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Is it time to question the use of social media?

It feels as though marketeers are compelled to add more and more strands to their campaigns through fear of missing the wave. But is that beginning to dilute or change the message?

As we look to target audiences in their natural habitats, planning a campaign is becoming increasingly complex owing to the appearance of an increasingly fragmented Internet.

Will our audience, we might ask, be reading print magazines (even digitally)? Will they be hanging around on Facebook or Twitter? What about all the other social media sites like Foursquare or Pinterest, what if our audience are there? Should our campaign be visible there? What about Apps? Do we need an App? And if so on what platform? Apple is the sexiest but aren’t all the kids still hanging with Blackberry? And TV, poor old TV, let’s not forget that.

Finding the audience can be very complex.

And much of it smacks of desperation.

Sure, we want the biggest audience. The more people who see our message, the more people might be moved to buy the product.

That’s simple maths.

But in the field of (sound the klaxon for a bullshit word here, folks) advanomics, the numbers don’t always add up.

When the wisdom of advertising on Facebook is questioned by the largest brands it’s time to look at our use of all the social giants.

In addition to analysing how we communicate with the audiences in the social sphere (are they approached in a community manner or in a direct marketing manner) we should also analyse why we communicate with them.

And we can start that process by asking ourselves this simple question:

How likely is it that my social audience will already buy my product?

Or put another way:

Am I preaching to the converted?

Many brands have full fledged communities on Facebook (and Twitter). These communities need treating like communities. They are already aware of your products and so not as needing of “advertising to” as your potential audience. It’s a different, more continuous approach.

Other brands might not work that way and so use social media in a different way – maybe as a destination for all other activity to lead to.

Whilst it should never be ignored, understanding what your audience is doing with Facebook, Twitter and the like will enable you to position “social” correctly in a campaign. It may be that the idea should lead with social in order to involve your audience and enable your message to spread. Then again, maybe it won’t.

Maybe it seems like it doesn’t matter. Social sites can deliver a message to a huge number of people. That’s an awesome force in distribution. But it isn’t just a distribution platform. It’s a form of media that can change the nature of the message. From “this will make your hair healthy so buy our shampoo” to “have your five minutes of fame via our Facebook app”.

The kind of campaigns that attract new users to Facebook aren’t always applicable to every brand. Exclusive content, vouchers, the opportunity to be a star – these things work well on Facebook. But all too often the fear of not centring a campaign around new media can lead to gimmick-led campaigns that might please existing fans but won’t draw in new ones.

Social media is powerful tool. But it’s not the only one. Understanding how to reach your consumers is a vital step in figuring out the relevance of using it.