To Tweet or not to Tweet; That is the Question.

A few days ago I got a call from an old friend, a media rep who is a real pro when it comes to selling TV. But his question was about social media. “I’ve had a few small local clients lately saying they are cutting their advertising and just using Facebookand Twitter. That just doesn’t make sense to me, what do you think?” he asked. I gave him a quick response but promised I’d think about it and answer more in-depth.
Here it is, you asked for it.

As the old axiom says, “I know that only half of my advertising works, the problem is, I don’t know which half.” So along comes Facebook, and people think they have found the Holy Grail of Advertising; it’s cheap and effective! It stands to reason, if only half of my Facebook posts bring in customers, at least I didn’t waste any money.

Here are a few of my thoughts on social media like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, the good, the bad and the ugly:

Social media is just one arrow in your quiver. Like any medium, social media works best when it is used in conjunction with another medium. Outdoor works well with radio, television complements print, point-of-sale reinforces mass media. All media works best when it is a part of a media mix.

As the old Steely Dan song says, “It’s cheap but it’s not free.”
 I keep hearing people say social media is free… and it is to some point. I use Facebook to post snarky comments and share pictures and stories with old high school and college buddies, and that’s free. But for my business, I don’t just want to post without thinking about it. Any communications in the name ofADwërks (like this blog) needs to be well thought out and provide some useful information to our clients, vendors and potential clients. And for me to put that kind of time into a post takes time away from other business duties. So is it free? If you believe, like I do, that time is money, then social media is not free.

Social media is only valuable to your business when it provides value to your customers. I’ve seen a few local businesses use Facebook efficiently and to provide worthwhile information to their customers. For example, Sanaa Abourezk, owner of Sanaa’s at 8th and Railroad posts a little something on Facebook each weekday; a note about her menu; what kind of soup she’s making for lunch, a special dessert or something fresh and delicious. She posts these everyday, just before lunch. A simple reminder like that has helped make up my mind about where I’m going for lunch.

Do you want new customers, or are you happy with the customers you have? 
While Sanaa’s does a good job of communicating with current customers, Facebook won’t do much to reach out to new diners. I see her post, but unless I comment, my friends who are not fans of Sanaa’s never hear about her offerings. Traditional media – TV, radio, print and outdoor – reach new and unexpected audiences constantly and every message invites new customers in. With social media, you’re waiting for new customers to invite your business in.

What is your competition doing? Before you abandon your current marketing and roll the dice on your awesome tweets, ask yourself this: What is your competition doing? If they are still actively seeking new customers, can you afford to give up the game and let them win? I know I can’t.

Not everyone is an expert. One of the things that happened with the meteoric rise in social media’s popularity is the equally sudden appearance of social media experts. The same thing happened several years ago with desktop publishing; suddenly everyone with a Mac was a graphic designer. Then anybody with a $400 video camera became a TV producer. Now everyone over the age of 12 is claiming to be a social media expert. And while those people may be able to set up a page, without a sound marketing strategy behind it, it’s no better than the snarky comments I send my college roommate. If tweeting fits your marketing plan, great; by all means, do it. But social media is just another marketing tactic that needs to have a sensible place in your marketing plan. Strategy first, tactics second. No different than TV or radio, you need to have a plan or you’re just wasting your time and energy.

It’s not as easy as it seems. I was talking with a reporter the other day who commented about how he enjoys the ADwërks Twitter stream. While I thanked him for following us, I admitted that one of my team works on keeping Twitter updated. While it seems easy, it really does take time. I write many of our blog posts, Mike handles Twitter, Kara and I update our Facebook. Other staffers feed us story ideas, we divide the duties of updating social media pages for clients and we’re all working on the same plan and towards the same goals. A social media strategy takes time. If we had to pay an outside company to handle our social media, we would spend thousands of dollars each month. Like I said, it’s cheap, but it’s not free.

Social media is Social. The best part about social media is that it requires interaction. For years traditional media has come into your living room and simply said “Buy this!” Facebook and Twitter invite conversations and recommendations, sites like Digg and Yelp and Angie’s List are there specifically to invite comments and criticism. The one-way communication of old-school advertising has suddenly become a two-way street. A business owner can talk with customers, hear their ideas and respond to complaints like never before. And that is something social media can do that TV and radio cannot.

So to my friend in Montana, I hope that gives some clarity to the social media puzzle and maybe help you convince those folks to keep the traditional media and use social media as a supplement. And to everyone else, the best part of this format is that it is open for your ideas and comments as well. If you know of a business that is using social media well, give them a plug. Think I’m full of crap? You can let me know, right here, right now. Don’t worry, I can take it.

– Jim Mathis