How To Prove The Value Of Social Media

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I’m very lucky. I get all kinds of cool emails, direct messages via Twitter and messages on Facebook. People ask the most amazing questions and I feel privileged that they think I might have some kind of answer.

I got an email yesterday, and here’s the crux of it (but I did remove all specific information to respect their privacy):

"I need your help.

I am trying to prove the value of social media to my boss. We are hosting an [event]. We are flying in an [industry] Guru to speak to professionals. So far we have had less than stellar results marketing this event through more traditional marketing efforts. I would love to prove to my boss – once and for all – the value of social media by maxing capacity through promoting this event on blogs and podcasts.

Unfortunately after an exhaustive search I have not been able to find any blogs or podcasts catering specifically to [this industries] professionals. Might you be able to suggest some digital properties for this effort? "

And here was my response (also slightly edited):

"I would not compare traditional mass media to social media in terms of trying to promote your event. Making the social channels ‘work’ for you takes months of providing value and being a part of their community.

I’m doubtful you’ll get the results you want by trying to figure out the one or two (if any) Blogs there are in that niche vertical that serve a small geography.

Are there any online leaders in the market you’re looking for? Any major websites? Have you tried both advertising and seeing if you could communicate through their email database?

I would start there."

This story reminds me of the countless times I get calls from people who have either lost their jobs or are looking to change positions and want to know where a good place to start networking might be. My standard response is, "the best place to network isn’t as important as the right time to start networking, and the best time to start networking isn’t now… it was two years ago."

Social Media is not a silver bullet. There are not countless uninformed consumers floating around in some world called "Web 2.0" just waiting for you to sell them your wares. People engaged in these online social channels are not looking for your advertising, they’re looking for your engagement. Your engagement can’t only be there when it’s something self-serving.

The only way that this person (or anybody) can prove the value of social media is to identify the communities their industry serves, become a part of them by adding value and contributing in hopes that when they have an event to promote (or something to sell) that the community responds – not out of marketing hype but out of authentic interest in either the event or to help support a company that is very much part of the fabric of the community or – ultimately – for both of those reasons.

Yes, you can advertise in Social Media channels, but you should expect similar results to the ones you’re pulling in from the other media. The bigger opportunity is to spend your time becoming a recognized authority within these spaces because it’s the right thing to do – for your company, the community and the industry you serve.


  1. So true! And what you say can be done although it’s not a push-button kind of thing, it’s hard word overtime. As a matter of fact, ‘we’ (i’m managing a small start up) monitor/engage with 700 blogs where our target market socializes online. And after a few months of doing that, we’ve established relationships with several of those bloggers (some are even in our team’s composite social network/linkedin or facebook).
    The issue with social media marketing compared with traditional one is that people got used to impression/click/keywords with almost real time resuslts (not necessarily good) and social media is about your value/people/relationships which takes time to build.

  2. “I work at a New Media Communications firm in Boston, 451 Marketing ( and we do a lot of work with Social Media. I am always trying to learn more about the topic, and just wanted to thank you for your insights.�

  3. re: the best place to network isn’t as important as the right time to start networking, and the best time to start networking isn’t now… it was two years ago.”
    Couldn’t agree more with this statement
    .. not to mention what you’ve said about the importance of engagement.
    I’ve heard some very interesting conversations lately about how social media is affecting PR, marketing, journalism … these are tools, yes .. but tools that are having an impact in some fundamental ways, reflecting a new mindset.
    I prefer to think that the chicken (mindset) came before the egg (social media), but either way, it’s here. To anyone who isn’t sure about adapting : It’s more than time to get on board before the train leaves the station and leaves you on the platform.
    And to people on the client side : it’s time to bring your marketing and PR people in much, much earlier than you are right now. Relationship building takes time and commitment.

  4. As a small company, with a limited/non-existant budget for traditional, mainstream advertising, my company, Red Dream Studios, is using social media marketing as ONE of its primary ways of presenting its services, portfolio, messaging, and securing new clients. We’ve been relying principaly on LinkedIn and Facebook (and of course our own blog).
    While LinkedIn provides us with exposure to the executives, Facebook provides a means of uploading and displaying our portfolio within a dedicated company group to which many of our contacts have willingly joined.
    As a result of our continued perserverance and belief in social marketing (and quite frankly, one of the best “free” forms of networking available to us), we’ve managed to connect with people that helped us secure projects with clients we would not have normally had the opportunity to work for — case in point, SoftImage and Bell Canada.
    Moreover, we’ve encouraged many of our clients (who are they themselves entrepreneurs) to use social marketing for their businesses. Since many of the media they expose on these sites has been created by us, we’ve been able to begin a sort of viral networking, exposing our works to way beyond traffic that visits our portfolio website, or to our clients directly. So in effect, our clients become virtual sales champions for our company and has resulted in propogated business.

  5. Spot on, Mitch. Your advice is so right – participation is required *before* you need something. There’s something to be said for being a trusted and long-term member of a community.
    Here’s an interesting analogy that just came to me as I was reading your post: in the Frank Capra classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart’s character) has spent his life being a good person – someone who is always there to help out his fellow Bedford Falls residents. When the time comes to hlep George and his family out, the whole town rallies for him. If he had just moved into town, or if he hadn’t been involved in the lives of others along the way, you can bet that he would have had a hard time getting their assistance in the end.

  6. Hi
    I found this very interesting as I have just taken up the task this post describes as a volunteer for
    I wish I had read this before I started ‘spamming’ writers blogs as it wasn’t the best way to start. I have now thankfully altered my approach and am getting more positive responses.

  7. Success and peer recognition is earned over time. One must prove their worth and value to the community. Very few worthwhile things are instant. Thank you for the reminder, Mitch.

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