I have been an advocate of social media every since our modern iteration started in the early 2000s. It’s my belief that most companies will benefit from a well run social media program, but social media marketing is not the “elixir for marketing” many practitioners would have you believe. Frankly, I shake my head in dismay when I read, statements made by so called experts, that social media is free and that it will increase your sales immediately. These are, clearly, people that have not seriously put together and operated a social media marketing program. I put them in the same class as SEO “experts who claim they will get you the top position on Google search.

Marketing for any size company is so much more than just social media. There is a mix of marketing communication tools that work in the short term and others that are long term. You need both. You cannot just harvest all the time without planting seeds.  And you have to know the difference between what “seeds” are and what “Crops” are.

Social media is a seed and here is why:

1- Social media takes a long time to build momentum. First you have to attract an audience. In many ways, it’s similar to generating a permission based email list. Once you have an audience you have to provide information that is interesting to your Fans (sorry, I hate using Like to mean Fan) and that propels your product or service through the sales funnel. This takes time and money.

2- Like email, not every message you create will be read by your fans. When I say read I really mean impressions. Just because your message is on a page does not mean it is viewed by the fan. It’s the same with emails. Read rates really mean impressions. It takes lots of messages to get to a larger audience and that takes time. Seed.

3- “Experts” like to say that you can create a dialogue with your customer and get lots of good information to help market better. That might be true if you have millions of fans (Likes) or have a product or service that is so unique and awesome that people love taking about it. If, however, you are a small to medium size company it is unlikely that you will get the interaction these “Experts” say you will. The truth is most people are passive on sites such as Facebook pages, meaning they are lookers not posters.  Again you are planting seeds to be harvested at a much later date.

4- Social media does help you with search engine optimization. The more you post and the more social media sites you participate in, the more your company shows up search results. If you’re smart you will be sure that all your posts have one or more of your company’s most important keywords or phrases in the copy. Again these are seeds. SEO, like social media is a seed.

5- The good news is sites such as Facebook and Linkedin have very solid programs that allow you to advertise. Advertising is more of a crop harvesting tool and can generate sales or leads pretty quickly. Facebook allows you to not only advertise but also promote your own posts. For ads you pay per click or impressions and for posts you pay for impressions.  The issue is that these ads are passive in nature. Like a magazine, they are presented on a page and ignored or acted on based on the message. People on social media are not necessarily seeking a solution, but rather are pursuing social media (flipping the pages) for pleasure.

This is entirely different than search engine advertising where people are seeking a solution (product, service, idea) and that allows you to jump the line, so to speak, and get your message at the top of the search results. That is if you are willing to pay for it.

It is important for you to plant your social media seeds, but keep in mind that the results are long term and understand where the social media marketing tool fits in the mix.