Does marketing on social media work?

You probably hear constant discussion about the need to be actively marketing on social media networks. But it’s sometimes hard to know whether social media marketing is a good use of your time. It can be time intensive and hard to measure the direct impact on your business. Social media needs to play a part in the modern media mix. What’s the right balance, and how do you know when you’re effective?

1. Are you reaching potential customers?

Who are you trying to influence your marketing efforts? Most likely you’re trying to reach potential customers, either directly or through the press or other influencers. Are your social media efforts connecting you to these people? For most products, your audience isn’t “everyone.” Therefore, the sheer size of networks such as Facebook and Twitter may not be justification enough to spend your time there. Instead, get very clear on who you’re trying to reach. Are your target customers moms, young male video gamers between 15 and 30, or recent retirees living overseas? The more detailed your customer avatar, the better the chance you have of predicting their behavior and reaching them online.

2. Determine where your customers spend time. Once you’ve established a clear avatar, spend some time understanding where they spend time online. If they are very active users of Facebook or Twitter, learn more about how they interact. Do they join groups? Do they click on ads? Are they big followers of brands they love? Do they consume content that’s related to their interests, but shy away from sales pitches?

It’s also important to think about the role of the niche network. It’s been said that all media is social now, and one of the significant trends that social networking is experiencing is fragmentation. Tribes of people are aligning around specific interests in niche networks like Foodie, Pinterest, and MightyBell. Figuring out what the most natural place for you to discuss your products and services will help you be much more effective.

3. Include a call to action. To know if your marketing is effective, there are two things you can measure. The first is that indirect mounting sensation that your brand equity is growing and your customers are engaging in a meaningful way with your business on social media platforms. While this can be a difficult metric to track, there are a couple of useful tools out there for monitoring brand sentiment and engagement online. If your business is on Facebook, they provide a valuable Insights feature that tracks your brand’s reach, new likes, and how people are talking about your page. You can also utilize social sentiment tools such as SocialMention to track mentions across blogs, social networks, and forums.

The second thing, which can be measured more directly, is whether people are responding to your calls to action. Maybe you are asking people in your network to sign up for your newsletter, watch your new video, or download your e-book. Are they doing it? Include a call to action in your posts, then test which ones are getting the most clicks and generating the most sign-ups. Always track your conversion rates, as this can help you very quickly measure your success and pivot when activities aren’t yielding the right results.

4. Engagement versus paid advertising

The brands who get the most traction out of their social media presence are ones that frequently engage with their customers online, rather than pay for more likes and clicks. For example, GM made the news earlier this year because they pulled$10 million Facebook advertising just before the IPO, claiming that the ads had little impact on sales. At the same time, they touted the importance of their brand pages and customer engagement on the platform.

The bottom line is that a typical Facebook user may see a sexy car in an ad on their sidebar and like the page, but that doesn’t mean they are going to go out and purchase it. Brands like GM get more mileage from using their Timeline page to educate customers about their products and develop brand loyalty, rather than targeting random users who are unlikely to purchase because they saw an ad on Facebook.

While marketing on social media can be a labor-intensive endeavor, if done correctly the payoffs can be significant for your business. You have a digital presence for your business results in increased customer engagement and broader visibility for your brand and products, ultimately leading to more sales. As with anything, it’s essential to have a strategy in place before you dive in: know who your customers are, where they spend time online and be prepared to engage, engage, engage.