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Social Media Marketing: It’s Not The Boogeyman

January 2, 2010

Allow me to preface this post by saying, “I am not a social media marketing expert.” I’m not even pretending to be one.  In fact, this whole social media thing is relatively new to me.  I’ve had a website for years but have only recently become an active member of the blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter.  In the last six months I’ve read almost a dozen books and spent countless hours scouring the web for every morsel of information I could scrounge.  In that time I’ve learned a few things.  I’ve applied a few of those tactics to my own business and am now starting to realize some of the rewards.  Frankly, I find the whole darn experiment extremely fascinating.  I continue to learn.  I’m still reading books (currently, “Six Pixels of Separation”).  I continue to scour the web.  Every day I learn something new.  This post is the first in a series in which I will share with you some of the key things I’ve learned.  When something I try succeeds, I’ll tell you about it.  When something I do fails, I’ll hide in a closet and you won’t see me for a few days.  Okay, fine…I’ll even tell you about the failures.  I hope you find these posts useful.  If you do, or if you’ve had your own successes, I invite you to leave a comment.  Feel free to share these posts with someone you know who might find them relevant.  Let’s learn from eachother!  And now, on to the content.

Blogging, facebooking, tweeting, flickr’ing, stumblingupon, digg’ing – it’s enough to drive you a little bit wacky.  Even so, I know that in order to grow my business I need to focus some attention on social media marketing (SMM).  What does that mean, though?  And just how much time, energy and money do you need to expend?  Do you just start up a Facebook page, wait a week and then sit back and watch as your “fan” base grows exponentially?  Do you send a few tweets and spend the rest of your days counting the thick stacks of cash your business rakes in?  If only!  Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.  But it isn’t the boogeyman either, hiding under your bed and waiting to make your life miserable with every tweet you type.

The truth is that you, or a specialist whom you pay ridiculous sums of money, will spend days upon days and months upon months building and refining your social media marketing campaign.  In today’s digital world we’ve all become accustomed to nearly instantaneous gratification.  Get over it.  Social media marketing does not generate revenue overnight.  It takes time.  It takes effort.  It places demands on you that are nearly impossible to anticipate.  But it is do-able.  That’s right, even you can do it.

Maybe you’ve never heard of social media marketing.  Or, maybe you’ve heard it called social influence marketing (SIM).  Both terms refer to the same thing – the use of social media platforms to market a product, service or brand, to build a community around a product, service or brand or to establish public relations and/or customer service around (all together now) a product, service or brand.  You can read a more comprehensive definition on this Wikipedia page.  Oh, and by the way, Wikipedia can be used as a social media marketing platform.

Now that you know what it is, what it doesn’t do and how much hard work you’re going to put into it, let’s talk about some of the positive things you can expect from social media marketing.  First, it’s fun.  That’s right, I said it’s fun.  How in the name of all that is holy can any form of marketing be fun?  Here’s how: unlike traditional marketing techniques, social media marketing allows you to interact directly with your audience.  You receive their praise and you hear their complaints.  You get to know them because they speak to you in their own voice, on their own time and from whatever platform suits them.  They aren’t just a statistic any more.  These are real people whose real thoughts come to you totally and completely unfiltered.  So basically, you’re building a dynamic community of like-minded people who are rallying around you or your company.  In the process you’re gaining valuable insight into what they like, what they don’t like and how they feel about your product or service.  If you are successful in engaging, entertaining and informing them they tell friends, family and random strangers about your business.  How cool is that?!

What else is there to like about social media marketing?  It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.  In fact, it doesn’t even have to cost a dime.  You can blog for free.  Twitter is free. Facebook is free.  Who doesn’t like “free”?  Especially when “free” is growing your business, building lasting relationships and over time, developing a revenue stream.  There are myriad ways to market your business for free using the plethora of social media platforms saturating the world wide web.  I’m not going to tell you about those now.  That nugget of wisdom comes in another post at another time so you’ll just have to bookmark my blog and check back often.  You wouldn’t want to miss it, would you?  Right now, my goal is to open your eyes to the reality that if you can afford free you can afford to market your business.  My other, slightly less important goal is to get you excited about using social media to grow your business.

