Social Media: One Size Does not Fit All

freedigitalphotos_sign post-website-forumI was recently re-engaged by a past client. Our initial work concluded a few years ago and in that time he’d made strides building upon our initial thought leadership and content marketing program and establishing himself as a professional speaker.

Yet, he struggled getting attention from key decision makers. Despite his large social network (40,000 Twitter posts, daily Facebook updates and continual participation in social conversations) his social media marketing efforts were not leading to more speaking invitations and higher speaking fees.

I performed an initial intake assessment, reviewing his marketing activities since our work ended in 2008. Within minutes, I saw the problem: his marketing strategy has strayed from authoritative content marketing and tilted disproportionately toward social media (which he’d embraced with a vengeance).

He’s not alone. Over the past several years, my client – like many small and medium size businesses and service professionals out there today – fell into a common trap: embracing a one size fits all approach to social media marketing.

The Social Media Hype Cycle

Social media is now widely adopted among businesses large and small. And few would argue about that social media is here to stay and plays a role in most business marketing strategies. What’s less examined is the role the social media hype cycle has played in moving social media to the forefront of business.

Social media exploded at the outset of the Great Recession. A story quickly emerged that social media could, almost single handedly, drive sales and deliver passionate, “engaged” prospects who’d become lifelong brand evangelists.

This became accepted wisdom and was validated by countless social media gurus, books, seminars, blog posts and mainstream media stories.

As the recession wore on, many assumed that vigorous social media marketing would naturally boost sales. Yet, five years after the explosion of social media, many now question their initial (often blind) leap into social media marketing.

“Small business owners have jumped on the social-media bandwagon whole hog,” says Caroline Tice in Forbes, drawing from a recent study by Vertical Response. “But it appears many owners are buckling under the added social-media marketing workload. Worse yet, most are doing social-media marketing in a vacuum, since they’re not tracking results.”

Revisit Marketing Fundamentals

It’s no wonder that many businesses are confused after hearing breathless accounts from social media rock stars, such as “if you’ve already experimented with social media and it didn’t work, there are only two possible reasons: Your product or service isn’t any good, or you’re doing it wrong.”

Social media and content marketing have only one role to play: meeting business objectives.

If your social media marketing is not delivering as hoped, it’s time to question common wisdom and revisit business fundamentals, which means questioning the relevance and veracity of everything you’ve heard about social media as you reconsider where it really fits in your marketing mix.

Social media is not free. Social media may feel like a great deal, but it requires considerable time, effort,  planning and discipline. If you’re not valuing your own time, or what you pay others to maintain your social media efforts, you’re not treating social media as a business proposition.

You need a strategy. Most small and medium size businesses embraced social media sites like Twitter and Facebook without knowing why. According to a recent study by Digital Brand Expressions, 52% of companies surveyed have no social media communications strategy. Is this you?

Every business is unique. What works for social media gurus may not work for you. Your own social media strategy must apply to your particular industry, target market and company size. Are you BtoB? BtoC? Is your market local or national? Do you sell products or services? Each of these common sense considerations must inform how social media plays a role in your marketing strategy.

What works for Coke won’t work for you. Too many social media gurus offer case studies that showcase large companies like Zappos and Redbull, citing them as proof that social media will work for you. Don’t be deduced by false anecdotes! (unless your marketplace is “the world” and you have a six figure marketing budget).

Niches Rule. Large companies aspire to market domination, your small or medium size business survives and prospers by becoming the lord of a profitable, relevant target market composed of ideal customers and clients. Your market niche, positioning strategy and overall brand promise must serve as the bedrock upon which all social media marketing decisions are made and implemented.

The whole world does not exist in digital. Social media gurus and online marketers have an inherent bias: as early technology adopters who make their living online, they assume everyone is like them. The problem: tunnel vision that ignores the diversity of particular market segments.

Social Media: An Integrated Strategy

Your market niche is unique and must be considered on an individual basis as you evaluate social media. Smart marketers know there are no silver bullets. Effective, sustainable marketing strategies are developed around a goal (supported by market research) and combined with marketing tactics that are relevant to your target market.

“What’s your goal?” asks Anjail Mullany, Fast Company’s social media editor. “Some social media gurus think the big prize is community. That’s a fine start, but for a business, it’s also a means to an end–which is whatever your company’s larger goals are, whether they be sales, brand awareness, or traffic. Your social strategy should not end with the creation of an online conversation.”

It starts by getting close and listening to your target market.

I recently helped a past client (a Southeast Asian travel company) re-examine its social media strategy. Though the company diligently updated its Twitter and Facebook accounts with news and travel tips, it saw lackluster results in terms of inbound leads, SEO, or other metrics resulting from its social media marketing efforts.

We revisited key assumptions, which included surveying past clients on how they used social media to search for travel companies. Overwhelmingly we heard that Facebook and Twitter were less important than positive reviews on social media travel review sites like TripAdvisor.

Armed with knowledge, we asked satisfied clients to post reviews of their travel experiences. This informed social media marketing strategy quickly boosted my client’s first page Google results and provided information their prospects really wanted: peer validation further along the sales cycle.

Social media does not exist in a silo, but as part of an integrated marketing strategy which can include online strategies such as blogging, SEO and social media, as well as public relations, networking and content marketing. A solid social media strategy combines and leverage various elements that are appropriate for your business.

And what about the public speaker at the outset of this post?

Thankfully, he’s now ignoring social media gurus and following his target market, sharpening his value proposition, and implementing a PR and content marketing strategy aimed at reaching decision makers for keynotes and corporate seminars.

Will social media play a role? Of course. But this time, the cart is not leading the horse.