Social Networking Isn’t Free.
My clients often tell me some variation of “My teenaged daughter thinks my business should have a Facebook site.” Or the client will want to know if they should be blogging or using Twitter. Or they might ask what, exactly, is Twitter.

They are typically intrigued that there might be a free way to hit the buzz lottery. Being ever the pragmatist, I tell them that while the cost of entry for social marketing is free, relevant, ongoing participation is not.

What I mean is this: Generally, doing social networking right requires dedicated resources to generate content and to interact with all of your business’ newfound “friends”. Dedicated resources are not free, nor, typically, even cheap. And this can be especially challenging in leaner organizations where everyone is already wearing too many hats!

There are three key questions you should ask to assess whether social media marketing is right for your business now:
1. Which of your business strategies will these social marketing tactics support? I have written previously about the necessity of having a strategy to help a business stay focused. The question of whether to participate in social networking as a business is a great example of being confronted with a really interesting tactic. Job #1 is to figure out if and how this tactic can support the marketing strategies you already have in place.

2. Have you covered your basic marketing bases? The businesses I work with are frequently in the process of stepping up their marketing, and there are often a lot of low-hanging marketing fruit, e.g. positioning the brand, ensuring a uniform look and feel, and improving the usability of their website. These fundamentals should be covered before a brand looks farther afield.

3. Is generating original content part of your existing business model? Oftentimes people don’t realize that to successfully manage a blog or to be an effective Twitterer you need to be continually creating and/or managing content. Most of my clients are not in the content generation business, so signing up to feed the social networking beast can be a tall, resource-intensive order.

If the answers to these three questions indicate that it does make sense to move forward, there is a fourth and final question to ask yourself: How will you determine whether or not your social marketing tactics are working for your business?

I am all for experimenting with different marketing tactics, and it can be a great, low-cost way to see what moves your business. But the only way to really know if the tactic is working for you is if you set up some metrics when you begin, and then identify a date on which you’re going to assess the results and usefulness of the tactic for your business.

There are two recent related articles on this topic that are very interesting. The first is from AdAge and it’s called: Conversational Marketing: Talking Isn’t The Same As Selling. While you’ll have to sign in to read the full article, it’s worth the read. The Chicago Tribune article is The Evolution of Twitter.