But where does social media such as forums, blogs, social bookmarking fit with your overall marketing strategy?
Social media does not replace all of your other marketing - it just changes the mix.
When I look at a company 's marketing I categorise it into two main areas - Online and Offline. I then break these down into further categories.
* Website & Search engine strategies
* Customer strategies
* List building strategies
* Sales strategies
* Social Media
* Hands-off strategies (where you communicate with your customers indirectly) such as advertising, marketing collateral, direct mail, sponsorship, press releases
* Hands-on strategies (where you communicate face to face with customers) such as trade shows, seminars, events, client nurturing
* Shared strategies (where you work with others to jointly grow your businesses) such as networking, alliances, joint ventures, referrals
When a business is looking at marketing, they need to look at the right blend of these strategies to meet their specific goals.
Social media is just one part of the blend - but there are many reasons I love the Social Media for small business.
For starters the big one - it 's almost totally free! The only cost with much of the social media strategies is time if you do it yourself.
You can target your social media strategy so it also achieves the side targets of all of your other online strategies - more loyal customers, bigger list, better sales, and increased search engine presence.
The downside is it can be tricky to learn what to do; many of your peers and colleagues look at you as if you have suddenly grown two heads when you talk about it (so peer support can be quite low); and if not done correctly it can suck up hours of time without much result.
Off-line strategies are more traditional and have been proven to work over the years. The downside is they are often quite costly and in many cases you don't get the results you were hoping for.
I know of people who have paid $3000+ for a tradeshow booth plus fit-out and printing costs, as well as wages and time and ended up with very little result.
With all marketing strategies - both online and off line, you need to calculate return on investment. You want to see how much the strategy costs to acquire a new customer.
So in the case of the tradeshow - let 's assume they spent all up $5000 on the show and acquired 10 new customers - the cost to acquire each new customer was $500. You need each customer to spend more than $500 with you over the life of their history with you in order to generate a return on investment.
I recommend businesses run the stats ruler over their networking activities in particular. Add in the membership fees, annual fees, meal fees, lost earning time (if appropriate) and then calculate how much new business you have generated from that process.
This is very confronting for many people - they may enjoy their networking but when they run the financial ruler over it they find they are paying out much more than they are getting back in financial return.
Of course not everything is about money - if you are getting your personal needs for connection and being part of something bigger met, then your investment in networking is a worthwhile one for you personally. Just be clear it is not really a business strategy but a personal strategy and you will go into your next session with a slightly different outlook and will gain more from it as a result.
So back to where social media fits with your marketing strategy.
Well it all depends on what you want to achieve, the demographics of your market, the amount you have to spend and the time you have available. In my experience it is something worth adding to your marketing blend.
Ingrid Cliff is a Freelance Copywriter, Business Development and Human Resources Consultant to Small Businesses with her business Heart Harmony. Ingrid writes a free weekly small business newsletter and Small Business Ideas blog for small businesses.www.heartharmony.com.au