When the computing and connectedness industry began its meteoric rise in the 1990s, IT vendors and users alike scrambled for new ways to utilize the growing capabilities provided by the internet and broadband communications. Among the most attractive of these was Customer Relationship Management (CRM). 

Around since the early 1990s, CRM initially focused on the relationship between vendors and their known customer base. It evolved from a one-way gathering of customer information to a two-way relationship in which the vendor could give back to customers in the form of discounts, gifts and special offers. While this growing interaction between vendor and buyer had some of the characteristics of today’s real time marketing world, it was limited by technology to a relatively small share of the overall buying public. That has changed as the world of connectedness has virtually taken over the world of commerce.

With social media all the rage, it’s no surprise to see firms clamoring to reap the rewards of social media marketing. But whether this new channel will actually shower goodies on firms that practice it is still an open question. If it does, much of what we think we know about how to market products, services and corporate reputations must be rethought in light of a growing social media market. If it doesn't, then we’re on the cusp of another time and money sink. 

Social media’s ability to drive better sales and market penetration is difficult to measure and far from settled. While some claim that social media marketing is new -- even revolutionary -- and that organizations must get with it or fall behind, others point out that it is, after all, marketing. All the old rules still apply, even if they're extended somewhat by the new communication channels.  

What Can We Count On?

At its base, the only goal that matters is -- or should be -- selling a product to some portion of the population.  Whether it's a product, a service or simply a warm fuzzy about the seller’s organization, everything comes back to the classic buy/sell process. Whether more “likes” means more sales has yet to be conclusively demonstrated.

The question for fledgling social media marketers is how to find the people on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages and convince them to actually buy something. When they’re surfing a social media site they can be very difficult to distract even for a moment, let alone dislodge. So, while finding and getting to potential customers is a worthy goal, finding them through social media may actually be more difficult than originally thought. 

Merely understanding who these social media users are is a challenge in itself.

The rise of social media has changed the way target audiences and markets break down, impacting the traditional view of demographics like age, sex, income, marital status, education and geographical location. Marketing programs developed to aim at any one of these categories must now deal with social media users whose behavior cuts across demographics in ways that can make targeting much more difficult.

Engaging Your Customer 

Research suggests that social media users are resistant to one-way, or “shout" marketing, with on-screen ads and the delays caused by downloading sales graphics and videos typically receiving the most negative responses.