Maybe you have a marketing budget but your entire budget fits within a piggy bank.  How much good marketing can you possibly afford with six months worth of change?  A lot more than you might think.  Cost-per-click advertising (CPC) on Google and Facebook can be designed around any budget.  Literally.  If you have $5.00 a month to dedicate to marketing you can afford cost-per-click advertising.  You won’t reach as many people as you would with a $500/month budget but you will reach people.  Traditional marketing typically uses a shotgun approach to blast your message to everyone within ear or eye shot.  Cost-per-click advertising allows you to selectively target a market with keywords and key phrases.  Facebook CPC advertising even allows you to target potential customers whose profiles indicate very specific interests, i.e. nature photography, and who live within pre-determined geographic boundaries.  You can even send your message to a pre-determined age range.  It stands to reason that you are much more likely to reach the right people through such a highly targeted approach than by “spraying and praying” with traditional marketing.

As I’ve stated social media marketing requires a commitment.  You must commit to it for the long haul.  It doesn’t have to feel like work.  Be yourself.  Be genuine.  Allow your social media marketing campaign the time it takes to grow roots.  When it does you’ll find yourself at the center of a vibrant community.  Support that community.  Engage them.  Social media marketing isn’t about selling your product or service to your community.  It’s about providing them with a way and a reason to interact with you and with each other.  Not the corporate you, but the real you.  Talk to them as you would if you were standing in front of them.  Your online persona shouldn’t be any different from your real life self.  Loosen up.  Crack jokes.  Point them toward stuff you find helpful whether it’s books, websites, magazines or even just a little tip you picked up from a friend.  Just keep it relevant to the community interests.  Let them in on your personal life.  Not your “behind closed doors, what happens in Vegas” personal life but your “I’d share this with my Mom” personal life.  It’s okay to slip in the occasional sales pitch but keep it low key.  Got a workshop coming up?  Mention it on Facebook and Twitter.  Write a short blog entry about it.  Developed a super cool and useful iPhone app for photographers?  Tell ’em about it! (Sorry, had to slip that in somewhere.)  Wrote a book about using Lightroom to streamline your digital darkroom workflow?  Tell your community about it pre-release and they’ll get the warm and fuzzies because you told them first.  Once your community trusts you they’ll spread your message.  Real world referrals and endorsements are far more effective than anything some snooty, high priced ad agency could generate.

In summary, social media marketing works.  It takes time.  It takes effort.  It takes a genuine you.  It doesn’t take a lot of money.  In future posts I’ll discuss social media marketing platforms that have worked for me and what I’ve done to make them work.  If I find any that simply don’t work for me we’ll discuss those.  Who knows, maybe someone out there can tell me how to convert that unsuccessful platform into a successful one.  Until next time, I’ll see you on Facebook.  Or Twitter.  Or Flickr.  Or, maybe right here on my blog.

Up next: Social media marketing resources that don’t suck.

Got a topic you’d like to see discussed or a question you’d like answered?  Email me and if I have an answer I’ll write about it.  If I don’t have an answer I’ll just make something up and write about it any way.  Are you a social media marketing expert just dying to write a guest post?  Contact me and let’s talk.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2010 11:00 pm

    A friend of mine just emailed me one of your articles from a while back. I read that one a few more. Really enjoy your blog. Thanks

  2. January 3, 2010 12:13 am

    I gained a new respect for social networking last weekend. We were visiting my parents in rural New Mexico post-Christmas, and one of their dogs, an 11-month-old pup, absolutely shattered its leg, hanging limp and twisted, bone through the skin. My folks are very far from wealthy, so vet bills were a big question. But I was delighted when, following a post on my step-father’s blog (he’s a professional writer and has a fair following), many, many people called the vet’s office with credit cards to chip in. Lots of donors were people he’d met face to face, but there were strangers in the mix and people from as far away as England. Some other folks blogged it, others mentioned the situation on Facebook, and the story now has a pretty happy ending (though there’s a long recovery ahead). I guess the point is that if people get to know you well via the web, they really can come to care about your work and your life.

