I haven't made my mind up whether Social Media is a waste of time or not. It is clearly addictive and can consume vast amounts of time if you let it. And there lies the problem. In business I've learnt you can always make more money but you cant make more time.
What is the Return On Time (ROT) of social media? I am not a heavy tweeter and I do maybe at most one or two status posts on LinkedIn per day so I am clearly not addicted as a contributor however there are plenty of social media "experts" preaching that there fabulous rewards to be had from being on social media. CrackBook and CrackIn might be as addictive as cocaine from a snooping on people and watching from the side-lines perspective. Having "mother's meetings" and "chatting over the virtual fence" is clearly not going to create business and this is one area where I have to say social media is extremely addictive and unfortunately not a good use of time. Left unchecked I start to feel the overwhelming urge to check LinkedIn for the latest status updates to see what's going on......Being a consumer of information or furtive voyeur is invisible and is not getting your message out there, building awareness/brand and is probably not generating money for you but is consuming your time. It is not generating a Return On your Time.
Anway the purpose of this post is not to discuss whether social media is addictive but to attempt to say whether it is a useful business tool yielding Return on Time. Time is money after all
I did a quick search and there is little empirical evidence about the business benefits of social media. As I haven't been able to find much scientific proof I have set out to quantify it myself. The first thing I did was pick a few twitter accounts at random. Here's the results from some random people I picked:
#1 732 tweets - 31 followers. The tweets weren't just the normal banal "I've just locked the front door" message, they had spent time crafting messages and passing on interesting information.
#2 342 tweets - 71 followers
#3 22,621 tweets - 29,567 followers and following 22,205 people.
#4 30 tweets - 477 followers. Banal brain dead dribble.
OK this is only a sample size of 4 but 732 tweets which have been crafted takes time. Lets say 30 seconds to craft the tweet is 6.1 hours of time and has achieved 31 followers - crap ROT. The tweets were not rewteeted so no compound exposure.
Someone else has 342 tweets (approx 3 hours) but got 71 followers - better ROT but still not exactly setting the world alight.
Someone has posted 30 brain dead tweets (15 minutes effort) 477 followers - not bad ROT.
Now the person investing serious time. 22,621 tweets @ 30seconds/tweet = 23 working days of tweeting. OK an audience of nearly 30k is respectable but look at how many he has followed to to get the following.
The language used today to describe social media doesn't really differentiate between information consumption and information creation. Information consumption is unlikely to create a financial return unless the information has real value. My suspicion is that Mr Pareto is lurking here and 80% of information is pointless crap and it takes effort to filter out the useful 20%.
The learning from this exercise is simply posting good quality messages won't get you heard yet being an information creator or provider is the thing which at least appears to have real business value in social media. It's yet another opportunity where I can blame Kevin Kostner with his build it and they will come mantra. It doesn't happen in real life. Broadcasting your message on social media doesn't create an audience. You have to build the audience in order to get your message out there. It looks like the way to do this is, at least on twitter, is to follow people and they might follow you. That is a good (or at least better) investment of your time.
So does having lots of follower mean your message is reaching people?
If my use of twitter is anything to go by then no. I would guess I am 80% more likely to publish information on twitter than consume it yet the twitter socio-sphere is sending me information which on the surface people might think I am consuming. Am I unique? I doubt it. I would therefore guess 80% of my followers do not bother to look at tweets on a daily basis and probably of those 80%, 80% probably don't read my posts because they are hidden amongst the torrent of other posts. In other words only 4 out of 100 followers might, just might, read my message.
Let's take a look at twitter #3. He is following 22,000 people.....I can't imagine anyone following that many people will be able to process the torrent of crap. I "follow" a measly 60 people and I can't be bothered to read the torrent of good, bad and crap posts that I get. Maybe I am unique and everyone else is religiously digesting all this twitter torrents? So Mr #3 has 29,000 followers and maybe 4% of his followers read his post - we are now down to 1,160 people. Interesting but not exciting. We don't know the demographic of these followers. Maybe they are 100% on target and potential purchasers of the guy's products/services or maybe they followed him because initially he followed them - hardly likely to be on target. Not all eyeballs are equal are they....
