About one in three people worldwide use social media of some type at least once per month. Yes, you read that right. That percentage translates to about 2.8 billion people as of the end of 2017. In the United States, usage percentages are about double the global average, with 66 percent of Americans signing on to some social network at least monthly. Since everyone and their second cousin twice-removed is on social media, you should be there too, right? The short answer is “yes,” but with disclaimers and a great deal of caution.

Investing in social media seems to be an obvious business strategy, yet, social media remains a conundrum. Everyone is there, but in the wake of Facebook privacy scandals, it seems many are unplugging or at least minimizing their time investment in social platforms. Add to the mix the fact that social media companies hate you — yes, you. As a bona fide member of the shooting sports industry, you, your business and your employees aren’t really welcome, even if you want to pay. Some of the networks are tolerating some of your content now, but try placing an ad for your gun store and see what happens.

So, what to do? For starters, avoid these 7 Deadly Sins of Social Media Marketing. Don’t worry — after pointing them out, we’ll suggest some alternative approaches that can make social media work for you.

Sin #1 — Outsourcing Your Audience

The great thing about social media is that everyone is there. The genuinely lousy thing about social media is that everyone is there. Here’s what I mean. If users (meaning your followers) are “there,” then their accounts, identities and contact information are also there, locked away in Silicon Valley computer rooms. That means you don’t own them. You only have the ability to interact with your followers as long as the social media giants allow you to do that. Given the shooting industry political landscape, we’ve already seen social media giants censor, cancel, suspend and terminate the accounts of individuals and companies in the gun and shooting industry. Literally, with an arbitrary decision and a few keystrokes, all of your hard-earned followers could forever disappear in an instant.

Entrusting your existing and prospective customer databases to social media companies is a strategy destined for failure. Instead, treat social media as a prospective customer gateway. Use it to find new interested people, but don’t let them stay there. If you view social media as just the first step to building a relationship with prospective customers, then those networks can work for you.

As soon as you make contacts on social media by getting new followers, be sure to present them with easy options for a more direct connection. As “old” as it is, email is a great way to build a permanent bridge. Once you have their email address and permission to communicate, you’re no longer held hostage to the whims of social media content policies.

Every network has some form of “home page” banner and profile, so use that real estate that everyone sees to offer an incentive for people to join your email list. Don’t know how to build an email program? Stay tuned; Tactical Retailer is going to drill down into that in a future issue.

Sin #2 — Investing and Justifying Using ‘Tech Savvy’ Goals

Most every social media network will bombard you with opportunities to grow your footprint by boosting posts (spending money) and running various types of advertisements. They’ll encourage you to justify the expense because you’re “increasing engagement,” “growing reach,” “getting likes” and “adding followers.” If those things make you money, then great. But if those “goals” resemble the business strategy of the Underpants Gnomes from Southpark, then more scrutiny is in order. As a refresher, the gnome strategy was this:

Phase 1: Collect Underpants

Phase 2: ?

Phase 3: Profit.

Yes, you read that right. The key “how” step of turning a social media footprint (or gathered underpants) into profit is kind of important to define. Adding followers sounds great, and it’s easy to assume that will translate into money, but it can often be just an ego booster with no direct financial benefit. When Facebook prompts me to boost a post for just $20 to get more looks, my first question is, “How will that make money for me?” Unless there’s a clear answer, it’s a foolish investment.

Facebook policies on firearms have presented challenges for sporting and firearms businesses. Be sure to examine all social media posting policies before diving into your plans. (Photo: Roger Cochran)

To be fair, there are benefits to building momentum, followers and good mojo in the community. Those things do translate to repeat business and more sales over time, just less directly. Investing in social media with your time, talent and money is fine as long as you are brutally honest about the returns. Unless you sell online to a national or international audience, it’s also important to segregate your social media investment to the geographic community that can buy from you. Having a trillion followers seven states away doesn’t do you much good.

As a follow-on to the first deadly sin, a perfectly viable goal might be to build your email list. That’s realistic and measurable, and it’s relatively easy to monetize and track the success of email marketing programs.

As for direct sales goals through social media advertising, that depends. Most networks prohibit paid advertisements that lead back to businesses that sell guns. In fact, I sell books — and books only — and my past advertisements have been consistently blacklisted because the word “gun” is in the title of a book. Needless to say, I don’t try to invest my hard-earned money on social media ads anymore. While you might slip through the cracks, it’s safer to expect that if you operate a business that sells guns or ammunition, you won’t be able to place paid advertisements.

