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An Antisocial Look at Social Media

Can an e-commerce business still thrive without tweeting, liking or pinning?

For years now, we’ve been enthusiastically banging the drum for social networking as an important part of your business life here in the second decade of the 21st century. Our last article in this space, “E-Commerce Merchant or Content Curator?,” looked at the visual social network, Pinterest, as a valuable tool to add to your toolbox of social media efforts.

We’ve been enthusiastic supporters of all the others as they’ve come along. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube have all captured our imaginations and attentions. With each passing year, it seems there are more and more outlets to help you promote your e-commerce business. You only need to master them.

Certainly many e-commerce merchants are doing this, and we have amassed the stories to prove it. But, as an early spring comes to our part of the world, we’ve been captured by some new questions. Is it possible to overdo the whole social networking thing? Can you grow a thriving e-commerce business in 2012 without tweeting, liking, building Facebook pages, creating Pinterest boards and blogging like there’s no tomorrow? We turn to you for these answers.

Social media time sink

As more and more of these networks become available, it seems they require more and more of your time

We’ve grown a little concerned. As more and more of these networks become available, it seems they require more and more of your time. Unless things have changed dramatically over the last few years, most small to medium-size businesses (SMBs) are still more S businesses than M businesses.

We know that most e-commerce operations are run by one or two people who handle just about everything from sourcing to shipping. Your time is your money. You can’t afford to spend time on tasks that you can’t cost-justify, and you’re already living a great deal of your life in front of a computer. Now you’re hearing that unless you carve out the time (and it would seem to take a lot of time) to also build a social media strategy, incorporating all of these relatively new yet fantastically popular sites, your competitors will leave you in the dust. We ask you, does it have it be this way?

Two things worry us about all this, one is the issue we’ve just mentioned. Where’s the time to do all this coming from, and can you quantify the time spent in a return on your investment? We don’t care how many programs there are that allow you to post your social media comments across multiple platforms. Learning to skillfully use all of these sites takes time, and a lot of it.

The social networks are not homogenous. Facebook isn’t Twitter. Twitter isn’t LinkedIn. LinkedIn isn’t Pinterest. Mastering one doesn’t mean you have mastered them all. When a new site comes along—and they will only continue to appear—the learning begins anew.

Just where are you going to get the time you’ll need to keep up with all this? When we started selling on eBay ourselves in the late 1990s and then interviewed scores of successful e-merchants for our various books, e-commerce merchants shared one singular and very important characteristic: They worked off the parts of their bodies that came between themselves and their seats. And this was in 2003 and 2004, before the wild popularity of Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest.

We’re guessing you still spend countless hours in a room on a chair in front of a computer. That’s what had us so excited about Pinterest to begin with. With the click of a button, you can get an easy boost to your online presence while you do what you would be doing anyway. But as compelling as social networking is, have you found it has actually made your business more successful?

Do you think you could still build a viable online business today with only the barest of social media strategies to augment all of your other efforts?

Social distortion

The other question we’ve begun to ponder is more philosophical and less quantifiable, yet it has come to us more completely with the coming of that aforementioned early spring. In addition to sapping our time, could our social media efforts also be damaging our lives as real social beings? Are we substituting time spent with our virtual social networks for time spent with our real human companions?

As for face-to-face contact? We’re willing to bet you have more than a few business partners you have never met

These are not new questions for e-commerce sellers. Years ago we spoke with a man who opened a small store where he operated his eBay business. When we asked him why he added the overhead expense to his young business, his answer was eye opening. He told us he saw, before too long, that he needed a door to close and lock so he’d stop working.

He said he’d come to see that he wasn’t being a very good husband or father, because he was unable to end his day at work as long as work was also home. He stopped what could have become a familial train wreck, and still went on to build a successful e-commerce business.

In your line of work, and ours, most of the communications we have are via email. It’s easy to go a week without even calling a person on the phone. As for face-to-face contact? We’re willing to bet you have more than a few business partners you have never met.

You may not recognize them on the street, or know them if you bumped into them at a tradeshow. We’re not diminishing the value of how handily machines take care of our communications. We’re just questioning whether there is a time to apply the brakes, at least a little.

Social media’s virtual reality

Many of us feel as though we live more of our lives now in virtual worlds than in our real lives. So the lives we live when all the various screens are turned off can’t help but suffer. We’re writing this not because we claim to know the answers (although writers think that at least if they themselves don’t know the answers to the questions they’re posing they can find someone who does).

We’re putting this out there to you. Can SMBs run a successful e-commerce business these days without devoting considerable time to learning the effective use of social media? Without “relationship marketing” or “likeable social media” or “social commerce,” or all the other buzzwords which you seemingly must know and master to thrive, would you still have a successful business?

We’re not saying forget about Facebook or Pinterest, or Twitter. We’re just saying let’s stop to reassess all this before it overwhelms us—before our virtual lives have sucked the life from the lives we share with our families, our friends and our local business associates, who we can meet in person.

Humans are and always will be social beings. A handshake, a look in another person’s eyes, these are the things that have always bound us together. We propose they still do, and we recommend you take a few minutes on a beautiful spring day to think about it, too.

