Even though social media isn’t new to many of us, the world is waking up to this new shiny toy. Thanks to books like The New Community Rules, written by yours truly, Engage, Social Media 101, and others, social media marketing is, for the time being, going to still be on people’s minds as they discover this bright and sunny marketing opportunity.
But despite the vastness of opportunities that social media affords, it’s just one channel in a series of many. We should still tackle some realities about social media marketing before you get too excited about its potential.
Social Media is Not a Silver Bullet
Social media is currently all the rage because it’s new. But let’s be honest here. It’s really not that new. In fact, I’ve been offering social media services for 4 years now, well before most even knew about the potential of social media or believed in the promise of the technologies. In other words, if you’re diving in right now, you’re out of luck — you’re a late adopter. Do you know what that means? Without creativity in your marketing plan, its will be a lot harder to make a splash.
Once you fire up your social media strategy, it doesn’t travel as fast as that silver bullet either. Social media is a lengthy, tedious process. Most of social media relates to relationship building, which is a time-consuming process. Have you ever become someone’s best friend in a week? A month? Three? Trust is earned and building trust takes time. If you’re going to participate in social media marketing, you better be prepared to wait. Brands that are already established naturally have it a lot easier; they already have a following. If you’re a new face in the crowd, people will be especially skeptical of who you are and why you are here. Those ten B2B leads you get after the first few months are ten leads you would not have gotten otherwise. If you keep at it, that number will double and triple, but you must keep at it.
Social Media is More than Just Twitter and Facebook
Hopefully, if you’re participating in social media marketing, you’re using more than just the tools everyone else is using. Sure, most social media marketing plans often start with the obvious contenders, such as Facebook and Twitter, mostly because the audiences there are so vast and diversified that you’re bound to find people interested in your product offerings. (Of course, you’ll still need to look once you’re there, do outreach, and perform whatever else it takes to build a loyal following.) However, you need to articulate to your client or marketing teams that social media is not just about participating on Twitter and Facebook. Some additional tasks might include niche social site promotion, blogger outreach, photo sharing, generating leads through business and consumer networks, contests, viral video, phone meetings that follow online correspondence, face to face meetings resulting from online networking, attending events and conferences, backchannel communications, and more.
If your client approaches you and says that he’s disappointed that the marketing initiatives only include Facebook and Twitter, it’s time to set up and manage expectations — and prove that you’re doing much more than just what’s viewable to the public — before it’s too late. The online world is vast and it is often your responsibility to cover as much ground as you can to be effective in your marketing efforts.
Numbers Aren’t Everything
Over-zealous clients or enthusiasts might feel the need to absolutely reach out to the “influencers” who have eleventy billion Twitter followers. The truth is that those numbers don’t often mean anything.
It’s more important to look at the holistic view of the individual or entity on Twitter and across other social channels. If someone has over 20,000 Twitter followers, how many people are they following?
- If there’s a near 1:1 (even distribution of 20000 friends and 20000 followers) ratio of friends to followers, chances are that this person is reciprocating every single friend request. It might even mean that the person might have gone out to find more followers.
- If there’s a 2:1 ratio (20000 friends, 10000 followers), that might be something to worry about; why isn’t it even? Are your potential followers not interested in your tweets?
- On the other hand, a 1:2 ratio (20000 friends, 40000 followers) could also raise red flags. I’ve seen countless “experts” and “celebrities” reciprocate every single incoming friend request only to later purge everyone. The numbers, consequently, get artificially inflated, and these guys look like rockstars.
Research these potential influencers to get a handle on their credibility. Look at their status updates on Twitter (are they substantive and value-added or are they only coming from Twitterfeed?). Check if they have a home base. Don’t just take the public facing Twitter numbers at face value. See if the individuals behind the account are engaging their followers.
Keep in mind that having lots of followers doesn’t always mean anything. The more important thing is to connect with the right people who could potentially help spread your message to more of the right people.
Social Media is Social
This is quite obvious, but hear me out. Social media is more than just broadcasting. It’s about connecting and networking. Every so often, a potential client comes to me and asks me to promote a blog post or article, mostly because they don’t have an audience for the blog post to spread on its own. For blogs, the answer is simple: your blog should be treated as more than just a platform to self-promote. Blogs must be marketed in order to be successful. It doesn’t end after you hit “publish.” You need to network with like minded individuals and build relationships with people in the blogosphere so that you ultimately get inbound links, comments, and visibility. Sure, you can just pay someone to promote an article here and there, but at the end of the day, people are not regularly reading your content. In other words, you as the blog’s writer (or blog representative) need to go out and build bridges with people in relevant fields. If you write for an animal shelter, start talking with pet owners and local businesses to help each other. If you write for a sports blog, you have hundreds of similar sports blogs to choose from. There’s no shortage of opportunity to connect with the right people.
