It seems like yesterday when companies rediscovered the art of talking with customers, not at them. Thanks to Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, among others, companies realized that customers wanted to enter into a conversation with them, if not to benefit their future needs, at least to solve a particular problem, demand or expectation.

Companies were no longer the one-way communication houses trying to force us to buy what we didn’t need. We were now a player in that conversation and today’s development of online social media is but an extension for that craving to be heard, to play a part and even lead. No longer is it enough to buy what we need and live with the consequences. We now vote with our feet, our voices, our blogs, our videos and even Powerpoints presentations.

People are now the media.

What is social media marketing about?

We know social marketing from the technologies that support them: Facebook, Linkedin, Flickr, SlideShare, and their regional equivalents. Social marketing is, however, more than that. It’s about content, it’s about what people say, what companies say, what the government say and how such news are understood, interpreted and disseminated to an ever-expanding web of contacts, friends and acquaintances.

It’s about influencing the influencers.

It has been said that online, anyone can be a writer, a publisher and even a media owner. Not everyone can be successful at it however. It takes a certain ability to tell one’s truth. Falsehood and manipulation will be noticed and derailed faster than with traditional media. And it’ll leave a mark forever.

Do a search for social media marketing and you’ll find thousands of sites, thousands of experts, thousands of commentaries, white papers and eBooks. What you won’t find however, is a regulating body that states what is the truth, what is not. What is excellent journalism and what is mere opinion. No body, literally, other than the public at large that is. Individuals, whether commenting on others or companies clarifying a point, are the new regulators. It’s almost like a self-regulating mechanism that is always off-balance yet soon back in balance. Heed the feedback or forever be shunned. Not easy task for marketers trying to control perception.

What happened to the old marketing tactics? Do they still work?

Interestingly, they do. Consumers and customers will always want to see, feel and taste the goods and services they buy. The way they approach that experience has changed however. It’s almost as if using old marketing tactics in today’s world only made sense if used in conjunction with the new media. That’s the beauty of this new world. We still aim for a target market - we just have more tools to reach them (if we know where they are.)

Does your target market live online?

Proper marketing starts with understanding one’s market. This has been proven over and over again: any marketing strategy that starts with anything else is doomed to fail. You must understand your target market: know where they are and how to reach them. This requires a new form of behavioral analysis and data discovery. This is where leveraging today’s technology can make or break your campaigns even before they start.

The best marketers know for a fact that not all their target markets reside online. Some are still technology phobic and prefer to talk with a human when it comes to buying anything. They also realize that in the complex web of interactions, discussions and relationships it has become harder to define what triggered a particular buying call. Was it the message’s location? The message itself? The tool that carried it? The friend or business partner that said something or sent a link? The possibilities are endless.

While analytical tools can help you reduce such uncertainty, it still remains uncertain and the best one can do is to test as many of the social media marketing elements as one can afford (another ‘old’ marketing precept that is still valid).

What would you talk about?

This brings us to the next step in your social media strategy: What would you talk about?

The message can no longer be you. Well, at least not entirely. Your message has to be targeted specifically and be validated by a third-party who has either tested your product and services or bought them over-and-over again. Nothing less will do. Social media technology further provides each individual with the power test - spreading the word at the speed of light. For example, type ‘Product Review’ in YouTube and be amazed by the diversity, seriousness and sometimes foolishness by which we, the consumers, review and use all kinds of products.

The future of social media

This is hard to argue because for many, social media is the future and whatever will happen next is simply an extension of what we know today. The funny thing is that’s exactly what every trend pundit would say about his or her trend of choice. Social media is not a fad, that’s a given. You could further argue that they are already an established trend, which would lead to the thinking that they’ll soon be commoditized.

The real question however is not so much what is the future of social media but what is your future in social media?

After all, most are just tools until a consumer, CEO or pundit creates a story that will be carried to the most remote corners of the world. Social media marketing is about the story. Curiously, that is what good traditional marketing was. Have we forgotten this?

Contributed by East West PR -