We’d love to gain your wisdom on this matter, because, honestly, so far all we have are the questions.

About the author

Brad & Debra Schepp
Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Alibaba.com Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book is How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Brad is also a literary agent for Waterside Productions. For further information, visit the couple's website, bradanddeb.com. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • cmoorecole

    This was refreshing and I thank you. 2 weeks ago I blogged and apologized to my non-4existent readership for failing to keep up with the blog and promised to blog more regularly. I have not been back since. 

  • Bucmk

    All so very true. I started with eBay in 1997 and am still sitting here in the same room doing pretty much the same thing. I have become much less social and to date have avoided the likes of facebook as no one has added more hours to the day!

    What’s the answer, no idea, otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here waiting for that good year so I can damn well stop !

    RegardsMike 

  • GinnyC

    I, for one, am very glad that you’ve raised this issue. Much of what you’ve written has been in the back of my mind for several months. I know that I can’t keep up with all these sites and have the time to create what I sell. It’s flat out impossible. I need time to think-to day-dream a design or to simply stare at the materials and see what it tells me to create. All of this creative time is time taken away from social media. But what use is social media for my business if I can’t create something to sell in the first place? It’s been real bind for me at times.

    I don’t have a solution either-I wish I did because I, like many sole owner-designer-creator-sales-marketing-shipping-accounting manager-buyer business owners know I need to market my products through some amount of social networking, many of which I am only barely able to use, but I can’t let it rule my life-work or personal.

    I know I don’t use it as much as I probably should but I have found that I need to pick and choose what I’m going to do with each work day because I limit the number of hours I spend doing my business so I’m there for my family too. I plan my work days one day ahead leaving a little space for unexpected issues. My work times are more productive this way-at least for me they are-but social networking is at or near the bottom of my list. I wish sometimes that was not the case-I can see the advantages and I have had clients come to me as a result of a photograph I posted or a link I posted.

     But I think the real key is how one defines “sucess” in today’s definitions. I’m not looking to make a million dollar plus business. I want a small business I can manage that will pay for its self and afford me an extra income to supplement what I already have. I don’t want to be a millionaire or so sucessful I get written up in magazines regularly. I know my definition is not everone else’s.I can feel this way but not everyone does. I think for them, the sacrifice is worth it, they think. In the end, I think each person has to decide for themselves what they want and what they are willing to sacrifice for it. Just like it is with everything else.

  • 1shotpaddys

    I have been using the Facebook/Twitter/Blogging strategy for about eight months now 3258 people “like” my facebook page but it has not generated one sale! Most comments on my blog are people trying to sell me stuff or worse. I have a few followers on twitter but nothing related to a sale. It may come down to what you sell and who your target market is.

  • Cadimitroff

    I agree that trying to promote my business on all these sites would take away time I can better spend listing new items for sale….list more, sell more is my motto!  I also quit using Facebook as a place to keep in touch with friends….I found that when I have already read their daily minutia, when we did meet in person, there was nothing left to say….I also felt that most of what I posted was either boring or bragging.

  • Very interesting article I would suggest not jumping on every new Social Media site but instead master one or two that you really enjoy using. A social site is nothing without a large following it is better to have a large following on one site than to have 25 profiles with no friends or followers.

  • Kari

    I find this soo funny as I was JUST talking with a friend of mine regarding this very thing… I was very grateful to read this article!  Personally, I am one of those ‘anti social media’ folk.  I’ve been selling on eBay now since 2006 and just had my BEST MONTH EVER… and I have yet to even know what a facebook page looks like, I’ve no idea how to twitter or tweet or whatever it’s called… and my wonderful hubby and I spend at least one to two hours together EVERY morning over coffee and scripture. I love my life, I love my eBay biz and I love the time I spend FACE TO FACE with my friends at least two days a week.  I didn’t need the extra social media before it existed, and I don’t feel like I need it now… I’m not saying there isn’t a place for it for those who use it wisely and it works, but for me… no thanks! 

  • R Janetwalraven

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful and poignant remarks. I have been grappling with this very thing as I sit for hours linking and social bookmarking. I wonder if the entire thing will be archaic by the time I master any of it. Or will it just all implode? 

    • brad and deb

       No, don’t think it will implode but there will certainly be clear winners and losers….

  • Hayden Brook

    I was part of a social media team for the last year. We would round-robin promote each other on 5,or so, different networks (tumblr, FB, stumbleupon, pinterest, twitter, & others). I had problems keeping up with it. It was very time consuming. I studied the google analytics to see how it was working. Well, it helped some, but not enough. I found that spending that same amount of time making & listing more product was ultimately more profitable.

  • Maggiebiz

    All very refreshing!  I keep feeling guilty for not exploiting social media more but there are not enough hours in the day. Maybe I’m just too old for it? As I wouldn’t naturally choose to use FB or Twitter for personal stuff, it does not sit happily with me to use them for business. However I quite like Pinterest at a personal level – as I am quite a visual person – and may look to use this more for business purposes in the future. I think this is potentially a good platform for selling to women in particular and selling creative/artistic products.  We’ll see as it develops!



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