3 Unpopular Reasons Why Social Media Doesn't Generate Leads (And What You Can Do About It)

Sorry Darth, time to move on. These aren’t the Social Media leads we’re looking for.

Sorry Darth, time to move on. These aren’t the Social Media leads we’re looking for.

The Abominable Snowman.

The Loch Ness Monster.

Your kids are sweetness and delight 24/7.

These are three myths that people want to believe, even if they’re not true. The Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist. Neither does The Abominable Snowman. And kids are never sweetness and delight all day long, even if they might be in front of friends and family. 

The same is true for social media.
There are a few misconceptions about social media marketing that many won’t necessarily like to hear, yet knowing about them will help you drive more leads.

So, why is it time to dispel these myths?
You know that feeling, when you’re hell-bent on getting clients, customers and leads through the door, so you put post after post on social media, yet it’s always the same old people who ‘like’ them and your site doesn’t get much traffic?

It’s likely that you’ve bought into the belief that by keeping in touch with your customers 24/7 on social media, they’ll then flood your website or shop and buy your product, just because you’ve been putting up a lot of posts.

When they don’t, you wonder why.
That’s why it’s time to dispel these myths. In spite of these ‘social media dreams’ that you might have been sold, there are three reasons why things aren’t going to plan.
Reasons that aren’t always popular, but they are real and backed by powerful evidence and will help you. This piece isn’t a regurgitation of what you read in most places online.
This piece is the opposite. It’s a wake-up call to small businesses and startups to seriously reflect on whether they are using social media to its full advantage.

These are some big claims from me, so let me explain.
I’m going to talk about:

  1. Why organic reach (i.e. posting without paying for any advertising) doesn’t work

  2. Why thinking that likes, comments and shares will grow your business when in fact, they won’t

  3. Why you need to pay for social media advertising to reach lots of customers.

All this might raise a few eyebrows, but I can assure you that what I say is backed by proven evidence.

So, let’s get debunking some myths.

MYTH No.1. Organic reach works.

We are suckers for the word ‘free’. When we see a free report, a free sample, we’re likely to pick it up because it’s free and there’s little risk in us doing so. However, like most things that are free, you end up having to pay if you want more of the same.

When you taste a sample of cheese, if you want more, you have to buy it. If you want an ad-free YouTube video, you now have to pay a monthly subscription now. If there’s a free PDF to download, you have to give your email address so they can sell you further products. 

When it comes to growing a social media account, it’s easy to fall for this ‘free lunch’ offer/myth that organic reach works.

Let’s take Facebook as an example.
You may have spent hours building up your Facebook fanbase. But now, your posts won’t reach all your fans for free.

Typically, you can only reach about 2% of your fans with a post. You’ve got access to a 2% sample, and you now have to pay to reach the other 98%. If you have a following of 500 fans, typically only 10 will get to see your posts, unless you pay. That’s not very many, is it?

The other problem is that the people who see your post are likely to be those who have liked, commented or shared you posts in the past.
You don’t need to market as heavily to these people, because they’re already familiar with your business. And let’s be honest here: if you’ve recently set up a business and have a new social media account, most of those ‘likes’, comments or shares are going to be from your mum or close friends showing their support.

If the same, few people see your social media posts, then getting those new web visitors and leads is far less likely.

It wasn’t always this way, however. 
A few years ago, Facebook let about 12% of your fans see your business posts if you had a small Facebook following. Okay, 12% isn’t 100%, but it was better. That’s almost 10% more fans than would see a post today.

Facebook’s ‘free lunch’ pretty much ended in about 2016, however, when it became clear that Facebook only let 2% of fans see your posts for free. That’s because Facebook realised that people were bored of seeing posts from businesses littering their feeds, when all they really wanted to see were family or friends taking pictures of their food and what they got up to on Friday night. 

Knowing that people weren’t enjoying the Facebook experience meant that Facebook needed to cull posts from businesses.
It meant that the 12% of views was reduced to 2%. Too many businesses had flooded people’s walls and Facebook had allowed businesses to get away with it for free.

Now, if you want more people’s attention who might become leads, you now have to pay.

That brings us to MYTH No.2: you don’t have to pay for advertising to get more leads.

