Social media is fast becoming one of the most popular and accessible channels for brand visibility. Companies everywhere are scrambling to get in on the action and get their message out to audiences via Facebook, Twitter, and other popular sites [see story, next page, on an upcoming panel on print media and the Internet]. But while this evolving medium offers many new and exciting possibilities, it’s simply not right for every product or service. In fact, some businesses may be over-investing in social media – and often at the expense of other initiatives that can offer better results for their specific needs. That’s why it’s so important for businesses of all sizes to keep their social media expectations — and budgets — in check, before they take the plunge. So how do you know if social media is right for you? Start by asking yourself the following key three questions:

Is this really the best channel for me? Social media is still new, and while it may be cost-effective, tying dollars to concrete ROI is still a real challenge. Get real with what you expect to gain from your investment.

Typically, social media is best for building visibility and brand awareness over time. If you need more tangible and immediate results, it may not be the right medium for you.

How will social media affect my existing campaigns? A successful advertising and marketing strategy employs a holistic approach, so it’s important to make sure that you’re maximizing the ROI of your existing channels before kicking off a new campaign. Also consider how social media activity might impact the performance of existing campaigns, such as search engine optimization (SEO).

Do I have time to invest? Social media is like a plant – water it constantly and it will grow and thrive; leave it unattended for a few days and . . . you get the picture. Social media may present many opportunities, but it’s only what you make of it. Before even beginning a campaign, it’s essential to determine how much time you can devote to cultivating your social media brand in order to see the biggest impact.

Should I monitor social media? While social media is a fast way to spread your message, it can also mean your brand can pop up in places you’re not aware of — leaving it vulnerable and unprotected. If you have decided that social media is for you, it’s crucial to put a monitoring tool in place so you can keep tabs on what’s being said about your brand across social platforms.

If it’s the right fit, social media can offer unprecedented opportunities for companies to establish two-way communication with their customers — fostering a higher level of customer interaction and engagement than ever before. Just be sure to have the right plan and approach to make sure you’re truly maximizing your success in this evolving medium.

#b#Keith Kochberg#/b# is the CEO of iMarketing, an online marketing firm based at 20 Nassau Street. He has been active in online marketing for more than 15 years, developing and implementing practices in search marketing, affiliate marketing, and online media planning for Internet retailers and Fortune 500 companies.

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