If Social Media Is Just Another To-Do List Item, Don’t Bother Doing It

Are you feeling bombarded and overwhelmed by explanations of why you must have a social media marketing strategy? You're not alone.

Today, there are still more organizations that are trying to figure out if social media is right for them and how best to use it than there are companies that are implementing it, let alone implementing it well.

First, let's address if it is right for you and your organization. You'll be surprised to hear a marketing expert say this, but for many organizations social media shouldn't be one of your top marketing initiatives.

The problem is that everyone wants to jump on the next hot trend, but they forget to keep the proper perspective. So here are a few statistics to help you gauge whether social media is the right channel for you to connect with your target audience.

Proper Perspective Please

Traditional media, including TV, radio and newspapers, are the first news source for 72% of Americans, according to a 2009 survey from the First Amendment Center. While only 15% of consumers said they turn to the Internet as their first source of news, 1% reported Twitter, 1% reported social networking sites and 1% said e-mail.

The survey also found that Twitter is not viewed as a reliable news source, with 49% saying they did not know enough about Twitter to respond, 34% reporting it is "not reliable at all" and "not too reliable," and only 17% of consumers reporting that Twitter is "very reliable" and "somewhat reliable.

A recent 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair poll reported similar results: 10% responded "what's Twitter?," 33% say they have heard a lot about it but remain "unsure what it is," 39% of respondents agree that Twitter is "a fad that'll fade," and only 15% consider it "an important new tool."

Reality Check

With that kind of statistical data about where and how people receive their trusted information, why all the bandwagon jumping? You may be surprised that the chatter about social media marketing is much hotter than the actual implementation or investment in it.

In fact, 84% of chief marketing officers allocate less than 10% of their budgets to experimenting with social media and nontraditional communications channels, and 55% allocate 5% or less, according to a study by the CMO Club and Hill & Knowlton, released on Nov. 17, 2009.

In short, don't let the hype force you to lose proper perspective and jump into something that might not be right for you. However, if it is right for you and you are willing to dedicate the necessary time, money and energy to make it successful, make sure you don't make the three most costly and common mistakes.

Mistake #1: The Clueless Fisherman

All too frequently, organizations are jumping into social media marketing before they are crystal clear on their core target audience or their brand—the emotional connection they want to make with their target audience. Until these foundational cornerstones are clarified, an organization shouldn't even be considering spending its time, money and energy on social media. Why? 

First, if you are unclear about who your top three target audiences are by order of priority, how do you know where to best find them and how to best influence them to engage with you? Doing social media just to be able to say you're doing it is flat-out foolish. You may actually be opening yourself up to more risk than reward.

If you don't know which fish you want to catch, how do you know where to go fishing or with what to bait the hook? Yet we've seen this time and time again, where brands are tweeting and on Facebook, but their audience is far better moved to action by other forms of media. This makes little sense, especially when the organization has limited time and budget to spend on marketing.

Mistake #2:  Mixed Signals

If you don't know the type of emotional connection you consistently want to make with your core target audience, how do you know which mediums are best used to reinforce your positioning and provide you with the best marketing ROI? And how do you ensure that your social media strategy reinforces the tone and character that should be making you unique to your target audience?

Without that clarity, you risk sounding fun-loving and cheeky when you really want to come across as sophisticated and decadent, or looking adventurous and rebellious when you really should be coming across as frugal and caring.  

Mistake #3:  It's Just a Tool, Not the Toolbelt

The third big mistake is often a result of the above two mistakes: Organizations often view social media as a strategy or a shortcut and not as one of the many communications vehicles from which to choose.

To create successful communications strategies, the key is the same as it always has been. You must have clarity of your brand and target audience and know what mediums to use to best reach them to create strong ROI.  The only difference is that there's an ever-expanding stream of channels for disseminating messages to audiences—whether it's Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube today or Google Wave in the future.

Companies that are successful with using social media do well because they incorporate it as a tactic in an overarching integrated campaign and view it as one of the many powerful weapons in their arsenal.  They understand that social media should not become a stand-alone strategy or campaign, but part of a holistic approach meant to strategically address your business goals.

Yes, social media is an important new weapon in our marketing arsenal, but it must be kept in proper perspective and used accordingly. So do me a favor—retweet this article and post it wherever you like, but don't do it so you can say you checked off your social media to-do box for the day.

David Warschawski (david.warschawski@warschawski.com) is CEO and founder of Warschawski, a brand-centric marketing communications agency based in Baltimore.

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