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Seriously, can social media actually generate sales?

Social media can be a monumental success or an utter failure when it comes to driving sales for your business. I recommend ignoring the hype, taking a step back and thinking logically about how it could fit into your marketing mix to generate a measurable return.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Like any marketing tool social media has strengths and weaknesses depending on what you are trying to achieve.

Social media biggest strengths are:

  • Reach – You can access larger audiences than is possible on a comparable "traditional" marketing budget and it can be done with speed
  • Action – It's a powerful tool for inciting action and engagement
  • Freestyle – It's flexible, organic, fun and gives you room to be "real" 

Social media weaknesses include:

  • Cost - It may look cheap, being free on the internet, but it isn't. The hidden and incremental costs are causing some disasterous cases of scope and budget creep.
  • Hungry - Social media is a hungry beast that needs constant feeding.  You lose the "set and forget" benefits of traditional media and a clearly measurable ROI in many cases.
  • Control - You have to get comfortable with not having a lot of it. You also can't control volume of responses like you can in traditional media as Qantas learnt with their Twitter campaign #QantasLuxury where people were invited to define luxury.  The responses are hilarious but not what management wanted.

Social Media: The Good Ol' Aussie BBQ

There is a very important principle to keep in mind when considering a social media strategy for your organisation. The analogy I use is that social media is like the family BBQ versus a business meeting. Both are environments for communication between people but the style of communication is very different.

The corporate website is the “meeting” where official business is done. Prospective buyers visiting your website are formally presented with your service offering, your value proposition, track record and compelling reasons to buy.  They expect to see and experience your sales pitch.

Social Media is the family BBQ. It’s a great place to meet people and because everyone’s relaxed you get to know them as “real” people. Sometimes you start relationships that may eventually grow to have a business focus but people are really easily turned off if you start talking business – especially on a Sunday! Worse still is if they push their business card onto you and insist on calling in the morning.

Treat social media like it’s a BBQ; relax, kick back and be yourself. Be interested in others, be entertaining, be engaging. If people want to know more about what you do, then link them through to your corporate website to talk business but don’t do it at the BBQ.

The Bottomline?

  1. While there are always exceptions to the rule, if authentically connecting with a large number or new groups of people is important to filling your sales pipeline then take a closer look at how social media could work for you.
  2. Invest for short term return. Some smart guy or gal is already out there inventing a new platform that will make the current platforms look so last century (remember MySpace?). You need to have got your money’s worth before that happens.
  3. Social media may look cheap but its not. Carefully calculate the hours your staff will spend on it when determining your ROI.

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