If you’re a green business, you’re selling a service or a product that’s meaningful beyond just the product itself. You’re invested in a movement, a community, a way of being that’s larger than your offering, one that represents your deepest values. It’s likely you’ve got a website, some kind of social media, possibly a mailing list. You spend time every day online, if only trying to manage what’s in your inbox. And in between dealing with the thousand things running your business demands of you, you’re also wondering whether you’re doing social media right, if your website does your business justice, and how can you grow your mailing list?
It’s tempting, in this high-speed world of competitiveness and instant gratification, to find yourself on the roller-coaster quest looking for ways to make yourself more visible online and having the stats to prove it. We want to be SEEN to have growth. We want the numbers, the “likes” the retweets and the followers, the website hits, all the visible markers that measure our popularity and our growth and we can put a huge amount of energy into achieving those stats. But this constant quest for more growth becomes a relentless one – you can never sleep for FOMO, losing momentum, losing ground. What you create online starts to lack depth, it stretches you thin, it’s exhausting. Never mind that, how do you measure your return on investment (ROI) on your online presence, anyway? This is where many businesses get stuck when it comes to investing on their online presence. They get stuck on “making social media pay.”
Before answering that, let’s take a step back and without being cynical, look at the real heart of what the green movement means. The Green Lifestyle movement has been about making life more “human-sized”. We're rejecting corporate agri-businesses with their vast fields of mono-crops in favour of buying from local producers; we're choosing the slow pleasures of weekend farmers’ markets where products are hand-crafted, stock is limited and there are real knowledgeable people selling behind the tables over faceless mega-supermarkets with towering shelves of endless merchandise. We're replacing the artificial additives of shelf-longevity with the fresh, natural and organically grown. As Tea Sylvestre suggests in her thoughtful recent blog Slow down to Speed Up, we want to "slow down to the speed of human" and the same applies to marketing, especially online.
One of my clients has just over 1000 facebook fans. They’ve been acquired slowly over time and all of them became fans because they are genuinely interested in what she’s offering the world, her expertise, her passion and her products. She’s a successful business-woman and her business has tremendously positive impacts on her local wider community (she provides jobs) as well as her local environment. Do her online stats reflect her true success? Not in an obvious way.
What you do see of my client online is the careful thought she’s put into her website and how the quality of her blogs reflect her values, her passion and what she stands for. She has a presence that's congruent with who she is.
If you see the way you present your business online is similar to how you are in real life, you start to realise that the value of some things can’t be measured, and even if they can be, they don’t reflect their true value anyway. Do you try to work out your ROI in how much time and energy you’ve spent nurturing your relationships with friends and family? Have you established your ROI in the way you interact with those who give you a service such as waiters, shop assistants and petrol attendants? And what’s your ROI in helping a sick friend, your child with her homework? Of course there IS a return on investment: mutually satisfying relationships, genuine service, appreciation from others. But the return is embedded in the connection, not the transaction.
I don’t believe the total benefits of your online presence can be measured through stats. Sure, you can get indicators, snapshots and often you get the reward of direct responses to what you put out online, but some things you can’t measure and can’t tell:
Those interactions are genuine contributions to the growth of your business, they’re invaluable even if they can't be seen or measured. Of course there's no metric that can prove these things happen. But I get to hear the back-story of these things happening from clients by word of mouth. (and what else is social media but digital word of mouth?)
Do you even need an online business presence? Yes, more than likely (and believe it or not, in this hyper-connected online world there are businesses that really don’t need it). But let’s consider this: the whole green movement has been about returning to what really matters – and it’s not size and it’s not the numbers! Let’s not make it about how big you’ve grown, how many followers, how many likes, or retweets, how popular you are. Let’s make it instead about the quality of your interactions, the meaningfulness of your blogs, the intention behind what you’re communicating. As Brene Brown says in her inspiring book Daring Greatly, “we’re hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” That means allowing a slower timeframe and not being impatient about seeing instant results online, taking the time to cultivate online relationships through thoughtful interaction just the way you would in real life.
Letting go of obsessing over your metrics and stats and trying to force them to deliver ROI in the form of sales, doesn’t mean playing small or being less than you can be. It’s more a case of putting your energy into going deeper, being real. And that's always good for business in the long run.
I'm inspired to create an online culture of connection in my clients' businesses. How green is your strategy when it comes to building your connections online?