Here‘s an article in the Wall Street Journal that says that some entrepreneurs are questioning how valuable social media really is.  The premise of the article is simple: some people have done great things for their business with social media, but other people haven’t, so what’s the real value of social media tools for marketers?  The nice thing about this particular story was that it highlighted a great example of a business that used Twitter in a disciplined way to achieve an understandable goal: the company uses social media tools like Twitter to first listen to what customers are saying, and then it responds to them by providing information that helps them decide whether to make a purchase or not.  It’s not rocket science.  The companies (and schools and nonprofits) that are doing well with social media channels have one thing in common: they know why they are spending time on social media.  If your marketing department can’t clearly articulate what success with social media looks like, then you’re in trouble.

At the most basic level, social media tools make it very easy for you to talk to customers, and they make it easy for your customers to tell their friends.  This is the surface potential of social media, and most people hang out around the surface.  But one level beneath the surface, your job is to define a few “high value actions” that you want people to take using certain social media channels, and then you need to make a plan that (you hope) will lead to the regular occurrence of those “high value actions.”  You need a way to measure how often they are happening, and you need a way to analyze how effectively they are leading to customer conversions.

The reason why you see articles like that recent one in the Wall Street Journal that question the true effectiveness of social media in general is that, on the surface, social media looks simple, and so it’s tempting to not think through your strategy in a very deep way.  But when you dig a little deeper, you put yourself in a position to really benefit from all those rich customer interactions that are possible on social media channels.

Will Marlow co-founded AlumniFidelity to help his university and charity clients engage in “friend-to-friend” fundraising campaigns. He’s working with clients such as UVA, the College of William & Mary, Georgetown’s Capitol Breast Care Center, the University of Oklahoma, Bowling Green State University, Randolph Macon College, and he loves nothing better than a thorny marketing challenge.  Email him at