Finding a Babysitter and the Business of Social Media

One of the most persistent claims about social media is that it’s just that: social media. And by extension, that means it’s not a place for marketing or selling.

This claim came to mind again as I scrolled through my LinkedIn feed and saw an ad for a webinar about marketing through LinkedIn. One of the replies that had the most likes insisted that no one wants to be marketed or sold to through LinkedIn.

Somehow this comment reminded me of something that happened when we moved to our neighborhood and didn’t know anyone. We had two young children and needed a babysitter. But where would we go to find one? Sure, we could take a random walk across the web, but instead we connected with a great local babysitter who lived just around the corner.

How did we find out about her? She marketed to us through a flyer put in our mailbox. She sent these flyers around to our neighbors too, some of whom didn’t have small children, and those neighbors no doubt recycled the flyers. But we needed help, and there she was to provide it. We were actually happy to be marketed to at the time.

So what does this mean for social media marketing and selling?

First, when someone says they don’t want to be marketed or sold to on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, they often mean they don’t want to see any ads that are a) pushy or b) irrelevant. Fair enough. No one likes those ads.

Second, there are people who use social media who have real business problems and are looking for answers. If no one pitched them, how else would they know some of us might have some answers? Sales and marketing at its best is nothing more than someone offering help when the person who needs help doesn’t know where to find it. This applied to print advertising, so why not digital advertising as well?

Third, marketers and salespeople leverage social media for one reason: That’s where the people are. With billions of people using social media instead of newspapers or the Yellow Pages, how else can they get the word out so effectively? Even content (or inbound) marketing is still marketing.

Fourth, marketing and sales budgets pay for social media. That is, if no one successfully marketed or sold on these platforms, they would cease to exist.

Knowing this, what can be done to break the impasse?

I think those using social media should ignore any marketing or sales pitches that don’t matter to them, just like our parents and grandparents did with direct mail. However, they should also know that there are companies and individuals out there who are trying to locate social media users who need help so they can, well, help them. While you personally may not want to be helped, know that there are thousands or even millions who appreciate learning that help is just a click or phone call away.

I’m not saying that sound sales techniques don’t apply to social media and that anything goes, but I am saying that, done well, social media is a great way to get and provide help. And if that’s not social, I’m not sure what is.

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