So I have a younger friend, whose name has been changed to protect the Internet-marketing innocent, who was laid-off and then found a part-time job as a bartender in a Massachusetts pub for money in these difficult times. Although I admire his work ethic in such a tough economy, his online behavior on behalf of the bar has been extremely frustrating — and it has also been maddening to the extent that I realized his behavior mimics many common mistakes that businesses make in B2B online-marketing.
John was chosen by the bar’s management to be the establishment’s point person on social-media marketing. In practice, this has meant that John had been creating a Facebook event every day — for any conceivable, “newsworthy” reason — and then invites all of his personal friends, hundreds of them. To. Every. Single. One. Every. Day.
If an event, for example, would have been something special for a New England Patriots game, that would have been worthy of an official (Facebook) event. But he made an event this past Tuesday for, “It’s Tuesday, Come Drink!” Last week, there was, “Customers-Pick-All-the-Songs-Played-in-the-Bar Night!” I will spare you the rest.
I was about to “unfriend” him until I decided to talk to him, in person, since he was a real-world friend. After all, it was a pain to deal with his Facebook communications each day. He said he would stop sending me the Facebook invites, and his bar did not lose a customer. (Still, how many businesses can really deem their social-media followers as bona-fide “friends”?)
I was reminded of this story when I came across a recent study by Christopher Sibona, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado at Denver’s business school who had studied and determined the most-common reasons that people “unfriend” or “unfollow” others on social-networking websites. And the results are applicable to B2B social-media marketing — whether to my bartender friend or to your own business.
1. According to the study, the main reason that people “unfriend” people in social media is that they are “boring.” One given example was that if a Facebook friend would write 100 posts about his favorite band, he would lose followers.
But unless your business works in the music industry, I doubt this would be a problem for you. However, the business equivalent of “boring” in B2B online-marketing is the constant promotion of events, news, and related items that are not really newsworthy — the constant updates become “boring” because the repetition causes the value of each communication to decrease.
Look at it like this: Value often comes from rarity. A Babe Ruth rookie card is valuable in part because so few of them exist. In contrast, most present-year baseball cards of the current players are worth pennies because everyone has them.
If a company sends too many social-media updates, marketing e-mails, and press releases to the masses, then each one starts to be viewed as unimportant and forgettable. Take my friend John as an example. I would receive an event invitation every day, and I would immediately delete them since I had started to think, “Great, another spam message from John’s bar.” If he had sent an event invitation only when something truly important would be occuring (once a week at most, for example), I would have paid attention — and probably even attended — since it had been something out of the digital blue. Something new is always something exciting.
(An important exception: The sending of regular messages can be valuable in tactics including the posting of online press-releases since their purpose is more to gain backlinks and Google PageRank rather than actually to get many people to read them. But that is a topic for another time.)
2. The next reasons for social-media failure determined by the study were that Facebook or Twitter users would post controversial messages on subjects including politics, religion, and other issues that one should not discuss at the (online) dinner-table as well as that communications that would be “crude” or “racist.” Readers would become angry or offended and then “unfriend” the poster.
I doubt that many companies are taking official stances on the upcoming U.S. Congressional election or whether Jerusalem should be divided between Jews and Muslims, but “controversial” is still relevant in a marketing context in regards to the competition. And surely no compainies use vulgar or racist language in their communications. Online political-commentary often devolves into “Candidate X is horrible!” or “Issue X will be the downfall of America!” (And that are the few examples that can be repeated on a family-friendly website.)
Still, think about how many companies operate in a similar manner — focusing more on denigrating the competition rather than on promoting themselves. If your website content, press releases, and social-media posts are usually negative commentary on your competitors, you will lose more potential leads than you gain.
If someone has found your firm through your online presence — and, after all, the entire point of online marketing is to “get found” by as much relevant traffic as possible — then he wants to know what you are offering. If he wants to compare you to the competition, he will find the websites of the other companies and then make his own decisions.
In a nutshell, potential customers do not need you to tell them why the competitors are worse (unless they ask). Another of my friend John’s problems was that he would imply — though only subtly — in his social-media communications that his bar’s special and deals were better than another pub just down the street.
The point of this category of social-media don’ts is: Do not be “contoversial.” Do not be negative. Focus on your strengths and competitive advantages, and then communicate only those ideas on your website and through social media.