Is Social Media Right For Every Business?

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A great man once said, "Do or do not; there is no try."

Fine, it wasn’t a great man, but when Yoda said that now-classic line in The Empire Strikes Back, many a geek (myself included) nodded our heads as if it were the common-sense wisdom of the Dalai Lama. In fact, the concept of "trying" something without having a true strategy or direct outcome in mind is becoming a much more sensible approach to Digital Marketing channels. This is especially true with the varied world of Social Media, where channels and platforms like Twitter and Facebook roam wild with Chat Roulette and Wikipedia. One person’s video of six dogs chasing a gazelle with 80 million views is equally layered against an audio podcast that focuses on the best burger joints in Montreal. (No joke. Check out The Montreal Burger Report).

Is there room for businesses and brands in all this random content?

Of course there is. One of the primary reasons that businesses struggle to understand the world of Social Media is that it is often compared with one particular traditional media channel, instead of being seen as a healthy ecosystem where a bricks and mortar brand (and this includes products and services with a business-to-consumer or business-to-business focus) can create and do things with content (text, images, audio and video) across multiple areas with varying degrees of impact and audience.

PodCamp could well have been wrong.

Last week, close to 400 business professionals, hobbyists, media hackers and others with an interest in Social Media spent the weekend at UQAM listening to many different types of presentations (like Revenue Generating Trends for Bloggers, Going Against the Grain with Niche Podcasts, and Your Web Content: Forever or Fragile?) at PodCamp Montreal. What originally started as an unconference (a self-organized get-together where the content and flow of the day is organized and led by all participants), PodCamp Montreal has blossomed into a full-blown, two-day professional conference with sessions in English and French. (PodCamps happen all over the world – just do a search for one in your area).

As someone who has participated in and helped organize these types of unconferences over the years, it was surprising to hear many speakers say: "Social Media is not right for every business."

The explanation given was that some companies simply don’t have the wherewithal. They don’t have the bandwidth, budget, resources, people, experience or the right attitude. It’s as if everything has to align like the stars to get into this very complex media mix. That kind of back and forth is a huge misconception. It’s usually done so that a company hires any one of these many consultants/speakers to pay them to do the work.

The truth is, asking, "Are social media right for my company?" is a flawed question. Instead, ask yourself: "Should my business be sharing who we are and what we do with the world?" If the answer isn’t yes, feel free to pick up the computer or mobile device that you’re reading this on and whack yourself upside the head until you realize the answer is always yes!

That’s why you’re in business: so more and more customers can find you, buy from you and tell everyone that they know how great you are.

This flawed thinking that Social Media are not for everyone happens because many of these self-anointed experts focus on only two areas of Social Media:

  1. Whatever platform is most popular (like Facebook and Twitter).
  2. The notion that Social Media are all about the "conversation" taking place online about you, your competitors and/or the industry you serve.

Those are both valid spaces to play in, but they’re not even close to the only ones or the reason to get involved in the first place.

What makes Social Media (or any other type of media) truly "social" is the ability to share. Whether that is done on an internal basis with your employees or publicly (or both), sharing is the best place to start. Share everything there is for people to know about you (news, articles, white papers, your thoughts, etc.). Share beyond your own hallowed digital walls (your website) and push that information into the channels where people who might be looking for what you have to offer frequent.

Share and share alike.

Optimizing your site so it can be found on search engines is important, but don’t forget YouTube is actually the second-largest search engine (after Google) and people are doing all kinds of searches within their online social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and beyond. They’re scanning the industry blogs and podcasts to see who is saying what about whom. The more you make your content findable, the more findable you become – everywhere.

Once you begin to benefit from this, you’ll begin to see the many additional options that are available – from tools that can help you to better collaborate both internally and by leveraging the wisdom of your crowd, to listening to the existing feedback and dialogue surrounding your brand. All this public content is there. It can help you better analyze your market position, what customers really think about you and your competitors, and it can even provide indications as to how you can improve and innovate.

Social Media is for every business… that’s just stupid.

