Social media may be fun and exciting, but it is no substitute for traditional marketing. No company will build an empire through social media alone; it has to be done in conjunction with other marketing tools such as SEO, email marketing and PR, according to Helen Armour, marketing manager for Really Simple Systems, who here examines how and why social media works as an add-on to marketing strategies, and its role in long term brand-building.
That does not, however, mean that companies should ignore the social channel; indeed, in markets such as IT and media, social activity is essential to prove business credibility.
Social marketing is not going to generate leads - it is all about brand building. And that means the most critical factor in any social activity is understanding the customer base. In a B2B model dependent on the sign-off of a middle aged Financial Director, spending a lot of time on Facebook or Twitter is not going to deliver much value - although it will work well for a B2C business aimed at the 20 to 35 age group. For a market younger than that, Facebook is also out of date - with this generation spending time on Snapchat and Instagram.
The only exception to this brand building only approach is LinkedIn: if a company can identify prospects' job titles and business types, LinkedIn does offer an opportunity to generate leads. Everything else is just broadcast.
The great thing about social is that it provides a company with a platform to reach potential customers that have not yet been captured in the email marketing database. While, to be frank, a prospect is unlikely to follow a company on Facebook or Twitter unless already aware of the brand via another route; if a business is not already in direct communication via an effective email marketing campaign, social media provides an opportunity to pique the interest with links to innovative content and provide updates on product news.
The challenge is to determine just how much resource - both time and money - should be invested in social. Measuring the value of brand building activity is an inexact science. Should companies be looking to add followers; or are retweets more important? Should the business be tweeting once a day or more often?
In terms of followers it is always worth remembering that upwards of 50% of those following your company will be other companies looking to raise their own profile in order to sell a product or service to your business - so don't get carried away by a quick spike in interest.
Some of the most popular sites tweet or update content no more than once or twice a day - the emphasis is on relevance and interest, not volume. Getting other people to retweet or share great content in a bid to build their own followers is a great way of gaining wider recognition.
"Social marketing is a long term investment focused almost exclusively on raising brand awareness. No company should ever rely on social to build a business - but it is an important aspect of the marketing mix," concluded Armour. "The key is to identify the audience and determine which media will appeal most. With the right social platform, the right content and the right frequency of activity, a company can slowly but surely use social to significantly extend brand awareness."