The internet man cometh
April 4, 2011 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Let's say you run a business without an online / social media presence. A professional firm offers to get your business on Facebook, Twitter, etc. - how much is it worth to pay someone to set it up - especially if you can't be bothered to learn and do it yourself?

Greetings fellow MeFi's,
I thank you in advance to help develop an idea that's currently in its pre-alpha stage :)

Most of you have websites, Facebook profiles, Twitter handles, and so on and so forth. There is a significant percentage of businesses that are not online and have zero online presence. Perhaps some can't be bothered to learn, while others don't know of the possibilities.

But say a professional firm approaches you, offers to get your off-line business (e.g. mechanic, contractor, or a thousand other models) online - a basic SEO-friendly website, a Facebook page, a Twitter page, and a simple back-end page to manage it all. Add to it some personalized phone support that walks you through the basics.

There are two questions here --

One: what's this one-stop social networking managing service worth to you? The details are not intentionally vague (pre-alpha idea), but the concept is social media made simple. The 'my grandma can do it' line comes to mind.

Two: what convinces you? Promising you 'more sales' or showing you case studies will just sound like a sales gimmick, and there's no guarantee a computer with internet access could Google 'Detroit mechanic' or somesuch on-site. Maybe the status quo is working just fine for you, but

The target here is the well-established business who's aware of the internet, but doesn't have the money to hire a computer geek and doesn't like working with Cousin Ted because he speaks down to them.

Thoughts, feedback, ideas all appreciated.
posted by chrisinseoul to Computers & Internet (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think there is very little value to Facebook, Twitter et al, especially if you're not going to use them and keep them updated.

However, I and a whole lot of people my age (mid-20s and younger) would be disinclined to use a business that didn't have a website giving basic information. You have a lot of competitors that do have this. I don't want to have to look you up in the phonebook and call you to find out your hours, the services you provide, your address, etc., etc. if I can easily find this stuff out from your competitors on my time without having to call, etc. You are effectively shutting us out of your business. How much are we worth to you?
posted by brainmouse at 9:39 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think you're going to have trouble finding people on Metafilter who are also business owners with no internet presence. I can tell you, however, from talking with restaurant manager acquaintances who have crappy, awful websites that they just don't see the value in paying money to increase their web presence. So I do think that you'd need to show them data and possibly set up a fee structure such that if they're right and the website doesn't make them any money, they don't pay for it.

I also think--as a web using non-business owner--that the current trend of every business having a Twitter feed and a Facebook page is just silly. Unless your business needs to transmit breaking news, such as the location of your mobile outlet or extremely frequent sales and coupons, most of this social networking doesn't make sense for most small businesses. A website with an address, phone number, price list, and maybe a photo of the storefront is plenty for the vast majority of businesses. I think you'd need to put up some very strong evidence that anything else is necessary or helpful.
posted by decathecting at 9:41 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

I would pay $50/hour to have someone walk me through how facebook and twitter work, assuming I couldn't be bothered to figure it out for myself. If it took more than an hour, I'd probably realize I was being snowed because it just isn't that complicated.

Setting up a website is a separate issue. Setting up the skeleton for a business-card website is the kind of thing that someone who knows what he's doing can do in about ten minutes, so either you throw that in super-cheap (plus some charge for typing in content unique to the customer, if you're doing that), or you charge more by trading on the customer's ignorance of that fact. I believe that puts you in an adversarial position with your customer, which I would seek to avoid. Building a more ambitious website is obviously a separate issue yet again.
posted by adamrice at 9:46 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband's not-online business pays their social media person $500 a month to do daily FB posts, tweets, etc. Website is separate.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:49 AM on April 4, 2011

@brainmouse - definitely correct - but I'm trying to think beyond our demographic here. The random Googler > The random Yellow-pager... At least, that's the idea I'm running with here.

@decathecting - sorry if it was unclear. I guess I'm trying to encourage MeFi's to put themselves in that off-line business owner's mind.

I like the idea of 'if it doesn't help, you don't pay' - aside from a 'how did you learn about us' survey, how could a boost in business be proven to a non-internet-savvy person? He/She will know their own figures, but how could I show that it came because of an online presence, not a seasonal glitch or random chance?

@adamrice: having worked as a computer teacher with adults who were afraid to touch a computer or turn it on, I'm aware that there are plenty of people who aren't aware of sites like this one, or who would find basic computer things tricky. This target individual is business-savvy, but intimidated / overwhelmed by computers; it's just not in their skillset. I wouldn't seek to take advantage of their lack of knowledge... At the same time, you could buy a Coke at the grocery store instead of the convenience store...

@ideefixe: interesting. Any idea on how much benefit they're seeing from that?

