With Social Media, One Size Never Fits All



We hate it when our role models disappoint us.

No organization has done more to bring rigorous thinking to social media than Hubspot. Yes, they’ve sold a lot of software, but they also consistently exhibit the smartest thinking in the space. I’d even go so far as to call them a blessing to the entire marketing industry.

But recently, Hubspot screwed up. And compounding it, they screwed up by quoting Gary Vaynerchuk, whose tireless evangelization for social media has changed the way that American business thinks about marketing (he took a discount liquor store in North Jersey and made it extraordinary).

We are huge fans of both Hubspot and Vaynerchuk. But recently, both of them showed some very sloppy thinking.

And sloppy thinking will kill social media.

The Context

Over the summer, Gary wrote an entertaining (well, he’s always entertaining) piece on LinkedIn called 13 Tweets a Real Estate Agent Should Have Answered, Not Me. Responding to doubters of social media, he wrote: 

So instead of continuing to rant and write and yell and scream and make videos, I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is and actually show you how to do it in a LinkedIn post… Here you go. I sat down for about 15 minutes (15 !!!) and found thirteen examples of the kind of tweets you can be finding, engaging with, and getting value from.

Here are a couple of examples of the kinds of tweets that Gary was talking about:


Gary goes on to give several more examples of people explicitly looking for help on Twitter, explaining that these leads were all in plain sight. But here’s where things start to go south. The good news? These are, in fact, actual real estate leads. The bad news? Not every business is like real estate.

Picking Up Steam

Though the real estate examples are great examples of leads on Twitter, Gary goes on to say that “whether you’re a real estate agent, or a sneaker shop, or a Fortune 500 company, most people don’t think that engaging with the end consumer is scalable.”

And then that piece–and that idea–were quoted in a Hubspot blog called Got 5 Minutes? Use It to Find a New Prospect on Social Media. The Hubspot piece outlined a simple method for searching statuses on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. for your keywords, compounding Gary’s statement by saying “As he notes, it doesn’t matter what you do for business or what industry you are in–anyone can use the search function and see quality results.”

That’s where we really start to disagree. 

The Problem(s)

Let’s clarify our standing first by saying that we’re firm believers in Gary’s technique in certain situations.

When we monitor Twitter for our food & beverage clients, it works great. If someone says “beer,” “burrito,” “wine,” or “sushi,” in addition to a relevant neighborhood, you definitely have someone who you can have a conversation with. That person is a consumer in search of a good that they’ve already decided they are going to buy in the short term. In marketing speak, they’re at the middle or bottom of the funnel.

And that’s where we get to our first objection: Not every business has keywords that are Twitter-friendly. 

Although real estate is one exceptional example with very Twitter-friendly keywords, that’s not the case with elder care, or especially something like custom precision machining (when’s the last time a friend on Twitter said, “Hey, I’m looking for an ISO 9001:2008 certified manufacturer to custom machine a part for me–anyone have suggestions?”? This technique doesn’t work for everyone).

Sometimes, people are selling expensive B2B inputs, or specialized medical care. Or, maybe they’re looking to recruit a person with a specific skill set.

Say you’re in the elder care business. Twitter may have plenty of mentions of one of your keywords, like “fall” or “Dad” or “aging.” That doesn’t make everyone who uses that word a prospect. Sometimes, people are talking about fall as in the season, or Dad as in dressing like Dad, or aging as in aging electronics.

We’ve run hundreds of searches for specific client keywords using this method, and have almost always come up with nothing but noise.

(Note: We run experiments all the time at SMC, because we’re always looking for the best and most effective ways to leverage social media. Social media IS a goldmine for prospecting, but not this way.)

Our second objection? Many businesses do not sell the sort of things that people specifically express a need for on Twitter.

To our knowledge, no one on Twitter has said, “I really need help buying specialized manufacturing equipment.”

Some businesses might get away with this. But remember that unlike Facebook, Twitter is public, and not everyone wants to state clearly in public that they’re looking to buy your product or service. People don’t use Twitter that way, and pretending that they do sets up insanely unreachable expectations.

In fairness, I found my daughter’s orthodontist by asking my friends on Facebook for recommendations. But some things—like divorce lawyers—are less likely to be mentioned because you probably don’t want people to know that you’re looking for one.

And our last objection: Most businesses aren’t national, they’re local.

Even if someone uses one of your keywords (post-LASIK diabetes care), if they’re not local, you can’t do much with them.

Vaynerchuk is great, but he is cherry-picking from a blindingly obvious category that is well-understood and that has a calendar-based purchasing cycle–one that presents a much faster shopping and buying process than B2B products or services. He also was searching all of Twitter, and not just one specific location (which Twitter’s advanced search allows you to do).

Maybe that’s useful if you’re a national realty network like Coldwell Banker that could forward the lead to a local agent, but it’s not so good if you’re selling within a 50-square mile region.

If you’re selling something that’s not a universally-understood consumer good with a national audience (e.g. real estate for Coldwell Banker), you can waste an enormous amount of time combing through Twitter statuses. Trust us–we know. We’ve learned the hard way. As Siskel and Ebert used to say, “We watched this movie so you won’t have to.”

We don’t use this technique for any of our B2B clients because we’ve learned ourselves that it’s a waste of time. On the other hand, identifying people who fit your buyer persona, seeing who they’re following, curating the right content, and participating in the right discussions make a huge difference.

Being sloppy is not a sin, but it’s this kind of sloppiness that makes people believe that social media is bullshit. If you run a pathology lab, or a steel foundry, or a commercial laundry agency and run searches like this, you are unlikely to find any leads, you’ll waste time, and you’re likely to be dismissive of social media—which is the exact opposite of what Hubspot and Vaynerchuk are trying to do.

Our Answer

Yes, Gary’s technique is very useful in certain situations. But one of the hard truths that we all need to realize about social media is that one size never fits all.

Here’s how we tackle that problem here at SMC:

  1. Develop a strategy as rigorously as possible. That means that there are almost no one-size-fits-all solutions. A blog or Twitter account can help almost everyone, but what you do on those platforms will be different in almost every case.
  1. Execute that strategy crisply every day according to current best practices. What worked on Twitter 6 months ago is not what works on Twitter now. And what works on Twitter for sporting goods is not what works on Twitter for real estate. You have to keep up.
  1. Get people to take an offline action that helps your bottom line. That action is usually different for every client.

Gary Vaynerchuk deserves a medal (go buy his books). And Hubspot deserves a national holiday (go license their software).

They’ve both been a huge credit to the industry so far. But this kind of sloppiness really hurts the industry.

The laggards are always delighted to find excuses for why they shouldn’t have to change what they’re already doing. They are cynics– the weakest and pettiest people in any community–and are looking for reasons to stay stagnant.

If we want social media to be the transformative force that it can grow to be, we have to hold ourselves to a high standard. Never empower cynics. And that means holding ourselves to a higher standard of rigor, of ethics, and of constantly testing what we believe.

Don’t let people write off social media marketing as bullshit sold by con men. Social media is incredibly powerful–but only when it’s used correctly.

We’ll leave you with this: social media + rigorous thinking = tremendous returns. But social media + sloppy thinking = wasted time and cynicism.

Reprinted by permission.

About the author: Adrian Blake

Adrian began his career in the television industry, leading the international growth of Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central. Adrian has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an A.B. from Harvard.

You are seconds away from signing up for the hottest list in New York Tech!

Join the millions and keep up with the stories shaping entrepreneurship. Sign up today.