How Social Media Can (And Cannot) Help Your Business

If you listen to enough experts, it’s the silver bullet, the magic elixir, the one every advertiser has been waiting for. And what’s not to love? With social media, there’s no newspaper, radio or TV ads to buy, no printing or postage for direct mail campaigns, no media reps to haggle with, and your message will be out there for the entire universe to see.Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, LinkedIn, all no cost marketing vehicles, until you start paying for the expertise needed to establish and maintain an effective presence on-line.This article is NOT anti-web or social media. However, it is critical for business owners and advertisers to know what social media can (and cannot) do. Getting the negatives out of the way, here is what social media will not accomplish:(1): Social media will never take the place of a sound marketing strategy. You need to plan, set objectives and benchmarks, and measure the performance. “Just Do It” might work for Nike, it won’t with social media.(2): Social media will never take the place of a well executed media plan. While the majority of adults are on-line every week, TV, radio, and print still deliver large bodies of consumers in one hit. Television remains the dominant media delivering more than 90% of all adults in any given market during any given week. Time spent watching TV and listening to the radio far outweighs time spent on-line.(3): Social media will not provide a “quick-fix” for your communication challenges. Social media is built around relationships, and those don’t come easy. If you’re not ready for a long commitment, don’t even start.(4): Social media will not cover -up a broken business. If you manufacture the worst widgets on the planet, practice poor customer relations or have products no one wants to buy, all of the fans on Facebook won’t save you. Fix your business first.(5): Social media won’t provide free advertising. True, the hard cost of media is little to none, but when you add up the expense of having qualified experts set up and manage your on-line campaign, it’s no where near free. And do yourself a favor…just because your brothers kid knows his way around Twitter, you’ll want to consult with and consider hiring expert help.Now, here’s what social media can do for you:(1): Establish your company as the trusted expert. People buy from those they know and trust. If consumers see you providing useful, relevant content and participating in conversations without trying to sell something, your credibility will increase. Not trying to sell something is where most marketers fall down. Remember that you’re having a conversation, not making a sales pitch.(2): Provide a channel of open dialogue between you, your customers and consumers. By dialoguing and answering questions, you build trust and have a better chance of being added to the shopping list.(3): Provide in depth information to potential customers. Blogs, online videos and discussion forums allow consumers to dig for lots of information before they buy. Provide this content (without commercializing it) and consumers will be more apt to buy from you.(4): Make your internet marketing more effective by becoming more visible and easily found. Search engines look for newly updated, relevant content. Search engines are also placing more weight on social media. This venue provides the means for you to improve your search results and be found much easier. No one will buy from you if they can’t find you.(5): Reach and communicate with younger demographics. The web and social media is the place to reach those young consumers who have no brand preference. For your business to remain viable tomorrow, you need to start filling your customer pipeline with younger consumers.(6): Provide you with a means of proactive PR. Social media will give you the opportunity to communicate with those who have had a bad experience and are telling everyone they can. As you communicate with these people, others will be listening in and seeing how you handle things. Do it right and you might just pick up new customers who never intended to buy from you.So where do you start? Like any other marketing vehicle, the first thing you need to do is find out if your customers (both current and potential) are using this medium. If they are, make a plan and start executing it.