Does Everybody Need Social Media? No.

No really, we don't all have to have social media.
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My boyfriend says that I take too long to get to the point. He’s not the first to say so.

Some points need proper background and context to be well made.

So, for those of you, like my boyfriend, who want the point — Right. Now. — here’s your TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read).

TL;DR

Not Everybody Needs Social Media Marketing.

There. I said it. (I hope the social media gurus and ninjas will keep reading before they make me relinquish my membership card.)

Most everybody, if they’re interested and enjoy “doing” it for the sake of doing it,
will benefit from savvy and thoughtful participation in social media.

Perhaps, there’s someone in your work or personal life who keeps bugging you about your marketing. They say, “You really should have social media.” They say, “Everybody who does what you do has social media.” They’re incredulous, “Aren’t you on social media yet?! Not even Facebook? What’s wrong with you?”

If somebody’s been hounding you this way, show them this blog post.

Don’t show them the TL;DR. For tweet’s sake! Make ‘em read the whole darn thing.

Back to Story Time & Stage Setting.

I had this talk once. Over beers. With an Austin friend of mine. Who’s also “in the biz.”

The Social Media / Inbound Marketing / Content Marketing Biz.

Whatever we’re calling it these days.

The biz. The beers. And Austin. All important to this story.

You see, Austin is a small town.

Well, it was. Somebody forgot to shut the gate. Techies and start-up whiz kids flock here from both coasts like richly plumed steampunk birdies. In pockets of their Austin, where gentrification paves the streets in hipster gold, it’s still like a small town. At start-up crawls, coworking spaces, and happy hours, it’s still like a small town.

Forget Kevin’s 6. Four years ago, Facebook showed that, even outside of this Cap City sociology experiment, among FB users — the most populous “country” on the planet — we’ve cinched our degrees of separation down to 3.74.

Here in the #ATX start-up and tech community, we’ve narrowed it down to one degree, maybe one-and-a-half.

I’ve roped and hogtied my inner introvert into attending a few of past-my-bedtime-reading shindigs around town and hung out with the cool kids a few times, like at South By, and BASHH, and a dozen or so on-site job interviews.

We toast our own bold pronouncements about Social Media.

Warmed by our sponsored pints of local craft gluten-free artisanal ale, we spin along in a happy haze of jargon and back-patting. Sharing our stories as pioneers in this burgeoning Wild West.

Even if we don’t do social media, as such. Or content marketing. Or whatever. We’ve been living inside this zeitgeist – coding it, angel investing in it, and participating one way or another — since forever.

It’s cozy in the echo chamber. And they know me here. (But still, it’s past my bedtime and I’d rather be reading.)

As in any closed society, with few outside inputs, it gets real insular, real quick.

No matter how voraciously we read our RSS subscriptions and our VC’s newsletters and our reddit threads, we’re self-selecting to perpetuate an unconscious bias.

Wha-huh? Unconscious bias in start-ups and the tech industry? Nuh-uh.

Namely, we’ve drunk our own Kool-Aid and digested the marketing message of progress for so very long that we have some deeply ingrained and yet unexamined assumptions, like:

  • every person with purchasing power has and wants a high-speed internet connection
  • every business accomplishes all, most, some, or any of its ends online
  • the march of progress is inevitable and digital

Meanwhile, on the Other Side of Town…

Skaters hardly need social media.

I had been going to adult skate night for several months, focused on staying upright and little else.

Eventually, I got to be a regular and started getting to know the others. I still don’t know what most of them do. Heck, I still don’t know most of their names. I suspect even a fair few of them work for startups. It is a small town, after all.

But the rest of them… Well, the rest of them do “normal” jobs, or working-class jobs, or blue-collar, or even not-blue-collar, but not tech and not start-up.

Golly, somehow, they’ve survived, ya know?

You’ve probably seen that show, Dirty Jobs, right? And, perhaps have a man- or woman-crush, like I do, on the show’s host Mike Rowe? And know of his mikeroweWorks Foundation whose mission is to close our country’s skills gaps in the skilled trades? Lotsa ink has been spilled about our infrastructure and the impending brain drain when gazillions of Boomers retire and take their implicit work experience and knowledge with them. (In fact, I’ve spilled some, if you’re interested to read more about how Profoundly Disconnected we’ve let ourselves become in the “real” world of work.)

Back at the rink

I know one short-haul trucker. He keeps his routes in Texas, sleeps in his own bed, owns his own rig, and used to run a construction business.
A college math professor. A high school English teacher.
A maintenance man for an apartment complex.
A residential construction worker.
A commercial construction worker.
Two cable installers.
Somebody who works for the city.
Somebody who repairs computer parts.
An insurance claims adjuster.
A tree surgeon.
A barber.
A FedEx driver.
An inbound sales call-center worker.

I pray thee, does any one of these folks need to have social media to grow their business?

None of them. For the love of Zuck, none of them.

  • The big-rig driver isn’t going to find loads bound for Dallas from San Antonio by having a tightly curated Instagram account.
  • Conceivably, the maintenance man could improve his apartment complex’s standing on Yelp. (But this is Austin and vacancies are at record levels of Slim and None.)
  • Probably, the arborist could attend to his Angie’s List presence. But he’s been doing this for thirty years and works on a referral-basis only.
  • The educators could use social media for huge gains but not in the business sense. Rather, the opening and engaging of young minds, lowering the affective filter, and co-creating a space for learning.
  • The fella who lays carpets in new home construction. Does he really Have to Do Social Media to grow his business? No. Just no. C’mon. No.

