Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Real Value

Hello all.  Sorry I took a couple of days off.  It's been hectic on my side of things.  I've been working towards getting the workshops started and I look forward to seeing many of you in the months to come at the various seminars I'll be hosting.  More on that later.

In the meantime, I wanted to pass along a conversation I had with a marketer recently that I found very interesting.  First, understand that I respect this individual a lot.  He teaches marketing at the University of Colorado and runs his own, quite successful marketing business.  I ran into him after playing dodgeball (yes, I know, but it's fun...and we wear wigs).  We started chatting and decided to head over to a local bar to talk about our differing theories of social media and how it helps small businesses and non-profits. 

I only bring this discussion up because it coincided with another conversation I had with another marketer, a friend getting her MBA in marketing, and she had very similar views about social media and small businesses. 

In short, they both declared that social media was of very little use to small businesses and non-profits.  Or at least that's what I heard initially.  Now, you may ask, why in the world would I mention the relatively negative view some very professional and successful marketers had about social media outreach efforts? 

Here's why:  I feel I have to address this issue as I'm sure you, as small business owners and non-profit directors, hear similar arguments all the time.  I'm here to debunk some of the marketing myths surrounding social media and prove that it is not only a valuable tool in your marketing and pr efforts, but an essential one.

Both individuals argued, basically, that small businesses and non-profits don't receive enough in return for their investment in time and money from social media.  Before I start debunking, I just wanted to say how shocked I was to hear this from people that I consider very bright and knowledgable regarding marketing. 

I also have to explain that we were able to find common ground in our debates.  We all agreed that social media, by itself, generally will not be overly successful.  There is no magic bullet anymore.  As I've mentioned previously, there was a time when a well placed news article or magazine article or television spot would automatically increase sales and raise your organizations' profile, that kind of single coverage success just doesn't exist anymore. 

In essence, they made my argument for me.  And that is, any successful outreach effort HAS to be made in conjunction with other platforms.  That's fancy industry talk for saying you have to have a diverse plan when it comes to reaching your audiences.

Here are some of the arguments you'll hear against social media and the reasons why it is a tool that you need to be using to help your small business and non-profit succeed:

Argument:  Social media has a very small "return on investment"
Answer:  This is patently false.  One of the most appealing aspects of social media is that it allows small businesses and non-profits to reach their target audiences without having to spend thousands of dollars to do so.  For the cost of a basic website, you can begin to reach out to potential customers, donors, volunteers or other shareholders by signing up to free sites such as Twitter, DigIt, Facebook, LinkedUp, Meetup, etc.  The biggest investment you'll likely make is your time, but this is time aimed directly at improving the odds of success for your organization.

Argument:  There's no way to quantify the ROI (return on investment)
Answer:  Again, not true.  There are several ways to monitor your social media outreach efforts.  Some cost a modest fee, other methods are completely free.  Nearly every online site offers tracking and monitoring data, often without a charge.  Plus, social media gives you an opportunity to receive direct feedback from individuals browsing your sites and allows you to interact directly with those potential customers or donors.  This is the kind of direct interaction that you don't get from other forms of "traditional" marketing.

Argument:  Social Media is a shotgun approach to marketing, not targeted and therefore not effective
Answer:  Social media can be a shotgun approach, true.  But, like other more "traditional" marketing methods, social media does allow you to target specific audiences, perhaps even moreso than traditional marketing efforts.  Finding groups within social media sites allows your organization to identify exactly who you're sending your message to and how it's being received.  And don't look now, but one of the cornerstones of "traditional" marketing involves the direct mail approach.  It really doesn't get much more shotgun approach than that.

Argument:  Social media is too new to be truly effective
Answer:  Yes, social media is still a relatively new phenomenon, however it has already proven itself to be successful on many levels, for not only small businesses, but also for major corporations.  You have to ask yourself; if social media is important enough for major firms like NIKE, United Airlines and Apple to invest major time towards, it's clearly a tool that is making a difference in the business world.

Argument:  Social media doesn't have the same effect as face-to-face marketing efforts
Answer:  This is a valid argument.  But there is a flaw in thinking that only face to face efforts can be effective.  Because many social media efforts revolve around events, in effect it is a tool for increasing the success of face to face marketing efforts.  Would you rather be greeting and schmoozing 20 people at your next event, or 100 people?  Plus, as I mentioned earlier, social media allows you to have direct interaction with potential customers and donors and other shareholders.  You can talk with them, get to know them, and, more importantly, they get to know you.  Social media is a great way to build brand loyalty, something previously done primarily through face to face interaction.

Argument:  Social media outreach is too risky
Answer:  Listen, all public relations, marketing or community outreach efforts can be risky.  Primarily, I hear from marketers that going online makes you more succeptible to negative comments, pranks and hacks.  First, understanding that in today's business world, you have to be online to be successful.  It's a fact that can't be ignored.  Therefore your organization is already vulnerable to online hijinx.  Individuals will talk about your organization online whether you're using social media or not.  The best way to combat any negativity online is to be front and center in chatrooms, on blogs, on Facebook and Twitter and other sites defending yourself and countering the negativity.  Also by using social media you can go online and either spark conversations or take part in conversations that focus on the positive aspects of your organization.

Argument:  Social media isn't as "legitimate" as "traditional" marketing
Answer:  This is simply a point of view.  I think the various examples of major corporations successfully using social media to either promote events, a product, a service or to counter a media crisis speaks volumes more than anything I can say.  It's legitimate, as legitimate as already established marketing efforts.

Argument:  Social media doesn't add enough value to small businesses and non-profits
Answer:  Again, I suppose this might be a matter of opinion.  My opinion is that social media adds more value than current traditional marketing efforts.  In the first place, it reaches a massive potential audience, larger than most network stations, and it can be done significantly cheaper than any direct mail marketing campaign.  By being online, you also establish your organization as being current in both thought and action.  Also there is that matter of raising your profile, disseminating information and establishing your message.  You can do all of these things by going online.  You add value to your organization by suddenly being visible to many who might otherwise not know you exist.  But you also have singular control over how you are percieved, how and when your message goes out to the masses and your organization profile automatically increases in value by being online and being available to literally potentially millions of viewers.  

Like any campaign, you have to make sure your efforts are creative, and give the potential customer usefull content.  Simpy tossing up a video or blog won't do much to help you, and if that's your idea of using social media, then the "traditional" marketers are right in their analysis that it's not effective.  However, if you use social media to its full effectiveness, you won't find a more valuble marketing tool. 

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