When Google AdWords and Pay Per Click advertising came along 7 or 8 years ago, direct response, results based marketers like ourselves took to it like a duck to water.
It has everything we love about marketing and more. It's like direct marketing on steroids!
It's measurable. It's fast. You can exploit success easily - for months and years to come. You can identify and cut failure fast, so your mistakes are cheap. You even learn a lot from your failures. It suddenly made websites relevant, profitable and essential even for traditional bricks and mortar businesses.
It made history.
Today, because of Google AdWords, everyone is a direct marketer.
It kicked traditional brand lead, image focussed, "get your name out there" advertising and marketing into the long grass.
It busted the myth that you can't measure ROI with advertising and marketing.
It demystified marketing, made it relevant, and shattered the carefully crafted illusion (decades of work by the advertising industry) that there is some kind of alchemy, art or "magical" skill required to create great advertising and marketing.
Direct marketers the world over cheered as the mainstream, above the line, advertisers got a whipping and scrambled to re-position themselves.
Of course, they have always been ROI focussed. Yeah right!
And then came Social Media.
Suddenly the mystique, the old magic, the "must have" aura was back.
For the last 2 or 3 years it's been the darling of the advertising and marketing chattering classes.
It's the future. Everyone is on Facebook. Twitter is the must engage with medium of the attention deficit age. Look - people spend more time on Facebook now than on watching TV. Today, we live in the two-screen world.
And the business community listened, tried to figure out what to do. Wondered what the strategy was - and got stuck in anyway.
Facebook Fan Pages, a Blog, Tweeting - suddenly we're all doing it. If you're not doing it, if you don't have a strategy, if you don't get it - prepared to be rolled.
And the direct marketing community, us included, went silent.
Suddenly the brand lead, awareness, "get your name out there" gang were back in business.
It has everything they've always loved about the advertising business.
It's new, exciting, a buzz, mysterious, the future - in short it became a must have for every self respecting marketing budget holder.
Direct marketers like us watched, we listened, we read up, we tested, we listened some more.
And we're still listening.
We're listening for the shout of "Eureka" - waiting for someone to strike gold, and show us how you reliably and consistently turn the time and money invested in Social Media into real sales and profits.
And there have been some solid finds.
Facebook Pay-Per-Click is working brilliantly for some businesses. But as good as it is, it is a Social Media parasite, feeding on the beast itself, it is not the actual act of Social Media delivering the goods.
We acknowledge and appreciate the link building advantages that a Social Media strategy can bring to your Search Engine Optimisation efforts - but once again, it's a parasite, it's a good supporter of another strategy, not Social Media itself delivering the goods.
We hear about how big corporates like Dell "engage" with their customers online and through Social Media, with excellent results - but we don't learn anything at all relevant for our SME businesses and clients.
We even have some clients with thousands, and tens of thousands of followers, and "likes" - who still can't show a penny of revenue from Social Media.
And to be brutally honest, we start to feel a bit silly.
After all, we're the self-proclaimed 'gurus', we're the 'go-to' guys on marketing - why aren't we shouting from the rooftops about Social Media and how it's the next big thing.
But, in our saner moments we take comfort from the fact that we're evidence based, results driven marketers. We base our decisions and recommendations on solid, proven, reliable evidence of success.
And as time goes by we develop a growing sense of awareness that it is not just us who have failed to see any breakthrough value in Social Media. There's a quiet but growing sense of Social Media scepticism developing.
Maybe we're seeing a "Social Media Spring"?
But, we stay open minded. We remain open to testing new and interesting innovations. We believe that it is highly likely that one of us will figure out a way to make Social Media really deliver.
Summing it all up, we believe that today there are a handful of Social Media strategies that make sense.
Here is our summary...
Social Media Strategy #1 - do nothing yet. Put your mind at ease, you are not missing the gold rush, you are not losing early mover advantage. Keep working on the things that work - your Google AdWords, your Website, your Direct Mail campaigns, Email Broadcasting...
Social Media Strategy #2 - start to test the medium. Listen to the gurus, start to run some tests. But keep it real. Only devote a small percentage of your marketing resources - I'd say at most 5%, and make sure it is time and money that you don't HAVE to see a return from. It is education and testing, not a substitute for marketing that must work.
Social Media Strategy #3 - set up a Facebook Fan Page to support your Facebook pay per click advertising. There is good evidence showing that it improves your conversion rates.
Social Media Strategy #4 - use Social Media to support your link building efforts for Search Engine Optimisation.
Social Media Strategy #5 - become a Social Media expert and start selling your training courses. It's the best way we've seen yet to make money from Social Media :-).
Social Media Strategy #6 - you tell us! We know from experience that the views expressed here are controversial. Not everyone agrees with our reticence. Not everyone agrees that just looking for ROI is the only, or best metric. And maybe you have figured out how to make real, reliable and significant returns from Social Media for mainstream businesses. If so, we'd love to hear your story - please drop us an email.
I hope I haven't shocked you. I hope you don't think we're total Social Media sceptics (we're not - we enthusiastically use the bits that work).
But above all, I hope you now have some clarity. You can stop worrying about what you're not doing with Social Media and safely concentrate on the things that work - at least until it changes.
And when it does, we'll be the first to let you know.
If you'd like to discuss how we can help you to get more from your business, please call on 01536 747 310, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, company and telephone number.
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