Free Platforms: When More is Less

@Tim | Development

How Many Platforms Are Too Many Platforms?

Conventional thinking says that you should avail yourself of every tool available to you in order to succeed.  Conventional thinking is wrong.

The easiest way to fail with your online marketing strategies is to try to use every single platform and tool available to a digital marketer today.  Never before have businesses had so many options to spread their message and connect with potential customers.  We have marketing tools and platforms everywhere, and more popping up everyday.  To name just a few of the platforms out there, we have TwitterFacebookMySpaceYouTubeFlickrBuzzDiggReddit, forums, Foursquare, and the list goes on.

There’s one major problem with all of these platforms, though: They’re free.  When you have that many free options, everyone is using every single one of them casually and superficially. The problem is that it’s impossible to have success with any of these platforms as a casual user.

Businesses who have dabbled in every single form of online marketing are often the same ones who claim that it doesn’t work.  “I’ve tried them all, and none of them work.”  That’s a bit like trying to learn ten languages in two months and being frustrated that you can’t have a conversation in any of them.

Alternatively, when businesses are paying something for their marketing, they watch it more closely because they’re afraid to waste money.  Sign a business up for paid search advertising and they will check keyword stats and play with bids obsessively.  Sign a business up for Twitter, and they tweet a few promotional tweets a day, and then eventually neglect the service and never return to it.  The difference?  Paid ads cost money, and if they fail, you’ve taken a loss.  Social media platforms are free to use, and as such, businesses feel like there’s less at stake.

When platforms are free, advertisers want it all, and so they dip a toe in a dozen pools, instead of jumping into a single one.  However, free social platforms require a commitment: a commitment to connect, to listen, to share, to help, and to reply. Otherwise, they are a waste of time.

The answer is not to lobby Twitter to start charging for their service, but rather for businesses to start immersing themselves in a single platform rather than spreading themselves thin.  Here’s my simple advice to any business looking to start in social media:

1. Pick one platform (maximum two), and devote your energies to that one platform.  it doesn’t matter which platform it is as long as you think you’ll be able to find your customers there.  Facebook is a logical choice for most businesses because it has 400 million users, but for some businesses that have a particular niche, other platforms may work better.

2. Learn everything there is to know about that platform.  Before jumping in and promoting yourself, learn about the platform, the culture, and the rules.  The best way to do this is to listen to the conversations going on around you.

3. Build real relationships with the people using the platform.  I used the term “people” instead of “users” on purpose, because all too often, businesses think in terms of users and customers as numbers.  The point of social media is to connect with people.  The total number of fans/friends/followers you have doesn’t matter, unless each of those people have a real connection to you.  I will take 10 real connections over 1,000 artificial followers any day.

4. Become a power user.  This means learning some more.  Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are full of features and functions that 99% of its users don’t use, so find out what they are, and find out how you can use them (hint: think Facebook fan page plug-ins and Twitter advanced search).  You must become an expert on a platform to truly get its full value.

5. Move on to platform #2 (maybe).  Once you feel that you are truly well established on a given platform, that means you know it inside-out and backwards, you have developed solid relationships, you can confidently call yourself a connector, and you can teach someone else how to have success on that platform, then you may be ready to move on to platform #2.  The funny thing is, in most cases, you’ll realize that you might not need a platform #2 because you can continue to derive value from your first platform, and continue building new relationships.  Suddenly, the desire to try the newest, shiniest social media trinket is no longer quite so appealing.

The risk associated with social media platforms is perceived to be zero because they’re free to use. The real risk comes when these platforms are used superficially, and as a result, deliver no value.  Choose a single platform, dive deep, immerse yourself in it, and I guarantee that you will finally see the true power of what social media platforms have to offer.

About the Author: Adam Di Stefano is an online product manager for the Yellow Pages Group in Montreal, Canada, where he helps small businesses connect with their customers using the latest internet marketing strategies.  He also blogs about internet marketing for small businesses at www.AdamDiStefano.com and can be found as @adamds on Twitter, his personal platform of choice.

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