Social Media Marketing Madness Cartoon by HubSpot

Image by HubSpot via Flickr

Social media is the buzzword in online marketing today.

It’s still in its embryonic stages, and not nearly as critical to online success, or indeed as measurable, as some more established online marketing channels (search springs to mind as the online marketing granddaddy that dwarfs all others in terms of potential ROI and measurability), but it is gaining momentum fast.

People are flocking to social media sites around the globe, using them to connect more effectively with more of their peers, to share, entertain and communicate. And of course where the masses lead, the marketers are never far behind.

While Social Media may not be as fundamental as an effective search marketing strategy to your company’s online success (yet), there’s are some crucial differences. You can’t really compare the two directly, because they’re trying to achieve two very different objectives.

Search marketing is focussed on driving targeted traffic to your site, and ultimately converting that traffic into paying customers,  social media is more about nurturing and building ongoing relationships surrounding your brand. It’s about taking that first contact — whether it comes through a search engine, word of mouth, social media referral, or perhaps even a newspaper ad (yes, it still happens ;-)) — and building it into a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship.

Of course there’s crossover here: some brands use search for more subliminal marketing like brand awareness and social media is used for direct marketing… but by and large, for most businesses, the distinction outlined above holds true.

Finding the Social Media Win-Win

Social media marketing is all about finding a “win-win”. Get it right and the viral potential of online networks can do wonders for your business. Get it wrong, and that same viral effect can be devastating.

That’s one of the things that makes social media a scary place for traditional marketers, who tend to be more used to shouting than listening. The conversational aspect of social media marketing… the fact that you have to listen, adapt and respond to what people are saying about your brand in practically real time… can be daunting.

There’s a steep learning curve, and because it’s all so new there’s no “manual” to speak of… everyone, even the apparent pandemic of “Social Media Experts” you’ll find on Twitter, are just feeling their way here, whatever they may claim.

In Understanding Digital Marketing we explored a few of the Social Media Rules of Engagement – some common-sense guidelines to help you navigate a course through the social media jungle. But talking to my own children recently, I realised that good social media etiquette isn’t a million miles away from the way any sensible parent teaches their child to play nicely with their peers.

Back to Social Media Basics

Think about it… as parents we teach our children to share, to listen, to respect other people’s opinions while understanding the value of their own.

Sounds a lot like a roadmap for a successful foray into Social Media if you ask me. So why, as adults, do we struggle to apply the “social rules” we mastered in the school playground when we venture online?

  • Sharing is caring: Barney, may be as irritating as hell, but he also has a point. Sharing is at the heart of social media interaction… so provide useful content, links and comments that add real value and are relevant to the conversation.
  • Show a little respect: we’re always telling children to respect other people’s views, and that even if they don’t match our own, they are no less valid. That’s just as relevant online.
  • Play nicely: wherever people congregate, be it the school playground, the pub or a Facebook Fan Page, there are going to be disparate personalities, some of which will clash. We try to teach our children to work through their differences and to be polite and courteous. It’s no different online.
  •  Rules are rules: another important lesson children learn when they’re young is to play by the rules… be they the household rules we set as parents, the school’s rules, rules at the local swimming pool or the rules of a family board game. It’s no different when the places we visit are virtual.

Interacting with other people is tricky, but we’ve been doing it for a long time. Yes, some are better at it than others… in the pub, at work or online, but this isn’t rocket science. We all know the basics… we;ve been doing it since pre-school!

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