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When Building a Significant Social Media Following May Not Work

This guest post is by J. Steve Miller of Sell More Books!.

I studied the right books and attended the right seminars. I gave my strategy time. Yet, few followed my blog and I could trace scant book sales (my main reason for blogging) to my social media efforts. Could it be—dare I suggest—that building a social media following simply wasn’t the best use of my time, given my unique passions, strengths, subject matter, and goals?

Failing at social media

Image used with permission

Gathering a following works marvelously for some. But is there proof that it can work for everyone in every industry?

I think I’ve identified twelve such scenarios. Consider these three.

1. When time is limited

Like most debut authors, Danny Kofke has a day job and a family. To market his book, he wakes up early to use these precious minutes emailing media to suggest interviews. He links them to his one-page, static (no regular posts) blog, which functions as a press page, highlighting his past interviews, including USA Today and CNN. Readers and viewers can spread the word through their own social networks.

It works for Danny, given his personality, his topic (personal finance for school teachers) and his limitations. For Danny, pursuing a following would consume too much time.

J.R.R. Tolkien taught full-time and wrote after putting his children to bed. Had social media existed in his time, and if he spent that time on Facebook and Twitter, could he have written Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit?

2. When another marketing approach may work better

I know a restaurant owner who outsells all his fellow franchises. His secret? He spends hours away from the restaurant each day, building relationships with local businesses to promote his catering services. 

Imagine that his marketing time is limited to two hours. Could we tell him with any degree of certainty that he’d be better off spending those hours trying to build a following on social media? If so, based upon what evidence?

3. When your social media following will not likely be your customers

An agent urges her debut mystery writer to build a social media following with a blog. Her topic? Something to do with writing. Her competition? Thousands of writers competing for the same audience. Her challenges?

  • Who wants to follow a writer who’s not already successful?
  • Would her followers more likely be mystery readers (her target), or mystery writers?

So perhaps your dismal results don’t mean you’re a social media moron. Maybe people in your industry simply don’t want regular insights, or your target audience doesn’t tend to follow social media, or you don’t relish the research required to become a true thought leader.

Alternative social media approaches

If building a following isn’t working for you, consider a few of the principles that guide my personal book marketing strategy.

Consider quality over quantity

Sometimes I wonder if “the next big thing” just might be, well, “small.” Some gurus are cutting back, using Twitter and Facebook to connect with only their most valuable contacts—those they truly enjoy and learn from. In your case, could 150 significant Facebook friends trump 1,000 Facebook contacts who blabber incessantly about meaningless trivialities?

Let others praise you, rather than praise yourself

A Gallup study of over 17,000 social media users found that people don’t typically buy our products when we’re doing the selling. Instead, they trust independent experts and customer reviews. I find niche forums and offer free books for review, so that my Amazon pages are persuasive and the resulting fans can spread the word through their social networks.  

Go where people already gather, rather than gather a crowd around yourself

Shiv Singh, social media guru for PepsiCo, considers the holy grail of social influence marketing to be identifying and harnessing the influencers in your field. For my personal finance book, I found the top 200 personal finance blogs and offered a free book for review and another for a giveaway. My sales increased 300%, and the tactic was both cost- and time-effective.

Consider your strengths and passions, rather than assuming you can replicate any marketing scheme

A Gallup study of over two million people in the workplace suggested that we’re typically miscast in our roles. Instead, we should identify and concentrate on our strengths. If your strengths and passions incline you to blogging, Facebook and Twitter, you may do well building followings there. But if it’s a chore that you endure solely to sell your products, don’t be surprised if you make little impact. Choose methods that fit your unique passions and strengths.

Ideas? Objections? Experiences? Please interact with me below!

This is a guest post by J. Steve Miller, author of Sell More Books! and Social Media Frenzy:Consider These Alternative Social Media Strategies. He is president of Legacy Educational Resources, offering character and life skills resources to teachers and schools.

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Comments

  1. Jeanette says:

    This is great, I really like this spin on the subject. And I can relate to the part about Tolkien, too, it’s really hard to look alive at the same time as one writes a novel – AND blog to build a following, targeting the readers instead of the writers. I was planning to write on my own novel today, but ended up spending the night on Twitter instead of actually getting anything written. So, thank you for this – couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m logging off now. :)

    • Jeanette, thanks for your comment! I think many don’t realize the time that it takes to write a good book. I like to obsess on my books when I’m writing, which leaves little time for blogging, Facebook and Twitter. I use them all, but not to build a large following. In so doing, I’ve created a life that doesn’t require me to spend an hour or more per day doing social media. That allows me to obsess on writing while I’m writing a book. Between books, I can write guest posts, send copies to people for review, “go where people already gather,” etc. But none of these activities requires a significant ongoing, daily time commitment.

