You’ve all heard the hype. Everyone’s on Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram. There’s tweeting going on everywhere, but not a bird in the sky. And something called Snapchat where messages disappear…but you might be able to advertise there?

As a flooring retailer, the wall of sound and fury over social media can be overwhelming. There are consultants and agencies and marketing types of all stripes asking for you to spend your dollars on this exciting and overwhelmingly popular medium. Everyone’s doing it, and you need to be doing it, too!

I’m here to tell you the opposite. In fact, most of the “social media experts” don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to flooring businesses. As an expert in online media for local home improvement businesses, I can confidently state that many of these “experts” can, in fact, be wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Why? Allow me to explain how a skeptic views the social media universe—and how it should be viewed by local flooring retailers.

Reality is a Kick in the Pants.

We all know that Facebook is the most popular thing since color TV and the lunar landing. But what are people doing there? Goofing off with their friends. Wasting time. Trying to be “liked.”

What they’re not doing? Looking at flooring options.

Facebook and other social media attract such large audiences because they put the person in control of their experience and let them create a universe of experiences that probably doesn’t have commercial intent.

Hence, they’re not looking for flooring. Sure, there are instances where homeowners will ask questions of their social network like, “Anyone know a good flooring company in the Walla Walla area?” But those are extremely rare, relative to the amount of total activity on any given social media platform.

Your Marketing Territory Matters—A Lot.

The next strike against social media for flooring retailers is marketing territory. Every flooring retailer has a specific market area where most of their business comes from. It could be as small as a couple mile radius, or as big as the whole country. But most independent flooring retailers are going to skew their territories towards a drivable distance around their location.

This dramatically limits the audience to be targeted. While Facebook may have more than a billion members around the world, there may only be 25,000 who matter to you, because they own a home and are in your marketing territory.

It shrinks your potential audience dramatically. But that fact often flies right by every consultant and guru who are “experts” in social media but not your business. The question isn’t “How do I advertise on Facebook?” The real question is “How do I reach my specific audience on Facebook?”

There’s a massive difference between the two. Starbucks can drive huge results – because they are everywhere. McDonalds is everywhere. Walmart is everywhere. They don’t need to worry about targeting so much. You do.

Does Facebook Matter? What About Twitter? Pinterest?

It seems like a new social media platform comes into vogue every couple of months. But it’s actually more stable than you would imagine.

Twitter has not yet proven to be an effective advertising vehicle. Snapchat and Instagram have the same problem. They are in their infancy when it comes to helping local businesses advertise. Pinterest has proven to be a stronger advertising vehicle, but mostly for national businesses and online retailers—not local operations.

Which leaves us with Facebook – the 800 lb. gorilla of social media. They are stable, and they have really improved their paid advertising system. Yet Facebook hasn’t proven to be a reliable advertising vehicle for flooring companies, in spite of its massive, rabid user-base. Why?

Facebook Marketing Strategies—and Their Ineffectiveness.

For many years, some of the most popular strategies offered to flooring retailers involved “getting likes” and adding “friends” to your store’s corporate Facebook page. The theory went that you could then remarket to those “friends” and “likes” with your new offers and messages. And that would result in a rush of new customers.

Now I’m not saying that it never worked…but it never worked. Or it worked rarely enough to not be a viable marketing channel for most home improvement companies. Getting homeowners to “friend” or “like” flooring retailers was much harder than anyone imagined. It required time, effort, and persistence. At times, it felt like many home improvement companies were marketing their social media rather than their products and services!

And with recent improvements to Facebook’s paid advertising platform, it’s harder than ever for a local company to get their message to their audience on Facebook, without paying for the privilege to do so.

That’s Strike Three. Social media is so difficult for flooring retailers because it offers an audience that doesn’t have commercial intent, is geographically limited, and is now even more difficult to market to. There’s little to no direct ROI calculations that can be done. You’re essentially running on faith that whatever investment—whether it be time or money—is paying off on social media.

How Can You Make Social Media Actually Work?

Is it really that hopeless? Is all of this social media bunk really just a bunch of hooey? Not exactly. When you put the hyperbole aside, social media can have some benefits for your flooring business, but not exactly where you would think.

Social media’s real power is not necessarily in direct outreach to prospects. Rather, it can work wonders for your web site’s search engine rankings and your organic (free) search listings. Why? Because Google and Yahoo take your social media presence into consideration when deciding where to rank your web site.

How do the search engines do that? It works like this: Google is constantly looking at your web site, reviews of your company online, your social media signals, links back to your site and a host of other factors when it decides how it’s going to rank your site on its results pages. The stronger your social media presence, the more credit Google and the other search engines are going to give your web site when it comes to sending visitors your way.

That’s an indirect benefit to your shop, because visitors from organic Google searches are very valuable. When a homeowner types “flooring companies” into Google, it’s not an accident. That person has real commercial intent, and could become an extremely valuable prospect.

Online Reviews Are Better Than Social Media.

While social media gets all of the attention, getting good online reviews is much more important to your business. Why? Because Google and the other search engines rely more heavily on those reviews than they do on social media in order to rank your web site.

To Google, the Internet is full of information about your business…but it’s not sure what information to trust. They consider reviews from third-party customers to be particularly valuable as a data point to rank your web site. And the more reviews you have on Yelp, Google Plus, citysearch, etc., the more value Google gives to your web site. That value leads to higher search rankings, web site views and ultimately prospects.

Getting online reviews isn’t easy. You need to ask your customers to go online after you’ve completed a transaction with them and say something nice about you. Ninety-five percent of them won’t take the time. But those who do write reviews give Google valuable footprints to follow, so you should encourage reviews as much as possible from your customers.

The Real Place to Focus – Local Search.

While social media has commanded the majority of headlines over the last couple of years, local search engine rankings and visits are still your best bet for driving visitors to your web site and to your store. Being listed highly in Google search rankings or on Google’s maps is the surest and clearest way to increase traffic and sales. So if you’re going to spend time and budget online, focus on your web site and its rankings.

There are hucksters everywhere that will tell you about the incredible need and value of social media. And some businesses really can benefit from a strong social media presence. But for flooring businesses, social media isn’t going to give you much bang for your buck.

Search engines are still the key.