It’s our view that small local businesses can make the mistake of spending wild money on social posts & ads. Here is why and how.

Local businesses can’t ignore social media

That’s the general consensus in marketing: social networks are so ubiquitous on people’s phones that ignoring them is shutting down an important avenue for local businesses to communicate with locals. But there is a difference between using social networks in the current flow of business as a mean to expand the business’ footprint, and investing hard cash into “social media branding”.

Some social networks have a history of working well for certains industries. Building communication strategies around proven platforms for selected industries make sense. But even if investing money in a social campaign can be justified, the investment would need to be backed up by actual sales figures.

And here is where the rub is: too many ad agencies pitch social media as a branding or visibility tool, and fail to measure actual leads generated by campaigns, and actual sales from those leads. Branding is a bad excuse for social marketing. Only posting adn advertising campaigns designed to produce leads justify the expense.

Local businesses can’t ignore social networks, but they have to watch how their dollars are spent. And here is our take on where NOT to put these hard-earned dollars, and where to put them under a watchful eye.

Twitter: Cringe

Twitter is a heap of smelly trash, where opinionated people with a very inflated ego love to snipe cheap shots at other opinionated egotistical targets they hate. The whole Twitter universe reeks of
vacuous 280+280+280+x comments that bring nothing to the nation, nothing to anyone, and certainly nothing to a business — especially a small local business.

Take a look at Twitter’s long-term quarterly profit margins:

Twitter: social media with a proven history of unprofitability

Twitter: A proven history of unprofitability (Source:

Does this graph tell the story of a business that is properly managed, and will give any advertiser a positive ROI on their ad spend? No.

When we hear a small local business pays good money to an ad agency to run a Twitter account, our Cringe-o-meter starts beeping faster than a Geiger counter at Chernobyl.

In all the years we’ve been doing web design and web marketing, we have yet to see any small local business turn a profit from a “social media management” budget spent on Twitter. Even if your ad agency doesn’t run ad campaigns and only publishes regular Tweets, the cost of the time spent publishing content on this platform is unjustified under any rational angle. Your local business’ Tweets get no attention, and if they seem to do, that may every well be because your agency buys “fake Twitter Likes” to make your account look good. These come cheap, at $1 to $2 for a 100 fakes. Fake “Retweets” sell for about $70-$80 for 2500.

All this is absolutely ridiculous, it serves no purpose whatsoever, it won’t make your business a dime — ever. Just more digital junk orbiting around the planet.

Note: If you are a social media agency, and you run Twitter accounts for small local businesses, and can prove that you make your clients a profit in doing so, please send me the audited/certified case studies. I will absolutely re-publish them with due kudos.

LinkedIn: Expensive

We recommend reading this in-depth article about LinkedIn‘s demographic and industry data, reach, usage, and marketing. It’s a factoid full of interesting figures, well-sourced, and the authors have made a commendable effort to cover the topic.

There are a couple of sections that are of interest to marketers: the one headlined “LinkedIn video as a tool for B2B marketers” offers educational information on LinkedIn’s video pull, and the figures are not ridiculous. The infographic put together by LinkedIn and republished under this section is worth studying. The key data among the highlights is the “clickthrough rate” (CTR). Well-calibrated videos would apparently get 25% to 36% CTRs. These are extremely high figures.

LinkedIn and Video Marketing

Effectiveness of video marketing channels – Source:

According to an article updated by Hubspot in January 2020, when compared with Twitter and Facebook, “LinkedIn generated the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate at 2.74%”. Twitter is the bottom feeder at 0.69% conversion rate, and Facebook performs only slightly better at 0.77%.

LinkedIn is essentially a white-collar job marketplace geared towards skilled workers. But the platform is also identified as an educational vehicle. The videos posted on the platform have a high production value. It’s unlikely you find “ghetto-style” videos there. Considering the cost of scripting, shooting, and producing a clean 2-minute business video clip centered around educational content, gaining a presence on LinkedIn ain’t no cheap trip.

If your business has the means to afford the type of video clips that fare best on LinkedIn and its relatively high ad rates, and if your business is B2B on a national scale (i.e. not just locally), the platform may be a good option to explore. If you sell B2C products/services in a local customer service area, LinkedIn is almost certainly NOT a good option for your business.

Facebook: Good for some, not for all

Posting on Facebook works well with community-oriented businesses, businesses in the visual arts and entertainment, lifestyle businesses, and the F&B and hospitality industry. Some of our clients are in these industries, and they have seen a relatively consistent return on their investment into developing or maintaining their facebook presence.

As an example, the Renegade Classics Tucson and Renegade Classics Sacramento stores sell motorcycle leathers, helmets and apparel. They are retailers, but fundamentally, they sell a lifestyle to a vibrant community in a 50-mile radius. Their Facebook pages have a following, and they are present in their own local communities with biker events.

Renegade Classics Sacramento Toy Run 2019

Visual used for a Facebook campaign for Renegade Classics Sacramento (Source: Renegade Classics Sacramento – Art: Yang Design)

When they prepare a sale event, we use Facebook posts to strengthen the reach of their sale a couple days ahead of the event (usually a week-end). We boost the posts to a well-defined audience, and the posts are liked, commented and shared in the biker community. When the event is a big date (toy run, bike blessing, or — in Sacramento — the Renegade Rendez-Vous), we use Facebook ads to reach even further to a custom audience. The buzz makes it way around the Tucson or the Sacramento area, and these events are usually well attended.