Sin #3 — Believing Your Business Is Valued

Not only don’t they like you, but social media companies don’t really care about your money. If you’re convinced that gun owners boycotting various social media sites will change anything, think again. The math simply doesn’t work to our favor.

As an example, YouTube is in the advertising business. The more people view a video, the more ads they can run from which to derive revenue. As I write this, Justin Bieber has four videos in the top 100 that have totaled more than 8.5 billion (with a B) views. That ridiculous Baby Shark video is sailing right past 1.7 billion. In comparison, Hickok45 is one of the most popular shooting video uploaders. He has 3.5 million followers and his most popular video ever has 18 million views. Doing the math, Justin Bieber has him beat by a factor of 472. Just the Baby Shark clip dwarfs his .500 S&W Magnum video by a factor of 95. In other words, if YouTube banned all shooting-related content tomorrow, it wouldn’t make a measurable difference in their bottom line. If you decide to invest in YouTube or any other social network, have a backup plan to not only use, but monetize that content in other ways should the door close on you.

This might sound critical and negative, but that’s not the intent. Just be realistic about your relationship with social media. They’re unabashedly using you, so it’s entirely appropriate for you to do the same and “use” them to achieve your specific marketing objectives. I would liken the relationship with social media to being a circus lion tamer. You and the lion can have a mutually beneficial relationship on stage; just remember that the lion might just eat you at some point.

Sin #4 — Posting Whenever You Feel Like It

Social media is like reality TV, right? It should be spontaneous and real, so post whenever you feel inspired. Well, just like “real” reality TV, a good social media campaign should be carefully planned and scripted. That doesn’t mean you can’t add current happenings and thoughts to your information flow. It does mean that you should plan and map out your content in advance, so your brand offers a predictable and steady supply of content through appropriate channels.

Using tools like Hootsuite, Social Pilot or Buffer, you can create dozens or even hundreds of posts and direct them to automatically appear on your social networks at ideal times. You would take a deliberate and planned approach to print or radio advertising campaigns, and the same benefits apply to social media marketing.

There’s a caveat to strategic post planning. It’s up to you to keep an eye on the news and local events. Far too often, a pre-scheduled post appears at an inopportune time, and that makes the company look insensitive or worse. Just stay aware of what’s going on and what upcoming posts are in your queue so you can adjust if necessary.

Sin #5 — Hiding Behind an Online Alias

Remember back in the day when your porch was overloaded with Yellow Pages deliveries? Does anyone born after 1980 know what a phone book is? While the paper version of the Yellow Pages has gone the way of rotary phones, the function is still alive and well. How many people who you know will check Facebook or Instagram first when they hear about a new store or restaurant?

Social media is, among other things, the new Yellow Pages. Google is pretty good at knowing the contact info for your business and probably already provides a link to dial directly. Be sure to make your social media pages just as simple by providing your phone number, physical address and contact email address prominently. Depending on the network, you can also provide detailed descriptions of what you do. Even if you use a picture-heavy network like Instagram, you can still post photos of your business and products so people know exactly what you do.

Sin #6 — Being Unresponsive Online

OK, so you might not think to rely on a Facebook post for customer service. I might not think that either, but some people do. Right, wrong or indifferent, customers are going to talk about their experiences with your business on social media channels. They might even lodge a formal complaint or ask for technical support there.

Make it a point to answer complaints and questions on your social media platforms quickly! Even if they’re nasty, you’ll want to respond. Why? Everyone else sees these interactions when it’s on social media, so answer inquiries and complaints quickly. If it’s dirty laundry, respond with a suggestion to handle the discussion directly by phone or direct message. You want other prospective customers to see that your business is responsive, but that doesn’t mean you need to share the entire customer service interaction publicly.

If you’re going to use social media for marketing, you have to monitor your channels constantly. Set up alerts for each of your social media apps so you can stay on top of activity — especially comments. Better yet, assign trusted employees as administrators on your social media accounts so they can keep an eye out, too.

Sin #7 — Being Monogamous

Monogamy is a sin? In this case, yes. You can develop content by taking cool pictures, writing clever posts and filming video exclusively for your social media outlets, but given the low level of loyalty coming back toward you, it’s a better idea to think about building a content library with selfish desires in mind. Whether you choose to invest in email marketing, a website and blog or some entirely different marketing strategy, think of your social media content as multi-purpose. Put the effort into developing content for properties that you own and use social media to direct people there.

Social media, like anything else, is a tool. How it differs from other tools you might use is that you don’t own it and you don’t control it. In effect, you’re “renting” access to prospective customers. It’s up to you to use social media as a resource only up to the point where it benefits you. In summary, think of social media marketing as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

Featured image: iStock