Most direct marketing management teams are searching for new ways to reach customers and prospects. Social media provides platforms for one-to-one communications that allow companies to connect with consumers. Instead of jumping in, they continue to dig deep into their data; redefine their demographics; and reward people who make referrals.
I try to encourage my clients to give it a try, but it is a hard sell. While they see the long-term benefits if all goes well, the immediate challenges create a barrier to entry. It is hard to encourage participation when they see things like twitter’s erroneous mass suspension of users yesterday. The greatest barriers are:
Unreliability – Direct marketing people are used to reliable services. Yes, occasionally something misses its mark, but most promotions are delivered in a timely manner without any problems. When they look at how often the fail whale appears or how external sources manipulate trends, social media appears unreliable and unpredictable.
Inconsistency – Self-proclaimed social media gurus blog about how to start conversations and keep people engaged. The problem is that they contradict each other. There are no established “best practices” for the new media. Yes, it is new. But maybe we could spend more time testing and sharing results and less time trying to make rules for others to follow.
Cost – Social media is very expensive for something that has no entry fee. It requires a major investment of time with no guaranteed return. It also requires a long term commitment because it takes time to build a following and you have to have an audience before you’ll see any revenue.
Risk – The risk is possibly the biggest factor. You can invest hundreds of man-hours without receiving a return. Even worse, an indiscrete employee can render irreparable harm to your brand with a few thoughtless words.
Crossing the barrier is challenging, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Social media is new and has its issues, but the promise of customer engagement is worth the journey. I will continue to encourage my clients (and others) to enter the channel as long as they have a flexible plan with objectives that blend social media with direct marketing and test everything they do. It is the key to a successful strategy.