Social media - beyond the hype

I would peg the moment at about April 1996. This was the collective point in time when companies large and small began chanting, "We have to be on the Web!"

I would peg the moment at about April 1996. This was the collective point in time when companies large and small began chanting, “We have to be on the Web!” The interesting thing is, at the time many of these companies had no idea what their specific strategy for going online was beyond “everyone else is doing it.” Fast forward 13 years. The mantra has changed to: “We have to be on Facebook and Twitter!”, but the strategy underpinning the desire is still, “everyone else is doing it.” So, what is the right social media strategy?

Now more than ever, it is important to not get caught up in the online trend du jour. Entering the social media arena without a good strategy is at minimum a costly distraction. Worse, you can actually damage your brand. Moreover, if your company/client is not quite ready to face public scrutiny, you have other things to focus on than social media.

Twitter is the hot tactic right now. Given a large enough base of followers, it can be an extremely effective outreach and engagement tool. But, contrary to popular belief, Twitter isn't free. Given the time and resources required to build and maintain an effective Twitter presence, it's actually one of the more expensive online outreach tools at your disposal.

Remember that the true value of social media for companies lies in the ability to really listen to your customers versus telling your story. If the number one rule in business is to find out what your customers' needs are and then respond to them, social media provides a fantastic conduit into what your customers think and want.

It's certainly tempting to get caught up in the social media fervor, but we can't lose track of the fact that it's still results that matter. Last month, we got a report from a study fielded by Opinion Research Corporation that said consumers prefer to receive online information in the context of articles where they can read about the product or service before they click through to learn more or buy. That consumer feedback reinforces the idea that there's a major opportunity to use brand storytelling via online articles to get marketing messages across in measurable, convincing ways – a much more contextual consumer contact than a 140-character tweet.

Depending on your clients' goals, a social media campaign may make a lot of sense. Just remember it's only one tool in your PR toolkit.

Scott Severson is president of media company ARAnet that provides article-based cost per click advertising platforms and feature article placements.

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