By Diane M. Calabrese / Published July 2018
New? No. Privacy killer? No. Free lunch? No. Useful? Yes. That’s the short introduction to social media.
Except for lending speed and ease to forming ties via the virtual world, there’s nothing genuinely new about social media. The quest for companions of all sorts— business to romantic—is as old as our species. (The word social derives from the Latin for companion.)
Absent an electronic world, girls carried and filled one another’s friendship and autograph books, which were candidly called gossip books. Boys traded baseball cards and ideas. Adults played bridge and golf while they talked business and politics and more. As for venturing into social media sites to find a romantic partner, people took just as big a risk when using magazine ads, matchmakers, and the U.S. mail to do the same.
Privacy has been dead for a very long time. It was not killed by social media. It was killed by human nature, specifically the thirst to know more about the lives of others. Silk Road travelers, medieval serfs and vassals, and explorers—choose anyone from any point in time—all contributed to the death of privacy.
Although social media may encourage more individuals to self-disclose, people have always been curious about the lives of others. They satisfied curiosity by sifting through open records, such as property and voter registration in many states, and newspaper articles. In the medical sphere, HIPAA is the fantasy; signing a waiver that allows medical data to be shared as the provider wishes is the reality. Any person concerned about privacy should leave the planet.
Well, at least it’s free. To reiterate, there is no free lunch. No-cost social media platforms extract an indirect price from users. Facebook received more than its fair share of blame in this context. Data trading is huge business among all the networking sites. But according to Dreamgrow (April 2018), Facebook is by far the most popular networking site, with 2.2 billion users. YouTube is second with 1.5 billion, and Instagram is third with 800 million.
Social media are useful in all sorts of ways, however. (Wondering if an artichoke can be microwaved? It can. Just use a search engine like Google and the answer is there in seconds—eight minutes, upside down in several ounces of water.)
Political campaigns have taken off thanks to social media. The failed presidential campaign of Vermont’s former governor, Howard Dean, initially got a big lift from Meetup, which now ranks number 15 among the 15 most popular networking sites.
What can social media do for a business? A great deal.
Fred Griffith, the owner of Demand Clean LLC in Charlotte, NC, endorses social media with unqualified enthusiasm. His fleet-washing company serves customers within a 150-mile radius of his base. Yet, he values the information he can exchange with a much larger, global circle.
Prior to starting his company in 2015, Griffith sold trucks and trailers. As for any trepidation about fully exploiting social media, he advises others that it is misplaced concern. “I have promoted our business on just about every social medium out there,” says Griffith.
Facebook seems to be the site most likely to connect to people you already know, says Griffith. “LinkedIn seems to be a broader scale. I’m able to connect to people outside my circle, including internationally.” He got one customer based on a referral from someone far outside his service area—someone he had gotten to know on LinkedIn.
“I am 54 years of age, and I have welcomed social media and instantaneous communication,” says Griffith. “I learned a long time ago—if your business isn’t going to change, you’re going to go out of business. I welcome competition instead of running from it.”
Aim to be the best, explains Griffith, and there will be no margin for worries about the competition. Using social network sites, he tries to find people he can talk to regarding real business issues. “I want to learn about insurance costs, fuel costs, chemicals, and more.”
Griffith also belongs to a group that shares books with one another—a form of benchmarking that benefits all. It’s not exactly open books to all, but more of what we can learn by sharing. For instance, are all insurance premiums increasing by the same amount? If not, what accounts for the difference?
“LinkedIn seems to be a little more business oriented in terms of connecting with decision makers,” says Griffith. “I still promote on all forms of social media because it’s a free form of advertising. LinkedIn is a good way to connect to others in the industry.”
Facebook is Griffith’s choice for industry-specific discussions. He can find others with businesses just like his.
Griffith participates in subgroups discussing everything from how long it takes to wash a truck—perhaps it can be done faster—to chemicals that work best. “It’s the type of group where you get out of it what you put into it,” he explains.
Robust growth characterizes Griffith’s company. Contractors, distributors, and manufacturers are all making significant gains by using social media to reach new customers and to provide existing customers with fast access to supporting documents and technical information.
With so many popular social networking sites, how does a business decide where to commit the most time? Determine which gives the greatest return on your investment of time.
“Our company has seen a tremendous boost in sales from Facebook advertising and the networking associated with Facebook,” says Kimberlee Handl, president and CEO of North American Pressure Wash Outlet LLC in Gainesville, GA. “The Messenger app within Facebook allows instant access to staff members so that questions and concerns can be answered nearly 24/7/365. And many of those contacts lead to sales.”
Handl says that YouTube is the next most valuable medium to her company. A former teacher, she appreciates the way YouTube enables viewers to see, hear, and read information, thereby accommodating different learning styles.
“Our business originated in 2011 with an e-commerce website,” explains Handl. “Social media was around at that time, but it wasn’t being utilized to generate sales in the manner in which it is used today.”
Being able to give customers what they want requires a carefully crafted social media presence. Handl says customers want to understand her company’s culture, they want access to company representatives, they want video, and they want it all now.
Different platforms are used in different ways to provide information, an approach that avoids redundancy. Facebook is used for paid advertisements and Instant Messenger, explains Handl. YouTube is used for how-to videos with connections to product manufacturers. Pinterest is used for product pins, and Instagram highlights the company’s culture (including Harry, the company cat).
General product advertising and blog posts go to LinkedIn, while shares and retweets of relevant industry news go to Twitter, says Handl. Google+ is used for general product advertising posts.
“Our business model has had to adapt to the time schedule”—around the clock on which the sites function, says Handl. “We utilize programs like Hootsuite to help us manage general advertising posts and blogs.”
Handl’s company gets an assist from the social media management site, Hootsuite, and it relies on information from its e-commerce host to determine how and where to invest time. (Falcon and Loomly are two other social media management sites.)
“Our e-commerce host provides us with detailed analytics regarding social media and sales conversions,” says Handl. More information is obtained from Google Analytics. “We can follow a customer’s path from start to finish and analyze it.”
Connections made through social media have resulted in some fascinating sales. “We have had some unique customers, like SeaWorld, NASA, and Enbridge Energies,” says Handl. “SeaWorld in San Diego needed a surface cleaner to clean their large fish tanks. NASA was searching for pump-up sprayers that would last using strong chemicals. And Enbridge Energies was interested in on-site training for their employees who were using sewer jetting equipment.”
For all the positives surrounding social media, maintaining a presence is time consuming. Participation has the potential to be intrusive, infringing on one’s personal life, explains Handl. “With the rise in popularity and usage of Facebook and Messenger, it is difficult to literally get a minute alone,” says Handl. “Customers or potential customers will send a message, and if it isn’t responded to immediately, additional messages are then sent. It happens sometimes we are unavailable. We will respond to our messages, but sometimes it has to be on our time.”
Etiquette is a dated term and almost a quaint notion. Yet there’s a need for some restraint in the domain of social media.
Handl recommends that even the most ardent participants in social media set some limits. She suggests not responding to messages while on vacation or during family dinner. She also recommends not being involved in social media while in private spaces. (And she concedes she has on occasion not followed her own advice.)
Social media, summary: Here to stay? Yes. With changes? Yes. Will privacy settings ever be absolute? No.