When I started my very first marketing job, many moons ago, social media was a hot topic. What should brands talk about on social media? Is it worth it? What on earth’s a hashtag? In the years that have followed, social media has gained widespread acceptance and is considered a mandatory part of the marketing mix.

However, as Mark Ritson points out in Marketing Week, the data which demonstrates the value of social media to brands is questionable at best. Reports tend to be based on users who already follow brands on social media, those who don’t are left unexamined. Further, much analysis is dedicated to the relative merits of social media channels compared to one another, Twitter vs Facebook for example, rather than Twitter vs email marketing.

So does this leave wide open the question of whether all this tweeting, posting and hashtagging is actually adding any real value to organisations? As an unashamed proponent of social media marketing I would argue no. That I have seen daily the difference social media can make to brands. However, to use social media marketing effectively I think its important to understand what social media marketing is, and what it isn’t.

What social media marketing is:

  • A part of the marketing mix, to be used in conjunction with other channels and tools.
  • A great way to build durable relationships, with your customers, with your future customers, with press.
  • The ideal channel to show off your brand personality in fun and creative ways. To give a layer of humanity to your corporate brand.
  • A way to demonstrate your passion and expertise in the field you operate in, and to activate and be a part of your customers’ passion.
  • A unique tool that allows you to step in to your customers’ worlds and understand them on a human level. Find out what they like, what they hate, what inspires them and what leaves them cold.

What social media marketing isn’t:

  • A magic bullet to resolve all your marketing issues
  • The most effective way to drive direct sales
  •  A short term win
  •  Easy

If you know what you are trying to achieve, if you are willing to put in the resource to really build an engaging and authentic social presence and if you accept that one tweet does not equal one sale, then social media can be an incredibly effective part of your marketing mix.

Photo by MKHMarketing/ Flickr/CC by 2.0