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Social media and the business world: Should distributors spend time in the social sphere?

By Jack Keough

Last week, the social media site Facebook reached an unbelievable milestone: its user base worldwide reached one billion (and yes that number is correct).That is truly remarkable even as its stock price continues to plummet, if not stagnate.

It seems every business, whether it’s an electrical distributor, manufacturer or other small business wants to be “liked” by users on Facebook. Marketing departments are scrambling to adjust their budgets to reflect the increasing growth in social media. In fact, one study recently noted that more than 25% of a small businesses’s marketing budget is directed toward social media.

A study conducted in 2009 by the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business found that one in five small business owners had adopted social media into their business processes

Social media strategists have emerged everywhere. These are people and companies who claim they can help you get noticed to a new client base through their expertise in search engine optimization and the like. 

It really doesn’t seem that much different from what happened when websites came into being in the ‘90s. I can remember everyone jumping onto the website bandwagon. Companies were paying exorbitant amounts of money to website developers to get their website up and running.

And, ironically, it didn’t seem to matter what was on the site. There was little, if any, discussion as to how the website was synced to the company’s business strategic plan. One study my former magazine did pointed out that the Internet (and the company’s home page) was the key driving factor in a company’s strategic growth plan. One distributor described it as a “panacea” for his company’s ailing performance.

I remember talking to the owner of one of the largest distributors in the country as he bragged about how many visitors has gone onto his site. His “hit” rates were soaring. When I asked him how many of those visits had turned into sales, he couldn’t answer.

Later when there were more analytical tools available to him, he found that most people coming into his site were not potential customers but competitors, researchers and others who really had no intention of buying products. Remember, however, this was when websites were in their infancy.

Today we have a variety of social media sites. In addition to Facebook there is Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. Some of these social media networks are great for keeping up with friends and family, but how important are they to the business community, particularly if the results aren’t measured? Having your company join several social media networks and then ignoring them is bad for your business in the long run.

Jason Keith, a blogger on small business issues for the Boston Globe (www.boston.com ), wrote recently, “Capturing and leveraging social network information requires the right tools and expertise. It also requires a game plan with clear goals especially in the B2B space. If you have a legacy CRM program it may require even more. How are you leveraging social media to build your network and drive more sales? How are you integrating your social media into your CRM program? What do you expect as your ‘Social CRM’ payoff?“ Keith raises some great questions.

Not everyone is sold on social media. A new controversial book is raising some eyebrows in the social media space. The book titled Social Media is bull%x#% is written by B.J. Mendelson, a former marketing executive. Mendelson claims that small businesses are wasting their time in investing in social media. Mendelson raises some great points and you might want to check his book out.

As an electrical distributor you have enough to worry about executing agreements, stocking and selling product and penetrating new markets than you do being involved in social media.

From my perspective, social media can be an important asset to your company. But only if you provide the time, effort, and capital to make sure that you tie it on your overall strategic growth plan. A study last year showed that many companies are leery about expanding their social media operations because of lack of capital and the inability to keep with changing communication trends.

It isn’t enough to say that your company is liked on Facebook and you tweet on Twitter unless you ultimately measure how well that investment translates into sales. Otherwise it’s like the bingo cards manufacturers got from magazines in the ‘80s. The information piled up but few companies acted on them.

Translating leads into sales is the only way to grow your business.

Jack Keough was the editor of Industrial Distribution magazine for more than 26 years. He often speaks at many industry events and seminars. He can be reached at john.keough@comcast.net or keoughbiz@gmail.com

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