the planet that hasn’t been told at least once, and probably dozens of times, they should be using it to promote themselves.The first couple of times they’ll dismiss the suggestion as absurd because they don’t have the time and anyway their customers aren’t on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. But the more times they hear how easy it is to set up an account on XYZ network, the more they’ll get sucked into a swirling vortex that eventually compels them into action.

So they head off to their chosen place, create an account and put up a page or a profile and they sit back and wait. And they wait, and they wait, and they wait. After a few months of just sitting and waiting they rock back on their heels and say ‘it doesn’t work for me’. And they’d be right.

By contrast, a small group have heard that social media marketing is not quite as simple as creating your account or putting up a profile. They’ve heard that you actually have to take action and share things or ask people you know to join you. They spend their time sending connection requests, following people and putting out a daily update. After a few months of doing all this ‘stuff’, they rock back on their heels and say ‘it doesn’t work for me’. And they’d be right.

Let’s be honest, most businesses join the social networks for one reason, they want to increase sales. To do that they figure, quite rightly, they need to let more people know they exist and they need to tell more people what they sell. And that’s where the problems begin because they fail to realise that social networks are not sales platforms. They are just a single part of a holistic system that works in conjunction with, and not separate from, the rest of their business and its marketing activities.

Why do things go wrong?

  1. The first thing that usually causes a problem is the lack of a strategy to determine which of the millions of people they could be talking to are the ones they should be talking to. This knowledge is essential if SME’s are to avoid wasting precious time they don’t have, doing things that don’t work.
  2. They have forgotten that we all buy from people, companies and even corporates we already know, like and trust. As a result the updates they put out forget that most readers probably don’t yet don’t know them, let alone like or trust them.
  3. Their existing website is set up only to tell people about the business, or capture and convert sales by exhorting visitors to ‘buy now’ or ‘call for a quote’. The lack of a nurturing process means that those who aren’t ready to buy will quickly leave, never to return.

What could they do?

  1. Just because I buy a tin of beans from company X doesn’t mean I’d buy the same tin of beans from company Y. There are many reasons for this which could include convenience, price, staff I like or dislike, ambience, loyalty or other associations I have with the company. The first thing an SME new to the social networks needs to do is work out what makes them different from their competitors. When they know that, they can make a much better assessment of who their likely online audience will be.
  2. Now they know that most people reading their status updates probably don’t even know who they are means they can change what they share so it demonstrates an understanding of their target customer needs. In this way, they both introduce themselves AND show expertise along the way. That’s the reason savvy online marketers talk about ‘3 Things To Do With Beans’. Readers know exactly what they’ll get when they click the link and, if they have this problem this is where it will be solved. Over time, and if they are consistent, their audience will come to not only know them but like and trust them as well.
  3. Instead of being an information site that tells a visitor about the business, their website becomes an information site designed to make a visitor’s life easier. It becomes a repository of all the useful information they share on the social networks set up so that people can leave comments or ask questions. No one is forced to make an immediate buying decision; instead, they are nurtured along the path to purchase.

Of course, the problem with this approach is that it takes time; time to put together the necessary elements, time to build an interested audience, and time to develop the relationships that fuel it. And time is a commodity precious to the SME as it’s something they never have enough of. But by doing things right in the first place it can be time well spent as an investment in their future.

If you are an SME that’s investing ‘time’ in social media activity it would be great to learn more about which actions are resulting in the greatest return on the investment of that time.

Image: La Liberté guidant le peuple; Eugène Delacroix; 1830

Please note: I originally posted this article on my LinkedIn profile 7th March 2014.

Leave a Reply


  1. And that’s a really good observation Claire. Ultimately, when it comes to technology it’s there to benefit a human at some point down the line. We don’t have tech for tech’s sake, although it can feel like that occasionally 🙂

  2. A very helpful article, thank you, Linda. It is good to be reminded that it serves to use a website or social media with the visitor in mind not the wishes of the entity – a bit like being human, really!