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Are the critics right? Is social marketing not ready for business?

Is social marketing overblown? Some critics claim that we’re reliving the late ’90’s, with hype replacing reality in choosing marketing channels. More importantly, is social marketing the right choice for your business? Probably. But let’s give the critics their due. Let’s consider why it may not be first.

Most conferences or discussions these days concerning social media ask the same question: “Is anyone making any money with this stuff?” And the answers often sound something like this: “Well, it’s more about customer engagement than revenue…” or “No, but, you should see how many ‘friends’ we’ve got on Facebook.” Hmm… not very encouraging, is it?

Worse, it’s fair to ask whether these tools are even ready for primetime. Whether it’s Facebook’s Beacon issue some time back or Twitter’s recent outages, it’s certainly understandable that some would think these tools provide limited value as a service and would question their utility and their business value.

These questions represent legitimate critical thought, legitimate concerns. What’s important is understanding the difference between constructive criticism – critical thinking – and what Bryan Eisenberg calls “BPU’s” or “Business Prevention Units.” BPU’s are folks who want to stop you from moving your business forward. If the people you’re talking to – like your partner, attorney or accountant – want to know how social media will benefit your business, that’s a Good Thing. If they’re telling you, “it’s stupid,” or “it will never work,” they’re probably functioning more as BPU’s than critical thinkers.

Here’s one example. This past weekend I watched an outstanding documentary about Pixar Animation. And one of the key moments in the company’s history revolved around hiring John Lasseter. Disney fired Lasseter because traditional animators were concerned computer animation put their jobs at risk. The animators – and their supporters in management – thought their job was drawing pictures, not telling creative and compelling stories using any variety of tools. That’s a common problem. For instance, Seth Godin had a brilliant observation about putting tools ahead of your business about a week ago. So Lasseter left Disney, got hired by Pixar and went on to rule the animation world as writer and director of the huge hit films Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life and Cars. Oh, and when Disney acquired Pixar, they made Lasseter their new chief creative officer.

All that said, it still doesn’t answer whether social marketing makes sense for your business.

It’s true that few companies are making much money through social marketing tools. But Dell has sold $500,000 using Twitter. Search Engine Land often shares success stories of small business owners, most recently here. Hell, even my company has had modest success with Twitter, and other social tools, too.

The point is, these things are tools. You’ll get out of them what you put into them. So, understand where your customers are, set your goals, then look at the tools and techniques that work for your business. You can test the viability of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, widgets or what-have-for very low cost. It takes limited investment of time and limited investment of money. Track your results. Find your own answers. And don’t let “the critics” get in the way of doing what’s right for your business.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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