November 04, 2008

Now Is Not the Time To Scale Back On Social Media

Amidst all the talk of economic recession (or worse) and politics, I have seen an underlying current of people who are tiring of social media, seeing it as "less important" than the bigger world issues, and maybe less interesting than maybe it was three, six or nine months ago. Without doing a dedicated poll myself, my gut feeling is that the reasoning is that while people retrench and worry more about their jobs, their families, their wallets and their future, all the fun of bookmarking, liking, linking and blogging falls to the wayside. But I think this is wrong, period. If anything, the economic weakness should make it more important than ever for companies and individuals to double down on social media, as these new tools have enabled less expensive ways to find like-minded individuals, who just might be your next customer.

The world of marketing, advertising and public relations is changing. It's no longer about finding tricky ways to force prospects to your Web site, your products, your content and your story. Instead, it's about going to where your customers are. And it's very likely that many of them have found solace and community in far-flung places like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and FriendFeed, where they are talking with peers, with or without you. Rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars to increase the perception of your brand through print advertising, or sending a check to Google each month to sponsor search keywords, you could devote more time, but much less money, by listening, communicating and participating, bringing a human voice and face to what could previously be seen a static brand.

As the economy tightens and budgets are reduced in response, it makes sense to think differently, to borrow Apple's phrase, and find new ways to reach your prospects and partners less expensively. While not every executive in the boardroom needs to know exactly what Twitter is, they will absolutely understand that you can achieve a higher return on your investment through spending less money, and spending the right amount of time in more targeted areas, where you can attract and retain business, whether these communities are physical or virtual.

Additionally, the typical social media user is a more sophisticated buyer than the general populace. They aren't interested in your "spray and pray" methods of e-mail blasts, run of site banner advertising, or even your impersonal PR pitches. They expect and demand personalization and knowledge of themselves, by you, as an individual. They want to be wooed and to be given a seat at the table when it comes to making suggestions about your product, where you should sell it, and at what price. With proper utilization of social media, there lies a greater sense of community between the buyer and the seller, the customer and the brand, making it a collaborative effort where both parties will work together to ensure a successful transaction takes place.

There's no question that those folks who have been using social media as a time killer or strictly for recreation, to distract from work, might find their time better spent. But that's true with all things, as activities can cross from hobby to obsession, or from utility to distraction.

What has happened in the world of social media over the last few years is the growth of micro-communities whose members can be reached in new ways, regardless of location or time. To cite changes in the macroeconomic climate, or the political climate, as reasons to back away from this growing evolution in communication and marketing is short-sighted. Those companies that can take advantage of the reduced costs of customer communication, acquisition and support will extend the gap over those who sit on the sidelines.

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