I've had a few friends lately who aren't sure about the value of social media marketing, so rather than debate the merits of social media verbally, I thought I'd save the time needed to argue it repeatedly, and do my best to compile my thoughts so I could merely direct others to this posting in the future. Below are what I believe to be the 7 benefits to engaging in social media. Keep in mind, different individuals will have different objectives, and therefore will look for different benefits. Here is a summary though:
1) Increased Branding - SMM can increase the visibility of a company or its products online, which in turn can help to instill familiarity and confidence in a company. The likely result ... higher click-through rates, and higher conversion rates (we as individuals are more likely to deal with a company we've seen before than one we haven't ... assuming the initial experience wasn't horrific).
2) Increased Awareness - SMM can create awareness of new companies, products and/or services, and/or new uses for existing products and services (eg. Arm & Hammer Baking Soda as a tooth paste). Search isn't particularly good at creating awareness, since its a directive form of media, but social media is.
3) Increased Site Traffic - When done properly, SMM can drive substantial relevant traffic to a site. Once the traffic reaches the site, its up to you to figure out how to monitize it (CPM, Adsense, sales, etc.) or capture its inherent value.
4) Increased Rankings - One of the primary purposes of social media to SEOs is in generating relevant backlinks. Backlinks as we all know, play a substantial role in the algorithms or major search engines. So, the more relevant links, the better the rankings. I'll even take it one step further and suggest that more site traffic will lead to more RSS subscribers and social bookmarking of the site, which will (if not already) play a role in a site's rankings.
5) More Subscribers - More traffic to a web site likely means more subscribers to a site's newsletter and/or RSS feeds. More subscribers means opportunities to market to more people on an ongoing basis.
6) More Friends - I don't know who said it, but they were absolutely correct when they said "Its all about who ya know"! Social marketing involves social networking, which necessarily means making new online friends. Friends in turn create opportunities that would otherwise not be available. Whether its guest blogging opportunities, referrals, speaking engagements, book deals, or whatever, friends bring opportunities.
7) More Knowledge - By participating in social networks with your friends, you'll ultimately be exposed to a larger number of relevant articles, postings, and information. There is bound to be some really worthwhile pearls of wisdom in those pieces, making you a more knowledgeable individual. Knowledge is power afterall!
In the end, the question of viability arises as it is difficult to cost justify social media since it generates business indirectly for most, as opposed to search engines that generate business directly. Accordingly, its more difficult to measure and quantify, and is viewed as being more risky. In the end, it really shouldn't be a question of 'should I or shouldn't I?', but rather one of 'to what extent, and which tactics'?