What to Do With Social Media

It turns out that these days most of us are using social media in some way or another…it’s just that we’re not entirely sure what to do with it.

A recent study conducted by SocialMediaExaminer.com reveals that 91 percent of marketers now report integrating social media into their marketing efforts. However, out of those using social media, the majority (65 percent) is relatively new to it, having only embarked on social media marketing within the past several months. Interestingly, it’s B2B (define) marketers (nearly 80 percent) who have been engaged with social media longer: about 69 percent of B2C (define) marketers reported using social media for several months or more.

Any way you slice it, however, it seems using social media for marketing is here to stay. And if you look at the numbers it makes total sense: another recent survey discovered that Facebook is the website most visited by people at work…twice as high as Google (6.8 percent of business traffic went to Facebook and 3.4 percent went to Google)!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and attribute that Facebook traffic to personal, not business use. Maybe that’s a bit of a leap, but if you look at your own workplace Web usage patterns – OK…maybe not yours, but certainly your coworkers’), this shouldn’t come as a shock. Ahem.

So if everyone’s using social media for marketing and many of us are accessing Facebook from work, what’s the best way to use social media? As much as I’d like to give you a definitive answer on that, I’d have to say that the answer as of today is “nobody’s sure yet.” Yes, there are plenty of folks who tout the efficacy of Twitter and Facebook and other social media services as the way to market, but I think that we’re at the stage now with social media where banner advertising was around 2000 or 2001.

Why? Because back then it wasn’t uncommon to have pitched battles between the “branding” and “response” camps when it came to discussing whether or not to put online display ads into a campaign. The hardcore response folks insisted that the direct-response nature of banner ads was the only thing we should worry about. On the other hand, the branding camp insisted that it wasn’t click-throughs that mattered…it was the branding effect of having your ads out there in front of people all the time.

Who won? Well…nobody, really. Instead, I’d say that savvy marketers have realized that both camps were right. Sure, banners (if done correctly) could be great for response: see the “dancing” mortgage ads or the onetime-ubiquitous “click the bunny and win an iPod” ads. These ads didn’t even need to feature the brand desiring the response…they just pulled out all the stops to get response and let the landing pages do the work.

On the other hand, marketers looking to build brand awareness have realized that perhaps clicks didn’t matter as long as the brand was prominent enough and presented in an engaging way. And the effect is not just anecdotal. There have been some pretty interesting studies that have demonstrated how brand recognition can get a lift from banners, even if nobody clicks on those banners.

All of this is why a new joint study by Nielsen and Facebook is so interesting, especially in light of the near ubiquity of social media marketing. Though the report looks at Facebook advertising from a number of dimensions, the bottom line is this: Facebook advertising works to increase brand awareness regardless of response and gets even more effective when combined with social connections. Facebook ads can help build brand on their own, but if your friends are tied in, things really get good…and even better if they’re tied in with mentions in your Facebook news feeds.

On social networks, ads are good for branding, even better when combined with your online friends, and best when they appear along with news from your friends on the same topic. Not that big of a shock, huh? But as we figure out how to use all this stuff, it’s important not to be reductive in how we think about social media marketing. It’s not “brand” vs. “response.” It’s both…and it’s both in combination with how social connections are worked in. Complex stuff, to be sure, but that same complexity is what allows us to be creative with how we market. Don’t sweat it if you haven’t figured it all out yet: keep experimenting, keep learning, and, above all, avoid those who tell you that they have the answer. They don’t. They didn’t 10 years ago either.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.