No, I won't be responding to everyone personally - just happened to hit refresh :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:52 AM on April 4, 2011

If people were not on board to actually use it themselves once it's set up by this hypothetical outside firm, what's the point of doing it at all?
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 10:03 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

@midatlanticwanderer: motivation? Seriously, though, some people need a kick in the pants to get started, or don't know where/how to get started. Perhaps this hypothetical outside firm would also be doing the tweeting and Facebooking on their behalf.
posted by chrisinseoul at 10:06 AM on April 4, 2011

You know there are thousands of businesses and companies that do this already. This space has a really bad reputation.
posted by TheBones at 10:10 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've consulted with non-profits about the best way to manage their online presence.
Sadly, most of the smaller organizations lack the resources and the knowledge to use social networking tools to further their mission.

With that, I have always asked these people some of the following questions:

What is your intent/purpose in creating a social networking identity?
Who will maintain and manage that identity?
Will this further your mission/goals?

I don't think creating a FB page or a basic website would hurt to create an "online business card" but you need to sketch out a plan (both short and long term) to incorporate into your business practice. If for example, you were a mechanic and had a Facebook page, you could encourage your customers to "like" you -- an opportunity to create an informal network of potential customers. But you'd have to be willing to check that page regularly to keep people "liking" it but also to respond to any feedback, questions or to monitor the activity on the page for spam or inappropriate material. I would even recommend actively updating the page with information that would benefit your existing and potential customers. Post something helpful like "Spring check-up list" for cars or a discount code for oil change, referrals, new customers, etc.

For instance, I use Yelp a lot for when I travel (I never know where to eat!) and looking for new businesses. I know plenty of businesses that have reviews on Yelp where the owners were oblivious to it's existence. Always check these sites and respond to negative (and positive) feedback because the internet as a tool to seek redress/satisfaction is pretty much the standard. When I'm upset or happy with the service I get anywhere, I usually hop right on my smartphone and start reviewing away. There's power to the collective voices of the internet. You want to make sure your voice, as a business owner, is heard.

I think social networking is only as effective as the efforts people put into it. In this age, badly maintained and outdated websites reflect poorly on the business and if the desire is to attract customers to your business, put the work into it that reflects the nature of competency and skill your business wishes to promote.
posted by loquat at 10:14 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Following up on TheBones, I think that reputation is in many cases well deserved.

Really, if you're charging people enough money to show them how to use Facebook that you can call it a living, you're ripping people off. Showing someone how to use Facebook, Twitter, etc. are not that difficult.
posted by Brian Puccio at 10:15 AM on April 4, 2011

@TheBones and @Brian Puccio: you're probably right - are there any specific names (good or bad) that come to mind?

FWIW, there's a method to the madness - one scenario (again I state the pre-alpha nature of this idea) pictures a backend/dashboard for the owner to type and publish, instead of going to umpteen different sites.

Another angle here is a social network monitoring system connected to a phone alert system. A business owner might receive a call from this hypothetical company saying you just got a one-star rating on Yelp - along with an offer to respond on behalf of the company (not sure exactly how).
posted by chrisinseoul at 10:21 AM on April 4, 2011

A couple ideas for you, speaking as small business owner and as someone who is inundated with weekly emails offering to SEO my business webpage, etc.

I’m only answering 2 because it really depends on the type of business for number 1 (my type of business, and many others really don’t need FB…and twitter…if I bother with it, the point would be to use it myself, not pay someone else to do it). Just think carefully before you go offer this as a generic service to all businesses.

For number 2)

• Make sure that you look like a successful company that implements these techniques. (oh how I hate those weekly emails from jane, john or insert whatever first name sent during the weekend. If they were a successful SEO website business, I want to see a website from them (with a domain name) for that email address. I should see that their company has a FB page and high-ranked web page.Although I would not use this service, I think some of these people have extra time on the weekend and want to make extra $, so they are just sending out spam.

• Don’t chase your clients, have them chase you. I think that a far more effective and classy way (vs stranger dropping a suggestion in my email box) to get clients would be to offer a really great, eye-popping free ebook or youtube seminar, or something, telling people how to use FB for his or her business, twitter, etc. You can use real life examples. The point with the PDF ebook or whatever is that 1) people will go to your website (collect their emails by the way for a simple download),2) you will be seen as an expert 3) some of those people will love the idea, be too busy, but you should have your info appear in that book or whatever), 4) people will believe that you are what you say you are (remember, as you said, lots of people can set up FB, twitter,etc….how do I know that you know that you know how to use it as a business?)

