Take Studies with a Grain of Social Media Salt

March 8, 2013

GraphWell, social media has officially hit the mainstream; you can tell by all the news outlets conducting “studies” about which services are “most effective” for business. You’ve probably seen a couple: “Businesses say Pinterest brings in 6x more sales than Facebook” or “Small businesses report more new clients with LinkedIn than Facebook”.

Before you decide to ditch some of your social media footprint and move to a different service, stop and take a breath. It’s great that there’s some kind of research in the wild trying to figure out the effectiveness of different kinds of online marketing, but just like the TV vs. newspaper vs. direct mail debate that’s been raging for decades, the mix of social media that works for business isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

See what’s happening

Unless you’re part of a huge company, you probably won’t have the luxury of having a presence on every major social media site. Social media accounts often don’t cost any money, but they do take your time – more time if you want to do them well.

Have you heard about a hot new social network? Look at a few users’ profiles and see how people interact. Maybe it’s a good fit for your company. Maybe it’s not. Either way, knowing the landscape can help you make the best choice for your campaigns.

Know your audience

The one part of social media that many of these news studies forget to mention is that not every business is the same. Some businesses fit better with certain kinds of social media networks because of the kinds of stuff they do. Businesses that have a strong visual part of their company – artists, craftspeople, restaurants, and more – might do better on Pinterest than a company like us, for example, since a lot of what we talk about on the blog doesn’t always work as an image. (Code isn’t that interesting.)

Where do the customers you want hang out? Are they business-types who scour LinkedIn every day, or would they be checking YouTube for the latest videos from friends? Figure out where the people you want are and then join them there.

Find your social media role models

Whatever network you choose, find people and companies who inspire you. Who are your role models? Who do you want to emulate? (My favorite social network is Twitter, and I like to follow brands like ThinkGeek, JetBlue, and Maine’s own The Gelato Fiasco for inspiration.)

Here’s the dirty little secret of social media: if a company says a social network isn’t effective, it may not be the fault of the service. Maybe the people at the company haven’t found a way to effectively market to customers on that service, or maybe the customers they want aren’t even there.

The moral of this story is simple. Don’t flock to a network just because a study says it’s the next big thing for business. Instead find the best social media match(es) for your business, go there, and be the best you can be.

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Justin is one of the developers at Sephone. He's interested in user-driven design, social media, and web services. He also enjoys learning and exploring new ways for businesses and people to use the web.

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