Is Social Media Marketing Worth The Effort?

Everybody knows about social media, (or social networking) these days. It’s no longer the next big thing, it’s a big thing right now. The real question though, is whether there’s any real marketing value to be had from it.

It seems that opinions are divided on the issue. Some see the potential of social networking in terms of building brands and awareness, while others ask how exactly you’re supposed to measure its effectiveness.

Social Media Marketing Costs And Returns

Part of the debate rests on the idea that social media users are even less receptive to commercial messages than other kinds of internet user. Supporters of this perspective point to the fact that the price per click for advertising on social networks is significantly lower (for the same keywords) than it is with Google Adwords.

They argue that if social network users were considered valuable traffic, pay per click costs would be more closely aligned between social media marketing, and search engine marketing.

The Problem With Traffic

The problem with traffic is that most of it, by far the majority in fact, is useless. Unless your visitors are arriving with focused intent, the chances are that they’re going to bounce. In fact, it’s been estimated that 75% of all visitors bounce within three seconds. From every site.

So while social media can drive a lot of traffic to your site, most of that traffic is not going to do you any good at all. And if you’re paying for social media advertising, that traffic is actually a liability to you. Visits that are undirected, (who arrive without fixed intent), can actually cost you money, depending on how they arrive.

Controlling The Message

Another potential problem with social media marketing is that you don’t have any control of what happens. Your results can as easily be negative as positive. More than one company has found themselves on the receiving end of some very bad publicity thanks to social networking.

To put it simply, the effects of social media marketing may be unpredictable at best.

Brand Building And Awareness

There is little doubt that successful social marketing can build brand awareness. However, the big problem with brand awareness is that it’s not easily measurable. You can’t really tell if visitors remember your brand, if their impression was positive or negative, or if they were interested enough to come back.

The only thing you can really measure is conversion rate.

Visitor Intent

The reason that search engine marketing works is because the user has declared their intent. It may not always be a commercial intent, but they’re searching for something for a reason. Visitors to social networking sites have a very different intent. They’re there to interact with their friends, to pass messages, to play games.

Their intent is not commercial. And that automatically reduces the chance that they’re going to be responsive to a commercial message. That means you either have to focus on social networks that already have a commercial intent, or have a clear plan on how you’re going to convince those non-directed visitors to perform the action you want.

According to data made public by ValleyWag, Facebooks advertising click-through rate in 2007 was 0.4%.

The Question Of Time

Social media marketing is, at best, an extremely long-term strategy. You can’t expect to immediately start promoting your site and get a positive response. Indeed, it could be argued that ideally, you want to spend a long time building up relations before you even think of marketing through social media.

If you don’t, your chances of a negative reaction are much much higher. So you have to balance your time and cost, against returns that are very hard to measure.

Social media is a difficult sphere to influence, and viral marketing is a hit or miss affair, with no guarantees at all. If you can create the kind of content that positively influences social media, then building those kind of relationships can pay off in the long run.

In Conclusion

Despite all the negative points we’ve touched on here, there’s no doubt that social media marketing can pay off. It’s not a substitute for other kinds of marketing, but as an aspect of a broad marketing strategy, it has its advantages.

Social media marketing can create buzz. And it can generate links. Both of which can be translated into worthwhile relationships, and maybe even better search engine rankings. To achieve this though, content has to be created with the intention of fostering long-term relationships, and not just once-off visits.