The Small Business Trends blog has two "point-counter point" posts on social media. One is called Why Social Media Should Be a Key Ingredient in Your Marketing Mix and the counter-point is 10 Reasons I Won't Use Social Networking.
Obviously I'm biased towards social media. I'm an active blogger and I serve as a Senior Fellow and board member at the Society for New Communications Research - a non-profit think tank focused on researching and promoting social media. And in my work I've seen a broad range of companies and people substantially benefit through the use of social media.
But using social media as a marketing tool is not for everyone - at least not yet. The reason is simple. Despite the hype, active online social media usage is not close to ubiquitous. Many businesses serve markets where their customers and prospects do not use or even know about social media. So matter how good your social media marketing is, it won't matter if:
1. Your target market is not online. Not everyone is online. According to Pew Internet, about 25% of American adults are not online. Generally speaking older, lower income and rural households are less likely than average to be online.
2. Your target market is not aware of and/or doesn't use social media. Despite all the hype, most online users don't actively use social media. Less than 60% of online teens have Facebook and or MySpace accounts. The numbers for adults are obviously much lower. And while Twitter usage is growing very rapidly, it is still a niche service and less than 1% of online Americans actively use it today. Pew's research also shows that roughly half of online Americans use online connective technologies sparingly and many "bristle at electronic connectivity." These folks may be online, but they are not big social media users.
3. Social media plays no role in the purchase decision process for your products or services. Even if your customers are online and using social media, they may not be using it in a way that matters to your business. I was recently involved in a study measuring the effectiveness of a B2B social media marketing campaign. The target market was online and relatively sophisticated in their use of social media. But for a variety of reasons, their social media usage had almost no impact on their purchasing decisions for this product category. Because of this the campaign was ineffective.
For many small and personal businesses using social media makes enormous sense. And over the next 3-5 years the growth of social media usage will make it an increasingly important part of the marketing mix for many more businesses. But like all marketing methods, make sure social media marketing fits with your target market before making a major committment.