Traditional marketing is pretty simple. You ask your graphic designer to create a beautiful presentation of your product. Next, you give a magazine a handful of money to buy exposure to a certain amount of people. That's it. You create an ad, pay money, and get exposure.
Your competition, in traditional media, is other companies in your industry, because all you are doing is essentially to see who can make the best presentation, and spend the most money.
Reaching people is about how much you are willing to spend. More money means reaching more people, in a better performing ad space.
Social Media isn't like that at all.
The first problem you run into is that you cannot pay a social channel to give you fans. You cannot give Twitter $100,000, and in return get 300,000 followers. It doesn't work that way.
You have to earn it. You have to persuade people to follow you.
That is hard. People do not want ads; they want value. You cannot ask your graphic guy to design a beautiful poster, because nobody wants to follow a poster. You have to turn your product into something people want to follow.
Your product is your message.
Even with that you won't get far, because you also need to engage your fans. That means that the old presentation thinking is out, and in comes communication. You have to talk with your fans, and you have to listen to what they are saying. That takes time - a lot of it.
And while, in the old world, your competition is other companies, the social media competition is people's time. It doesn't matter if your message is better than your competitors, because it has to be so good that people are willing to spend time on it, over other things shared by their friends.
But, the biggest challenge is that it takes a very long time to build up an audience. It takes months, even years.
You have to build an audience before a channel becomes popular. You cannot wait until everyone is on it. By then you are still looking at months of work, before you are really getting anything out of it.
If you just started using Facebook in 2010, you already missed out on the results. You don't have an audience yet. You should have started using Facebook in 2006, build up an audience, so that now - when it's really popular - you can get maximum results out of it.
That is the real trick to social.
You need to build up an audience before you can quantify a return of investment. You have to the look at the trends and identify what social channels will be successful, long before they are even close to that.
You need to take a risk, and start adding money, and resources to that channel, so when it becomes popular, you will actually have something to work with.
This is a real challenge for risk-averse companies. But not taking a risk, not starting early, means you won't have an audience by the time where it really matters.
...and instead, you will be forced to spend huge amounts of money on buying exposure on traditional channels.
Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter
"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé