Social Media: The question isn’t, “Is it smart?” The question is, “What’s it worth?”

I was at the NEMOA directXchange conference last week (great conference) and one of the speakers said “the ROI on social media is that you will be in business five years from now.”

Seriously, social media is going to rule the world in 5 years? I think not.

When the internet first showed up companies went through the same cycle with web sites. First it was “Huh? How is this going to help me?” Web experts were talking about total global domination and several told me that catalogs were dead, and I would be out of a job in 5 years. That didn’t happen. The internet boom went bust, but then, when all the hype died down, the web bloomed. Retailers figured out that the web wasn’t a better catalog it was a better phone that increased access for customers and reduced the cost of order taking. It didn’t make customers who didn’t know you buy from you, but it helped customers who did know you buy from you. Then operations figured out it was a better way to move excess inventory, and merchants used it to provide product information and survey customers and, and, and. Search engine marketing made it possible to get new web only customers and the web became a stand alone enterprise.  Order forms have shriveled and died, call centers have shrunk, telemarketing committed suicide and in the last 20 years the web has become far more wonderful than any of us could have imagined.

So how is social going to fall out?

I think social media is going to go through the same boom, bust and bloom cycle that the web did. When things settle down I think it will grow into an awesome customer service tool, marketers will find ways to use it effectively and it will be wonderful in ways we haven’t even thought of. If you are a big player, with a big budget, then go for it. The fumbles and missteps your teams make, will be the foundation of future expertise. If you are not able to commit resources to building and exploring the bleeding edge of social then use what is working now. Spend 80% of your social time and budget listening to customers and 20% of your time marketing to them. Saving yourself from the pain of a customer rant gone viral is priceless. A cool twitter promotion that gets you 50 new followers is probably only worth a couple hundred bucks.

It’s more than a shiny object.

I spend a fair amount of time on social media and I think it is amazing. Social media oozes potential, but harnessing that potential takes patience and time. Get in the game, measure the results and don’t get caught up in the hype.

By the way the rest of the talk was fantastic. If you missed the 2013 Fall NEMOA directXchange, Cat-U will be hosting several of the NEMOA conference sessions. While we are excited to share the great content, we can’t bring you the networking, camaraderie and off-line conversations that make directXchange so rewarding. The spring 2014 directXchange conference will be in Boston. For more information visit www.nemoa.org.

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The Catalog Blog covers opinions and information on all things catalog. Have something to add? Leave a comment below. Catalog University is devoted to helping you get ahead in the fun and fascinating world of catalogs. If you want even more information about cataloging, including FREE Pub Talks, be sure to sign up for the Cat-U mailing list. We will never share your name with 3rd parties.

Sarah Fletcher
President Catalog Design Studios
Co-Founder Catalog University

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