Even my Magic 8-Ball can’t shed any light on the topic. The first time I asked the question it refused to answer: The d20 inside floated to the screen on edge. I shook the ball and asked it again. It still dodged the question and said, “Concentrate and ask again.”
What was the question that intimidated my prognosticator?
Will an Internet power shift from Google to Facebook have an impact on small businesses?
I clicked a link in my Twitter stream that set my head spinning. It’s a long article on TechCrunch that speculates that Facebook will grow larger than Google within five years. It raises questions about the future of internet advertising, influence, and the complex relationships between multi-billion-dollar companies. Among them: Where will the advertising budgets go? Are higher click-through rates more important than highly targeted ads? What will happen to the cost of online advertising?
These are important questions for companies like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Amazon. Those companies are not my clients.
What if Facebook wins a sumo wrestling match with Google? How will really small companies with fewer than 50 employees be affected? Here are some reasons why this would have minimal impact on small businesses, at least for the next few years.
- I may be in the minority, but I (almost) never click on ads. It doesn’t matter whether they’re on a Google search results page or a Facebook page. If I want to find soy-based candles, I’ll hunt them down when I’m ready. I will continue not clicking on ads regardless of whether they’re on Facebook or Google. (Maybe this doesn’t support my point, but it’s my blog.)
- Sometimes I want an answer to a question where my network lacks expertise. What does my local building code say about GFCI outlets? Where can I find documentation about a specific WordPress function? I’m not likely to ask on Facebook.
- People establish relationships with other people, not with businesses.
- Just because I like your business page on Facebook doesn’t mean that I will interact with you there. I “like” dozens of pages, the majority of which were “suggested” by friends who own (or know the owners of) a small business, group or cause. Guess how many times I have commented or asked a question there? Not many. In most cases I have never visited the website let alone set foot in that business.
- I have considered cleaning up my list of likes, but I don’t want to offend the people who suggested those sites. I could just remove them all, but then I would be a hypocrite if and when I ever make a Facebook page for my business.
- When I need to get the street address for a first-time visitor to Goldfish Tea I go to their website, not Facebook. That may change, but it will take a while before people switch that habit.
- Imagine that the faucet on your kitchen sink breaks and you can’t shut the water off. Do you:
- Update your Facebook status and hope that a knowledgeable friend replies in the next few hours?
- Open a search engine and look for a local plumber?
- Look for a phone book and find a plumber with emergency service?
The relevance and usefulness of the printed telephone directory is declining. Currently Google fills that need for me. I don’t see Facebook taking over any time soon. Facebook’s interface is cumbersome and confusing, and given their track record I don’t expect them to simplify or streamline it any time soon. If I want information quickly I don’t want to poke around to find the menu that does what I want.
Here’s the big question: Should small businesses abandon their website in favor of a Facebook page?
You alienate potential customers.
I know plenty of people who are not on Facebook. I know many more who have Facebook accounts but log on less than once a month. These people are not going to search for you on Facebook.
The TechCrunch article hints that Facebook is planning to add other services (like keyword search) that might compete directly with Google. All well and good, but even if their service works better than Google’s, it will take time before they can pull a significant share of the search market.
So, what should your small business do?
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Facebook is important, Google isn’t going away any time soon, and there are other places to interact and share your message. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Test and compare multiple methods to find what works for you. If you don’t know how to do that, hire those skills.
Stay alert. Things that were working may lose effectiveness. People will keep inventing ways to interact with current customers and find new ones. Some of these will be viable, others won’t.
Leverage your agility. Small organizations can react and move quickly. Pay attention to trends, and shift when it makes sense for your business.
There are a lot of websites and analysts that will keep an eagle eye on the “battle for the internet” and report every jab, feint, and parry as if it’s going to turn the world upside down. In the end, small businesses will grow and thrive based on their own merits, not whether people search on Google, Bing, Yahoo, or Facebook. You control your destiny. Remember that.
I took advantage of an unplanned week off in February 2009 to meet a friend at a tea shop on a late Thursday morning. I was working on a side project (long since put on hold) at the time, and I talked to my friend about it. Henry (@balanon) listened to what I was doing then said, “You should be on Twitter.”
I created my account a few minutes later. I took a Twitter class at InSights Group a few days after that. I learned about “@-replies,” RTs, #hashtags, how to connect my (non-smart) phone to my Twitter account, and how to use a few tools outside of Twitter.
I began by following the few people I knew on Twitter. Then I started following people my friends were talking with. Guess what? Some liked to complain, some were smart, some were funny, but they were all people. And they were interesting!
I broke away from the limitations of Twitter’s web interface and started using other tools (I still like TweetDeck).
I attended my first #Tweetup, and I was hooked. Here were people who wanted to make new friends.
I shared my newly acquired Twitter addiction with a friend. I sat down with her for a few minutes and showed her some of the things I had learned. She played with it, and a few days later she said, “I see why you like Twitter. There are all these people, and they’re right there, smiling at you!”
As of this writing (18 months after my first tweet), I follow 794 people and I have 1242 followers, but I don’t measure success by these numbers.
Twitter has changed my life. No, I didn’t gain 30,000 followers or become a millionaire, but my life is much richer for it.
How? Here are some ways that engaging people on Twitter has directly enhanced my life:
- I have attended scores of Tweetups, Meetups, Eatups, and assorted gatherings.
- I have seen at least five movies with a group of 5 or more other people.
- I went on two Photo Walks.
- Joined a couple of networking groups.
- Found several people who can help me with hard-core technical aspects of my fledgling business.
- Met a man who became my business coach for more than 6 months.
- Attended Karaoke 3 or 4 times. And I liked it.
- I found (and donated to) charities that I would not have known about otherwise.
- Had a Skype conversation with someone around the world. Olivia gave me advice and I gave her material for her blog.
- I found like-minded people to work on improving our sales skills.
- Tweeps (friends) have sent me funny stuff to make me laugh when I had a bad day.
- I have gone dancing.
- Adding Foursquare to Twitter helped me meet friends for an unexpected drink on three occasions.
- I have attended events at crowded bars and felt comfortable because I knew at least 20 of the people there.
The friendships I have made have challenged my thinking, broadened my horizons, and stretched my limits.
What is my “secret” for Twitter “success?”
Engage in conversation with other people. Read what they write, retweet things you find something funny, fantastic, or noteworthy, and reply to people. Jump into a conversation. People won’t bite.
In short, do the same things you would do when meeting somebody new at a party. You won’t mesh with everyone. That’s OK. You will have more in common with some than with others. That’s OK. You will follow some people who tweet three times then never log in again. That’s OK. You will follow some people who tweet Way Too Much and create a separate column for them in TweetDeck. That’s OK.
If you haven’t tried it, give Twitter a chance. You might have to ask for help at first. That’s OK. I did. I don’t regret it.