There Is No Free Social Media For Business

ontherailWaay back in the 1990s I co-founded a startup on-line community for the restaurant industry. Ontherail was smart, funny, beautifully illustrated and edgy, and we had a rabid subscriber base of restaurant folk. Blogs were in their infancy and we used bulletin boards and comment streams on posts to communicate with our user-base and we loved every second of it. Unfortunately it was early for online community and although people were willing to join in the fun and we even had a few sponsors, there wasn’t enough revenue stream to support the community and we failed. Nobody saw how community could support a business model.

Times have changed in a big way and yet they still haven’t
Businesses tout their  understanding of the value of social currency and especially small business, for whom the playing field was leveled online by the accessibility of social sites like Twitter and Facebook. Businesses flocked to both networks and created free accounts to market their wares as well as paying a nominal fee to get their content in front of interested users. Many businesses have shifted to using social sites as customer support venues, marketing platforms and communities. Still, as far as participating in social everybody wants to play,  but nobody wants to pay for it.

What hasn’t changed is the need to prove the financial viability of these online communities. Facebook and Twitter are now publicly traded, and they have shareholders to please. Those shareholders and the press are all asking the same thing. Can you make money?

So it should be no surprise to hear that social sites are now looking for ways to turn a profit, or at least break even, and even for these stocks to be profitable enough to be listed on the S&P 500. Shares in Facebook jumped 4% last week at the very thought according to CNN.

The SEC regulators questioned whether Twitter was accurate in their statement saying they were becoming more profitable, but still, as of this writing, Twitter’s stock is roughly twice it’s IPO price.

Now people are up in arms about the recent disclosure that organic reach for Facebook business pages is declining and businesses will need to pay in order to get their companies posts and information in user news-feeds.

Honestly, whether business pays to get into news-feeds is not the concern of it’s user base, who would just as soon NOT see those ads inserted into their stream.  It’s not realistic to think that Facebook should give small business a break out of the goodness of their hearts.

It’s unfortunate that small businesses have invested so much in Facebook pages only to find their information rarely gets seen. But to be fair Facebook built a platform and populated it with consumers. Now that it has reached huge numbers of carefully segmented users it could be an advertisers dream. do we really expect not to have to pay for it?

So I ask you, is business seeing the value in community enough to put our money where our mouths are?


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