What if you sell toilet paper? Are Social Media still right for your business? Charmin released an iPhone app called, Sit or Squat, which allows you to locate, rate, comment on and even add the whereabouts of a clean public toilet. The feature-rich application also allows you to narrow your search to bathrooms that have a baby-changing station (as one of many examples). This crowd-sourced initiative has been downloaded millions of times and – as someone who travels as frequently as I do – has a special place on the first home page of my iPhone. Charmin is enabling and empowering people like you and me to share with the intent of having a better bathroom experience (with the hope you’ll consider buying Charmin toilet paper as you make your way through your grocer’s aisle).

If Charmin can make toilet paper social, what’s got you all blocked up?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:


  1. Careful – you’re going to be accused of guru-dom! And how DO you read my mind, Joel? The reality is that the only thing standing between businesses and social media are 3 things: they can’t communicate for regulatory or legal reasons (but really ..I can’t think of too many businesses who can’t communicate _something_ ) or they can’t communicate because they don’t have the resources to do it (financial or human) or they can’t communicate because they can’t give up the fallacious notion of control (control? What control?). But the bottom line is ignoring social media is depriving your business of a powerful communications channel. It’s this innovative idea called “dialogue”. Communicating with your tribe – talking AND listening. Weird, I know. Get your hands dirty. You’ll like it.

  2. Mitch,
    The charmin example is a perfect one. I share your opinion that there isn’t a business that cannot take advantage of at least some aspect of social networks. Your customers ARE talking about you and sharing information about your company, isn’t it your responsibility to monitor this activity at a minimum?

  3. Here are some reasons I have personally heard as excuses why companies fail to embrace social media. Laughing is permitted.
    We’re looking for a techy kid to do it for a few hundred bucks. I just don’t get it. Where do I start? It’s a waste of time. I’m not really interested in customers’ opinions. We tried it, it didn’t work. We’re not ready. What if we get negative feedback? We’ll start in the fall, we want to get the word out on our Christmas sales.
    That reminds me, my treadmill didn’t exercise me again today.

  4. Very well put!
    Often it feels like “social media” is a game of it’s own unrelated to your business or organization and the only way to get good at the game is to hire SM consultants… It’s our duty to make sure our clients understand they are part of social media whether they like it or not because their customers and employees are already there. It’s just figuring out the right way to use the tools for communication, product development, pr or whatever your business problem may be.
    It’s not rocket science, but it’s hard work. I wrote a blog post today about EricssonLabs who figured out how to use social tools to bring more developers into their open innovation platform:

  5. Mitch – First, you had me at the Yoda quote. Just start every post that way and I’m in (well, good Star Wars or Lord or the Rings quotes anyway).
    On to the business of a real comment. Just last night I sat with some colleagues after a long day on a trade show floor and a great dinner. These are folks who have watched me embrace the social space over the last 18 months to literally transform how ColorMetrix (my little company) does business.
    As I walked the trade show floor yesterday no fewer than a dozen people stopped me or commented that they love reading my blog. One even commented that he was glad I had moved the industry related posts to the company blog. It’s been a long hard road learning the social tools. They are shiny and fun at first and then you have to look for return on your investment. TWELVE people seeking me out to engage in conversation is a very real return on a lead generation machine. I’d prefer we not tell all my competitors how well social media works, that however would be against the self-imposed rules of the game. I share my successes and failures now.
    Back to my friends at the bar (yes, there may have been a drink or two involved) A year ago these folks made fun of how active I was in Twitter and Facebook. Now, they ask how I did it. How I find time to blog each day (that’s an easy one, now do I not find time for the key to my success?) I went from “defending” a year ago to teaching and sharing an educating about the space.
    Your posts always resonate with me Mitch. This one just hits home really hard. This social stuff is for everyone. They just don’t know it yet. Remember those people who said they’d never have a cell phone….