I read a quote the other day in a book called ‘Eat Your Greens’ from a marketer at Coca Cola who said he could reach more fans with a $500 Facebook ad than he could from an organic post to tens of millions of fans. That really paints a picture about why the free lunch that we’ve become accustomed to is well and truly over.

It’s not just on Facebook where there’s ‘no-more-free-lunch’ either.
I might have given Facebook too much of a hard time. I mean, there are other social media channels out there (like LinkedIn) where you also have to pay to play.

Next time that you’re on LinkedIn, look at posts you see on there.
Unless you are lucky and create a post that goes viral or you have a high reputation already, you’ll notice that few people like or comment on posts. And those that do are often the same cluster of people. 

The experience is similar on Instagram.
Businesses are getting fewer of their posts getting in front of their followers’ (and potential customers’) eyeballs. To put this in context, I was watching a webinar last night from Marketing Week about how to build a brand on Instagram. The message was clear: you need to put money behind Instagram posts to really get anywhere, or else face immense frustration at not generating enough traffic to your site.

Yes, there are a few ways to get noticed without having to pay.
I hear comments like ‘use videos in social media’, ‘do live videos’, and ‘do lots of them’. ’Make sure that you’re using the correct hashtags’, ‘invite people to a closed Facebook community’, ‘tag people in the comment section of your post’, or, ‘comment on other people’s posts with detailed answers too’.

I am not saying these don’t work, but on their own, they won’t be enough to give you the consistent flow of leads that you need.
These sort of tactics are just short-term sticking plasters. There is only so far you can go without having to dip your hand in your pocket and pay for advertising. That’s because the house always wins (or should I say Facebook, Instagram’s or LinkedIn’s algorithm always wins).

The system has always been set up to give you a taste of reaching fans for free, whether it’s 12% or 2%. We’ve all had a taste of the free stuff and now we still expect to reach all our fans for free.

Social media companies aren’t in this game to make the world a happier, fluffier place where everyone connects online with big smiley faces. Making money is their biggest driver. They have shareholders to please above all else.

And to make this money, you have to be selling something to someone.
For social media companies, that someone is not the everyday social media user. Instead, that someone they want to sell to is us, the business owner. Yes, we, the business owner, are the customers of social media companies and the everyday people who use it for free are the product. And if you want to reach people (Facebook, Instagram’s or LinkedIn’s product), most of the time you need to pay to get in front of them.

So, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
It’s about business for social media companies. As a business owner, you have to pay for advertising. You have to put money behind social media to get consistent numbers of leads. There’s little incentive in just putting up any old post on your feed and hoping it works. Now that you have to pay instead, the pressure is on to make every post count.

And that’s not actually a bad thing.
It forces businesses to produce posts and social media content that people value and will get something from. In return, that should help your business grow, because people feel less bombarded (hey, they might even like the posts!). And it means that customers get a better experience on social media because businesses will have thought more about their posts (now you have to pay for them) and make them more relevant.

Now we know this, we can deal with the next unpopular myth:

MYTH No.3: You need to ‘engage’ with lots of customers 24/7.

Instead, it’s more important to keep reaching more new customers than spending time engaging with your current ones.

But surely getting likes, comments and shares and engaging is most important? Doesn’t it show posts are working?

Well, that’s what we’re told: “Engage with your audience. Get your audience to share your content.”

Engagement should not be your first objective, in fact. Instead, reaching more customers should be. Here’s why:

New customers drive more lots more leads in the long-run.
There’s a tiny link between how many people like, comment or share (i.e. engage with your social media posts) and their desire to buy.

In the book 'Eat Your Greens’, you’ll find a whopping study into 458 social media brands by the independent market research body Nielsen (the not-so-neatly named ’The Nielsen Brand Effect Online Global Facebook Campaigns 2014-2015’). It shows that there’s about a 1% to 3% correlation (or link) between someone who likes, comments, shares, or clicks on your social media post, and their intention to buy from you.

That’s a pretty small percentage and a pretty huge thing to realise. 

This controversial myth doesn’t end here either.
Another example of a large social media campaign found 90% of their sales came from people who didn’t actively like, comment on or share their social media campaign. That means, that only 10% of sales came from people who actively engaged with their social media posts. But the people who saw the posts yet who didn’t engage (i.e. did nothing active, like press the 'like' button), drove 90% of the sales.

