You Don’t Advertise On Social Media

Thinking GorillaMy first job out of college in 2007 was as a catalog manager.

I was a manager of everything that made the catalog operate.

I did the budgeting. I did the circulation, which was determining who got what version of the catalog each cycle, which was every month. I was even involved a bit with the merchandising and creative and a few other things.

It was a fascinating industry to learn.

Social Media Is Not Like The Catalog World

Those in the catalog business had spent decades developing the channel. And it was very much a sales channel. People would receive catalogs and know that it was a sales tool. It took decades to develop that understanding.

Even though people knew that catalogs were for sales the response rates may surprise you. The best customers that received a catalog in any given month responded about 2% of the time. That’s 2 sales out of every 100 catalogs sent.

Catalogs are an example of a sales channel.

When social media came along it threw businesses off. They wanted to and still want to treat social media like catalogs. They want social media to be a sales channel.

But social media, even though its still in relative infancy, isn’t a sales channel. It’s a place where people go for information. Information about people they know, people they admire and general information about life.

Advertising On Social Media

Here’s the weird thing…and I’ve certainly been guilty of it…

We go on Facebook looking for information. Yet when we get into business and work mode we expect others to buy the things we advertise to them on social media.

But we don’t look at advertisements on social media. Then we’re disappointed when others do the same.

By advertising I mean selling. And it doesn’t even have to be actually buying advertising on a site like Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.

I see all kinds of businesses that only post products on their Facebook page. Every day they’re posting a new product. They’re promoting sales. They’re doing giveaways and all kinds of things.

It’s all selling.

And the majority of people on social media aren’t in shopping and buying mode. Sure, sometimes they are. Some estimate that people are in buying mode 3% of the time.

That correlates with my catalog experience. And that’s a sales channel. Social media is probably way less than that 3%.

Now. you might be able to find a way to sell on social media and make it work. If you pay for 1,000 clicks and get 1 sale you might be able to make that work.

But here’s another way to look at social media…

Provide the information your customers are looking for on social media.

Branding On Social Media

The idea of branding is not a good one in some areas of business. Especially in areas like the catalog industry. It’s all about direct response. Putting something in front of the customer and getting a certain percentage to buy right away. It’s tracked. Sometimes lifetime value is added where you may pay $100 for a new customer on average if they buy an average of 3 times over their lifetime for a total of $150 profit.

Branding on the other hand is a little trickier to measure. It’s about building the recognition of your brand so that lots of target customers know about you and when they are in that buying mode they come to you.

I get it. I was in the catalog world. It’s much easier to send out 100 catalogs and get one sale while making a profit.

But you’ll struggle to take that strategy over to something like social media.

That’s why businesses, maybe even you, get frustrated when you sell, sell and sell on social media and don’t get any sales or even any interaction.

If you want to see return from social media you have to use it as a branding channel, which is what it is.

And it’s a great opportunity. You’re not the only business struggling with social media. But that’s where the opportunity is. While others try to advertise and sell you can work on branding.

How To Brand: Educate & Entertain

Again, just think of what you use social media for. Odds are good you’re looking for two kinds of information: educational and entertaining.

A funny cat video that your grandma posts on Facebook is entertaining.

A video that shows you how to stain the deck is educational.

And sometimes you even get both in one. Maybe a long Facebook entry from your local news outlet explaining where you can go to vote that includes a few funny stories about people going to the wrong polling locations. (Sir, we don’t accept ballots at McDonald’s…)

This is just about 100% void of selling. You have to do this without expecting something from your audience. You’re looking for the questions they’re asking and doing your best to provide the answer. You’re looking for the information they seek and trying to become the source of that information.

Look at the most popular content on social media. That’s the kind of content you’re looking to create.

And here’s the thing…you can use social media advertising to promote that content. That content will get engagement and attention.

Let’s say you’re a dentist and a patient asks you how to get their kids to brush their teeth. You have three tricks that work every time. Create a video and post it on your Facebook page. Then use Facebook advertising to get that video in front of every parent within 15 miles of your office.

That’s how you get social media advertising to work.


It’s not that advertising doesn’t work on social media. It’s that selling doesn’t work on social media. It’s a branding channel. People are looking for information. If you provide that information you can earn their attention and their trust. And once you have that they’ll come to you when they’re ready to buy. That’s how you use social media.

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