Why Most Small Businesses Are Failing with Social Media & 5 Tips For Better Success

By Dave Kerpen

Over 600 million people in the world are on Facebook, including over 150 million Americans, or 1 in 2 adults. Twitter just topped 300 million accounts. Small business owners in droves are trying to capitalize on the trends, but few are reaping the benefits. For most local business owners, the temptation is to use social networks to promote their businesses and to broadcast their messages.

But if you take off your marketing cap, and put on your customer cap, you’ll realize that consumers are already pummeled by marketing and advertising messages all day long. The secret, then, to social media for small business owners – is being human – being the sort of person at a cocktail party who listens attentively, tells great stories, shows interest in others, and is authentic and honest.  The secret is to simply be likeable.

Here are 5 specific tips for small business owners to enjoy more success at social media:

1)      Listen before you talk. Before your first tweet, search Twitter for people talking about your business, and for people talking about your competitors. Search using words that your prospective customers would say, too. For example, if you’re an accountant, use Twitter to search for people tweeting the words “need an accountant” in your town. You’ll be surprised how many people are already looking for you.


2)      Don’t tell your customers to like you and follow you, tell them why and how. Everywhere you turn, you see “Like us on Facebook” and “Follow us on Twitter.” Huh? Why? How? Give your customers a reason to connect with you on social networks (what’s in it for them?) and then make it easy. Note the difference between these two calls to action:

Like my book’s page on Facebook


“Get answers to all your social media questions at Facebook.com/LikeableBook.”


3)      Ask questions. Wondering why nobody’s responding to your posts on Facebook? It’s probably because you’re not asking questions. Social media is about engagement and having a conversation, not about promoting. If a pizza place posts on Facebook, “Come on by, 2 pizzas for just $12,” nobody will comment, and nobody will show up. If that pizza place posts, “What’s your favorite topping?” people will comment online– and then be more likely to show up.


4)      Share pictures and videos. People love photos. The biggest reason Facebook has gone from 0 to 600 million users in 6 years is photos. Photos and videos tell stories about you in ways that text alone cannot. You don’t need a production budget, either. Use your smartphone to take pictures and short videos of customers, staff, and cool things at your business, and then upload them directly to Facebook and Twitter. A picture really is worth a thousand words. A video is worth even more.


5)      Spend at least 30 minutes a day on social media. If you bought a newspaper ad or radio ad, you wouldn’t spend 5 minutes on it or relegate it to interns. Plus, there’s a lot to learn, and every week, new tools and opportunities across social networks emerge. Spend real time each day reading and learning, listening and responding, and truly joining the conversation. The more time you put in to social media, the more benefits your business will receive.


Above all else, keep that customer cap on, and follow the golden rule:  Would you yourself click the “Like” button, the Follow button, or Retweet button if you saw your business on Facebook & Twitter? Would YOU want to be friends with your business at a cocktail party? How likeable is your business?


Dave Kerpen is the CEO of Likeable Media and the author of Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and be Generally Amazing on Facebook (and Other Social Networks.) You can ask him any social media questions you’ve got, anytime, on Twitter or Facebook.

Want to learn more about why it pays to be likeable? Let us teach you at SXSW in 2013. Vote for our session here!

Zie L. July 7, 2011
Yes, social media is def. a interpersonal communication vehicle, but it has limitations. Just how many tweets from others that you are able to read and respond fully? There is no way in a extremely crowded room that you can just quietly whisper your message, you have to elbow your way around and use microphone and shout on top of your lung over and over and over again, but unfortunately, so are there others that are doing exactly the same thing. People has 2 seconds of dysfunctional attention span, I am afraid any small business would have some difficulty keeping the poundings on people's brain in order to get their special deals across in terms of resource and time. Like groupon, I subscribe to them but eventually never bother to read them, because there are just not enough time to go through on the daily basis. The best way is still through the word of mouth, and social media is simply too cluttered to maintain a proper business building channel......
Melrose-Sovereign June 9, 2011
My company has opened it's doors to web 2.0 and social media. We have learned that we are leading in this aspect in the industry of property management and homeowner association management. I wanted to post this comment to say thank you for your posts and teaching us new idea. Keep up the great work!
Juliemarg June 5, 2011
Howie is right that traditional media has a much bigger impact, but it's beyond the reach of most small businesses. A billboard on Highway 80 in Sacramento is at least $5,000 per month, and would never be the only element in an advertising campaign. A local restaurant or independent retailer has to learn how to make social media work for him. Thanks Dave for the tips.
Midge June 1, 2011
Good article Dave! Why don't people remember that conversation is an art - an informal exchange of thoughts between people -not someone forcing their products on you -this behaviour does create bad business.
Marie-Therese Sand May 30, 2011
Great article and tips. It sounds so simple and logical but it does take effort and commitment to be effective though.
William Yarroll May 29, 2011
Excellent Dave ! Well thought out and excells in innovation !!!
But big business has been a massive failure on Social Media too and I hate the big gross account numbers. You bring up twitter with 300 million account but they have about 100mil tweets a day and I tweet about 50 of them. Facebook has 150 mil US accounts but only about 30 million are heavy users. The twitter and Facebook feeds are so cluttered we fail to see 98% of Tweets and Updates. The platforms are NOT for marketing. They are for interpersonal communication just like SMS Text. So its not small businesses failing as much as Social Media Marketing Agencies selling a hollow Holy Grail and misleading clients. Traditional Media Pounds Social into the dust when it comes to moving sales and brand awareness. I am very much in agreement for listening and customer service and grooming a few brand ambassadors it is very useful. But it should not be the marketing focus of businesses due to such low impact and ROI. Just think. Walk around your house. EVERY BRAND has a facebook page and wants you to like them and engage. Are you kidding? How many do you want to engage with? The average Facebook user will exchange 1.7 items today. How many brands want to be part of that 1.7 per person? Good luck. Billboard reaches everyone! So does TV. etc etc.
Catherine Novak May 27, 2011
I especially like your point to "give them a reason WHY they should follow you on Twitter or "like" you on Facebook. We're all looking for meaningful contact, not more advertising.
Paula Wright May 27, 2011
Great article. I am turned off by those who are trying to get business contacts through Facebook. This is a social network and I cannot imagine anyone wanting to see posts about someone's business efforts while relaxing.
Jeanne Gumbleton May 27, 2011
Well said Dave! Small businesses have a wonderful marketing tool with social media, they just need to take some time to craft the way they communicate.
Nance May 27, 2011

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