You can describe new media in a lot of ways. Uncharted. Exciting. Untapped. One word most people wouldn't use, though, is "safe."
Yet when it comes to the latest iteration of new media -- that is, social media -- I think the tactic is actually part of a very safe and sound defensive approach to marketing in this economy.
Conventional wisdom would say that, in a bad economy, you should cut your new media spend. Go with what you know and are comfortable with. And "new" and "comfortable" are generally antonyms in the marketing world. Furthermore, odds are your company is cutting back significantly in its marketing spend across the board, which would only reinforce a cutback in new media spending.
However, in most bad economies, there are often a few aggressive and ambitious brands that either hold, or actually increase, their marketing spends. And that's the potential threat -- those competitors could move in to steal your market share.
Market share has historically been tied to share of voice. Thus, when companies cut back on their advertising, they're lowering their share of voice. If a competitor holds to the even just the same spend, its share of voice is going to increase, thereby putting it in a position to gain market share (i.e., steal your customers).
Fortunately, there are places to reach out and engage your customers and hopefully keep them on board -- social networks like Facebook and Twitter. With these social networks, you're targeting a group of people who have taken the time to fan or follow you. What that means from an ROI standpoint isn't always clear at the onset, but the bottom line is this: You have people who are willing to tell just about everyone they come into contact with that they like doing business with you. Additionally, they've signed up to get future communications from your brand. Neither of those are small conversion actions, in my opinion.
Sure, not every one of your Facebook fans is going to be a big spender. But that doesn't mean their word-of-mouth can't contribute to your marketing efforts.
However, just because people are your fans or followers doesn't mean you have them in your hip pocket. Nothing could be further from reality. They're looking for a brand that has more meaning than just a product sitting on a shelf. And that connection they're currently sensing from your brand needs to be maintained.
Social media campaigns give you an ideal context in which to make that deeper connection with your customers. The target audience is easy to reach. The campaigns run mostly online, so as word-of-mouth tactics go, they're trackable. And the campaign is built around social media, so whatever you do can quickly extend beyond the initial audience.
To some, it may seem excessive to spend money marketing to your Facebook or Twitter followers in this type of business climate. But you don't want to get caught standing on the social media sidelines while one of your competitors begins engaging people in a way that catches your customers' attention and impresses them. Suddenly, your competitor looks like the fun brand, and you start to feel like the outsider. If that happens, you could find yourself being forced to play defense pretty quickly.
And that's a risk I wouldn't take.