For brands, resistance to social media is futile. Millions of people create content for the social Web on a daily basis. Your customers have been using it for a long time. Your competitors have embraced it. If your business isn’t putting itself out there, it should be.
But there are some recurring fallacies and misconceptions out there. Many companies are finding that these tools don’t live up to the hype, especially small businesses. There are a lot of challenges that aren’t immediately apparent. Are you considering Twitter, Facebook, et al as part of your marketing plan? Before you jump in, keep these myths in mind:
- Social media is cheap or free. Yes, many social media tools are free to use, including Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, the social network building tool Ning, and content aggregators like StumbleUpon and Digg. There are many free blogging tools, too, like WordPress, Blogger, FriendFeed, and Twitter. But incorporating them into a corporate marketing program requires time, skill, and money.
- You can make a big splash really quickly. Sure, sometimes this happens. Social media is great if you’re already a star, but there really isn’t any such thing as an overnight sensation. For example, tweets can drive traffic to articles, Web sites, Facebook pages, contests, apps, videos, etc. — this is easier if your audience already cares about your brand or if you have a truly original product or idea that excites people to the extent that they want to share with their friends. But it takes a lot of time and dedication to keep your content fresh.
- You need to be on all the big sites. Most brands that have succeeded with social media sites generally focus on just a few of them. Just because the media says it’s cool to tweet doesn’t mean it has anything to do with your business. If you plan to frequent social networks, don’t spread yourself too thin. The companies that choose their weapons wisely and give it their all are the ones that succeed in the social space.
- If you create something that’s great, people will find it. How’s that supposed to happen? Unless you can drive traffic to your social media effort, it’s akin to a tree falling in the woods with no one around to hear it. Many tools can drive traffic, including Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon, blogs, and SEO, but word of mouth trumps them all — one friend telling another, “Hey, check this out!” is very powerful.
- It’s for kids. Contrary to the perception that social media is for tweens, teens, and 20-somethings, older demographics are rapidly evolving into this space. According to analysis by iStrategyLabs, Facebook experienced 276% growth in users aged 35-54 in 2009 and is its fastest growing segment.
- You can’t build quality relationships online. The thinking on this goes that it’s a waste of time connect with people online that you don’t know in real life — that it’s a pointless exercise that doesn’t lead to lasting relationships with your brand. It’s actually quite the opposite: Social media enables you to be face to face with your target audience. Even if they don’t turn into paying customers, you still gain valuable insight into what they think and what they react to.
- It gives away content and ideas you should be charging for. Simply put: The more you give, the more you receive in social media. You need to let go of the idea that all the content you produce is is proprietary, engage with your audience, and encourage them to share what you’ve created.
- It’s a fad. The drumbeat about social media has become deafening. Yet many marketers remain skeptical, hesitating to expand budgets and expend resources on a craze. But social media is a fundamental shift in communication — it isn’t just a new set of tools, but a new sphere of networking, communicating, living, and organizing. It has become intertwined in our lifestyles, so it’s here to stay.
- Anyone can do it. It sure sounds that way, doesn’t it? There are a lot of people, from whiz kids to more experienced marketers, who claim to be social media experts. Some even portray themselves as gurus. But how many of them have created successful social media initiatives for clients? To be effective, a campaign must integrate social elements into all aspects of marketing, including advertising, digital, and PR. Theory is no match for experience, and the best social media marketers now have years of experience incorporating interactivity, forums, viral video, apps, social networks, blogs, user-generated content, and contests into the marketing mix.
- It’s a cure-all. While social media is a great tool for online reputation management, it’s not a panacea. Don’t get so wrapped up in the concept of of the social Web that you ignore the other problems with your marketing strategy. Social media is another in a long list of tools you should leverage for brand messaging.
- You can do it all in-house. You need strategy, tools, contacts, and experience — a mixture not usually found in in-house teams, who are often tempted to use the wrong tools or to reinvent the wheel… which leads to (you guessed it) lousy results. How many in-house teams have the expertise to conceive and implement a social media campaign AND drive traffic to it via blog advertising, SEO, Twitter, etc.?
- Social marketing results can’t be measured. There are a variety of methods and tools you can use for this; I’ve covered some of them here and here, and more become available every day. You can monitor blog comments, mentions in the media, traffic stats, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, comments on your content, real-time blog advertising results, click-throughs to your Web site. The tools are out there, and the number of people who know how to aggregate and interpret the data is growing.
What other myths are out there about social media? What lessons have you learned as you’ve tried to get your arms around social engagement as a marketing tool?