Sam Holstein

Why Your Startup Doesn’t Need Social Media Marketing

Why Your Startup Doesn’t Need Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing (SMM) is one of those things many entrepreneurs think you can’t have a successful company without doing. One of the first things they do after filing their LLC papers and buying their domain name is reserving their social media handles.

Social media marketing makes intuitive sense. Nearly everyone in the world is on social media, and you can reach any segment of that population with just a few mouse clicks and cleverly worded posts, so why wouldn’t you be on social media? Tweets and TikToks can go viral overnight, and any entrepreneur would be foolish to miss out on that gargantuan opportunity… right?

I used to think the same thing. When consulting with startups to improve their marketing, one of the first areas I would target for improvement was their SMM. Their SMM was often lacking and it was an easy area to target for improvement. Clients loved it when I transformed their dated and cliched social media pages into beautiful and informative resources for their customers.

These days, I don’t worry about social media. I’ve been successfully running my own writing business for three years now, and I can count the number of social media posts I’ve made on one hand.

I don’t worry about SMM anymore because I realized in 99% of cases, SMM is a huge waste of time.

Social media marketing doesn’t drive sales

The promise of social media marketing is beautiful: Make a few free accounts on these high-traffic platforms, and the people on these platforms will be exposed to your wonderful product/service. They will see how your product/service can enrich their lives and happily buy. (If you make a post that’s funny or informative enough, it will go viral, and even more people will buy).

It’s a beautiful promise, but that’s not how it works in reality.

  1. Social media posts have abysmal conversion rates. We’re talking 0.03%. To make a significant profit on a social media post, anywhere from ten thousand to a hundred thousand people have to see the post. For a social media post to drive sales in any significant way, they have to go viral.¹
  2. Only a fraction of the best social media posts go viral. In five years of posting to social media accounts three times a day, you’ll be lucky to see ten viral posts. That’s roughly one viral post per several hundred posts.
  3. Every single post, viral or not, takes time to make and publish. Posting 3x a day (which is considered the bare minimum) takes around 5 hours a week. If we assume every one in one thousand of your posts goes viral, it will take you 235 hours of social media work to achieve one viral post.

Compare that to 235 hours spent doing something else.

This is the hard truth — social media marketing as a way to drive sales is not profitable.

Social media is not good for networking

“But wait!” you say. “I don’t use social media for sales. I use it for networking.”

Many people rely on social media for networking. Writers and journalists use Twitter especially to connect to other writers and stay on top of rising trends. Instagram is used heavily by photographers, videographers, travel bloggers, and all kinds of content creators to link up with one another. Facebook groups are the backbone of many professional networking organizations.

And in the age of coronavirus, they say, we can’t network in person, so online options for networking are more important than ever. And even in a world without coronavirus, we’d still need online options for networking with people who live across the country or on the other side of the world.

But quite frankly, I don’t agree. I have been networking online without social media for years now and done just fine.

Social media in the first place is not the greatest way to meet other people in your industry. Online networking platforms tend not to attract the most successful people; instead, they attract drifters who are more interested in marketing their startup than building itor people who are procrastinating and making excuses about work instead of doing it.The people who are really impressive and productive aren’t hanging around these open social media networking centers, they’re too busy making cool stuff.²

I don’t network online by going to social media groups. I do it by finding people whose work I admire and reaching out directly.

Although to be fair, I don’t really network online at all. Networking is usually a huge waste of time.

The thing about being great at something is that when you’re great at something, you don’t need to worry about finding people, because they’ll find you. When my first business made it into national news, I didn’t have to use any connections I’d made to write any press releases to get press coverage. People found my business online, thought it was good, and wanted to write about it. It was that simple.

Whenever I did get it into my head that networking, writing press releases, or doing other goofy things to politick my way into success, they ended in utter failure. The only true path to success is having a product worth talking about.

Now, as a writer, I don’t worry about networking, marketing, social media, or anything else. I focus on writing the best articles I can. This strategy is working for me; over time, I have been found by progressively bigger and bigger publications and been invited to join increasingly exclusive writers groups.

Whenever I catch myself thinking about how I could network more or how I could more cleverly market myself, be it by social media, email, or some other channel, I recognize it as an impulse to look for a shortcut. I tell myself “the best way to become a famous writer is to write things worth reading” and get back to writing.

Social media isn’t great for community building

Plenty of business leaders realize social media marketing isn’t great for driving sales or networking. The reason they want social media for their company is to “create a community” around their product.

Trying to “create a community” around your product is foolish for the same reason trying to network as an online writer is foolishIf your product is worth a community, a community will form around it naturally.You may make company social media accounts to participate in a community that already exists around your product, but you can’t create a community any more than a single person can “create” a party.

Look at all the great businesses with communities around their product. Patagonia leaps to mind. Patagonia marketing execs never sat down and said “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a community around our product?” No, they said “Wow, have you seen all those people talking about our product? Looks like we have a real community here.”

If you want a community around your product and don’t have one, don’t waste time on social media trying to drive people to your community. Make an online space for people to show up to if they want, but keep your focus on creating a product worth having a community around.

Ultimately, the reason social media sucks for business use is the same reason it sucks for personal use; the algorithm-driven feed is designed not to help people achieve particular personal goals, or take part in communities of their choice, but to continually drive more and more engagement (and ad revenue for the social media company) by preying on the emotional weaknesses of their users and using them to create behavioral compulsions. These practices are terrible for the end-users of social media, and they don’t help small businesses stuck in the middle either.

If you’re already experiencing success with your social media marketing, don’t listen to me. Keep up the good work. But if you are a small business owner who feels bad because they “should” be doing more on social media, or if you’re already grinding away at social media without seeing any results, don’t feel the need to double down on your efforts. Social media companies don’t exist to help your small business grow, they exist to drive ad clicks. So unless you’re running a social media ad campaign, don’t be surprised if you don’t get the results you were hoping for.