• If you are going to do this, why not offer them something that has a bit more meat? Like a marketing plan along with things that are more difficult to implement. A couple services that you may want to consider adding are teaming up with people and offer press releases, a cool iphone ap (if it is related to their business) and not just an SEO website but an eye-popping website. Now this would require project management, but I can see a reason to pay for this last thing if you have great samples.
posted by Wolfster at 10:24 AM on April 4, 2011

I think my skepticism comes from the fact that if the motivation is not built before jumping in, just presenting a finished system with little foundation or discussion about why it's important/what it can do is going to make the effort unsustainable.

And if that's the case, why invest money instead of learning about using social media in baby steps, on your own/free, rather than paying someone?
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 10:26 AM on April 4, 2011

As has been stated above, just being on these tools is not going to be enough, it's what they do for your business. So how do you provide ROI for setting up a facebook page or a website or a twitter account.

Do you currently have a website? What space is the website in and can I google for generic terms and it show up as the first organic hit for every term I search for? Do you, yourself, currently have a twitter account with a million followers? Without having a proven track record, you will have a hard time convincing companies that you can provide this for you.

The all in 1 idea will only work if you can show a proven history of ROI.
posted by TheBones at 10:34 AM on April 4, 2011

@Wolfster: thanks for the good ideas. Having clients chase you is part of the idea - but to begin with, I've envisioned having salespeople meeting business owners in the off-line world. Perhaps a premium package might incorporate a custom designed website made to attract the eyeballs, along with the other ideas.

@midatlanticwanderer: a fair point. Certainly there are some who would rather learn and grow in their own right, but how many business owners would rather take advantage of someone else's expertise / experience? With enough time, I could probably program a decent search engine myself - or I could just use Google and keep up with their advances. If my time is better spent in my core business, of course.
posted by chrisinseoul at 10:35 AM on April 4, 2011

As for specific names, 95% of those businesses are scams. SEO is voodoo- if a company says it can get you to the top of google rankings, it is lying- google's algorithms are pretty sophisticated and are changed often to keep people from "beating" them.
posted by TheBones at 10:37 AM on April 4, 2011

I think you are focusing on the wrong market. I believe that the vast majority of people without a web presence are that way because they don't see any value in it. Think about personal trainers. They are not going to have many clients who don't already see the value of exercise. Their clients are already familiar with the product and find it desirable.

You might want to consider the business that has a presence, hasn't made any updates for months and is run by someone who doesn't want to spend the time away from what they know how to do well to mess with something that doesn't put money directly into the till. If you can't clearly describe the tangible benefits of a web presence (which seems to be a significant part of your question) how do you expect to convince a web skeptic of its value? On the other, the baker who doesn't want to be bothered, after fourteen hours in the kitchen, with updating, might be happy to have someone do it for them.
posted by Old Geezer at 10:44 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

@TheBones: the ROI question is valid - it's hard to be 'the first organic hit for every term I search for', but if this happens, I could showcase other clients and how they saw an increase in business. A website is just one part of this concept - the social network services are (probably) the bigger element.

On that note - any thoughts on seeing ROI on your own social networking efforts? Proving it is a beast - but anecdotes are welcome :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 10:45 AM on April 4, 2011

I think there's a definitely value to social networking if your business has a true need for it and has any desire at capturing a young market. There's a boutique ice cream parlor in my town, and they use it to announce 'secret' tastings and new flavors of the week. It works perfectly.

If you have to ask how it would be useful, there probably isn't a slam dunk need for it, for you. If you're just asking about it now, it's probably not going to work for you. I've seen business owners that have zero clue about twitter/facebook try to shoehorn generic marketing messages into social networking, forget it. I've seen it done and it's embarassing.

I can't think of the last time I dealt with a business without a website. I mean, 2011? Unless you're in a B2B niche or something where you don't face the public, what's up with that?
posted by tremspeed at 10:47 AM on April 4, 2011

I own a small business and have turned down more than a few similar offers. Not to be terribly snarky, but if you could do this effectively with your own material, as a business owner I'd be calmmoring to get on your client list. Making the back end easier is not the problem. Most businesses have little to say in a FB/Twitter/Tumblr/LinkedIn/Whatever environment. Sorry to seem a stalkery, but you do list your website in your MeFi profile, and link to your FB presence; 48 "likes" does not make a FB expert. Before you think about mass marketing to random businesses, get your stuff down cold.
posted by Classic Diner at 10:52 AM on April 4, 2011

@tremspeed - see below :)

@Classic Diner: no stalker worries. A niche blog in a niche field isn't likely to become the next Lady Gaga. I wouldn't expect a Denver mechanic to receive 30,000 'likes', and that wouldn't be the drive. Having some passionate fans and 'sneezers' of the brand beyond Facebook might be one drive...

