Social Media is another communications channel; a way to engage with your audience, a way to have a dialogue with customers and get meaningful feedback about your views, your products and your business. In the past, it has been difficult to achieve this sort of direct customer engagement effectively, as reaching each customer in a space where they are ready and willing to give you feedback (focus groups, one on one etc) has been costly to achieve, or time consuming to arrange. Social Media now gives you a channel to engage with people directly, frequently, and at very low cost.
There is, however, a lot of hype around now about business requiring new techniques to “do social media marketing”.
With things like SEO and Google Adwords, there is a whole (somewhat archane) process of keyword selection, structuring of marketing messages in abbreviated forms (meta tags and such) and understanding Google algorithms and how Google's software analyses your website in order to make these activities effective.
Social Media, on the other hand, is just about communicating with people, very directly. Many business managers and business owners, having perhaps dabbled in Facebook or Twitter, still feel anxious that they don't understand what all the hype is about. There are jargon-filled PowerPoint packs being thrown up at them and just as many consultants willing to relieve managers of their cash to help with Facebook or Twitter.
Social Media is to marketing communications, what the telephone is to speaking. You don’t hire a technical consultant who knows all about the workings of your phone to call your customers and sell to them or engage with them – the message comes from your team - the people / the company / the sales staff - so why would you hire a social media expert to "do" social media marketing?
Businesses should focus less on the delivery mechanism and more on what it is they have to say – what they want to talk to customers about, how they want to engage their customers in a dialogue – regardless of medium.
Think about the following questions:
Why do you want to engage directly with clients one on one online?
What opportunities does this present for you, and, most importantly, for them (why should they care about engaging with you)?
What outcomes are you seeking commercially?
Once you’ve figured out your answers, have a go at throwing some social media into the marketing mix (it’s exciting knowing you’ve created a bit of a buzz within your industry!!). BUT! Remember that Social Media is very transparent, and a poorly conceived attempt to sell to your customers may evoke direct and candid feedback, so make sure you've thought about why you’re doing this type of marketing and what you want out of it first. The medium, and your unfamiliarity with it, shouldn't mean you can bow out and hand it off to a consultant.
You wouldn't outsource a meeting with an important client to a consultant; you or your business development staff would be engaging with your clients. Likewise, you shouldn't assume you can hire a pimply teenager or an expensive consultant in a dark skivvy to tweet a few times about how cool you or your products are – and then just forget about it.
This approach is likely to be an ineffective as it sounds, and the nature of Social Media means that it may backfire. Get involved, think about what you want to say and why your audience will care – and get busy with this exciting new media.
There are huge opportunities to get people excited about you, your products and services, but make sure you are adding value and not just shoving an old sales pitch into a new medium.