As I speak to clients more and more about social media strategies, it is clear that the potential power of social networking has almost everyone mesmerized. Social media offers the potential to interact with prospects and customers in new way that promotes peer-based marketing. Through the power of buzz, you can get your message in front of hundreds or even thousands of new people, who tell their friends, and they tell their friends. And how cool is that.
But most executives still don’t understand social media marketing. They think if they set up a Twitter feed or a blog their marketing woes are over. Or if they simply use Facebook and LinkedIn to spam their prospects with marketing messages they will fill their sales pipeline for the next six months.
As with any discipline, social media marketing has its own unique set of rules, and its own discipline. Anyone turning to social media as a panacea for their marketing woes is kidding themselves. Sure, adding social media can strengthen your marketing program, but it can’t do the whole job.
I recently spotted an article in Web 2.0 Journal outlining Five Misconceptions About Social Media Marketing, where SEO and Web marketing strategist Brace Rennels points out the biggest fallacies that most marketing execs have regarding social media:
1. Social media works as a standalone program – Social media doesn’t work without a foundation behind it. You can use social media to promote other aspects of your program, like a webinar, a white paper, or some other offering, but what you have to say has to have some value to your audience. There has to be real content behind the program.
2. You need a social media expert – Actually, you shouldn’t outsource your social media, although you can contract some help to guide you. The best programs are the one that find the internal experts, tap their knowledge and their passion, and then show them how to build their social network themselves. With social media the idea is to share your ideas with others, and there is no substitute for authenticity.
3. “If you build it they will come” – Just setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter feed won’t build a following. You have to have a plan that includes what your social media objectives are, who you want to attract, and how you can engage with those people in a compelling way. It takes time, thought, and commitment to build an online community, and you have to nurture online relationships to get your followers to keep coming back for fresh insights.
4. How do you stop the naysayers and the critics? – You don’t. The whole idea is to provide an open forum that welcomes critics as well as fans. If you try to shut down the naysayers or you can’t honestly engage with the critics, your social media program will backfire. By way of example, check out this week’s blog post on PR101 by Jeff Cole. He offers the example of Cook’s Source magazine, who used its social media forum to address a charge of copyright violation and the disastrous result until the editors took a deep breath and realized they were in the wrong. (It’s a great parable in the power of social media.)
5. You don’t have a social media presence – If you have employees, then you probably have some kind of social media presence whether you want one or not. Facebook now has 500 million active users, and Twitter has 190 million users tweeting 65 million times per day. Chances are someone is talking about you behind your back, and the best way to control the message about your company is to engage in the conversation.
When used effectively, social media can be a great tool to reinforce your brand and your brand message. I have one client that publishes a weekly report for the banking industry on deposit rates, and we use social media as part of a larger marketing program. In addition to an opt-in mailing list, we give these weekly reports a prominent place on the company web site. And we use the content in the company blog, which we use to feed conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Over the past few months blog traffic has consistently doubled, and we are gaining a following among target readers and media outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and CNBC, who regular report about my client’s research. Social media helps us expand our reach so followers can find the information they want in the format that best suits them, and then comment on the findings. However, the only reason this strategy works is because it’s part of a larger marketing program that we are continuing to refine.
So don’t be fooled by the placebo effect. Social media marketing is not a cure-all, but it can be an important extension of your marketing strategy. The key is to set your social media objectives, and make sure they mesh smoothly with the other elements of your marketing program.