Twitter has the competitive mindset that you need lots of followers to have an audience so the name of the game is to get lots of followers. The real game is to get followers that actually read what you are posting and better still act upon it.
I have observed a similar issue with LinkedIn. When the number of status posts was limited I did tend to read them as there was a limited number of posts per day and it was a handy digest. My connections are people I know so the status posts are relevant and on-target. The level of traffic has significantly grown. If I leave it for a few minutes, it shows there are 20+ new updates. Religiously reading all posts for people I know is a burden so the reality is I'm probably looking at maybe 50% of the updates. I am aware that it is now taking me maybe 1 -2 hrs per week to scan through the updates and although it is nice to know what my friends and colleagues are up-to, I have to question whether this time is adding value to my business. Also the torrent of information has I guess doubled in 1-2 years. If it doubles again am I now going to spend 1-2 hours per day reading it? Probably not. In fact I want to cut down the time I spend not increase it.
So returning to Return On my Time. How much business has social media generated for me. I can point to revenues directly related to LinkedIn. I can't say any revenue has been generated from twitter or facebook. Maybe I don't know what I am doing with these platforms and therefore I am doing the wrong things....
LinkedIn has created business/exposure for me on 2 fronts. Firstly when I have announced things related to my books, this has resulted in book sales. My measurements suggest that social media (information publishing announcing my product) is far more effective on LinkedIn than advertising via Google. It has yielded around 30 copies of book sales so a modest £30-40 in profit. However the time taken was a few minutes of my time so a good return on time. It is however a one off blip in sales. My time has not been invested as it does not continue to generate sales on an on-going basis. I believe the real power of social media lies here - it is not my pseudo advertising that has the impact. On LinkedIn I have about 1020 connections made up on people I know and doing Pareto maybe 30 or 40 people might read my status post and an even smaller percentage (4 to 8 people) will act. The power is not my group but when my 4 to 8 connections 'like' or 'share' my post. It creates exposure to another group of people. Assuming my connections has 1,000 connections and those connections are different to mine, about 4 of those 2nd degree people will act and maybe buy my book. It is the power of virtual word of mouth. You can see this with those annoying "chain letters" that circulate on LinkedIn - they get thousands of likes.
The second way I have benefited from LinkedIn is where companies have approach me. They have searched for someone to provide services and found me through my businesses "CV". Although this is via a social media site, it is not via a status update - it is more like "advertising" and LinkedIn has a convenient search facility. I've invested a lot of time building my contacts so I have a strong profile. This to me feel like investment since everything I do to my profile makes it stronger whereas status posts disappear into the ether - they are a short lived investment.
So I would estimate I am approached for new business about 20-30 times per year via LinkedIn. To get the same kind of enquiry rate from advertising on Google would cost about £2.5k and about £8k on LinkedIn. The majority of enquiries have not turned into business either because it was not the kind of business I was looking for or vice versa so it is hard to put a revenue line against it yet comparing it with advertising does put a value on what it would cost to buy alternatives. I at least know what my time investment is worth.
So finally returning to my book sales. I find it useful to ask the question when I do something "Why am I doing this?" and then follow it with "Are there alternative ways to achieve the same result?". For book sales investing time on Amazon to achieve good listing and rankings is an investment of my time. It does not yield a one day blip like social media - the results tend to continue for days, weeks and maybe event months. The challenge going forward is to find social media "investments" for my time. Simply being there on social media is not effective ROT.
My job is selling technology. Actually I'm more of a translator. I sell technology to other businesses and that's where things get weird. There is a bewildering array of tech out there and unfortunately many companies think technology sells itself and the value that the technology delivers should be obvious. Wrong. That's where I come in. I said I was a translator. My job is to translate techno babble into value that customers understand. This blog share my adventures with high tech sales. Selling high tech is fun so come join me on my sales journey!