Sunday, January 31, 2010

Social Media Marketing
Useful tool or passing fad?

By Jim Walton
President & CEO, Brand Acceleration, Inc

Have you noticed that almost every conference you go to these days has a speaker on the topic of social media? I think it’s representative of the fact that a huge question remains, “How do I effectively use social media to market my business?” A few of the speakers I’ve heard have done a good job teaching the audience how to set up a LinkedIn or Facebook page but I’ve yet to hear anyone explain how to use them as marketing tools.

Word of Mouth Marketing for the 21st Century
Social media marketing is ideal for those people who believe that word of mouth is the best form of marketing. Unfortunately, they usually choose what I call “free range WOMM,” meaning they do nothing to manage the message. In the 21st century, that just doesn’t cut it. The community is no longer limited to the coffee shop or over the backyard fence. It now resides on an endless variety of global networks. Today, you can either manage the content or it will manage you.

What are my options?
One challenge with social media marketing is that there are just so many options. Conversations can be found on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Digg, Delicious and a vast number of others. Blogs are also powerful opportunities to seek feedback and develop deeper relationships with customers and prospects. Add in YouTube (video and audio), FlickR (photos), and podcasts (audio), and it can be overwhelming.

Who has the time?
This is one of the biggest killers of a social media effort. Just setting everything up is daunting enough, but managing the content can easily overwhelm even the most attentive administrator. Someone has to actively manage the message. Regular posts and active participation are required in order to develop positive interaction. Some companies and places assign the job to a person or group of individuals who write articles, read and participate in industry communities, post links to interesting articles or even ask thought provoking questions.

Manage the message
It’s important to remember that social media marketing is not about posting a constant stream of advertising or sales messages. At Brand Acceleration, we follow the 80/20 rule. Our goal is to present useful, fun and interesting ideas or questions 80% of the time and to use the other 20% for promotional purposes.

Why do people use social media?
Your audiences are getting younger every day and social media audiences are getting older by the minute. What does this mean to you? It means that you need to get involved with this rapidly growing marketing tool. Your target audiences, of all ages, are active participants. As a marketer, it’s your responsibility to develop and maintain an on-going relationship with them.

People connect with you for many reasons, but the big three are:

You: They like you, your place, your company, your services or your products.
Them: They like to talk, tell, converse and connect.
Us: They like feeling like they’re part of something.

Where’s the payoff?
Another question that is almost always asked is, “Where’s the payoff?” That’s especially true among the 50+ age group. Senior managers want orders. I have this vision of early 20th century business owners saying, “If I don’t see a serious business benefit, we’re getting rid of that new-fangled telephone thing.” Social media marketing, like the telephone, is not about the tool, it’s about the relationships that are formed through its use.

People like to do business with people they know. Here a question to ask yourself: Who’s more visible to our clients or prospects, us or our competitors? Now, ask yourself this question: Who’s more likely to be considered for future business? If your competitor actively seeks and manages social media relationships with your target audiences, isn’t it reasonable to believe they might be considered for a business relationship, too?

The times, they are a-changin’
If you think social media is just another passing fad, you’d better think again. It’s importance is growing at an exponential rate. Like the old Bob Dylan song says, “You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone. The times, they are a-changin’.” Our public relations team has seen its importance grow at an astonishing pace. In addition to news releases, feature articles and regular media contact, our clients want us to manage the social media buzz, too.

I’ll let you in on a secret. Brand Acceleration will soon launch a new package of social media marketing services. For our clients, we will manage these connections in order to expand their presence and industry connectivity. Watch for more on this in the very near future. I’m also developing a presentation on the subject. If you’re part of a trade association or community group and would like to consider this topic, please let me know.

Useful tool or passing fad?
What do you think? Is it just a passing fad? Believe me, it’s here to stay. The real question is, “Will you use it to your advantage, developing new relationships and growing existing ones, or will you leave this powerful tool to your competitors?

If you’d like to explore ways to get started or to jump start your social media marketing program, please give me a call. Or, just click any of the social media links shown in this edition of Rants and let’s connect.

Brand Acceleration is a full-service advertising, brand management and public relations firm operating from Indianapolis, Indiana and Charlotte, North Carolina. The agency’s focus is on economic development, architecture/engineering/construction, real estate and motorsports.

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