There’s No Denying Social Media’s Buzz. But How Real Is It?

I recently read (and misplaced) an article deriding many social media “consultants” as carpetbaggers, and after reading a presentation to a trade association by a social media “guru” I’d say that’s true for at least one of them.

Naturally, this isn’t a blanket condemnation of social media consultants. After all, I’m a True Believer (note the caps) in engagement marketing, which qualifies me as someone willing to believe in the long-term power of connection with your audience.

So instead of condemnation, consider this a call for sanity.

In the marketing world, social media channels should meet the same performance standards as other, less-glamorous marketing channels. But the buzz is hard to escape – as is the sense that more than a few consultants aren’t doing their clients any favors.

Online Marketing Tough Love

I’m in the midst of teaching an Online Marketing Boot Camp – a class I developed for a local economic development agency. Even at the outset, social media reared up on its hind legs, demanding attention.

My students want to know if they should dive in. I’ve got two more weeks to figure it out.

Over the last month, I’ve read a lot of “Ten Reasons Why Every Primate Should Have a Twitter/Facebook/MySpace Presence” posts.

What’s striking is how few of those Top 10 “reasons” offer any hope of revenue. After all, I’m teaching small business owners and micro-entrepreneurs – people with limited time, and long, long to-do lists.

It’s easy to rave about the blue-sky benefits of Twitter and Facebook. But harder to define the dollars-and-cents return – especially when most of my students didn’t enter the business world to become “content generators.”

Most have trouble sticking to a regular e-newsletter mailing schedule. And email/e-newsletters remain the ROI Kings of online marketing.

Yet the social media buzz is powerful – as are the temptations.

Social Attraction

I consult with a small business client who’s done a great job putting their online marketing world in order.

Their Web site is solid (it’s running atop WordPress). They’re growing their monthly e-newsletter list (within a week of each mailing, the e-newsletter generates about half their revenue)

We launched their blog into a regular, google-pleasing, traffic-pulling orbit (no, we didn’t call it a blog – we wanted the publishing platform but not the baggage).

They’re a regional business, and yes, 95% of their new business comes via the Internet.

And yes, they’re asking me about social media.

My answer? Maybe.

Asking The Right Questions

First, let’s revisit the idea that new technology doesn’t drive marketing programs – business goals drive marketing programs. Investing time in a new media channel because it’s generating “buzz” doesn’t quite meet the bar.

In other words, the questions aren’t “Should we Twitter?” or “How about Facebook?”

It’s “Where are your customers? How do they want to be contacted? Can you deliver high-value content? How many media channels can you reasonably feed?” Then comes the biggie: “Do the contacts generated by social media convert into sales – or just traffic?”

In the case of several of my boot camp students, the answers to those questions suggest getting their online house in order before they launch social media initiatives. Sites should be dynamic and sticky. And – for most clients – an email program is a necessity.

Lest you think I’m a total unbeliever, I’ll say this: One of the boot camp students is an absolutely perfect fit for the hippest, hottest social media we can dredge up (fashion), and we’re going to go for it – though I’m suggesting an email program to turn short-term social medioids into long-term (profitable) customers.

For that small business client? I’m thinking it’s time to explore Facebook – but the second he misses an e-newsletter deadline, we’re taking the keys to Facebook away.

Keep marketing, Tom Chandler