  3. January 3, 2010 8:22 am

    Nice piece, Bret. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. Like you, I’m new to the whole social media networking/marketing thing.

    You’re right about the pay-for-click ads. They are inexpensive. I’ve tried a few on FB and have spent very little money to get in front of a fairly large number of eyes. Don’t know whether the ads are working or not. I’ve not had anyone approach me at one of the events I’ve advertised to say ‘hey, I saw your Facebook ad’ but maybe one day….

  4. January 3, 2010 8:38 am

    Thank you for all the comments and retweets thus far!

    Jackson: Thanks for sharing your story. Really quite powerful and clearly demonstrates the value in building a community vs. pushing sales. I’m an animal lover and it made my day to learn that there is a happy ending to that little pup’s horrible ordeal. Lots of people were touched by its story & your father has built exactly the kind of community we should all be striving to create with our own SMM.

    Bob: Glad to hear your positive comments about FB ads. The more I learn about them the more convinced I am that they just flat out work. There are ways to measure the success or failure of your ads. Marketing folks refer to such things as ROI, metrics and analytics. Knowing which ads/strategies are working is critical because it allows you to focus your time and money on the successful channels. I haven’t reached a point at which I feel I can share anything of value on the topic of metrics yet but if I do, rest assured I will discuss it here.

  5. January 3, 2010 12:26 pm

    Great article, Bret. I’m adding your blog to my blog’s links.

    – Dan.

  6. January 4, 2010 9:55 am

    Very well put. Your marketting has to be regular & mostly on topic. I see lots of people use it as just another RSS feed for their blog. I see others spend their entire day RT-ing what other people are saying, but providing no input themselves. Let’s be honest, too. Most people are not going to be good at it, just the same as most people are not going to take pictures that meet my standards. Treat it as marketting, but you better enjoy it, or just don’t waste your time.

  7. January 4, 2010 11:33 am

    Nicely written Bret! I look forward to reading your next post.

  8. January 4, 2010 6:59 pm

    Great post Bret, really interesting. I was considering to enter the SMM thing myself in these days, and I found this very helpful. I’m eager to read the rest.


  9. January 4, 2010 8:20 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Dan, Jon, Jim and Paolo.

    Jon: I think you’re right that most people won’t be good at it. SMM doesn’t create business and generate revenue overnight. It takes time and patience to reap the rewards. Too many people get started and give up after 2 or 3 months because they aren’t seeing the results they had hoped for. Bad move! Doing this will cause whatever followers/fans/consumers you have reached to distrust you and your brand. Patience is a virtue!

    Paolo: I’m really happy to hear that you found the post useful. I’ll probably have the next installment up in about 2 weeks.

  10. January 5, 2010 12:45 am

    Great post, Bret. Really well done. Just re-read it for the second time. Lots to soak in. Can’t wait to read your follow-ups.

    Cheers & Happy New Year! – g.

  11. January 5, 2010 8:29 am

    Thanks for checkin’ out my blog, linking to it and for the new years wishes. Happy 2010 to you and your family, too!

  12. January 7, 2010 9:33 pm

    Bret, in your research for this series, have you run into the new book, by David Scott, The New Rules of Marketing & PR? I just received a copy from Amazon and it’s killer! ISBN 978-0-470-54781-6.

  13. January 7, 2010 9:39 pm

    Ken: Nope, haven’t heard of that one. I’ve got a Barnes & Noble gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket. Might just have to spend it tonight. Thanks for the tip!

  14. January 9, 2010 10:54 pm

    Bret thanks. Informative and looking forward to followup posts.


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