Why we do everything wrong in social media

Let’s assume, based on a random fact that I just made up for the moment, that 50% of all businesses that succeed are restaurants.

Based on this fact, as a business consultant, you advise me that I should offer daily specials, make up flyers that I post on cars around the neighborhood, be sure I get listed in Yelp and invest in search engine optimization.

But … I protest, we specialize in statistical consulting and evaluation research. Our clients come from around the country and that’s a lot of cars to paper. Besides, I don’t think there is a statistical consultant category on Yelp.

BUT .. counters the business consultant (proving that I am not the only one who can make up statistics), the success of these types of organizations matches the total percentage for all other business types combined!

I have run one business or another since 1985 – sole proprietorship, partnership and corporation. I haven’t made a fortune to rival Bill Gates, but it was enough that, after my husband died, I was able to support three children through college degrees and Olympic competition and live by the beach in Santa Monica. So, it’s been okay. And then, social media experts tell me I am doing it all wrong.

As Annie Pettit said, I must listen to them because some of them have days of experience in social media.

I am not stupid and I once was a young MBA (back in 1980) who thought I had brilliant ideas. And I did know some stuff and was pretty bright, just like the young people that lecture me today, but please, listen y’all …

If you have no clue what my business is, don’t lecture me about it.

The fact is, the majority of our work comes either directly or indirectly (via subcontract) from federal and charitable grants or government contracts. Usually, the grant review panel is specifically prohibited from including information in their decision that is not in the proposal. That means that even if we had an orgasm-producing website with fireworks and a data mining application that read the consumer’s mind, the reviewers would not be allowed to consider that in their decision. And there is usually a representative of the agency on hand to make sure they don’t.

My husband, the honest-to-God-rocket-scientist , commented the other day that I “dominate the AnnMaria space”. If you type AnnMaria into Google the first link is my blog on judo. This blog, which is a combination of statistics, statistical software and just rambling on random shit, is also on the first page.

So… to all those companies that call me and leave messages about search engine optimization, my question is

.. Why the hell do I care if the first thing that pops up in a search on my first name is me?

Of course, it helps if you have an unusual first name. I bet the person who is named Eshnapitaluki is the first link to pop up if you search on that, too. (Unless that just happens to be the most common first name in Thailand, which, for all I know, it is. )

I had a couple of conversations with people from different companies, very earnest, undoubtedly intelligent but not wildly experienced young people.

Search Engine Optimization company:

Him: We can help you be at the top in searches on Google, Yahoo and other major search engines,

Me: Ri-i-ght. That’s very nice. I don’t think that would help our company.

Him: Of course it would! We can increase your business by 50% !

Me: Do you even know what we do?

Company providing consulting on marketing to the federal government

Him: AnnMaria, don’t you think you should get your share of YOUR money?

Me: Huh?

Him: The federal government gives out billions of dollars every year. You should get YOUR share. Don’t you think that’s unfair that you’re not getting any of that money?

Me: Well, actually, I think we should have a good chance if we go in with a good proposal. I mean, I tried the business plan of sitting around with the door open and waiting for people to throw bags of money in, but that just didn’t work out for us.

Him: We can show you how to get on a GSA schedule.

Me: Well, yes, that’s nice, but we generally do statistical consulting, evaluation research. Our average contract is probably around $100,000. I don’t think people are buying statistical consulting services on a GSA schedule.

Him: Oh, yes there are. Every day, millions of dollars worth of business.

Me: Can you give me the name of one example?


[Actually, there are some opportunities on a GSA schedule but the vast majority of business that fits our company is not.]

I am sure that if you are doing search engine optimization it is truly wonderful for restaurants, people selling templates for Dreamweaver (I love pop menu magic from Project 7) and apps from the app store, whether they make you fart or not.

Yes, it would be nice if we updated our website more often. We have received two new contracts, hired a new person and published a few papers since the last time we added any pages or updated any of the old ones. Please do not call and give me your public relations expertise about how I should be sending out press releases and posting something on our site every time we get asked to present at a conference. Please don’t ask me (rhetorically) whether I know that would increase our visibility and bring us more business.

Here is half of my marketing plan –
Deliver products that exceed expectations. I know that is a very trite saying but the more times in a week a client says to me,
“Thank you, you didn’t have to do that” or
“Wow! We didn’t expect you to do that.”

The more in compliance we are with our business plan. Perhaps that did not fit the metric you had in mind?

Here is the other half of my marketing, find out what my clients want and what they need. Talk to them, not at them. LISTEN. I am pretty sharp as a statistician and programmer but no one is more of an expert on what you need and want than YOU. Before I tell people what I am going to do for them and what they need to do, I listen to find out where they want to end up.

This is where the self-appointed social media and SEO gurus are missing the point.

You see, my goal is not to have the largest possible business, make the most possible money and hire the greatest number of people, preferably those working in Elbonia who I can pay a monthly wage of $42 and one goat.

My goal is to have a good life while paying other people well so they can have a good life, too, and providing excellent service to my clients so their lives are easier.

One day I wanted to go to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and look at the flowers. Which I did. See my photographic evidence of flowers at Smithsonian above.

The next week, I wanted to be in Boston to play dinosaurs with my granddaughter. See photographic evidence of dinosaur (not actual size) and granddaughter (still not actual size, but closer) below.

The week after that, I wanted to make enchiladas for Sunday dinner in Santa Monica with my daughters.
Photographic evidence of daughters included, but not the enchiladas. They ate those.

Later, I wanted to go to the Long Beach Aquarium.

There was a hackathon one could attend that offered twelve hours in a room coding with other developers, free coffee and fast food included.

I didn’t go. With my husband, I walked down to the wine-tasting at the Casa Del Mar, sampled white wine (I recommend the Cakebread) and champagne, ate oysters and watched the sun go down over Santa Monica Bay.

There’s been a lot of talk about why there aren’t more women in tech, more start-ups by women – um, I started a company in 1985 but I don’t think that is what they mean.

All the people who call and email me with unsolicited advice on what I am doing wrong tell me that if I just followed their advice I would make a pile of money and have a good life.

I would just give them three words of advice.

Know your customer.

Because, when I scroll up and look at those pictures, it seems to me that I have a good life now.

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