  2. Marc LeVine says:

    Wow! Great post Steve. This one may be a tough pill to swallow for some of us, who are passionate about Socia Media, yet struggling for better business results. The basic question is: what turns people on? Do you have to write a best seller and speak at several conferences to be worthy in this field? In other words, how high level must one be to be able to monetize a career as a Social Media Marketing consultant or other related role in which small businesses and others will seek you out for a paid effort?

    There are many barriers to success in this field that must be hurdled.

    Small businesses, in particular, are hurting and afraid to spend money to create or enhance their Social Media presence.

    Many businesses, of all sizes, can’t stomach the reality that Social Media Marketing success takes time and is hard to measure. So does PR, but because it is already established – it seems – that those folks get a pass that we may not.

    Many people still do not understand what Social Media is or how it works for business.

    There are so many challenges to grow a SMM consulting business that it gets discouraging over time. It’s our job in the field to carry the torch and enlighten people about what Social Media can do for them and that it is worth the investment when there is a wining strategy and strong execution.

  3. Great post, Steve. I really like the contrarian perspective on social media that you presented here. It’s always good to look at the opposite perspective of what the majority is saying.

    And I think that you’re right, for some there definitely might be a better use of their time than diving deep into social media.

    I especially like these two of your “Alternative social media approaches:”

    -Let others praise you, rather than praise yourself
    -Go where people already gather, rather than gather a crowd around yourself

    I’ve found that guest posting is a great way to do both of those things – directly and indirectly.

  4. David Sneen says:

    Social Media is very tricky. One can get lost in it very quickly. You list several examples of people who create strong businesses without using the online Social Media. For them, Social Media is overrated.

    You mention Twitter and Facebook as your 2 examples of Social Media. I am certain that I am not harnessing Twitter’s power effectively. But, I consider it to be a convention of spammers. I try to retweet 2 people a day–interacters with worthy content. Most days, I do not get retweeted, and I have 10,700 followers! I have 4x the interaction in Google+ with 352 people who have circled me.

    Could my Social Media time be better spent? …if you are using Social Media, you are always looking for a better way!

    • David, I think the answer to your question will be framed by questions such as:

      What are your strengths and passions?
      What’s your product?
      What are you trying to accomplish?
      What’s your industry?
      How much time do you have?

      I agree that this is a “very tricky” area, and one reason I liked Darren’s book ProBlogger so much was that he didn’t guarantee people, “Anybody can build a huge following and make thousands of dollars.” Avoiding the sensational, he was very objective and based his pronouncements on his experiences and the experiences of others.

  5. Wade says:

    This is a great post. I have never thought about this topic in this way.

  6. Hi Steve,

    Social media is as effective as the user. If you feel *fear* when using social networks, like you fear you don’t have enough time, and rush through relationship-building, then yep, you will struggle. If you use SM from a calm, confident relaxed frame of mind, you can build a loyal following of rabid fans, quickly. Keen points here.

    I wrapped up a social media webinar 10 minutes ago. I am a fan of SM because it provides me with a powerful tool to build trust. Now, I was never in a rush. Most people are. Which is why most people fail, because a desperate vibe is repelling. If you lack the time to do social media, don’t do it. Do something which vibes with you.

    You used JRR as an example – huge LOTR fan here ;) – but consider this: do you have the drive to create genius? If so, like JRR, ignore social media. Create like a fiend. If you do not have the drive to create like a fiend you better damn well build powerful, prospering connections through SM or some other channels.

    No matter what you do, it will take time. Be patient. Create value. Build connections through your medium of choice, whether SM or any other means.

    Thanks Steve!

    Ryan

    • Ryan,

      You said, “If you lack the time to do social media, don’t do it. Do something which vibes with you.” Key principles there that many forget. Most of us aren’t sitting around playing World of Warcraft for hours a day, so that we can’t pull an hour or two from nowhere. In a timeless world, we could add activities endlessless. But if I add something that takes 30 more minutes out of my meal, I might have to take it from my sleep.

