The internet has become more than just a place for brochure-like, static websites. The web is interactive, dynamic and real-time. People are more likely to visit and stay on a webpage if there is something for them to do there. They want an interactive experience and they want your organization to communicate with them, somehow. But what kind of investment should you make to accomplish that?
Social Media has become all the rage lately. Tons of companies have already integrated social media into their marketing strategies, social media consulting firms have popped out of what seems like nowhere, and it seems as though everywhere I turn, I can find a QR code or a prompt to become a fan of some Facebook page. Anyone paying attention will tell you that social media has revolutionized the way people communicate and think, but what exactly is “social media” and should we believe all the hype surrounding it?
For all intents and purposes, let us first start off by breaking down what the term “social media” actually means and what the qualifications are to be considered “social media”. While there are hardly any academic or official definitions for social media, let’s start with a working definition of “a set of internet based applications and tools that allows for the creation and exchange of user-generated content or consumer generated media (CGM)”.
While this still leaves us with a very broad definition, emphasizing that social media is a set of tools, allows us to understand that being a “social media expert” means being an expert at using these tools. It does NOT necessarily mean being an expert at creating a marketing strategy that depends upon these tools. That should be left up to a “marketing expert”. Though, clearly it is possible to be both skilled as a marketer and have expertise in these tools .
Social media allows us to engage, communicate and collaborate directly with our constituents and consumer-base. This is very different from traditional marketing and advertising. While we have established that being a social media expert does not make you a marketing expert, the same rule applies in the reverse, this especially goes for a marketing expert in the traditional sense of putting out a message that will draw in an audience (i.e. commercials, billboards, brochures, etc), but not necessarily utilizing a two way channel of communication, in which your audience will then respond to your message directly to you, publicly.
One of the most important concepts, usually unnecessary in traditional marketing strategies, when deciding whether or not to use social media tools as part of your organization’s marketing strategy, is that you MUST be willing to give up, at least partial, control of your message. Social media tools are only effective when there is participation and dialogue between the organization and its audience, though one of the goals should be to effectively influence the conversation. However, if your organization is not prepared to give up control of your message – social media is probably not for you.
While dialogue and conversation is seen as a great entry point for learning more about your audience, there is a downside. Giving your audience the opportunity to be a part of the dialogue also gives them the power to say whatever they want (And by “whatever”, I truly mean “whatever”, the sky is the limit). Your organization needs to be prepared for the possibility that not everyone interacting with you will like you and may even go to extreme efforts to communicate this publicly. If your organization decides to use social media tools, your organization MUST incorporate a strategy for how it will respond to the potential negative consequences of social media.
So, should we just encourage scores of people to “like” our fan page and hope for the best or join every social networking site we find (I’ve personally found a little over 300)? In case you are not able to gauge my tone here, the answer is: no, please don’t.
Looking past all of the hype, some of the hard ROI an organization can get from using social media in their marketing strategy are the limitless information you can obtain by tracking and analyzing user interactions and sharing patterns and data. Tools like AddThis and Google Analytics allow organizations to analyze where their audience is, what they like and what they want. Building a revenue model that caters to the results of these analyses allows you to determine your investment levels and gives you a strong sense of your ROI. ROI that is a little more difficult to evaluate is the potential to gain your consumer’s trust and establish yourself as an expert – this is what will allow your organization to influence the conversation.
Your organization does not need to jump on the bandwagon and turn your entire marketing team upside down with a social media makeover. The goal should be to create a strategy to integrate certain social media tools into your already existing, marketing strategy at a pace your organization has the resources to sustain. Not every social media tool will work for every organization and incorporating social media into an organization’s marketing strategy is not a one size fits all approach. This is a fairly new set of tools that is constantly expanding and changing. Just because a platform like Facebook is the new big thing does not mean it will always be the new big thing, just ask Friendster and AOL.