“Are ‘followers’ the same as customers? Will ‘likes’ be enough to build your business?”

Charlie Brooker described social media as the world’s most popular on-line game. We can all play it; I know I do. Then again, I used to play Pac Man but I never trusted it to grow my business.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of social media. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram and my businesses are on most of those too.

So why did Charlie decide that social media was a game? Well, because you get scores, don’t you? You update your status or share a link on Facebook and a number of people like it. Your tweet get’s re-tweeted. You find that loads of people have clicked that little heart under your Instagram image. (I can easily get a bit obsessed about playing Instagram.)

From a personal point of view, that’s all good. You are connecting with old friends and making new ones, sharing things that mean something to you and getting applauded and rewarded for doing it.

In business however, those things are called ‘vanity metrics’. All those ‘likes’ are just that. Likes. And as Jerry Maguire said, ‘Show me the money.’

Social media spending is on the rise.

According to the latest survey by a US university, social media is taking up a bigger portion of marketing budgets.

One obvious reason for this is because, if you have a Facebook business page, you’ll have noticed that you have to promote your posts in order to get a reasonable number of people to see them. That’s right, you effectively have to buy space on Facebook in the same way that you buy advertising space in your local paper.

That aside, although I’ll come back to it, more companies are putting a larger share of their marketing resource into social media. The forecasts are 13% of their budget within the next year; 21% within 5 years.

That’s a lot. It’s an awful lot when you realise that of the companies surveyed, nearly half of them haven’t been able to demonstrate the impact of social media spending on their business at all. In fact only 15% said they could show that social media had made their company money.

So why is that, and why are those companies persevering?

The times, they are a changin’.

When the marketing gurus first pointed us towards social media they were careful to point out that this wasn’t like traditional advertising, this was about making friends and growing a community.

We were told in no uncertain terms that we shouldn’t try to sell, that we should inform and advise. Any ‘content marketing’ that we did, your blog for instance, was also supposed to avoid trying to sell to people at all costs.

Well, now there are costs incurred I wonder if we should be paying good money just to get people to ‘like’ us and our businesses.

Whether you spend time or money or both on social media for business, you want to know that you are getting something worthwhile back for it. You want a return on your investment.

Of course, Facebook and the rest of the social media-sphere offer some very real advantages and benefits. In the main, everyone you connect with, everyone you talk to has shown at least some interest in your business. You certainly can’t say that about radio or local press advertising.

LinkedIn connects you to other businesses in the wet leisure industry from Lands End to john O’Groats, and even further afield if you want it to. There are real advantages in that.

I think that when it comes to pools, spas and saunas, a picture is often worth more than a thousand words and Pinterest and Instagram let you put your own pictures up on the web for the whole world to see.

Last but not least, I think people have come to expect it. In the old days, new customers asked around to find out about your business and what you were like. Now they just Google it.

Don’t take it personally, but…

So I enjoy how social media lets me stay connected with the lads from the bike club, my friends and my Instagram fans; I appreciate how social media can help to give people a broader picture of my business.

And I’m careful not to confuse the two.

Sometimes you see everyone in a business doing the Ice Bucket Challenge or all the staff doing the Harlem Shake around a spa. Perhaps Debbie from accounts uses the business page to share her holiday snaps or the MD suggests we use an on-line quiz to find out our dwarf name.

This doesn’t make me ‘like’ or LOL. It makes me cringe. To stay in the vernacular, it makes me ‘face palm’.

Of course, social media is there to give our businesses a human face and a personality, but its still business. In that business world, it seems likely that sponsored posts – on Facebook or LinkedIn – and sponsored tweets will become more and more the norm. That means you are paying for them, which surely means you might want to see a return on your investment.

So I wouldn’t be afraid to use social media to sell your business and its services but I’d do it within a mix of other stuff; a bit of news, a bit of light entertainment and a bit of marketing in between.

But if you’re ever in doubt about how a link or post might be received by people following your business, my suggestion is ‘don’t’.

From a personal point of view, I’m still getting a lot of fun out of social media and please feel free to follow me on Instagram. I really need to get the number of those ‘likes’ up 🙂