Editor’s Note: This guest article, by Ivana Taylor, presents one side of the debate over whether social media is worthwhile to businesses. Ivana believes that business leaders with foresight need to fit social media in as one component of the marketing mix. But, for a different point of view as to why some are not drinking the social media Kool-aid, please be sure to read the other side of the story , also. — Anita Campbell, Editor
By Ivana Taylor
Let’s face it, when it comes to getting and keeping profitable customers there are only four basic components that we can manage:
- Product (your offering — the unique combination of product, service and experience)
- Price (the value that your customer perceives translated into money)
- Distribution (putting your offering within arms reach of the customer)
- Promotion (communicating your offering)
That’s all there is to the marketing mix.
And when we skillfully and creatively combine these ingredients in the perfect proportions, Voila! We have a tasty stew of happy customers, happy employees and enough profits to go around as well as to invest in the future.
Of course, it can’t be that easy, right? Some of us go wrong by becoming entrenched in traditional marketing strategies . And the rest of us go to the other extreme and become paralyzed by the overwhelming number of tools and Internet applications that seek to bring us together, yet separate us from real face-to-face contact.
Social media has been one of those magical and mysterious technical terms that seemingly everyone under 30 has been all a-twitter about. And those of us over 30 have been curious and more than a little suspicious about.
The challenge that traditional marketers have is in understanding how to use this new “ingredient” in their marketing mix. Is it like a “meat” or just a “spice?”
What Role Should Social Media Play?
If I had to put social media in just one category of the marketing mix , I would choose promotion, i.e., communication. That’s not to say it doesn’t play a role in the other components, just not as BIG a role.
Social media’s primary benefit to your communication strategy is its ability to build relationships and communities between individuals who share interests AND who would not be brought together otherwise except for those interests. If you play the role of bringing people together around a product, service or interest — you increase your credibility, build your brand and may, in time, increase your profitability by creating a loyal following.
5 Easy Ways to Spice Up Your Mix with Social Media
1. Develop a social media strategy YESTERDAY. Deciding to put together a social media strategy is like deciding to have the sex talk with your kids. Either YOU can be the one to explain, or you can leave it to TV, their friends – or the internet. It’s insane to ignore the movement to this kind of communication. But it’s wise to learn and make decisions about how to use it so it doesn’t use you.
2. Choose the critical few social media applications. No one says you have to use every single social media application that’s out there. Choose a few and choose carefully. Always ask yourself: Who is my ideal customer? What is important to them when they are buying what I’m selling? And which tool will help them connect with my business in an easy and relevant way?
Web strategy expert and Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang also recommends these additional questions : Are your target customers using social media to make their decisions? Which tools are they using and do they want to connect with each other?
3. Build your brand from the inside out. Think of social media as a giant digital billboard. Treat every post, every tweet and every comment as an opportunity to build your strength and build value around what you offer. Use your smart, knowledgeable and active employees to build your brand.
Forrester Research has taken what they’ve learned and published a book called Groundswell . The authors of the book Charlene Li and Josh Burnoff (both VPs and analysts for Forrester) are also active members of the social media community and have developed a dedicated fan base that will use their products and services.
To start, consider adding a blog to your traditional Web site. If you have employees who are interested in social media, ask them to contribute articles to your blog. Don’t forget to use your logo, company colors, a picture of yourself or any other branding vehicle. You can customize many of the social media tools to match your image. For tools like Twitter, use a photo of yourself in the profile and use your logo and company colors as a wallpaper when you customize your page.
4. Find the right place for social media in your strategy. Right now social media is a shiny new toy. The real work is in finding the right balance between social media and more traditional marketing tools like your printed materials. The ideal outcome is to have them all working together.
As a business owner, create a LinkedIn  profile and use it as a place to connect to customers and collect testimonials. Once you feel comfortable with that, move into Facebook  and either create or start a group that is focused on your industry, product or service.
If you really start having fun there, you might consider creating a Twitter  profile and searching and creating a community or village of people in your industry. Put your Twitter ID on your business cards, have a space or page on your Web site with instructions on how to connect with your online communities. Create printed pieces that bring your online communities into the real world. Coordinate face-to-face events so that online communities can meet each other in person.
5. Go mobile. Many blog platforms offer mobile applications (like Typepad ) that you can download to your phone. Twitter is designed to be mobile. This gives you the opportunity to report and communicate discretely in real time. If you are a salesperson, you can document a creative application of your product. If you are a business owner at a conference you can share links, experiences and feedback with your customers or communities. You can inform your customer community about product fixes and improvements or product launches and even new blog posts.
No matter how you slice it, if you want to be in business in the next 20 years, you’d better be using the tools that 20 year olds are using to decide who to buy from. People can and do have conversations about you, your company and your products and services. Don’t put your head in the sand and wait for the market to define you.