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A misunderstanding appears to have arisen among many businesses – that social media is a technology best left to adolescents to update (Facebook), text (smartphones) or tweet (Twitter) their friends about what TV show is being watched or who should win a Grammy.

In truth, the effective utilization of social media tools should be part of the marketing strategy of every business wishing to connect with its target market.

Let us take an example:

Suppose you are a company who needs research subjects for medical trials.  You are always searching for new subjects and, in the past, have used traditional methods to do so.

You put small ads in magazines read by your target market.  You submit requests to college job centers and may even list your requests on online job sites.

These methods all fall under the category of ads or announcements – there is no true involvement with your target market, no appeal to engage subjects in order to do research to help a specific medical segment.

Telling your story online:

Imagine that you have the ability to tell your story to your target market.  In other words, you can engage in online conversations explaining why research subjects are so important and what benefits this research can have.

This “story-telling” method is not a one-time effort. Rather, it is an ongoing relationship with your target market.  You share information that can immediately help people in their own lives, while at the same time developing trust for your research efforts.

How much would this direct ability to connect with your target market be worth?  How much of your marketing, advertising, or public relations budget would you be willing to spend?

What if I told you that the top social media tools for getting your messages out are free – and are available to you 24/7 with no barriers to entry?

Yes, there is a cost for hiring individuals to create and provide social media engagement, as well as the cost of a learning curve. However, with strategic planning and utilization of existing employees, these costs can be quite reasonable. In the meantime, you can provide an “outreach” social media campaign that includes short YouTube videos that tell your company’s compelling story as well as video blog posts that showcase (to tie back to our example) the heartfelt medical stories of people your company’s research has helped.

Fear is a major reason why companies are not yet participating in social media outreach:

The truth is that we all like to be good at what we do.  Thus, fear of the unknown and the fear of not doing something correctly can hold individuals and organizations back from taking advantage of this new social media marketing medium. But let’s look at the risk of letting fear prevent you from utilizing social media tools.

In his new book, The Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuk says: “[Y]ou’re not going out of business tomorrow if you’re not on Facebook and Twitter and blogging and creating content and building community.  But the risk that your business will die before its time grows bigger every day that you don’t use social media.”

You can’t afford to wait until your company perfectly “gets” social media marketing.  You need to slowly begin using this medium right away, perhaps one platform at a time, and expand your efforts as your understanding and appreciation of the power of social media grows.

The future will bring new social media opportunities.  The concept of mobile marketing (texting messaging to individuals who have opted in to receive these messages from you or your organization) is growing rapidly and new media tools are being introduced constantly.

The important point is to immediately begin taking advantage of this new marketing medium’s ability to connect directly with your target market and to be ready and willing to launch into whatever wonderful social media opportunities are presented in the future.