Do I Need Social Media?

Social media, like public relations, can be misunderstood by companies that try to categorize it using measurements more applicable to advertising or sales.  It is not always conventional, and its results can be difficult to quantify. We talk to a lot of companies looking for food and wine public relations help, and they often ask about the role of social media.

Here are some of our thoughts on social media for those still scratching their heads over what it all means and how it applies to them.

Social media encompasses a wide variety of online and mobile channels through which users exchange content (information, news, opinions, images, videos, web links).  Some of the best known channels are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but others include YouTube, Flickr and FourSquare, as well as blogs and their comment sections, wikis, podcasts and news sharing tools such as StumbleUpon, Digg, Delicious and Reddit.  In short, social media is user-generated content.  It is a rich avenue for communication in many forms, but it differs from marketing in the traditional sense, which focuses on push tactics such as advertising, email promotions, newsletters, brochures, flyers, etc.  With social media, communication is no longer one-way; social media is about dialog, exchange and engaging users, including customers, directly.  When applied to business, social media enables customers and potential customers to become part of the conversation.  This has tremendous applications for companies, not just for brand awareness and customer acquisition, but for customer service, customer retention and building a stronger bond with customers.  Furthermore, social media can help companies understand their customers better, gather ideas for marketing and new products, increase web site traffic and improve search rankings.

Some companies dismiss social media as a fad or discount its relevance to them based on a misperception of social media users.  Consider this:
–    Last year the Internet surpassed TV as the main source of news for people under 30
–    4 of the top 7 most visited web sites are social media (Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Blogger)
–    Facebook has more than 500 million active users and half of all users log in to Facebook every day
–    Twitter has over 145 million registered users and is adding 300,000 per day
–    There is a mass consumer migration to social media communities.  Companies that ignore or delay engaging customers through social media risk being left behind by customers and competitors alike.

It is important to understand the requirements and limitations of social media.  To be successful, a social media program must be genuine, personal and consistent with the company’s values.  Although many social media tools are free, a social media program still requires an investment in time and money.  And social media is not a magic wand.  In addition to a quality product and a compelling story, a company must also be able to adapt its message, content and manner of communicating to the social media environments, which are unlike traditional marketing and communications channels. The company must also embrace social media tools and technology, and it must be prepared to evolve as new tools are introduced and the landscape changes, as it does almost daily.  A social media program, like any relationship, takes time to develop.

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