A lot of people are caught up in the flurry of social media marketing. Like anything that changes lives and livelihood of so many millions of people, it is difficult, confusing and frustrating to connect the dots of this complex collection of activities. For anyone even close to utilizing the internet these days, you cannot avoid the nouns associated with the phenomenon of social media: including blogs, blogging, Twitter, social bookmarks, Web 2.0, wiki’s, widgets, news feeds, RSS and others. This article aims to provide some structure around which many of these seemingly unrelated pieces of marketing workload can be anticipated in the marketing effort for an organization. Even if it is a one person organization.

What is Social Media Marketing

A lot of us think of marketing in terms of advertising, since that is the most visible aspect of marketing to most of us. Who has not seen a TV commercial or listened to a radio as or read an unsolicited e-mail pitching some type of product? Social media marketing is more than outbound messaging (commercials in whatever medium) from organizations. First off social media (or Web 2.0 as it is also known) refers to the use of 2 way users communicating via web assets. Notice that the operant word is user. This is different than the prior web generation (Web 1.0) of one way communication from sellers to buyers (or users). Web 2.0 allows sellers (producers) to participate in this two communication (whether it is user-user, or user-seller) and to affect change.

Social media marketing utilizes this two-way channel, in all its varieties, to obtain marketing information (market research), to develop products, develop and deliver marketing messages, and provide after-market product support. Social media marketing strikes possibly the most timely and intimate involvement between producers and users of products and services ever seen before.

The Abyss of Social Media Marketing

The biggest issue that those choosing to master social media marketing is being able to establish and maintain a handle on the overall process. This comes about because the process of social media marketing is very circular. The problem is that it never ends, but must always progress forward with a coherent goal. You can blog until the cows come home, but it needs to be done with a solid intended outcome, it must proceed forward with each involvement, and needs to work with other elements of the marketing mix (online and offline marketing).

The Process

Like any endeavor, there is an intended outcome associated with every step in the sales or lead conversion cycle. The steps that an individual user goes through in their internet queries to solve their need or to cure a pain, include awareness of their need, connecting the needs to words, comprehending a possible solution to their need, recognizing superiority of a particular solution, and the ultimate buy-in purchase or agreement. This is even true when there is nothing to actually buy. For instance social issues go through similar steps until final purchase of social program becomes the adopted answer (for instance, banking industry bailout as a social answer).

Here are the major functions of the social media marketing (SMM) process that will be discussed in this and other articles in this series. It is very important to restate the fact that this process is never completed. Just like the people that say life is not a destination but a journey, so it is similar to social media marketing. As soon as you reach a goal another one will be replaced and the process continues. Therefore we do not speak here so much about stages of the process, but rather the major functions in the process that are ongoing. The functions or steps of SMM:

1. Formulation of goals
2. Marketing research
3. Outbound marketing
4. Inbound marketing
5. Measuring results

Step 1: Formulation of Goals

The are many goals that you can set out to accomplish in SMM: increase awareness of need, or solution, itemize the common need (or solution) terms (words) and the number of users that commonly recognize them, extent of recognition of a solution, understanding of the superiority of a solution, purchase (or agreement of) a solution. Since SMM is an online medium, the number of users you are engaging is a sub-population of all users and furthermore, the number of these users is limited to only those that you have been able to reach online. In the next step you will quantify how many users there are out there, and how many are reachable on or offline.

Step 2: Market Status (Market Research)

In prior generations of the discipline of marketing, we would have called this function market research. However, since the market (collection of users experiencing a similar need) changes frequently due to its continuous self-involvement, the status of the market needs to be established on a more frequent basis. So we need to determine the level of need (in terms of numbers of users) that exists in the market at one time and how many other alternatives there are to fulfill this need. You also need to find out how would your propose that users solve this need and in what are the ways that exist that would allow you to become a unique solution. The one thing that is critical to online marketing is establish the sample of keywords that characterize the pairing of need with solution.