Photo Credit: Jason A. Howie via flickr

Photo Credit: Jason A. Howie via flickr

Everywhere we look these days, companies are proudly touting their social media presence. Restaurants, car dealerships, ecommerce stores, even paid parking lots – they all want you to “Like” them, and are conceivably spending significant dollars to entice followers. But does social media make sense for every business? Can anyone afford to not be in the game?

The answer is mixed. Yes, everyone needs some social media presence, for reasons we’ll explore, but not every business should be required to spend a great deal of time or effort.

There are key aspects to the social landscape that all businesses need to be mindful of, or risk embarrassment or failure. Yet it seems most business owners think it’s an all or nothing cause. This attitude can waste precious marketing dollars, so read on to see where your business falls in the mix.

Why Totally Ignoring Social Media is Dangerous

It’s obvious why many business owners would want to shut out the social stratosphere – it’s often filled with high-maintenance customers that only want to complain or score a discount or freebie. Yelp is a particular thorn in the side for many local entrepreneurs, but ignoring the complaints of the masses unfortunately does not make it all go away. Just the opposite, it sounds the alarm.

Let’s put it this way – if the internet has even a small smattering of complaints about your business that have gone unanswered, you’re in big trouble. Negative reviews can live in infamy for many, many years; like it or not, you need to have a staff member that is dealing with customer feedback. Don’t let the web engage in conversations about your company if you’re MIA. Be there, keep the record straight, make good on complaints, and be proactive about staying connected to your audience.

Need more incentive? If you don’t maintain a social media presence for your brand, someone else might do it for you, with highly damaging results. Just ask Exxon. When some clever hackers created a fake Twitter account called “Exxon Cares” this year, their lack of due diligence in watching their brand’s social presence resulted in a major PR coup. The hackers sent a gaggle of sarcastic tweets as a result of the Exxon Pegasus pipeline rupture. Because Exxon took eons to notice, the hackers had a field day, garnering hundreds of followers, retweets, and comments. It’s impossible to gauge how much this hurt Exxon’s image, or what it cost as they attempted to undo the damage, but you know it wasn’t cheap.

Finally, for the sheer sake of SEO rankings, you need to have basic contact and business information on sites like Facebook and Google+. Search engines are giving more and more credibility to social signals, and failing to have at least a minimal appearance can wreak havoc on your search results.

You know who would love it, however, if you did ignore the social space? Your competitors. If they’re working hard to build an audience of loyal customers, they would be honored and thrilled to steal your potential fan base.

How Much Should You Spend? That Depends On Your Industry.

OK, so it’s clear that the head-in-the-sand approach isn’t beneficial regarding social media. This does not mean everyone should hire a full-time social media expert and go crazy on every single platform. In order to wisely spend your resources, it’s imperative you consider what kind of company you run, and the relevance of social media to your operation.

Let’s talk about some examples. Local businesses like coffee shops, restaurants, mechanics, dry cleaners – just about anyone who offers goods or services that customers regularly need or want, those folks all need a strong social presence. Non-profits are no-brainers too, as is any ecommerce site or fully digital business.

Who doesn’t need to go crazy in the social space? Folks that own niche businesses that customers only reach out to in isolated cases. Like paid parking lots, for example. Likewise, businesses that deal with the darker parts of life. Divorce lawyers. Government agencies. Funeral homes. Have you seen some of these funeral home pages on Facebook? One of them even posted a “business happy hour” (that has since been removed.) Seriously, do they actually think this will entice folks to choose their funeral services during a time of need? It’s bizarre, and frankly, more than a little distasteful.

Again, all of these businesses should absolutely have a basic social presence. The question is whether or not to invest hours and hours a month in creative campaigns and audience engagement. Divorce lawyers need testimonials, they need to be found on search engines – but they do not need to run social contests, to poll their fans, or to post content daily.

Social media is not, despite popular belief, free advertising. Creating a truly engaged and loyal fan base is expensive and time consuming. If it makes sense for your business, you’ll get lost in the media dust if you don’t jump in with full force. But be wise about your words and reputation, or your efforts may produce the opposite effect.

What kind of social media presence have you found works for your business? Have you opted for a “less is more” approach, gone all-in, or ignored it all together?