Social Media Marketing: A terrific marketing tool, or a terrible waste of time?

Social Media Marketing: A terrific marketing tool, or a terrible waste of time?

When I get together with a new client, we begin by evaluating their marketing goals and discuss how a presence on various social media platforms can benefit them. The driving question at the start is always the same: How does the use of various social media platforms help the client attain their business objectives?

A few clients “get it” right away. But many—particularly smaller businesses—say that while they feel they need to do something with social media, they wonder if it’s important enough to spend their time on it. One client admitted to thinking that Facebook and Twitter were only used by teenagers and young people. And another client felt that both writing a blog and re-tweeting things on Twitter were only “adding to the noise.”

Social Media Marketing: A terrific marketing tool, or a terrible waste of time?
Social Media Marketing: A terrific marketing tool, or a terrible waste of time?

I always find that I am shocked when a new client does not recognize or acknowledge the potential benefits that I see in a good social media plan. To me it is so obvious.

The problem is that many owners of smaller businesses or marketers inside these businesses don’t understand social media and what a powerful tool it can be.

There are countless online articles touting the benefits of using social media as a component of an overall marketing strategy. Still, most of the smaller businesses I come in contact with are very skeptical. Maybe we can chalk it up to the “people don’t like change” theory. Or perhaps because the ROI is so difficult to measure, it is hard to convince potential clients.

So, a good part of my job involves selling the concept of social media marketing and the advantages of integrated marketing strategies to clients in the first place. Here are some convincing considerations when evaluating whether to dive into the world of “social.”

Customers research before they engage.

Potential customers and clients frequently research businesses online, prior to engaging them. If your social media presence is strong, it raises the perceived credibility of your business. That doesn’t mean that having a Facebook page alone is necessarily enough. Using some combination of Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, a blog and perhaps a few other platforms is going to be more effective.

Social media savvy is a critical part of your reputation.

Companies—particularly those with a strong consumer or Internet presence and professional services firms that care about reputation—need to show that they understand social media trends and can manage their reputation in social spaces, whether they want to participate in them or not.

Social media builds awareness in an important space.

Increasing awareness of a company, brand, or non-profit cause is helpful. Whether you are trying to reach new customers, get the word out about a performance, or seek funding for your non-profit budget, a social media presence is critical.

Optimizing search rankings matters.

B2C businesses, especially Internet-based businesses, will benefit from better search rankings. Having a strong social media presence across several platforms like LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter will contribute to raising their search rankings.

Making connections online matters, too.

Making connections and networking are good business practices, and social media is a great way to do that. Sure, you should keep attending the cocktail parties and schmoozing at the trade shows. But participation in a few (or many!) social media platforms will help the effort along exponentially.

Now that I have convinced you that having a social media plan is actually a good thing, I do want to say that it is only one type of marketing tool. It should be a part of a larger marketing strategy, not a strategy all on its own. Imagine that an artist draws in pencil for ten years and then suddenly one day he picks up some pastels. He thinks, “Whoa! Look at what I can create with this tool. I can’t get that texture out of a pencil.” It’s kind of like that. It’s a new, different, and possibly a more colorful and even more easily manipulated tool, that one adds to their overall set of tools. Yes, it is just another marketing tool. But businesses would be wise to take advantage of all that is available to them.

We all know that budgets are tight, time is short, and workers are stretched thin. The good news is that many social media efforts can be executed for a fraction of the cost of more traditional marketing methods. Conversely, the time investment can be hefty, especially if blog writing is involved. But, outsourcing the work to a professional is an option.

Using social media to market your business is a smart thing. Inbound marketing, as they call it, introduces your business’ name, brand, or cause into the conversations that people are already having. That’s the “social” part of social media marketing. So why not take advantage of all that “noise” out there?

Diane Shapiro Sommerfield is a social media marketing consultant based in San Francisco. You can visit her on Twitter @DESommerfield.

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