  6. Let’s talk about my gym and the business around. My gym have a nice Facebook page, but the only way to find them in Google is to type their exact name in Google. Their contact webpage is “under construction” since months. But yes, investing in Facebook is a good idea, because a gym is a social place. Not only people want their friends to know they go to the gym, but people meet people at the gym!
    But is this true for all the business between my home and my gym? Get real, I don’t even know their names… And will you foursquare checkin at the corner depanneur where you buy your milk? Or becoming their facebook friend? Ok, maybe YOU’ll do this. But normal people won’t. 😉
    “Should my business be sharing who we are and what we do with the world?” is a good question. Another good question is “Does the world care?” Take a look around you. Good chances are you don’t know the brand of most of the objects around, and maybe don’t even remember where you’ve bought them. As a customer, you don’t care. Maybe the employees of a business don’t care just because they don’t own a computer. And maybe their suppliers don’t care because they are selling commodities. So who cares?
    Michelle said “or they can’t communicate because they don’t have the resources to do it (financial or human)”. The other way to say the exact same thing is they may have better result investing their financial and human resources elsewhere?
    Saying a solution (social media or whatever) is good for every business is saying every business is facing the same challenges. For many business, the sentence “so more and more customers can find you, buy from you and tell everyone that they know how great you are” is ust not true because #1 they don’t look for you on the web, and #2 they don’t care telling everybody how great you are.

  7. I was sitting in a seminar the other day and one speaker was hawking the equivalent of social media snake oil. It was disturbing to me that he was pushing it but more disturbing that people were buying it. This post articulates what’s wrong with the snake oil. Thank you so much!

  8. Great article. I was at Podcamp too as you know. I agree with you that social media is for all businesses, but I do think that for the very small businesses it can be quite a challenge. There is a lot curiosity and many want to go there, but lack of resources, expertise, time and money, and they do have to make so many choices. The presentation by Sandy Sidhu was an absolutely fabulous example that proves how a small company can do it successfully by creating a small team to take on the project which took a good year to bring in the results. Boutique Point G is another great example. They did hire a SM consultant to get there. I am hopeful that more and more examples like these ones will pop up over time. At least that’s what I’m working towards, guiding them throught this process.

  9. This comment made me laugh. If your business is not about getting more to know that you exist, to sell them something and then to do a good enough job that they spread the news about who you are, then all is lost.
    I didn’t get that Mitch was saying this was about those who use the Internet to find people and those who don’t in as much as it is about the fact that sharing your content in a social way should be core to every business. Those not doing it are not all that smart – and yes, that’s over and above the tactical strategy.

  10. Sometimes the simplest things are brilliant. “Should my business be sharing who we are and what we do with the world?”
    Great article. I think this should be the reference for ANYONE asking “do we do social”.
    Social Steve

  11. Excellent observations, Mitch. One thing I think you missed though was that those companies who think social media ‘isn’t right for them’ are going to end up appearing in social media channels in one way or another. If it hasn’t happened already, someone somewhere at some point will start talking about your company whether you want them to or not. Being ‘officially’ absent from social media doesn’t mean that your brand won’t appear there. It just means you have no influence on when, where, how, or in what capacity you will appear.
    It’s important to figure out what you are all about when it comes to your social media participation, but to think you can ignore it entirely is a fools errand. Not only is social media ‘right’ for every business, in today’s climate it’s absolutely essential.

  12. Hi Mitch,
    Great post. As Micheline mentioned above, I presented on this topic at Podcamp last weekend and I agree with you in that everyone can benefit in some way. Start by listening, you’d be surprised how much you can learn that way. That’s what we did at our company before we decided whether it was Twitter, Facebook etc that we would use as part of marketing strategy. It was only that we realized that providing useful content would be something of interest to our potential and existing customers and that’s where we put our focus.

  13. The main idea here is to have your content created in a voice, tone and manner that is more in line with the types of communication we see in these online channels. The more you are sharing about your company, the more findable you become.

  14. The next great myths about Social Media are the ones you have listed. Those who still think that Social Media is just about young people, or that it’s the new, faster and cheaper way to do their Marketing and Communications are completely lost.
    The bigger idea here is that this is about an open and clear culture (for more on that, check out Charlene Li’s new book, Open Leadership). But, to be open, you have to share. If we can get businesses to share more we may be able to trump those very real excuses.

  15. If brands lead with a strategy that is tied to what their brand represents, they really can’t go wrong. It’s the ones who try to manipulate the channel or try to get the channel to bend to their will that struggle the most.

