With all the hype that surrounds “social media marketing”, you’d imagine it was a marketing cure-all.

Many self-proclaimed social media “gurus” would have you believe that social media is the future of all marketing and that if you’re not dedicating all or most of your marketing resources to social media, you’re a Luddite who’ll soon be out of business.

Of course, like most hype, there’s a need to keep a level head in order to separate fact from fiction.

Before I’m labelled as being against social media, let me set the record straight. I’ve used social media in multiple businesses and continue to use it on a regular basis.

However because there’s so much hype that surrounds social media, I want to put it in perspective for you and help you see where it fits into an overall marketing strategy.

It’s A Media

A successful marketing campaign has to get three vital elements right:

  • Message– The marketing message or offer you send
  • Market– The target market you send your message to
  • Media– The media you use to send your message to your target market e.g. radio, direct mail, telemarketing, TV etc.

You need to hit all three of these to have a successful campaign. You need to send the right message to the right target market, through the right media channel.

Failing at any one of these three elements will likely cause your marketing campaign to fail.

Understanding this framework helps put things in context. Social media, by definition, is a media – it’s not a strategy.

The time-tested fundamentals of marketing don’t suddenly change just because a new media comes along.

Is It The Right Media For Your Business?

The next thing to ask – is it the right media for your business?

Remember of the three things we need to get right for a successful campaign, media is one of them.

Every type of media has its idiosyncrasies and social media is no exception. Here are some of the things you need to be aware of when it comes to social media.

Firstly it’s not the ideal selling environment. I like to think of social media as a social gathering or party.

We’ve all been to gatherings where someone, perhaps a family member or friend has been bitten by the multi-level marketing bug. You know where they start sprouting the health benefits of the latest pills or potions and try to sell or recruit others to sell.

It makes everyone uncomfortable because it feels pushy and feels like an inappropriate time to be making or receiving a sales pitch.

Social media is exactly the same. Overt selling and constant pitching of offers are generally considered poor behaviour on social networks and can result in repelling people from your business rather than attracting them.

However, just like a real-life social gathering, social media is a great place to create and extend relationships which can later turn into something commercial if there’s a good fit.

One of the most valuable things I see in social media is being able to gauge customer emotions toward your business and engage with vocal customers who offer either praise or complaints in a public forum.

A side benefit of this is social proof. Being accessible, responding to criticism or praise and engaging with your customers builds social proof and makes prospects and customers feel like they are dealing with humans rather than a faceless corporation. Remember people buy from people.

Two Social Media Traps To Beware Of

There are two potential traps with social media.

Firstly it can be a time suck.

Feeling like you have to respond to every inane comment can be draining and it can suck time away from marketing tasks that can give you a far better return on time and money invested.

It’s important to be disciplined with your use of social media. Just like you wouldn’t let your employees stand around and chit chat all day, you can’t let yourself or them get carried away with the online equivalent.

Secondly, there’s the question of ownership. Your social media page and profile is actually the property of the social network. So spending huge amounts of time and money building up a profile and audience on these networks ends up building up their assets rather than your own.

My preference as much as possible is to build and own my own marketing assets such as websites, blogs, email lists etc. I then use social media simply as a way to drive traffic to these marketing assets.

This way, my time and effort go into renovating my own “house” rather than that of a landlord who can kick me out at any time.

A classic example of why you want to do this is Facebook’s change of policy on business pages.

Previously if people “Liked” your business’s Facebook page you could freely reach this entire audience for free. So businesses spent a lot of time, money and effort getting people to “Like” them on their Facebook page.

Now Facebook requires you to pay them each time you want to send a message to your entire audience, otherwise, it only allows you to reach a small percentage. For those who spent huge resources on building up a Facebook audience only to have the rug pulled out from under them, this came as a huge blow.

This is one of the reasons why personally I’d prefer to have 1000 people on my own email list than 10,000 people who “Like” my Facebook page.

As always with any marketing strategy, it’s vitally important to find out where your prospects “hangout” and use the appropriate media to get your message through to them. Social media may or may not be one of those places they hang out.