A brief brainstorming session of possibilities:

• Repairing businesses
• Recording studios
• Audio engineers
• Singing groups
• Dancing groups
• Remodeling businesses
• Painters
• Religious stores
• Computer repair
• Catering companies
• Bars, clubs
• Translators / interpreters
• Financial planners
• Massage therapists
• Physical therapists
• Health and healing therapists
• Contractors
• Beauty Salons
• Dentists
• Jewelers
• Non-profit organizations
• Artists
• Moving services
• Doctor's offices
• Specialized doctors
• Consulting agencies / consultants
• Baker
• Plumbers
posted by chrisinseoul at 11:01 AM on April 4, 2011

OK, you've made a list of the kinds of small businesses there are. Now, pretend that I'm a catering company, a dentist, or a plumber, and explain to me how I benefit from having a Twitter feed.

I'm not trying to be snarky. I just think that you need to nail down what the service is that you're providing to your potential clients. If you can't make us buy it, you're not going to be able to make them buy it either.
posted by decathecting at 12:08 PM on April 4, 2011

Yeah, I'm lost. Are you trying to convince us of your business idea?
posted by tremspeed at 12:18 PM on April 4, 2011

I really don't see the benefit of many of the businesses you've listed to have a twitter feed. You need to think like a consumer. Would you really sign up to a moving company or a plumbers twitter feed to get regular updates? Why would you need it? A lot of these are one off services where you go to a website, you get basic info or a quote, purchase the service and don't think of until you need them again. Regular interaction is unwanted and verging into spam territory. Building these businesses a website could be useful. Convincing them (if you could, I think most business owners would see through this) that there's a benefit to a twitter feed and charging them money smacks of ripping them off. You could actually end up alienating customers.
posted by Jubey at 12:33 PM on April 4, 2011

Marketing/ad agencies are now sometimes providing a service like this for their clients, and I know of a couple of businesses here in Seattle that do almost exactly what you're proposing. And I am right now within shouting distance of the people who provide Facebook and Twitter posts for a couple of larger local businesses. It's not a bad idea, but you will find you have competition unless you can differentiate yourself. I'm actually kind of surprised at all the naysayers here. It's a good business idea and yes, pretty much every business will benefit from using social media.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 12:42 PM on April 4, 2011

You should instead think about how small businesses operate in a social manner IRL.

For example, most gas stations on the highway do not get repeat business - it has to do more with location. Compare this to good massage therapists, who operate almost entirely on the referrals of friends.

How can you translate this into basic online strategy? The former needs simply to be a pin in Google Maps, the latter would need their customers to mention them to their friends, or some kind of check-in.

Each small business needs a vastly different solution - but the way to convince them of your services is the same. Ask them: how do people find you? If they say 'by referral,' then they need some kind of social tool.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 12:52 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can imagine record companies having an online presence (many do), but many smaller bands promote themselves through Facebook, as do other artists. However, a third party usually isn't necessary. Setting up a Twitter feed or Facebook page can be done in ten minutes.
As for a dentist, why would they need a social media presence? Would the updates be "Come to XYZ Dental for a root canal or bleach treatment today!"? I think businesses like that are usually chosen based on location and out of need, not because someone stumbled upon their Facebook group.
posted by cp311 at 6:17 PM on April 4, 2011

Another point: if the business is well established, they would likely either have enough money to pay someone to create their online presence, have the time to do it without a third party, or not need social media at all.
posted by cp311 at 6:19 PM on April 4, 2011

Thanks all for the wisdom - marked some best answers but keeping it open. As a side - but related - question - how have shown, or been shown, the ROI on online?
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:26 PM on April 4, 2011

I think you might need to build on the monitoring/updating portion of what you have discussed.

My dad is basically your target market - small business owner, no web presence. He would be willing to have someone create a web page for him or social media, but I don't think you could convince him to do so at this stage of your idea.

The stumbling block is that he doesn't have a web presence because he can not see the value and has no interest at all in updating things, especially social media which needs to be done frequently. He also doesn't understand how these spaces work, since he has no interest in them, so just setting up accounts and leaving them with him wouldn't be enough. The barrier to entry isn't the difficulty with technology, it is the complete lack of interest, which is difficult to overcome.

What you could provide to convince him would be a convincing argument of what he would get out of the online presence, detailed training for his staff in updating and using the sites professionally and assistance for at least a few months in doing this. This could also help you prove ROI, because just giving someone a presence doesn't mean they will use it in a way that will generate interest. Dad would probably just leave everything how you set it up and then you would come back to try and prove ROI later and find no impact.

Personally I would focus on teaching businesses how to use these tools well, instead of just building profiles.
posted by eclecticlibrary at 12:19 AM on April 5, 2011

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