Ever seen House of Cards?
It's a new TV show starring the brilliant Kevin Spacey and a fantastic cast. Spacey plays a ruthless Congressman in current day Washington, D.C. There are 13 one-hour episodes altogether and my wife and I watched the last eight of them just this past weekend. This is what people with kids do. Yes, we have no social lives.
If you want to watch House of Cards you have to subscribe to Netflix. It's $8 a month and the first month is free. But trust me: it's worth it. The show is great. And Netflix is genius. To succeed, companies like Netflix are creating great content and using the latest technology to draw in and keep new customers. It's not cheap. But the model works. Kevin Spacey taught me a few things about Washington politics. But Netflix taught me something more valuable: when it comes to social media, I'm being too lazy.
How are you making out with social media? If you're like me, most of my clients and countless other small- and medium-sized businesses you're probably not doing great. You started a Facebook page, for example, and after an initial push you really don't have a ton of likes. You opened up a Twitter account and, even though you tweet something out once in a while you've only got a handful of followers. Sound familiar? Everyone's been telling me to jump on the social media bandwagon, how I'm missing out on the big trend, how my business will suffer unless I adopt this type of technology. And I've tried. But it's all been a waste of time so far.
If I want to succeed using social media I have to pay closer attention to what companies like Netflix are doing. And I have to stop being so lazy.
Netflix drew me in because of great content. When my wife told me about House of Cards my first reaction was: we already subscribe to Comcast and TiVo. Do we need another subscription? But we took them up on their free month offer and watched a couple of episodes. And of course we got hooked. This is no different than the model HBO or Showtime uses now to attract new customers: provide great shows like Game of Thrones and Shameless and the subscribers will come. This is not easy. It takes creativity. Their customers are fickle, impatient and have a short attention span.
Like me. Netflix is going to have to go back to the well time and time again to keep producing great content. And if they do, then I'll keep paying my eight bucks a month. Am I doing the same on my social media sites? Am I providing tons of great content all the time? Do I even have a plan? I can promise that Netflix is planning out future shows for 2014 and 2015 as I write this. They know they've got to keep creating to stay competitive. Am I also thinking ahead? Am I coming up with new ideas, great thoughts and other ways to keep educating and entertaining my community of customers and partners? No, I'm not. I'm just lazy.
It's not cheap either. To produce House of Cards, some have estimated that Netflix spent around $60 million. And that's not including the promotion around the show. It won't stop there. Over the next few years, Netflix will likely sink hundreds of millions of dollars more into creating and licensing unique and innovative programs for their subscribers. What additional value does Netflix give me over Comcast or even Amazon (where I can download movies) if not for brilliant shows like House of Cards? This is a long term, expensive proposition.
And so is social media. I remember when I once grandly announced my intention to "increase my social media presence." I wasn't thinking through the obligation. For a business to really do social media right, like any other marketing or customer service activity, it takes a significant investment. And an even bigger commitment. And a whole lot of patience. We don't have $60 million to spend like Netflix. So we have to build it brick by brick over years of time. And most small business owners like me don't have the time to do this stuff on our own. I'm lazy, remember? To succeed I will need to hire others to help me. I will have to form a team of people who will be updating, creating, tweeting, designing and making my social media sites active, relevant and useful to our community. This will take much time and money. Am I ready to make this kind of commitment? Do I have the patience to build it over the next few years? Or am I just too lazy....
And how will I deliver my social media content? Netflix made the (right) decision to offer all 13 hours of House of Cards at once to anyone who subscribed. That way we can watch it at our leisure. I know a lot of people who like to get their TV this way. We have many other friends who are, like us, sad and lazy with no social lives and who spent their Christmas holidays catching up on entire seasons of Homeland and Downton Abbey. But my customers may require something different. House of Cards is a TV show so the delivery vehicle is video. I may want to also deliver my content via video through a YouTube site. Or maybe I want to blog. Or tweet. Or a combination of all of those technologies. Netflix has a plan. I will need a plan.
Finally, Netflix has made its content deliverable through a whole bunch of technologies. You can stream House of Cards on any computer or device you want. You can also get Netflix through Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, TiVo or Roku and many other Blu-ray players and HDTVs. Like social media, these are all different communities. For example, my wife and I watch TV through our Tivo, but our kids live on the Xbox.
My business has customers who are very active on Facebook. But I know I also have a bunch of customers who spend their time on Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Tumblr and other social media sites. And those are the popular ones today. Who knows where everyone will be spending their time in a couple of years? Am I prepared to get my content out to all those communities, assuming my customers are there? Am I ready to invest in the people and technologies to do all this work? Facebook is great, but like everything else, the world is a more specialized place. And over time, other niche social media communities will evolve and likely erode the big players. I will need to be addressing those niches if I'm going to conquer social media.
Damn you Netflix! You've shown how lazy I really am about social media. And how in the world can I get off the sofa and take any action if you keep making brilliant shows like House of Cards?
A version of this column appeared on Forbes.com.