How does social media fit into marketing strategy?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve met someone and they have said: “Marketing … so … is that mainly … social media then?”

The answer is, it really isn’t.

If used correctly, social media is a very effective method of marketing communications. It can facilitate more personalised, interactive and longer lasting conversations with customers.

But we should not lose sight of the fact that it is just that – a form of communication.

What you are communicating, to whom, and why, still needs to be determined. And in determining that, you should be thinking more widely than just ‘the socials’.

This is either a statement of the obvious, or a controversial downplaying of the power of social media, depending on your point of view.

Things to note from the above characterisation of social media would be:

  • If it is longer term, it needs to be measured as such. Metrics need to be relevant to the business. Investment needs to have a sensible timeframe.
  • The interactive nature requires that someone is monitoring your accounts for comments, messages etc that need a response. Is this best done internally or externally? Is it sensible to have a single person with the responsibility? Much of this will depend upon scale, and may change over time.
  • If it is more personal, then the approach taken needs to reflect this. We need to resist the instinct or the pressure to seek numbers at the expense of engagement. Some of the social media ‘tips and tricks’ and some of the practices that we see, can cross the line into being a little spammy.

All of the above are reasons to integrate your social media into your wider marketing activity. The strategy should already be set. Nothing on social media should require a change in business strategy. The planning of your marketing communications should be done together.

If social media activity is representing your brand, then it needs to stay on topic. How else will this be achieved?

I have often heard the following questions from clients and business owners:

  • Who should be in charge of social media content?
  • Is it worth the time?

On the first question, I would simply ask ‘Who writes your brochure / web site / other communications? Then you have your answer. Social media is not a technical issue for those who are that way inclined. It is an element of your marketing communications that can do great harm or great good.

Every aspect of your social media content should be considered as having been ‘published’, because this is in effect what you have done. It is a mistake to leave this to junior staff unless trained and properly led. It’s also a mistake to leave it to those outside of marketing communications. Not just because of the risk of getting it wrong, but because it needs to be integrated into your other communications. You never know – a dive into social media may uncover customer insights and generate ideas that just might be applicable elsewhere (one would certainly hope so; otherwise the second question above is worth asking).

So, is it worth your time? I would suggest that all communication with relevant members of your target market is useful. I would liken social media engagement to a customer walking in the door and communicating with you. Clearly in principle they are worth communicating with, but there are limits to the value and resources applied to any activity.

I would suggest that judgement and perspective can be very helpful here. The fundamentals of marketing strategy have not changed, because the fundamentals of human decision making have not. But the ways in which customers evaluate suppliers and the expectations on forms of communication may have done.

Social media may well have revolutionised the way marketing communications is done, but it has not revolutionised the whole of ‘marketing’.

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