I have a business too! How many “likes” does yours have?

In my first article on 'Burnout' I said: “If a tree falls in the woods and doesn’t get a flurry of retweets, did it even?” It’s a good question that could be called facetious, depending on how seriously you take social media.

The point is that anyone can have a business nowadays – (they always could, I suppose, legally speaking) – but who reading this has never received an invite to “like” a Facebook page for crochet, upscaling furniture, or photography? It seems that all Joe Bloggs needs to do to assert their credentials is to create a Facebook page inspiringly titled Joe Bloggs Photography. Although, to their credit, that name does clearly tell you who it is and the umbrellas under which they operate.

'Yay!' I sometimes see posted on Bloggs’ personal feed. 'I’ve reached 300 likes! Thank you!'

300 likes from a 500+ friends list is a great conversion rate, but a simple click-and-forget isn’t the same as securing business – conversion to sale.

That is undoubtedly the thing Bloggs should be most excited about, focused on, but in these times of grossly inflated social media, which increasingly substitutes the real world, people can often be too quick to “frame their first dollar”. They want everyone to see that it’s working; that other people are interested, and so you should be too. In the beginning, 300 likes certainly feels like an achievement. To certain people it becomes validating, as most of social media can be, and gives rise to the thought, “Surely those sales will pour in now!”

There is, of course, a difference between a side-project and a start-up. However, whichever side of the fence you’re on, it’s important to remember that a vast majority of social media is a stick painted orange…

West End stage or soap box?

I don’t want to demonise social media as a means to drive sales, of course. Depending on the business, it will bring in sales provided there’s a robust and measured game plan involved. But if that is the case, we need to look further into whether it is right for you.

First thing’s first: You’ll need to keep posting to reach your audience – often daily and even then, several times. But there must be a balance, right? Yes, posting engages and updates your audience, but there is a perception that posting repeatedly will appear to your audience as spamming. Is that true?

In a Forbes article, it’s reported that analytics firm Union Metrics 'looked at the activity of 55 brands over a period of several months [on Instagram, and] the average brand posted 1.5 times per day.'

For large companies, this is naturally a boon – the audience remains engaged, and there are apparently little to no signs of “audience fatigue”. However, this will apply to Nike, Sony, or Netflix, and not your average start-up business, operating from a small room with a small team and budget. Those goliath brands have decades of notoriety behind them, having done all the groundwork to become ubiquitous, and they employ huge teams beavering away 24/7 on many projects so that there are new products, new services, and exciting developments that will affect people. Quite frankly, there’s always news.

But what about Joe Bloggs Photography? Or your plucky tech start-up persevering through unruly code? Or the chicken and waffle caravan frying their way to premises in trendy East London? In short, what does it mean for you?

From pillar to posting

Well, let’s say you’ve made your first sale or received an award and you want to “frame your first dollar” by announcing it. You amass likes or retweets – certainly more than you normally get on an average post – and you feel driven. That’s good! Driven for what, though? Likes? This is where things become tricky…

The inevitable happens; there’s been a lull in newsworthy activities for a few days, perhaps weeks, despite your toiling away behind the scenes. You’re struggling to post content featuring meaningful progress every day. Either post frequency drops or the quality inevitably does, your followers begin to disengage, and it becomes easier to get lost or ignored.

To keep those analytics up, the time spent – both mentally and physically – working on social media increases, leaving you less time to do what drives actual progress, sales or otherwise. Or perhaps you employ someone dedicated to social media, which eats into revenue at a crucially early stage. Entrepreneur Europe states that it takes an average of three years before a start-up becomes profitable . Does this mean that we should delay all social media until closer to three years in? Maybe it just means that we shouldn’t take our online presence so seriously until we are.

One thing is for certain: Once you start posting, you need to keep it up. That earlier Union Metrics study found that Instagram accounts who abruptly decrease frequent posting will see a significant loss of followers – and quickly. But why?

Nowadays, no news is bad news

How fast a business grows varies wildly, of course, depending on supply and demand and a whole host of other reasons. Some businesses don’t need social media because they’re B2B or address areas so local they thrive on direct recommendations, and for others it’s an essential tool in brand-awareness and sales. But what about you and your modest start-up?

Establishing accounts for your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or elsewhere is a sensible way of securing the relevant domain, even if you don’t use them, but you have to seriously question if a frequent posting schedule will be a boon or a detriment. A lot of progress just isn’t “sexy” enough to shout about or would be better keeping to yourself for now.

And yet, with the immediacy of social media in our daily lives, not posting for a while can feel like an admission of failure or lack of progress. In reality, most people are sharing cat memes, and have learned to ignore traditional advertising or updates. They’re not hanging on your every word.

Unsocial media…

So, the crux of all this: How does social media affect our mental health?

Few or fewer likes, comments, retweets and shares may begin to cause individuals to reflect badly on themselves. It may cause them to diminish or disregard their valuable progress simply because they’re not getting the online notoriety that has become the seemingly invaluable and certainly insidious social capital of the last couple decades. It can make them feel small, as larger companies with established profiles effortlessly command more attention. There’s a lot to consider.

Running a start-up company is already difficult and many entrepreneurs, when asked, have openly stated that there are very real issues with isolation. When they do meet people, they are often in “business mode”, pushing an idealised narrative of competence and unbridled success to appear capable and investable. Social media exacerbates this, not least because interactions are measurable.

But remember, platforms monetise interactions with your followers. That drop off in likes might be because you haven’t posted in a while or because fewer than usual liked your previous post, and so the algorithms actively “punish” you. Every day I’m encouraged to “Boost [my] post to reach thousands for as little as £28!” when really, I just want my posts to at least reach the audience I’ve already amassed.

Not all early birds tweet

Not wanting to spend money needlessly, you may well begin to dance to a tune that isn’t your own. Unsexy updates give way to attempts at going viral. You may begin to play the social media “game”, potentially losing integrity.

Sure, the humorous, barbed tweets from Wendy’s have been more popular than their actual adverts, and they’ve used their viral banter to make sales in the millions, but… it’s important to note they already had vast brand awareness, and context is key. Just because it’s funny when they do it, doesn’t mean yours would be so well received.

So, focus on your product or service. Focus on the individuals or organisations that can improve or advance them. Networking with people is a more effective and important form of progress than likes or retweets on any platform. After all, the time-old adage “build it and they will come” will depend first and foremost on building the “thing”.

I’m not here to demonise social media, of course – it is a valuable tool for outreach and awareness – but I am stating that it should not be at the core of your value as a business or individual. It is a rigged game, and you and your product are worth more than making those platforms money.