The current lineup of tv shows would suggest that doing most anything is easy, from home design to earning millions on a marriage. The current crop of DIY shows neatly packages home design or cooking or any other task into 30 easy minutes. As a society we are currently facing a barrage of information and media overload, all which somehow trivializes hard work and actual effort by sensationalizing those rare success stories. The saying goes "if it was easy, everyone would be doing it" and that is as true today as ever. The problem today, however, is that many people are trying to succeed and they are just not doing it well.
I was recently flipping through the website of my local newspaper. I saw an article titled "Digital Marketing 'is the tool' for Small Businesses." This caught my eye for obvious reasons, so I gave it a read. While many of the points are valid at a broad level, the article misses some key points about branding, social media, and customer service. The article implies that small business success will come running after you as soon as you send your first tweet. While social media and an online presence may cost less than a mailer or a newspaper ad, having an online presence requires its own skill and strategy to be successful.
During my senior year of college I was enrolled in a class that was designed to give us real world marketing experience. Every student in that class hoped to be assigned to a world-class client that would have an exciting challenge for the semester. My team was assigned to a sole-proprietorship; a man who made saw blades in his garage. Mark Zuckerberg barely had a driver's license at the time, but I am sure we would have recommended a social media campaign if those tools existed.
There have been several cases where social media has been a tremendous success (or a miserable failure). Because we hear these stories about the little guy making it big because of twitter and Facebook, we think that anyone can replicate that success. It's the same phenomenon that drives people to play the lottery every week; the hope of the payout drives you forward.
Many of these social media success stories leave out an important part of the equation: hard work. Creating a facebook page and a blog is the easy part. Filling those channels with relevant and accuarte information is the hard part. We hear of the social media blunders that happen almost daily, and no business owner wants to be in that spotlight. Many of those gaffes are the result of poor planning, poor execution, or both. It is for this reason that I was angered by the article I read.
Social media is just like any other marketing channel. How much stock would we put in a story that advocated a small business create its own television commercials? Would we all run out and start negotiating air time and print rates? The low cost of using social media does not imply that everyone will have success; at least some skill and business acumen is required. I am not saying that every small business needs an agency or other person to manage social media. Instead, I think it's prudent that every person wishing to use social media as a marketing tool should enter with the same strategizing, planning, and, research that would go into any other marketing initiative.