I'm spending more and more time with clients working on their social media strategies (but without abandoning traditional media of course). To those who are new to social media, there's a phase where they need to be convinced of the business benefits before taking the plunge. That's fair enough. Alas, there are way too many "instant social media experts" who will over-sell the rewards, without understanding a basic principle of marketing - you have to sell to the people who are buying.
A recent Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) survey of 80 brand managers found that over half of them were using social media to find out what customers were saying about their brand, and three-quarters were "actively engaging" with customers on Twitter and Facebook. It doesn't require a lot of effort to use social media in this way. In fact, I suggest that before you embark on any sort of campaign, you need to start by monitoring your brand in social media, and talking to your customers.
It's often said that you need to use social media in a way that engages with people, offers them help, and doesn't market overtly. All that is true. However, companies like Dell (via Dell outlet), Ford (via the FIesta Movement) and Asda (through their YouTube channel) have used social media to directly boost sales. There's nothing wrong with that. We all need to put bread on our family's table.
There's also an argument that if you connect with enough people, the business will come to you. That may be so, and I'm not short on connections myself. However, the majority of my business still comes via referral and face-to-face meetings that may have begun via social media, but are rarely concluded through it.
Rather than wasting time and money, shrewd use of social media can help you to save it, by preventing costly marketing mistakes. It can also help you to test out new ideas for products and services without commissioning expensive research. It can also help you react quickly to deal with any issues that arise (now that can really save you money). So what's social media for? A whole load of things. But if you use it to save or make money, that can't be bad, can it?