Before Covid19, restaurants with a solid Facebook following could post Happy Hours, Dinner Specials and Special Events in their pages, boost the posts, and see foot traffic coming in. Case in point: Chuys Mesquite Broiler on Kolb and 22nd in Tucson. The delicious SoCal food joint is well-known for its bike nights and charity events. When an event is on, the restaurant posts and boosts on Facebook for a few dollars, the buzz starts, and the restaurant fills up for the night. Here again, a friendly business with a strong support in the local community.

Chuys Mesquite Broiler: Community-based Posting

Chuys Mesquite Broiler: Community-based posting works

This doesn’t work as well for businesses in the trades. Over the last 5 years, I have seen 3 different social media agencies spend money on Facebook on behalf of an HVAC client whose website and SEO we managed. The social media money was spent, the return never materialized. No buzz was created, the following did not grow. A complete waste of our client’s hard-earned dollars. This business is a great business, great service, great reputation, great people. But it’s not a community-oriented business, it doesn’t entertain anyone, and their service is not visual. Even the charity events they have regularly sponsored (Run for MS, Humane Society, etc.) never grew their following despite posts and ads. Cringe.

Tucson has a vibrant 501(c)3 community. These outfits do generally well on Facebook when they have events and want to “raise awareness” for some cause. A friend of ours, a Police Officer of the TPD, founded a recovery ranch for girls victims of sex trafficking. Sarah’s Facebook posts are somewhat effective in raising awareness for her cause and events, and growing her following. But where there are many non-profits, there is a lot of competition for eyeballs and charity dollars. Sarah competes in the same general space as long-established organizations, and it requires a sizeable budget to overtake the white noise.

Beauty from Ashes Ranch Gala

Beauty from Ashes Ranch Gala 2019 – Photo: Phil Chavanne

Instagram: Much ado for not much dough

Social media agencies often talk your ears out on the newest social wundermedia. Today it’s TikTok, yesterday Instagram. Claims about Instagram send our Cringe-o-meter into the red zone.

Instagram is purely visual, fosters short-term attention, and their demographics is a penniless audience. Exactly what roofers, electricians, painters, HVAC, plumbers DON’T need to throw money at. The platform is just wrong for them. The idea of “building your HVAC company a following on Instagram” is unadulterated balderdash.

For one thing, the platform requires native content that takes time/effort to produce: square stunning or interesting visuals that don’t demand a lot of thinking and make viewers wish they owned it or were there.

Mandarin Hotels IG Feed

Mandarin Hotels Instagram Feed

This may work well for the hospitality and lifestyle industries, it may even work fine for Realtors, but forget about HVAC. Even local painters would have to post heavily and regularly some colorful visuals to get any significant attention. At what cost?

In our experience, it is practically impossible to get small business owners to implement procedures and systems in their business to shoot and post content on a daily basis: they have no time, they don’t have the buy-in from their personnel, they often have no idea of what will work visually for their Instagram feed. An agency would have to get out everyday and shoot actual content on site to have anything noteworthy to post on Instagram. How much would it cost, and what would be the payback?

Instagram could work well for restaurant owners and chefs who commit to posting menu items and diners every single day of the week. Some are willing to do that, many think it’s a good idea and never do it. Having a social media agency to come to your restaurant every day to shoot actual live content (not memes, not just the menu, not just the room) and then produce this content and manage the IG account to grow the following costs too much to be profitable.

An IG strategy could work IF the restaurant owner is fully committed to producing content every single day. Then the social media agency would focus on growing the following skillfully with a view to increasing the local reputation of the restaurant.

Sweetgreen Restaurants IG Feed

Sweetgreen Restaurants IG Feed

This is an obvious catch. The customer service area of a restaurant rarely exceeds a 5-mile radius (i.e. 80% of revenues comes from diners living relatively close by). Are there enough Instagram users within the area to justify the investment in time, attention and money? It may be argued that IG would expand the service area of the restaurant. This might be the case, but then again, the Pareto Law predicts that 80% of the revenues will be generated by 20% of the diners. Few restaurants see 80% of their revenues coming from diners living farther than 5 miles away. Maybe in a small town, unlikely in a big city.

Moreover, the IG audience isn’t rich enough to dine out every other day, so the number of factors that would have to be just right to justify the expense would make that proposition… unlikely at best.

Watch your pennies…

Watch your pennies

Watch your pennies for a fistful of dollars

There is much to say about Pinterest and the new kid around the block, TikTok, the type of content and the frequency of posting… but this post is already way too long.

You got our drift: if you have $500 to invest into your marketing every month, it would be well-advised to consider the ROI of past marketing actions to establish a benchmark, and then consider social media as just one alternative among others.

By way of example, how about a targeted mailing to your customer service area with the promise of a cash prize for participants? This could grow your e-mailing list very nicely, raise people’s awareness of your existence in your area, and put your business in a position to nurture the new names just obtained through the campaign.

How about analyzing the visitor traffic to your website, and implementing systems to capture more leads directly from the site? People that come to your site don’t come there by accident. They look for your product or service. Much warmer leads than eyeballs casually scouting Facebook to find out what friends and family are up to these days.

Social media is essentially social (and probably a-social in the case of Twitter): people don’t spend time on social media to read your content or see your ads. Your content must be dramatically interesting for them to stop by and watch. it must be anchored in your community. This content is neither cheap, nor easy to produce. It requires skills, money and persistence. It also requires to “flow with your business”, i.e. be generated in a large part in the course of your normal routine operations.

Always consider an alternative use of your pennies, always run an ROI model before committing your resources.

As our grand-mothers used to say: Watch your pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. That made a whole lot of sense.