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The hidden cost of being social

Social Media has changed the world forever. But greater levels of engagement bring with them greater overheads for your businesses. Where will it stop?

There was a time when dedicated customer support was an overhead for only the largest corporations. The cost of maintaining call centers and support desks was a price you paid once you’d scaled your business.

That was then, this is now.

As we approach 2014 the world is a very different place. Social media has leveled the playing fields for small businesses around the globe. The cost of getting your startup off the ground has tumbled each year, for over a decade. Its an amazing time of opportunity.

There was a time a few years ago when people used the term social media, they really meant Facebook and Twitter. (I don’t ever remember myspace being considered a serious business proposition unless you were a musician)

These two channels offered great unchartered opportunity to those willing to learn new skills. Social media champions like Gary Vaynerchuk emerged to lead the charge. A new marketing channel had emerged.

Opportunity brought with it a new set of challenges.

I had a meeting with a client a week ago to discuss their social media strategy. Just to be clear, this isnt a small business or a startup. This is a 60 year old enterprise with millions of dollars in revenue. They clearly understand what they do, and how to deliver a great product. What I’m trying to say is, they’re smart people.

I believe they are typical of most established businesses today. They are aware of social media. They’re excited by the opportunities it presents. They’ve set about creating channels and posting a few updates. Then the pace of change has overwhelmed them and they begin to lose direction.

Remember when getting traffic from facebook was as easy as getting likes and then posting some updates? How’s that plan working out for you now?

As the conversation developed I began to appreciate the fortunate position I was in as a business owner. My businesses have grown up on the internet. I’ve had 17 years to build teams that live online. Most of my employees don’t even recall a time before facebook, let alone a time before the internet.

Confused yet?

A digital gulf is emerging that threatens established businesses. I’m not talking about disrupting industries in the traditional sense. I’m talking about social media damaging businesses that deliver great services, that add value to their economies, that have employed people over generations.

I read a great article today (via email) from Chris Brogan, Titled: The Business of Being Social. Which highlighted the dangers of operating too many social channels. Recommending you focus on the ones which allow you to tell your story most effectively. Its great, logical advice. Unfortunately its harder to follow than you’d think.

Take google + (please) for example. I’ve yet to talk with any business owner that believes google plus is integral to their social media story. Most of them don’t even know it exists. Unfortunately for them thats all about to change. Google has expressed a clear strategy to tightly integrate their platform into what is often referred to as the independant web. Website owners are being “advised” to paste code from google + into their websites. Indelibly linking their business to G+. Failure to do so, and ultimately engage with that social channel is going to affect SEO at some point in the future.

Suddenly it’s not about telling your story, it’s about business administration.

Linkedin is becoming another example of social media becoming an overhead burden. Employers and employees are increasingly utilizing that platform to appraise employment opportunities. Its not a stretch to believe 5 years from now failure to maintain an active presence on that network will begin to impact the quality of interview candidates.

Social media still offers incredible opportunities for those that can recognise and exploit its benefits. I just wish our industry would provide some more balanced reporting on the other side of the equation.

It’s time to tell the truth. Social Media has a cost, and it’s at risk of getting out of control, regardless of a clear marketing strategy.

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