      You also said, “…do you have the drive to create genius? If so, like JRR, ignore social media.” I’d just say that, from my experience in writing books, writings of genius are often ignored if the author doesn’t find some way to market it. Fortunately for JRR, his book was published by a traditional publisher who could get the word out for him. Today, whether traditionally published or self-published, if authors want people to buy their books, they need to get the word out. Social media is one subset of many ways for authors to get the word out about their books.

      For me, I’m using social media by doing things like guest blogs, so that others can spread the word on their social media platforms. The way I’m doing social media, it’s not necessary for me to tweet every day or blog several times a week. That works for me, not for others.

  7. I think you’re right- large followings are not everything but they are of course wonderful because it is a larger pool of people who may be interested in your cause or message. But in all social media you will find there are always a few core supporters who take up your cause.

    What social media does do is put a big spotlight on you and help others notice you who otherwise may not have. At least that’s true in my experience.

    • Lisa,

      I agree! That’s a great benefit of having a following. Some may cultivate a huge following, but others may be content with a smaller, yet significant following, that takes less time to retain and build.

  8. Chris Green says:

    I think the real problem with social media is that the success stories people have had when utilising facebook or twitter, pintrest, tumblr etc give the impression that it will work for everyone. However, just because you don’t have hours and hours a day to spend on the different social media it doesn’t meant you should not use them at all.

    Having worked with several different clients each using social media differently it is clear there are certain businesses which will benefit from it much more than others. If you don’t have thousands of contacts that’s fine if the hundred or so you do have are those real influencers.

    • Chris,

      You said, “I think the real problem with social media is that the success stories people have had when utilising facebook or twitter, pintrest, tumblr etc give the impression that it will work for everyone.”

      Yes, this is a big problem. People might say, “Look how Whole Foods grocery is profiting through use of social media. You can do it too!” Well, promoting whole foods is something that people love to blog and tweet about. Young mothers are passionate about feeding their kids right. There’s not a lot of controversy or animosity against buying whole foods. But what if you’re working for a bank chain that currently has a bad reputation? They can still use social media, but they need to be careful. Set up a Facebook “Page” or a forum and it may quickly (as it did for some) become a place for people to air their grievances, turning people off to your services.

  9. Robert Sake says:

    A different approach in social media, it’s just the way on how you use your time effectively to build a following. An alternative approach for advertising yourself and your product.

    The above-mentioned examples have perfected their way although they were not using a social media but the main point, make yourself always available for possible engagement with your prospects.

  10. Kris Costin says:

    Hi Steve, can’t be more agree with you.

    These days every businessman is pushing his marketing team to promote business on Facebook & Twitter. Business owners think Social Media is their key to get lots of online business overnight. But the fact is that it’s not true. Not for everyone.

    I am completely agree with Ryan on “If you lack the time to do social media, don’t do it.”

    Social media really wants a lot of time, patience and hard work. You can’t be successful overnight if you are not successful or popular already otherwise. Also having a large fan or follower base is never a guarantee to have a great loyal customer base.

    All the points, you mentions are true but the one I found most compelling is “Go where people already gather, rather than gather a crowd around yourself”.

    This one really helps most in the initial phase when you are yet to create an identity of yours. Following a successful blogger/twitter/facebook user in your niche and first making a strong presence there can help a lot in attracting people with less effort to your site.

    If you are a businessman and trying to figure out how social media works, check out your competitors doing well there. Study there strategies, develop your own “considering Consider your strengths and passions” ( I do agree with 4th point also) and work on it. Don’t expect results overnight.

    Besides this I really believe that tracking your social presence is as essential as its creation. These days we really have some good tools available in the industry to monitor our social campaigns and these tools can help a lot in making informative decisions to incorporate with the promotion strategy and thus one can always be ensure that he is moving in a right direction and having loyal followers/fans/friends who, most likely, are to be your potential customers rather than just being random visitors.

  11. Julian King says:

    Taking into consideration these trends, we should think outside the box in order to get above-average results. In addition, we are so caught in our work that we overlook simple things that could bring a new perspective. Therefore, it is quite useful to put ourselves in the shoes of a regular customer for our products.

