Social Networking Does Not Work.

Well, it doesn't seem to be working in its current form. In a recent article on EcommerceBytes, Social Networking Not Driving Sales to Online Marketplaces, Ina Steiner of Ecommercebytes writes:

Combined, the top three social networking traffic-drivers - Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter - accounted for just 1.1% of the total 100 million visitors to these marketplaces.

I could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from sellers who felt pressured to participate in social networking in order to drive sales. Comments posted to the article seem to support my intuition: "You just saved me a boat load of time. I'm done tweeting," "I gave up on the social sites eons ago," "I feel this social e-commerce is a MAJOR time suck." I also heard from several friends outside of e-commerce with similar feelings.

Let's back up

Social networking is busy work, guys.

Before you give up on your social media campaign, let's look at what social networking actually is. Per

social networking

  1. the development of social and professional contacts; the sharing of information and services among people with a common interest.

This definition pretty much sums up how many people view social networks. Nowhere in the definition does it imply sales, conversions, or boat loads of cash. When I am at a social event with colleagues and friends in the real world, the last thing I want to hear is a sales pitch. That said, if I'm chatting with friends and complaining about how the Seattle housing inventory is tight and one of those friends mentions she's a real estate agent with a sweet "in" on a new property, I'm all over that. She'll win my business.

A matter of etiquette

So why is social networking different when you're online? The short answer: it isn't different. If friendly business exchanges come up naturally between interested parties already engaged in conversation, whether the conversation takes place online or in person, it's all well and good. The problem comes when people see online anonymity as a reason–or opportunity–to disregard normal social etiquette. Just because you are online doesn't mean normal social rules don't apply.

Does this mean you should stop tweeting items and posting ads to Facebook or Pinterest? Well, if you're just publishing a stream of impersonal listings instead of engaging with a relevant community, then yes, you should probably change your strategy. The ugly truth is, most Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook users consider your ads spam, so chances are they aren't paying attention anyway, regardless of your follower count.

Improving your strategy

David Steiner closes a related EcommerceByes article with "Perhaps it's time to rethink the amount of time and energy you, as an online merchant, spend Tweeting, Liking and Pinning." Based on the data in these articles, I'm inclined to agree with them. It's at least time to rethink how you're using your time and energy on the social web, especially if your feed is wholly composed of self-promotion.

If you ask me, there's never been a better time to stand out with social networking than now. But it's only going to work if you do it strategically. I would challenge you to review your current methods of engaging your online networks, and think about how it fits into your overall marketing strategy. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you inadvertently spamming your followers?
  • What are your methods for posting items to your social networks?
  • Are you targeting specific, interest-focused communities (e.g. collectors, fashionistas, DIY champions, etc.) that are likely to be interested in what you're selling?
  • Do you engage with your followers outside of posting items for sale?

Concentrating on the quality of your posts over their quantity will entice your followers with content that will draw them to your business. If you consistently say things that are informative, useful, entertaining, thought-provoking, or–better yet–some combination of all of these, people will listen. Once you have someone's attention, you'll still want to avoid the hard sell so you don't lose it.

Further resources

Here are a few resources to help you to harness your social networking energies more effectively:

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