social media platformsSocial media marketing has exploded on the scene and has everyone scrambling to get a company presence on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

Although the medium is generally unproven as far as adding to the bottom line, social media marketing can’t be ignored. Many companies have run out to get a Twitter account but have no strategy for using it.

Be Social, Be Strategic, Be Smart

Smart online marketers will step back, slow down and devise a social marketing strategy first. Key factors to evaluate include:

#1. Determine if and how social media marketing can be a fit for your prospect and/or client base. It isn’t for everyone.

#2. Social media marketing isn’t free. This is a big myth created by flurry of "consultants" claiming to be social media marketing experts. True, to get a presence costs nothing because the tools themselves are free but remember: "Time is money."

To conduct a social media marketing campaign effectively, a company must have people spending time to stay on top of the effort. In most companies, that means someone isn’t spending their time doing the jobs you hired them to do. If no one in-house can dedicate the time and effort, then outsourcing the day to day costs money. Don’t fall into the trap of not truly evaluating all the clear and hidden expenses or the campaign will fail miserably.

#3. Figure out your social media personality. Are you the conscientious corporation showing goodwill to all, or a fun, less formal side to your business? Do you push discounts and generate new leads? Do you serve only existing customers? It’s difficult to be all of these without contradictions.

#4. Ensure your social media presence protects the company’s brand. Who’s doing the tweeting, and do they represent the company’s social media personality? Are the posts on topic and in the company’s and customers’ best interest? Too much posting or not enough posting can cause the initiative to go bust. And nobody’s interested in following a deadbeat Twitter or Facebook account or someone who posts pointless, self-gratifying junk.

#5. Develop a method to measure the success of this marketing channel. Why spend all this effort if you can’t determine how it translates into new business or improved customer relations? Because everyone else is doing it is a poor reason to get into social media marketing.

Social media marketing is very much in its infancy. Don’t put all your eggs in the social media basket and believe that it will instantly bring a slew of new business leads knocking on your door.

Social media marketing should be a complementary piece of the puzzle to an overarching, integrated marketing plan. And by all means, play it smart by getting strategic with a reputable, experienced consultant. Picking the right partner to guide your business through this effort can and will make or break the campaign.

Brent Birch serves as Director for FLEX360 Web Development firm in Little Rock, Arkansas. They construct smart and attractive websites that are highly functional, easy to manage and turn surfers into sales.