Do Small Businesses Need Facebook Fans?

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Everyone wants a social media audience and usually that means a Facebook audience first and foremost, but nobody really knows just how much that Facebook audience is worth to their business. It's not surprising that most small businesses fall into this category, but if the results from the 2013 Social Media Marketing Report from Social Media Examiner is any indication, even people working for large corporations aren't sure how much their Facebook marketing efforts are affecting their company's bottom line. Astonishingly, over half of those surveyed in this report said they didn't know or were doubtful that their use of Facebook was productive for their business. 
There's some really interesting data in that report, but keep in mind that it's not a scientific study so I wouldn't make too much hay over any of the exact findings, but we didn't need a survey to tell us that it's hard to put a unit of value on getting a "Like" on Facebook. It's good to get a lot of Likes, but how good is it? Is it worth putting a lot of time and resources into if you're a small business and you have to prioritize how you spend your limited marketing resources? 
Too frequently a social media strategy for a small business consists of conducting a "Like Us" on Facebook campaign or a "Follow Us" on Twitter campaign without a sound plan to bring that effort full circle into actual business once they gather those votes of approval. This strikes me as someting of a Yellow Pages mindset that worked for yesterday when simply having a big display ad on a page was going to bring in some business. 
Merely being more noticeable than your competitors worked for the Yellow Pages, but it also works for early adopters of any medium that suddenly sees explosive growth. If you had a website in the mid-90's, it didn't have to be very good or well thought out for it to be effective. If you were early enough, you could probably count the number of competitors you had online with one hand. Two dimensional strategies are good enough when amateur leagues are the only leagues around. 
The competition becomes technology savvy faster and faster these days and for small businesses that need to maximize a limited investment into social media marketing, it's important that they focus on using social media products that play to their strengths and comfort level. For example, if you know that you're not going to be coming out with updates more than once a month, Twitter is not the right choice as your primary social media channel because you'll never keep your audience engaged posting so infrequently. Facebook probably won't be ideal either though you should at least have a page up. A better option for the infrequent communicator might be a blog paired with an email list that will allow the person to notify his or her fans when new updates are available. 
Social media is an important and valuable tool, but only if you're using it right and only if you're using it in a way that improves your bottom line so if your social media efforts are lukewarm and the results even less exciting, you may not be losing anything if you divert more of your energy into tried and true ways of making your customer happy. After all, a happy customer is one that is likely to be spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and other channels anyway.  
My favorite technology thinker, Douglas Rushkoff, wrote an excellent book titled Get Back in the Box where he critiques that our society has become a culture that reaches for fashionable answers even when what's really need is a renewed focus on the basics and the things that made something great in the first place. In it he cites some examples of some once great companies who make the mistake of thinking that the reason why their brand is falling behind is because their marketing is not edgy enough when their real problem is that their products suck.
I have a personal example of getting good results from willful social media negligence. Along with a friend of mine, I run an outdoor movie series every summer in my town. The movie series lasts ten weeks and shows one movie every Friday night. It's the kind of thing that is tailor made for a cultivating a social media audience, yet I didn't even have a Facebook page. I'm not proud that we had virtually no social media presence of our own doing. It's actually very embarassing for someone like me to have virtually no social media presence for a project that I've been part of for almost ten years including four as the co-chair.
Every year, I plan to correct this embarassment, but running an outdoor movie series is a lot of work. I lose 100 hours ever summer directly to the movie series and probably a few dozen more are lost to disruptions caused by having to help lead a bootstrapped volunteer run movie series. The social media presence is something I want for my own ego and reputation, but what I really need are audiences, donations, and sponsors to cover our costs and help us build our profile year after year. As much as I'd like to satisfy my ego, feeding my vanity comes a distant second to putting time and energy into doing the things that improve the movie experience and make our regulars happy and coming back for more.
Now, to be honest, we do have a strong presence online. I have all of our information available online through a local website owned by the business association who hosts our movie series and we get some room all summer long in their email newsletters to invite people to come to our screenings. Our online presence is actually very high quality and we reach a very focused demographic. It's just not dependent on how many Likes we have on Facebook or how many followers we have on Twitter. I spent years getting these resources in place and building the relationships that make it possible. Although I wouldn't advise anyone else to do exactly what I did, it works very well in my case and each year when I run out of time and energy, I make the decision that I can wait a little longer to get that Facebook following that I've always wanted for our movie series.
In our case, we would love to have Facebook fans, but we don't need them (at least not yet).

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