“Has anybody figured out how to make money on here?”
I’ve run across people asking this question on Facebook and Twitter quite often, and the topic even comes up frequently offline.
Of course, this question isn’t coming from casual passers-by who’re just interested in reconnecting with their pals. The question of social media monetization belongs to the business people, the entrepreneurs who’ve logged on with blatant or subdued hopes of cashing in. And the question seems fair enough. After all, we’re spending lots of our time and energy on these sites. Will there be a pay-off…ever?
My quick answer is “no and yes.”
If the motive is the fast buck, good luck. I’ll risk repeating myself to say that social media is not an outlet for ceaseless strings of 140-character classified ads. If you deluge followers and friends with nothing but direct selling messages, you soon won’t have many followers or friends. Granted, that tactic can work when playfully carried out by the occasional local pizzeria or bakery (hourly updates about what’s fresh out of the oven go over nicely with hungry Tweeters, I suppose) or retailers offering exclusive deals (i.e. – Dell’s successful Twitter sales pushes).
Nonetheless, status is usually done for gratis.
I liken the approach to social media to that of public relations. In PR, we earn trust and presence with constituencies by bringing forth quality information and ideas on a consistent basis, offering pertinent and timely responses/input to current issues and substantively participating in communities. PR is about building reputation, and try as we might to assign exact dollar signs to the value of a great reputation, it’s pretty much priceless.
Still, it’s fair to presume a business with a great reputation would have sales that reflect its positive market perception. The dividends may not pay out in immediate, directly trackable and measurable ka-ching as would an advertising or direct marketing campaign, but the long term value is immense, impactful and important.
Social media lets companies be part of communities. Social media extends business’ presence into customers’ lives. It generates and facilitates conversation, connects friends old and new and adds dimension to what people know about a company. Ultimately, these things build attraction and affinity with a loyal audience that will take action (get a free white paper on this topic) by making purchases.
There will be pay-off, yes. But it will take time, patience and ongoing nurturing.
A recent Forbes.com article also delved into the idea of cashing in on social networking. The article features an interview with Brett Hurt, founder of Bazaarvoice. Bazaarvoice offers user-generated review platforms that can be incorporated directly into brand websites. The business model contends that people go to brand websites to buy, thus it’s beneficial to incorporate social networking at the point of purchase. Hurt likened participating in Facebook and Twitter to attending a cocktail party, with the punchline being that “nobody shops at a cocktail party.”
Very true. When people are mixing and mingling in their favorite social network, they probably don’t have their credit cards in hand. But they are trading ideas and information with friends and deepening relationships in real, though often subtle, ways. And in the business world, there are some pros who have the knack for working cocktail parties to their great advantage. A few biz cards collected at a networking event can lead to paying gigs down the road.
My friend and colleague Paula Swift, owner of Prosper, Business Image Consulting, is a perfect example. Just like Paula can work a cocktail party or networking event, she can work her presence on Facebook and LinkedIn. When she makes a connection online, she’s savvy to take note of the person’s occupation, and if things align, she simply takes the effort to inquire further about what they do. And now and again, that little extra effort pays off.
Paula recently reconnected with a school friend on Facebook and noted he works in the promotional merchandise business. She followed up by inquiring about ideas for promo items for one of her clients, just to keep in mind. Months later, Paula knew who to contact when a specific opportunity arose, and the entire transaction occurred within Facebook. Paula’s old friend from school landed an order, Paula was able to charge her agency commission, and thus, using Facebook really did pay off.
The great thing is, it happened organically. There was no intense hounding, spamming or pelting sales messages. Paula noted a professional synergy with a Facebook friend, the friend responded, and when the time was right, both benefitted from the connection.
Another phenomenal example of organic, social networking business combustion: Help A Reporter Out, the brainkid of Peter Shankman. Shankman is an NYC PR guy. He has many clients and knows tons of reporters, thus he launched a Facebook group to connect media in need of information with sources who could supply. All this is for FREE, mind you. The group exploded past Facebook’s allowable numbers, so Shankman shifted the burgeoning entity to his own website. In just a couple years, this group—still FREE for participants—is a profitable venture. Shankman sends three emails a day, chock full of media leads (you really should sign up!), with an amusing, paid ad at the start of each email. Shankman started by giving…and continues to give, but he’s certainly gained in the process.
That’s great news for Swift and Shankman, but what about the question at hand…for YOU? Is there any money to be made here? No and yes…
No, social media is not your marketing microwave, your online cash machine for new biz. You’ve got to invest for the long term and be willing to give to get. Yes, social media can nurture reputations and create and enhance relationships that pay out dividends in the long term. It’s not the be all, end all. Small businesses are well advised to invest in comprehensive marketing, including SEO, advertising, direct communications, traditional PR and in person networking and sales.
Growing a business offline or on, it’s still true that the harder you work, the more successful you’ll be. That you can count on.