When somebody at the rink asks what I do, unlike in the gilded halls of the echo chamber, my first answer never works, no matter which version I give. I can’t tell you how refreshing that is.

But, they get it when I say that “Um, well, so, I do Facebook for a living.” It’s just not the epitaph I would have chosen.

Back to the Talk with My Friend. Over Beers.

More Beer

Basically, I was talking about my new skate fam and ranting to my very patient friend that:

Not. Everybody. Needs. Social. Media.

And, he said….

Do you know what he said?

This social media professional?

Famous on the interwebs for his social media expertise?

This guy who spent a few years on the speaker circuit for Important Issues in Social Media?

He said,

I know, right?!

Then, in my giddy excitement, I knocked over my beer when I threw my arms around him and kissed his forehead.

*beer foul*

That was the evening we came up with…

The Parable of the Social Plumber

Once upon a time in a land not so far away, there lived a plumber and her family in a bedroom community outside of a thriving metropolis.

The plumber came from a long line of plumbers and knew it to be a profession that could never be outsourced overseas; one that wouldn’t soon be replaced by robotic machinery.

When it came time for the young plumber to graduate high school, she didn’t even second-guess her decision to pursue post-secondary vocational tech versus prancing off to college like so many of her friends (who are still paying off loans… and looking for work.)

How our fabled plumber gal became a social media rock star

Even before she was an apprentice plumber, she started a Twitter account, @YourLocalPlumber, and a Facebook page of the same name. She claimed and began to groom her presence (and her mentor’s presence, separately) on Yelp, Angie’s List, and Google Local. She opened an Instagram account for a slightly more personal angle.

She gave herself simple social media marketing guidelines

Our lady plumber decided early on:

  • Never to share anything gross
  • Never to share exact locations of herself or her clients
  • Never to share personally identifiable information about clients
  • Always to share the funny, furry, inspiring, intriguing things about her day:
    • sunrises and sunsets from the freeway
    • nice people at drive-through windows, with their consent
    • funny signs along her route, from churches, banks, panhandlers, wherever
    • beautiful landscaping on client sites and along the way
    • her finished work, as appropriate
    • shiny, flashy brand new parts and pipes and other industry merch

And, by the time she turned out from her apprenticeship, that is, when our little girl was all grown up and ready to be a professional plumber on her own – her client base was strictly from social media and word-of-mouth.

And she lived happily ever after. The end.

The point of the parable?

Not Everybody Needs Social Media.

But, you’d be a lot cooler if you did.

Here are some people who didn’t need social media, but went for it anyway. And, it looks like it’s working out. Really well.

In the trades

    • Electricians and Electrical Contractors: Albright Electric, LLC, out of Glen Rock, NJ. Check out the clever shareable content on their Instagram feed.

    • General Contractors: Joel & Co. Construction in LA with almost 15K followers on Instagram.

    • Plumbers: Stopcocks: Women Plumbers in the UK with their very engaged Twitter presence and +3400 followers. They talk about everything, including their trade, vo-tech, gender politics, and more. Here’s a funny shareable from their FB feed.

Stopcocks Plumber's Facebook posts

Posted by Stopcocks Women Plumbers on Friday, September 25, 2015

In the service industry

I’ve already talked at length about one hair salon’s successful use of social media as part of their integrated marketing program. The same approach has been embraced up and down American “Main Street” by Mom and Pop shops. The younger ones claim their domain and social accounts as part of the small business launch, it’s just a matter of course. So, I’m not really focusing on them here.

In the sciences and medicine

Okay, now this one is not for the weak of stomach. I’ll include links, but no photos.
Do NOT click thru if you get queasy easy.

  • Pathology assistants, forensics experts, and morticians, oh my. For instance, Mrs. Angemi, a PA, whose account is dedicated to the long-standing medical tradition of Mortui Vivos Docent. The dead teach the living. She provides an educational service to almost half-a-million followers. There’s been some indication of late that she’s exploring ways to monetize, most notably with product placement and a new YouTube channel which will generate ad income.
  • Dental surgeons, in other countries. Spain. Lebanon. Malaysia. Russia.
    Try as I might I can’t find dental surgeons stateside who are advertising, at least not this graphically or maybe not on Instagram.
  • But I can find dermatologists who use social media to get new patients. And rake in ad revenue from YouTube videos. I give you the absolutely adorable Dr. Sandra Lee, a board-certified dermatologist, skin cancer surgeon, and cosmetic surgeon, AKA Dr. Pimple Popper with 276K followers on Instagram and 365K followers on YouTube.

Did Any of These Professionals NEED Social Media? No.

Are hundreds, thousands, and millions of their professional peers succeeding without? Yes.

You don’t need it.
You don’t have to do it.
But, if you’ve got the temperament for it and you enjoy sharing — knowledge, deals, tips, tricks, scenes, good news, inspiration, information, and so on — you might consider it.

In the meantime, tell me in the comments below — Do you know any other non-obvious social media power users who are outstanding in their field? Like landscape architects or farmers or lawyers or librarians or mechanics or whoever? I’d love to see what they’re doing.


Image credits: Suzanne Hoenig

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Suzanne Hoenig is a strategist and writer helping small businesses, nonprofits, and private practitioners craft their marketing copy, grow their online and offline community, and navigate the changing tides of social media and digital content marketing.

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