There has been much buzz in the industry lately about Social Media Marketing. However, the impression that I get from clients and other interactive industry insiders is that it's still a bit like a junior high school dance: lots of people standing around the edge of the dancefloor, waiting for more people to take the plunge before they go out there (and risk a major embarrassment).
Social Media has tremendous potential as essentially the word-of-mouth marketing of the twenty-first century. Most companies do recognize that transparency and authenticity are two qualities that garner your brand access to today's consumers. However, with the promise of all that globally-web-empowered word-of-mouth comes significant risk, as well as a channel that is still in its infancy (meaning that the benchmarks for determining ROI for social media marketing are still being developed).
That said, there are ways that your business can begin dipping its toe in the uncertain waters of social media marketing in a relatively low-risk way. Is social media marketing right for every business? If we're talking about a formal campaign including viral elements, probably not. But I do believe that every business in this current age of low consumer confidence in traditional brand marketing needs to be cautious about being perceived as a "black box," where only carefully-crafted, expertly spin-doctored corporate communication ever exits its hallowed halls. People ultimately want to do business with... people. Actual, live human beings.
If your company isn't ready to enter the fray of formal social media marketing (and that may be a very smart move for your business, at this time), you still need to be cognizant of the cultural factors driving social media and conversational marketing. You need to look at all your communications--press releases, web copy, newsletters, advertisements--and do an honest assessment of how approachable and human your messaging is. We're not suggesting a "warts and all" style is right for every company, or even most companies. However, the tone and voice of even the most conservative business should always be warm and personable. Working on integrating the principles of authenticity and transparency into your current channels of communication, and learning to speak on a more personal level even within those traditional message forms, is a smart move for any brand. It can also help set the stage and build the foundation for your company to gracefully move into the promising world of social media marketing in the future.