So that’s why you have to reach lots of potential leads above all else.
Cast your net wide. Stop chasing popularity and likes, and instead reach more people with paid advertising week in, week out.

Let me explain further why reaching more customers, not just a few engaged ones, is extremely important.
For years, The Ehrenberg Bass Institute For Marketing Science in Australia has proven beyond doubt that to grow any size business, you have to reach a lot of customers to grow, not just a few. If you choose to only reach the few who ‘engage’ with you the most, the growth of new leads slows and even stagnates.

(Check out ‘How Do Brands Grow’ by Byron Sharp and ‘The Science Of Viral Sharing’ by Karen Nelson-Field – two books from my ‘Marketing bookshelf Hall Of Fame’ that I refer to a lot – and see how this is true for any brand of any size, anywhere.)

At the very least, if you pay Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn to boost your post to all your fans, that’s not a bad idea.
You can reach all the fans that you’ve been collecting, and that will help a lot. But most Facebook ‘fans' do need reminding. If someone hit ‘like’ on your Facebook page a while back, they are technically a ‘registered fan’, but they’re not on the same level as a fan who spends hours watching Justin Bieber videos and listening to him on Spotify. So, you need to remind them that you are there.

A Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn ‘follower’ is usually fickle.
They are someone who liked your social media account, became a ‘fan’ or ‘follower’ without much hassle and then got on with life and most likely forgot about what they’d done. I mean, can you name all the pages and accounts that you follow? I doubt it.

So, it’s a good idea to reach out to all fans with paid-for advertising and remind them that you’re there, as frequently as time and money allow.

It’s sensible to take things one step further.
It makes sense to pay for advertising that reaches beyond your current fans and followers. It’s important to introduce new people to your business. And that comes by casting your net wider and targeting people on Facebook who aren’t fans.

When you do that, you’ll slowly but surely get on their mental radar, so they consider you when they’re in a position to buy something that you sell.

It is important to pay for advertising consistently rather than in short bursts.
If you want to reach new people and for them to remember you, you need to be in front of them a lot. People are forgetful and don’t have strong memories about who you are (not at first at least).

If they only your ad once in a blue moon, they get busy with their own lives watching Netflix, taking the kids to school, buying decaf soya lattes – and you go to the back of their minds. But you if you are there regularly in their social media feeds, you’ll keep their attention.  

Sometimes however…
It can be sensible when you are going for an immediate quick sale to not reach many people. If you want an immediate result of a sale, then it pays to only target a few people who like and know you. These might be fans, previous customers, those who have given you their email addresses or you have tracked them with a cookie from your website and retargeted them with a Facebook ad. All this can work wonders.

But if you only target a small, narrow group of people forever, you’ll soon run out of people to sell to.
You’ll need to spend more time than not growing awareness of your brand by reaching lots of new customers. Generally speaking, a 60/40 approach works well. That is, it pays to spend about 60% of your money on building awareness and creating a warm pool of potential customers and leads, and about 40% of your money chasing shorter term sales.

(The precise figures vary, so do check out more from the IPA’s “Media in Focus: Marketing effectiveness in the digital era” which goes into a lot of detail about how to split your advertising budget. Or email me and I’ll guide you in the right direction.)

Unless you are a big celebrity, the truth is you have to ‘pay to play’ on social media in the long run to get any noticeable results. 
It works even better when you have other things to offer (besides your ads) like posts with great words, visuals or videos and something great to download. It works even better if you are also running events, podcasts or radio ads whilst advertising on social media. Reaching people through different media channels drives momentum, because customers see you in several different places.

I think that’s enough social media myth-busting for one day.
There are some big claims in this piece, and hopefully I’ve dispelled some myths for you.

Just remember these three points:

  1. Organic reach barely works anymore, the free lunch is over, so you need to pay for advertising consistently to get bigger, better results

  2. Chasing likes, comments and shares won't grow your business

  3. Reaching lots of new people consistently will grow your business.

Go forth and conquer.

Thanks for reading, and toodle pip,


PS. If you have any questions about this article, email me at simon@thebrainwheel.com

PPS. If you enjoyed this article, why not read my eBook The Wasp Trap about how to create the first five lines of a sales page that will get customers staying on your site, and not bouncing away. Click here to read it.

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