  12. Gillian says:

    Great thought provoking post. I often turn away clients because I don’t think social media is right for them (they don’t have time or the money to pay for someone else to manage their content and social media presence) or it’s not right for their business but people are so hung up on having to use social in their marketing endeavours. Businesses (especially the larger ones) often overlook that social media is great for market research and for recruitment – it’s not just for marketing. And as some of you have already said – social media is not quick fix – it takes a strategy and then time and commitment – a marathon rather than a sprint.

    • Gillian, good points. Money is indeed another determiner. I’m a small-time business guy, writing books out of my home. If I don’t have time to write three blog posts a week, neither do I have the money to hire someone to do it. Doing occasionally guest posts, not to build my own blog following, but to help others and to unobnoxiously let people know about me and my books, works for me.

  13. Charles says:

    True, it is better to let others praise your product or your service than doing it yourself. This is one big mistake of many business owners employing social media as part of their marketing strategy. Why don’t you post testimonials or reviews of customers instead of praising your company?

    • King Solomon said it well, thousands of years ago: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.”

  14. Tracey says:

    Thank you for this great article. It is true that I’ll buy a marketing system that is advertised as “proven” and yet I’ll have no results. What this is really doing is taking the focus off me building my business, as I’m trying one scheme after the other. What works for some people, doesn’t always work for you.

    That is a big lesson I am learning. So thank you for helping explain, that it’s not just me. We all need to work on one marketing strategy and stick with that. Spacing yourself too thin, really does nothing for you or your business.

  15. Ayaz says:

    Hi Steve!

    Its been great post and certainly have lots of things here to learn and you mentioned it in great way and easily I loved this. Thanks for sharing usefull knowledge with us :-)

  16. laverneh says:

    This article was useful. I’m questioning my use of social media, Twitter in particular. I’m probably not using Twitter the best way. It seems ineffective. I’m not sure If I haven’t given it enough time, or if I just don’t have enough followers. This article validated my thought — to perhaps move away from Twitter, and look at other marketing methods. I especially like what you said… “Consider your strengths and passions, rather than assuming you can replicate any marketing scheme.”

    Now I don’t feel so terrified of moving away from Twitter, and I realize that if might be “okay” if I decide to do so. Thank you.

    • Laverneh, as far as I can tell, the logic often used (to convince us that everyone should use Twitter) goes like this:

      Premise 1: If a practice has enhanced someone’s business, all businesses should adopt it.
      Premise 2: Twitter has enhanced some people’s business.
      Logical Conclusion: Everyone should use Twitter.

      Of course, the flaw in this reasoning is that I could give you 1,000 distinct marketing practices that have helped people to sell their books (see John Kremer’s 1001 Ways to Sell Your Books), of which Twitter is just one of them. Should I then feel responsible to use all 1,000 of those practices, just because each of them worked for certain subsets of people with certain subsets of books?

      Much wiser to see Twitter as one of many ways, and to determine if it’s likely one of the priority methods you should use in your particular industry, with your particular product, using your particular set of strengths and passions.

  17. Love the article except for where it sounds like you are giving people the choice to be in socialmedia or not…there is no choice! Everyone needs to just find something to like about it and do it. The reward will come later.

  18. Thanks for the great read and a different perspective on SM.

    I find that each SM platform like Twitter, FB, LinkedIn, G+ has its own culture. So you have to be aware of this culture and decide if it clicks with your business. Also, you don’t get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses. You know, focusing on huge follower numbers rather than being there for your market. A large following doesn’t equate success. It could just end-up being a lot of noise and a time-sucker.

    But, I wouldn’t eliminate a specific platform until I’ve tested it for a while. Sometimes, you just have to look at it as “how can I use this tool to benefit my business” and go from there. If it doesn’t get anywhere, then drop it and move on to the next. You can always come back…

    All this just to say, we should put more thought into our what SM strategy best suits our business, because there isn’t a one size fits all.

  19. This is probably one of the best things i´ve read about when it comes to social media. It´s something i´ve been thinking about for a long time. Do i even want 100000 followers on facebook, twitter and whatnot. I´m not so sure about that anymore. I haven´t been in the social media sphere for such a long time and i actually started doing it for fun and to strengthen my written language, and i do enjoy it in that manner.

    I had a good talk about this with my wife the other night, does 100000 followers equal food on the table? I dont really think so in my case, at least not entirely. But i have a plan, and it´s for the long run, big things dont happen over night that often.

    Things takes time and i´m in no rush. I strongly believe in the old saying that good things come to those who work hard and are dedicated. I´ll have to wait and see if that´s true or not. ;)