Why You Should Scale Back on Social Media

Social media efforts can come at the cost of brand mystique and focus.

“Technology can be a glittering lure,” Don Draper famously said in one of the best scenes in Mad Men. While social media is no longer the new kid on the block, and quite certainly not a fad, that doesn’t mean it’s a mandatory effort for all startups.

From a startup or small business perspective, too many entrepreneurs try to focus on everything (which means not focusing at all). There are tiny little startups whose VPs of Marketing and Strategy are running the hamster wheel performing tactical functions of content creation (i.e. blogging), social media support (i.e. maintaining presence on Twitter or other platforms), creating infographics, and so on.

I’m certain that if they took a step back, they’d find there are often more pressing matters or high-potential opportunities to get involved with. I don’t think that it’s wrong for them to get their hands dirty in the creation of material; however, I do think that they overspend their time in tactics, when it can be handled by another staff member (or a friend good at graphic design, or outsourced, etc.).

For large companies, this shotgun approach to marketing could make sense: after all, that’s why integrated marketing efforts can be extremely effective. However, young startups with limited capital and human resources can’t always afford to be spread so thin on so many fronts.

At the crux of everything, here are a couple of reasons why startups and smaller companies should avoid social media:

Mystique

The story of Monocle magazine is remarkable. Canadian journalist and entrepreneur Tyler Brûlé launched a print magazine in February 2007, when everyone was jumping to get out of anything print-related. Brûlé was no newcomer to publishing or marketing; he previously started Wallpaper* (which was acquired by Time Warner) and branding agency Winkreative. Three years ago, Monocle had a global circulation of over 150,000 readers.

The Canadian Journalism Foundation hosted him at Ryerson a couple of weeks ago, and his perspective on social media was bold:

“Being available is a little bit cheap,” said Brûlé. “Knowing what you’re doing every second of the day is a bit grandstand-y, and a bit desperate…that notion that your CMOs are talking about what he did with his partner on the golf course on the weekend? No! No, no, no.”

Instead, Brûlé cites his lessons through his agency Winkreative and recommends a sense of mystique.

“Good brands are a little bit mysterious,” Brûlé said. “You sort of wonder what happens when they pull the camera back a little bit sometimes, what goes on behind there? That sense of imagination and really dreaming and filling in the blanks is largely gone now.” Social media is something that he is skeptical and hesitant about, and avoiding it has paid off; Monocle is one of the few entities that has been able to make print work on a global scale in the 21st century.

Focus

Focus is a quality that many successful entrepreneurs, authors, and marketers tout. While there are certain extremes to focus (from diffuse to laser) that work for different people, it’s generally more productive to err on the side of doing less, and doing them better.

It’s easier to focus on a black circle on a blank white canvas than a black circle amidst a chorus of other colors. Similarly, if you have less to do, then it becomes easier to focus on your tasks. So instead of spending your time “staying busy” with all the latest social media platforms, just stick with one or two internet marketing initiatives and do them very well. Perhaps it’s one or two social media platforms, but it could also be a content marketing initiative to drive lead generation.

There are plenty of widely available success stories of businesses (or authors, or entrepreneurs) that don’t use social media. In addition to Monocle, we can see the feats of people such as internet marketer and bestselling author Seth Godin who avoids Twitter, and entrepreneur and bestselling author Ramit Sethi who prefers to focus on e-mail marketing (and he finds support from his customers).

Alternatives

So what the heck do you do with all this extra time?

In case you’re not certain what to do with the time and extra resources (which I doubt ;-)), there are a ton of alternatives to social media marketing and customer support:

  • Content marketing (Quicksprout has a great guide)
  • E-mail marketing (Kissmetrics has some insight)
  • E-mail customer support (have a look at Inc.)

Entrepreneurs, as Gary Vaynerchuk mentions, are particularly susceptible to the “Yes” virus. In this case, a remedy may be to execute on some of Brûlé’s advice: be optimistically skeptical. Pick and choose your social media platforms carefully, and aim to focus on one or two. Don’t jump at every new opportunity or platform. And don’t count e-mail marketing out.

Social media is a tried and true method of customer acquisition, just as advertising and public relations are. That doesn’t mean you have the resources to pursue them all. Don’t fall victim to groupthink. As Brûlé mentioned in his speech, “Follow your own instincts. Never run with the pack.”