Is social media marketing worth the investment?

If you’ve wondered whether the time spent making all those posts to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are worth it, you’re not alone. How do you know if all the effort increases business? Could your limited marketing time or budget be more effective elsewhere?

Is it worth it?

I get this question from clients all the time, particularly those in business-to-business industries. Keeping a regular presence on social media requires marketing hours, either in-house or outsourced. And what to post? Social media marketing can feel pretty “squishy,” with pictures of the office dog or posts about the morning meeting’s doughnuts. Do their customers really care about that stuff? Is all this time & effort worth it?

The short answer is, as you probably guessed, yes. But not always.

It’s not news that how we communicate has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. While print newspaper and magazine subscriptions continue to decline, increasingly we get our news online, not only from traditional news sources, but also from sources like Twitter, blogs and other social media. There are 277 million users on LinkedIn, 316 million on Twitter, 540 million on Google+, then there’s 1.2 billion on Facebook. That’s a lot of potential customers. Social media’s reason for existence – or at least its reason for prospering – is access to eyeballs.

But that doesn’t mean you need to try to reach all of those eyeballs. Posting comments and information to your customers that isn’t meaningful, or posting good content in the wrong place is a waste of time and resources. Social media is effective when the right message gets in front of the right people.

Social media marketing is not advertising.

The world is becoming increasingly mobile, and we catch our information on the fly, in snippets. We want our messages to be short, interesting, and easy to process. Part of the appeal of social media is its abbreviated format. So short messages or visuals that give a glimpse of your company or product are going to be more effective on social media than an ad full of information. Social media is essentially, social. People are there to socialize, or be entertained, or learn something. So just putting an overt marketing message in front of your customers isn’t going to work on social media. People respond positively to messages that emotionally resonate, or make your company approachable. People are more likely to patronize and have loyalty to a company they can relate to or shares their ideas. Social media is your opportunity to express your company culture, and show that your company is made of humans too. It’s as much PR as advertising.

But which social media?

Social media is a sometimes overwhelming array of channels – Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Houzz, and of course, blogs. But just like you probably wouldn’t advertise in every magazine in the country, or promote knitting products in Field & Stream, you don’t need to be everywhere in social media. Find out where your audience hangs out, and be where they are. Are your customers getting their news from Twitter? Hunting for ideas on Houzz? Getting inspiration from Instagram? Choose the 2 or 3 primary channels where your customers are likely to spend time, and focus on those.

Social media is where your customers are, so if you want to talk to them, you have to be there. So the answer is, yes, social media marketing is worth the investment. Focus on building a solid, human presence on your key channels, and have confidence you’re building your relationship with your customers.