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Social Media Marketing: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

Shhh… I have a secret: social media marketing may not be a wise investment for your business.

Yes, yes, I know you love Facebook, see your competitors chatting away with customers on Twitter and can’t ignore the constant coverage in the mainstream media. Your trusted advisors and those TV business gurus all tell you that your business needs to invest in social.

Well, politely thank them for their advice and then promptly ignore them.

Don’t get me wrong – my team and I are paid fairly well by some fantastic brands to help them develop and manage their social media marketing campaigns. So you can count us in as believers in social media for the right set of needs. However, for many companies and non-profits (large and small) the resources allocated to social media are simply better spent elsewhere. Let’s consider a few reasons why:

#1 – Social Media Marketing Doesn’t Drive Short-Term ROI

If you’re looking for fast results right off the bat, look somewhere else. Why? Well, social is what’s referred to as earned media – which according to Wikipedia means “favorable publicity that is gained through promotional efforts rather than paid advertising.” Earned media has the advantage of driving down long-term customer acquisition costs. However it also has the pesky problem of needing to be… well… earned. And that takes time. Now, its true that once you’ve built an audience that has given you permission to speak with them as often as several times a day that its a powerful tool to drive short-term sales. But getting to that point can take 12 – 24 months, if not longer. The lesson here? If you do not already have a social media marketing program in place and you seek a return on investment in fewer than 12-24 months then you need to spend your dollars on other types of marketing strategies.

#2 – Social Media Takes Commitment

I’m sure that like most business owners, executives and marketing professionals you don’t exactly have a lot of extra time in your workday. You’re busy addressing a whole range of business needs. Which is good – expect when it comes to social media. While its true that there are free and paid subscription tools available to help minimize the workload the fact remains that a successful social media campaigns requires consistent updates and monitoring. If you have 2,000 connections on Facebook and Twitter social marketing is a little easier – but if you have 1,000,000 – or even 50,000 – that’s a full-time job (and then some). Additionally, social media marketing requires more than just posting updates and responding to customers/prospects. You have to generate content, plan and execute promotions, track performance/metrics and – if you’re like most brands at least – monitor customer dialogue for appropriateness. The only thing worse than not having a social media presence is having one that isn’t maintained and monitored. Unless you have the resources available to do it right, wait until you do.

#3 – Social Media Marketing Isn’t As Inexpensive As You Think

For some reason I’ve never been able to put my finger on, brands tend to think of social media as being less expensive than other forms of advertising and marketing. Hate to break it to you, but this isn’t the case. Yes, you can lower your customer acquisition and retention costs over the long hull with a good social media – however getting there requires good creative, consistent management, regular monitoring for and response to customer service issues and a knowledge public voice. And let me give you a tip – don’t trust social media to an unpaid intern or a low-level employee. Social media is a medium that requires thinking on your feet, fast response to customer service issues and a deep knowledge of your brand’s voice. Would you trust an intern or entry level employee to be your spokesperson at a major news event? No? Then don’t trust them to run your social media marketing either.

Before you take the plunge, also think hard about the opportunity cost. If your team is small, and you don’t have the budget (or inclination) to outsource to an agency or consultancy, you may very well want to reconsider social media marketing for the time being – because for anything beyond the most basic social media presence you’ll need to allocate more resources than you might expect.

#4 – Social Media Is A Two-Way Conversation

One thing you’ll often hear from social media marketing “experts” is that SMM is fantastic because its a two-way conversation between a brand and its customers. This is very true, but you really need to be careful what you wish for. Unlike traditional advertising and marketing, when it comes to social media your customers have a megaphone and aren’t afraid to use it. They’ll tell you exactly what they think, whether you like it or not. They may trash talk or praise your competitors, use profanity or kick off a “flame war” with other customers or employees. Now, all of this is manageable with a little advance planning, a social media policy and regular monitoring. But if the conversation gets out of control it can make for a painful conversation with your CEO or investors.

So Is Social Media Marketing Ever A Good Idea?

Yep. Sure is. Just don’t get caught up in the hype and instead evaluate social media from a strategic perspective. You’ll thank yourself later.

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