By Katie King, Managing Director, Zoodikers Consulting Ltd www.zoodikers.com

As MD of a PR and social media agency, it may seem odd to be warning people of the dangers of jumping on the social media bandwagon. Perhaps it has something to do with that old fashioned sense of integrity...

It’s true that no business today can escape being bombarded — through every medium - with the latest statistics, trends and relentless jargon about the social media revolution. For many SMEs it’s a minefield — confusing, sometimes rather scary and impossible to know where to start.

I empathise. A while back I too questioned whether social media was relevant to my business or simply a distraction. After 20 years spent supporting leading brands and hundreds of start ups very effectively through traditional PR, I questioned social media’s merit. The reality is that it has revolutionised my business in a way I never imagined possible.

And the message is spreading fast. Forrester Research predicts that B2B social media marketing spending will grow from just $11 million in 2009 to $54 million in 2014. But the danger for SMEs lies in the fact that too many companies are prepared to throw their hard earned cash at social media, with little or no attention paid to a) their business strategy and b) how it integrates with their overall PR and marketing.

Strategy and integration

Based on my experiences with a raft of small businesses across every sector, I’m convinced that all SMEs - yes B2B too - can fully exploit social media if — and it’s a big if — they integrate it into their own PR and align it to their business goals.

We know that digital technologies are evolving at phenomenal speed; each new day presents a fresh opportunity. These emerging trends are allowing SMEs to bypass traditional conduits and engage with customers directly, and not simply by driving them to a website. Businesses can carefully select the appropriate social media platform that is relevant to their customer profiles, perhaps reaching them via a professional LinkedIn group, or setting up their own, as opposed to Twitter or Facebook.

Complex messages, research, case studies, testimonials — all of these can be communicated via compelling content which is crafted to take advantage of these new platforms. A podcast on YouTube perhaps? A blog focused on sharing industry opinion rather than bland sales speak. At its simplest level, businesses can adopt social media for cost effective recruitment as it offers a superb way to connect with potential employees.

Content and ROI

If you learn nothing else from this article, remember the importance of measuring social media against specific business objectives. That way you will help to safeguard some of your hard earned cash. The start point is to agree specific goals, then identify measurable and transparent outputs and outcomes. Keep trying different tactics — you may not succeed immediately, but if you’re focused on reaching certain prospects and spend time wisely indentifying where they network, you should succeed. All of this assumes of course that you have good content! More of that in the next instalment...