The roots of social media marketing go back to that most powerful of marketing tools: word of mouth. And just like word of mouth, social media marketing can work for you or against you.
Just like word of mouth, when a recommendation comes from a trusted source, it resonates much more than any other form of advertising. For this reason, social media marketing is a way to gain great “mind space” and establish a strong connection with potential customers.
However, the same “trusted” source of information can work against you as powerfully as it can work for you – in fact, studies show that a negative comment is more powerful as a disincentive than a positive remark is as an incentive. This has to do with the psychology of risk – it costs us less to avoid something good by mistake than to accept something bad in error. For this reason, having your best face on display at all times is critical.
A coherent look and feel for a social media campaign is important. And honesty matters a great deal.
Attracting attention, a necessary condition for social marketing to work, can lead to ham-handed and phony offerings – marketers sometimes underestimate the sophistication of their audiences. You have to be prepared for a savvy viewer to “drill down” deeper than the message you intended to transmit. Transparency is almost unavoidable on the Internet because it is so easy to research a company or even an individual. This makes pretense, an otherwise tempting advertising ploy, impractical and a complete waste of time.
Initial outlays are extremely low-cost compared to offline alternatives. This makes social media marketing an attractive alternative for small businesses. In fact, about 35% were doing some form of it as early as 2009.
When focused on networking to those who are “natural” customers, a business can rely on demand to drive the connections, which keeps social media costs down. For larger companies or for those who do not have a natural niche to exploit, the problems and costs go up. One reason is competition with others exploiting the medium. At this level, turnover is fast and user demands are higher. Freebies and incentives cost money. Quality content can be too difficult or too expensive to create, and there are no guarantees. Competition can be fierce and even a “score” can fade quickly as it is overtaken by the next hot item. Going viral is great, but it can go stale as fast as it rises.
One thing that social media marketing offers like no other area is the ability to interact visibly with customers in real time. News can be disseminated directly to your core customers no matter their time zone. Feedback is just as quick. Essentially, an established social network can be used as a focus group for trial runs, especially before committing to more expensive offline ads. Polls are a useful option here.
Customer support works well with social media, and some products lend themselves to whole networks where people are asking and answering questions. Businesses who can act as trusted authorities can break into these networks and leverage the connections they make. Forums and user groups are excellent ways to touch base.
Along with supplying value simply by contributing authentically, participating in a relevant social platform provides a previously unavailable way to gain customer insight. The wise marketer looks to “read” the trends, react to them, and anticipate customer needs.
Branding can also be improved with social media. One reason Google (a huge corporation) seems friendly is through the “personal touch” and dissemination of corporate values – the slogan “Don’t be evil” comes to mind. With a properly designed social media presence, you can put a face and a voice on a logo. The problem is getting too personal. While a small company might be able to handle all the comments and e-mails that social media generates, it can quickly get out of hand. Large companies will find that simply keeping up with their network can get out of control in terms of man-hours and may require professional management.
A possible downside, if not managed properly, is tracking results. While a gut feeling will do in very small operations, serious businesspeople want to estimate their return on investment (ROI). There are techniques to help accomplish this, but the reach of social networks can mislead. For instance, it is nearly impossible to know who heard, second or third hand, about your company and then searched you out indirectly.
Another difficulty with social media marketing is the loss of control that comes with it. The same mechanisms that move your message far beyond your original efforts also take away your control of “what’s out there.” Users often add to the message as it spreads out.
Terms and platforms
Social media optimization (SMO) is related to search engine optimization (SEO) in that it reduces barriers to connections. This is why you often see space taken up with social media logos on a content page. Users can click a small image they recognize and bring up their favorite social media platform immediately. This is ideal when you have something “hot” to share.
The big dogs in social media are Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. There are also dogs that are nearly as big in particular niches. Identifying where to place your efforts is part of designing a campaign. Blogs and forums remain excellent options when those are a better fit.
In general, a social media marketing campaign will try to link up several options to gain synergy. Often, someone who runs across a solid offering will be interested in the network itself. This has a value to them. So, for instance, someone who connects with you through your Facebook page may be interested in a forum you frequent because of the overlap in subject matter. Expanding the network in this way helps you, and helps your visitors as well.
One final caveat: Social media is, well, social. It does require a human element and it feeds on interactions. This is not a cut-and-paste, one-off splash. To work at all, it needs a personal touch and regular maintenance.