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Is social media marketing more like a marathon than a sprint?

There are two ways of looking at social media marketing: as a great sounding board, able to quickly generate large-scale visibility using online discussions, or as a powerful tool to develop a community of loyal fans. The first one relies on publicity stunts, communication artifacts, and growth hacking. The second one, on relationship building in the long run with people who don’t yet know that you exist. Which approach is the right one? Wouldn’t these two visions of social media marketing, which are often opposed, have more in common than they seem?

No matter how you see it, actually

Planning marketing ops on social media, whether it answers to short-term or long-term goals, requires some preparation. Even communications in the age of social media have not changed this. The new idea with social networks is that we have to give these communications a spontaneous touch. This has required brands to adapt, particularly in terms of community management, to cope with the instantaneity of social media and becoming more interactive.

More than ever before, communication planning is the key to performance and productivity within an organization. Organizing your marketing efforts also allows for more harmonious multi-channel communications, and therefore a greater coherence in the brand’s message.

Social media, thanks to greater proximity with Internet users, also allows you to experiment with new ideas. In substance — new product versions, new service functionalities, based on the community’s feedback — and in form  — addressing directly influencers and opinion leaders rather than journalists.

While the myth that social media marketing comes cheap has been around for a long time, no experienced top level decision-maker today thinks, partly for the reasons mentioned above, that you can launch a brand without a budget, by the simple magic of social media. Believe my experience, there are rarely miracles, often a lot of work and expertise behind success stories. It’s just not what is put forward most of the time. 

Another common urban legend is that short-term campaigns are less expensive than short-term campaigns. To put it straight, even if it seems logical, it is never the duration of marketing ops that alone determines a budget. Organizing a 3-month viral digital marketing campaign can require much more consequential investments than a 1-year inbound marketing strategy. It all depends on your objectives, and the resources needed to achieve them.

One budget, many ways to spend it

Once these considerations have been made, it is interesting to see that each approach offers different possibilities, which should be assessed according to your goals. 

When you’re looking to create buzz on social media, you want to get lots of people talking about you, in a short time-frame. Your strategy will, therefore, focus on what can bring you such visibility. Putting PR at the heart of your campaign, teaming up with influencers, running ads, organizing giveaways or contests, for example. 

If you are looking to develop a loyal and engaged community ready to buy what you offer, your strategy will focus on a sales funnel that includes your social media channels.

It is very unlikely that you will convert a target who has not previously heard about your company and been made aware of what it does. To be successful, make it personal. If possible, develop in addition to your pages, discussion groups to communicate more directly with your super-fans and loyal followers. Your chatbot and helpdesk are not exactly made for that. 

Stability is key for long-term goals

Social media can be great to gain visibility. Though, visibility acquired quickly at an early stage of your sales funnel produces ephemeral results. The real added value of social media lies in the possibility of building long-term loyalty with your audience and being able to trigger valuable actions among it.

To achieve that, you will need to develop a personalized relationship with your audience, so that they can recognize your strengths compared to the competitors. It can take them several weeks or months between the discovery of your brand and the actual purchase. But on social media, paid campaigns targeting Internet users in the consideration phase have no equal in terms of conversions. This can explain the disappointment of certain brands relying too much on influencer marketing.

Another element is diametrically opposing the concept of communication in the short term, and that in the long run. The issue of human resource distribution. Communicating in the short term requires an expert workforce and flexible teams. Communicating over a long time frame requires staff hiring, with a risk, if the turn-over is too high, that the coherence of the project suffers. If your marketing team changes several times over a 48 months period, you are likely to lose some precious knowledge. Such a change can have a real impact on your results.

On the topic of human resources, there is one more thing. If it is essential to surround yourself with high-skilled specialists, you can also recruit less experienced professionals for a number of tasks and coach them to increase their skills and performance. Coupled with growing experience, any effective skills transfer shortly after recruitment is very advantageous. Considering that the trained people stay with the company for months or years, the gains can be invaluable.

So, is social media marketing a marathon rather than a sprint? It may depend on your goals, but for brands that are looking at long-term communication from the outset, social media can be beneficial in ways that are otherwise difficult to achieve.

What do you think? Your turn to share your opinion and experience!

By Max Schleiffer

French entrepreneur. I have grown a marketing consultancy over the decade. Now, I explore new ways of working in the digital age.