By Karl Meyer, Associate at Spice.co.uk

Social Media Marketing will probably become the buzzwords for 2010 for the majority of advertising agencies and many businesses without a 'social media strategy' will be seen as terribly 'last year' in their thinking. Virtually all fashionable companies are gleefully announcing their entry into the social media scene with varying degrees of commitment and success. So how do you succeed with Social Media?

Certainly Social Media tools like Facebook and Twitter are great ways to make sure you can proactively relate to your customers. They give you the power to tailor your promotions on an hour by hour (or even minute by minute basis) depending on the trends that are emerging from your followers.

Many businesses see this immediacy as an opportunity to contribute (and benefit from) keeping up with the public. However unless it is done well it can backfire horribly.

New Promotion — Old News

If you are going to direct people to your website you need to make sure that not only is the message relevant and up-to-date but also that the content you are linking to is equally relevant and up-to-date.

As part of my job, I have the joy of following lots of business who are trying to use SM as a promotional tool and one of the worst problems I see is businesses who endlessly post exactly the same message and links to the same tired old content on their website.

Promoting your website then delivering the same old (literally) content time after time is not only pointless, it's counterproductive. Your followers rapidly get fed up and ignore your messages. Meaning when you do finally provide new stuff they'll ignore that too!

So the quality of the message is key - if you're going to try to speak to your customers then you need to make sure what you're saying is worth reading.

Identify Your Audience

Some businesses seem to focus almost exclusively on the number of followers or friends they can sign up with little thought as to what to do with them. Are 500 genuine followers better than 5000 idle button pushers? The ease of following/friending makes a pure numbers game irrelevant.

This is similar to the early arguments in pay per click advertings. Companies solely focused on capturing names with little clue about conversion will focus on to raw number, others who have a little more foresight will of course concentrate on conversion rate.

The true test of any marketing is working out how many people actually spend money with you. Until a follower becomes a customer they have little or no value at all.

You also have to recognise what kind of people are following you. Are they existing customers who you are trying to retain or are they new potential customers who you are trying to capture? Just as in traditional marketing each group is different and needs handling differently.

Are you 'talking' to a small clique where jokes about the football or Big Brother would go down well or are you attempting to capture a more generic audience? The intimacy available through Social Media can be a double edged sword so treat your tweets with care. If you’re running the campaign for a men’s mag then twitpiccing your stag night exploits might work — do the same on the nappy Facebook page and you’ll be in trouble!

Quality Not Quantity Is Key

Social Media in 2010 is rather like email in 1995. Its fashionable, quick, easy and most of all cheap but just like email it can be abused so its essential you moderate the sheer quantity of communications and make sure each one is really worthwhile.

Users of Social Media sites are very savvy and in my experience extremely cynical so don't abuse them or the system. Remember whilst it only takes 10 seconds for a 'friend' to follow you it also only takes 10 seconds to unfollow you.

Never Lose Sight Of The Bottom Line

As with all marketing, until a customer actually hands over their cash for your product they have very little real value but any Social Media campaign has real costs so make sure your SM is more than just vanity publishing.

Provided your messages are relevant, timely and useful to your audience then Social Media can be a great way to gain and retain customers but doing it badly is a great way to annoy potential customers and in this economic climate annoying customers is never a good idea!

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