  16. The main thing here, Jim is that you started by sharing… in a very real and genuine way. You may have not even realized it when you first got started. It’s that spirit of sharing, caring and giving that now makes all of those people attracted to you and interested in how you did it. That’s a big step away from people trying to figure out how to get 20,000 new followers on Twitter.
    It’s also a higher calling.

  17. I love this post and have sharing it around. I’m glad you point out the distinction between using social media in general (and what’s the point) and the appropriateness of individual tools. And I bet you loved squeezing in a toilet paper joke… 😉

  18. I’m not sure I know which brands/companies you’re talking about here. Even prior to the existence of the Internet, every business I have ever connected with wanted more customers, wanted to sell more and wanted those customers to have a great experience that they would share with their friends.
    When someone asks you, what’s a great gym in the neighbourhood, they don’t run over and check it out… most people will go online and learn more (one recent stat I saw said that over 80% of people’s first brand interaction now happens at a search box).
    This isn’t about whether a local retailer should be active on Foursquare. This is about having a business culture where you share – freely – what you’re about and what value you add. I’ll stand by my statement that Social Media and these online channels is a great and effective way to do so for every business.

  19. I think being active and listening to the content that is being said about a brand is critical, but it’s not as tightly linked to this thought as it may seem. Think about the culture of business: if you don’t have a culture that is open or willing to share what you’re about, the more advanced aspects of Social Media monitoring, etc… won’t matter much. Start sharing… I am always amazed to see how much a company grows once they start sharing more.

  20. I think your post shows utter disregard for the Amish community. They won’t use social media social media in the first place, let-alone whack themselves with any kind of technology enabled device.
    All jokes aside, I think a deserted blog/twitter account looks worse than nothing at all, hence the need for ressources before you dive in. Otherwise, I think you’re right on.

  21. The Amish Twitter feeds are on holy fire because of your damning comments 😉
    Twitter is a proactive place to engage in some back and forth… that’s not what this is about. Start with making your website and the content on it more social. Let people rate it, talk about it, grab it, share it, etc… We can worry about the channels and platforms later, right now let’s focus on opening up and sharing what we already have.

  22. Awesome post as usual, but if I had to save only one line from it, it’d be:
    “Social Media is for every business… that’s just stupid.”
    I totally agree. Business owners usually act like social media is something taken for granted, you have to be there ’cause it’s the cool kids’ game. No reason, no engagement, no strategy, just mindless action.

  23. Knowing why you’re doing something is a huge part of this. It’s amazing to see how few companies playing in Social Media don’t know why (other than they think it’s cool or because one of their competitors are on it).

  24. I think many companies put too much trust into social media. Its not a solution its a tool to be used. This is a great post. A ton of great content!

  25. I am constantly applauding those brands, like Charmin, who can extend their brand idea into the social space in meaningful, additive ways. That Sit or Squat app is a service that didn’t exist before but now it does. And who better than a toilet paper to bring it to you? Genius. The possibilities and ideas waiting to happen are endless. To steal an old Microsoft tag line, just ask your brand where it wants to go today.

  26. Pushing ideas to an edge is where the interesting stuff happens. Too many brands say, “this is what we’re doing in advertising, so how do we do this online?” Instead, they should be looking at ways to extend the brand in a value-added way… like Charmin (and others) have done so well.

  27. I truly congratulate you from the bottom of my heart, very well put. Great content. It’s been like the same circle of words, I’ve been using and explaining to my clients, propect clients, friends and the whole world that I’ve been contacting. Your observation is just made my day. Same questions, same concerns and at the end of the day, same respond. “I have a nephew who also knows facebook and twitter; he will help me.” No man, its not that simple. Your nephew can create you a facebook account and probably instead of creating a business page, you will get a profile for your business, a twitter account that you will leave in couple months. And than what; probably you will walk around saying that social media isn’t working for you. The real reason is that they don’t have enough budget to implement the social media strategies. Its not only creating those accounts, if you don’t have a strategy, you are not going anywhere. Bigger size companies who don’t want to use social media, their main reason is they don’t want to hear, what they may hear. But hey, even if your not present in social media, those conversations are happening. But this time without you, so it is your loss, that you are not listening and correcting your problems. Okay enough for the day, but truly I’m grateful to find your blog. Please lets keep in touch, I would love to listen, learn and share. @JadeYG

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