If there’s one recurring theme that I feature here on Techipedia, it’s the fact that social media marketing relates to dealings with other individuals. That would not be possible without building relationships. Each outreach attempt should focus on strengthening and building bonds, not on overly promoting yourself. Come bearing gifts, focus on being altruistic, and then your marketing message may be heard more loudly than if you don’t. In fact, in the latter scenario, it’s possible that your marketing message may not help at all or even hurt you.
Social Media is Continuous
Let’s say you meet a guy at a dinner party — we’ll call him Mike. Mike’s daughter is selling hot dogs to raise money for her school class. The immediate day after you meet Mike, he starts calling you and emailing you with requests to help his daughter out. (You don’t tell him you’re a vegetarian.) After the window is closed for the fundraising effort, Mike disappears and you never hear from him again.
This story parallels one of the main issues facing social media. Social media is a continuous effort, not something that is only campaign-based. Campaign-based social media marketing only works when it complements continuous social media marketing. In other words, don’t show up in the social space only when you need a hand. A few months ago, I worked on a campaign for a rather large company who did some video promotion to get individuals to spread the word. Many of the bloggers and influential Twitter users, however, wanted to promote the client’s Twitter account, because there’s a simple expectation that companies, at this day and age, should have a social media presence. The problem was that the client had none. The video was all they had.
Commercials and one-off viral promotions are great, and you should use them regularly if you want to boost the creativity of your presence online and offline. However, make sure that you have a real corresponding presence online, be it for simple outreach or for regular customer support. And at the very least, claim your identity on the applicable (and at the minimum, popular) social media communities before someone else does whose presence — under your name — could be detrimental to your marketing efforts.
And get your account started and active immediately. You don’t want to create an account to use only when it’s too late. Be proactive, not reactive.
Social Media is Not Free
When you were a kid, you probably wondered why road infrastructure projects cost in the billions or that nature preservation programs cost millions. Heck, the real question you probably had was “why does everything cost so much money? What are people paying for when the supplies seem very cheap?” The answer, quite simply, comes down to the real cost of labor. Equipment and supplies might be relatively affordable, but at the end of the day, you’re paying for time and possessed expertise. That expertise often comes in the form of someone else’s profession, and as such, nobody will want to do the work for free.
Yes, Twitter and Facebook and Digg and other niche sites cost nothing to join, making social media a relatively free marketing option. There are no barriers for entry and everyone can participate. There’s one catch: you end up spending time on these networks, and that’s where the money starts adding up. After all, time is money.
Social media marketing seems affordable compared to other marketing, especially television, print, and even pay-per-click marketing or CPM-based advertising, but the biggest fallacy as it relates to social media marketing is believing that it’s something that you can do quickly and affordably. Yes, it’s cheap. It’s not cheap in your time investment.
Social Media is Often Permanent
Everything you do and say online can be used against you. Those mistakes you make when blogging could harm your reputation because search engines do not easily forget, and negative messages can be spread like wildfire thanks to the potential of the Internet. If you reveal trade secrets or confidential information, you might be out of a job today and tomorrow when a future human resources representative finds out about your past infidelities.
As representatives of companies, your personal brand should align at least professionally with your company brand. That’s to say that if you use a public forum to insult, attack, or demean others on your personal time, you may find that impacting your company by association. If you blog or post comments, you should make sure it adheres to your company’s social media policy. Companies do not want to be associated with individuals who can singlehandedly take down the company because they easily forget that there are ramifications to their actions online. Don’t lose sight of this and remember that everything you say or do can potentially be used against you. Think before you post, act professionally throughout your interactions, and you’ll be just fine.
The Golden Truths
Social media marketing requires dedicated, devoted individuals who can aggressively seek opportunities in highly populated communities. It’s not something that you should outsource to a recently-hired intern as there are risks when there is no policy compliance, but more importantly, when there is no synergy between the individual and the company s/he represents. Should you proceed either in-house or by outsourcing, you need to respect that social media marketing is a process, requiring a substantial investment of time, and thus, money. Continuing your social media involvement beyond simple campaign spurts is critical, if not highly recommended. And keep your eye off the pure numbers; look instead at practical measurement.
It comes down to social media being something of a chore. Truth be told, it is. However, if you get truly invested in the process, you can find some substantial gains — but you need to be ready and able to overcome the misconceptions and understand a little more about what social media truly is before you start reaping the successes of your labor.
Photos by Shutterstock.