Social Media is a ubiquitous vehicle for billions of people to share experiences, express opinions, and suggest things they love or hate. Facebook, Twitter, Yelp have all become household names thanks to the social media boom. These and other social networking sites are accessed via desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. The easy access has fueled social media usage.

According to the 3rd Quarter, 2011 Nielsen Social Media Report “American Internet users now devote more time to Facebook than any other website, spending a total of 53.5 billion minutes a month on the world’s largest social networking site.”  And that is just Facebook.   Also according to Nielsen, nearly 40% of social media users access content through their mobile devices.

Google’s search engine turned information into a valuable commodity. The Internet allows consumers to quickly and easily educate themselves about any product or service.

For marketers this important behavior shift can be a boon or a nightmare, depending on how well and how fast they embrace this technology.

The first thing marketer’s should be aware of is that this behavior shift has made traditional marketing obsolete because messaging is no longer a one-way street. It has become a conversation that puts the consumer in the driver’s seat.  Marketers are starting to realize the potential of such an interactive marketplace, but have not been able to fully process its implications, strategies, and potential.

One of the most important questions for a marketer to ask is,  “What can I do to convey the right message to the right consumer?”  This is a deceptively simple question.  Part of the challenge is for marketers to become good listeners and understand how to cull information and get feedback that will help hone the marketing message and give you a clear picture of the buyer segments. A second challenge is to listen, learn and respond to your buyers on their terms. The upside of all this information and conversation is that you can analyze the large amounts of data you collect to create very specific target markets/audiences.

This is also where marketers get into trouble.  While very detailed data and information are now available, buyers are still not being engaged in an effective, interactive way.  Consumers are bombarded with messages, more than any previous generation. So it’s important to connect with potential customers in a way that nurtures, excites, and delights them. Being too aggressive or sending out the wrong message can instantaneously blacken your brand or product.

Surprisingly, social media marketing accounts for around only 10% of all marketing spending. Clearly businesses do not yet fully understand how to use social media to their advantage.  However, it is in their best interest to quickly figure out how to use this powerful marketing tool.  The consequences of ignoring this behavior shift or not using it properly will be devastating to the bottom line.

Many Fortune 500 companies, such as IBM, have already become early adopters because they understand the power of interactive strategies.  IBM has over 30,000 employees authorized to tweet, over 200,000 employees on Facebook and more than 35,000 bloggers. The good news is that social media access is usually free which levels the playing field. Major corporations and small businesses alike can leverage the power of social media.  The big guy is not so big anymore and the little guy not so little.

Also keep in mind that more than marketing is affected by this new environment. Social media and the shift in buyer behavior towards information are forcing businesses to change their overall behavior because no part of a business is immune.  Sales, customer service, product development, etc. are all deeply affected.

Going forward, a successful business will have to understand the social preferences and behaviors of their customers, striving to become a part of that person’s life through an ongoing conversation and exchange of information.  However, marketing alone will not successfully engage your audience. You need a well thought out strategy that aligns the entire organization so that everyone is working together towards a common goal.


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