I was at Social Fresh a couple of weeks ago. It is a conference for marketers to exchange stories about social media. Here are some of my take aways:
Social Media is still young yet. Even the "Social Media Gurus" haven't figured it all out. (And are there really any social gurus?)
There are still at least 10 things to avoid in Social Media, including being in a rush to a social platform to replace traditional marketing that still works.
Case studies were presented including one from the keynote that sounded like this: Honda has 2M followers on their Facebook fan page. That means that they can cut media spend and broadcast to those 2M fans. First off, that FB term Fan is annoying. You don't beg to get fans. Does NASCAR beg its fans? No. It provides a product that they find entertaining, exciting, and worth talking about. The driver personalities draw in people, who become fanatical - tattoos, clothing, bumper stickers, etc. - about the driver, team, car, race. That's a Fan. They will listen. They are vested.
So the whole numbers game about social media is kind of flawed. You need Listeners, Customer Evangelists, Raving Fans, or at the least a cult-like following. Not 100K people that don't pay attention. (You have TV commercials for that!) Listeners can be engaged. Engagement leads to sales and referrals. Referrals is part of that whole Word-of-Mouth marketing thing. Viral is all about WOM. But there's no formula for viral any more than there is for a best seller.
So again we are back to marketing on social platforms like they are a replacement for the newspaper or billboard. Marketing is becoming more and more like a networking event. If you failed at those, you will fail online.
I haven't seen much correlation between sales and social media, except for Dell Outlet and travel sites (specifically JetBlue and Marriott). All the telecom case studies of Twitter have to do with customer care. And that is important because as the pie flattens out, and you are fighting in a Red Ocean for customers, customer retention (and the correlating churn number) starts to affect stock price.
Side note: no one had a Facebook strategy. A Fan page strategy to get fans and advertise to them, but that was all I heard. Oh, and to target advertise on Facebook can be effective.
So how does social media fit in? One way is SEO. Good old fashion search engine optimization. If you put enough good, relevant content out there, people can find you. Social media like twitter, slideshare, blogs, Linkedin are all available in a Google search.
If you had a comprehensive online marketing strategy - TMC portal, blog, website(s), twitter, LinkedIn, slideshare - you would have big Google juice. And if kept current would probably drown out most negative comments.
Where does Google Adwords fit in? Lead generation. Sales if your Landing page and website are designed properly to do sales process. But think about this: you are buying keywords. You could spend that money on organic search results. It would be more effective and you'd have Listeners.
Join. Listen. Engage. Give Value. No different than offline.