So much for everything social being free. Yes you can create your Facebook page, your Facebook Fan page and even a nice twitter background that reflects your business, but the buck doesn't stop there, it begins there. Businesses hoping for the cheap way into social media and online influence, should take a look at Dell's success. Much has been made of the Dell Factory Outlet and Twitter huge successes, and consequently there are a lot of businesses with twitter accounts who have no idea about how to tweet.
In this age of user-generated content and blogs the sphere of influence is much more complex. The successful plan takes a look at the entire online content generation process and identifies where their participation can be profitable. At the end of the day we are all looking to reduce the costs of entering this social system and increasing sales and profits.
So by all means get out there and get involved. Even the smallest trickle of interest at the bottom of this chart can result in payoffs further up the food chain. And the next time a marketing talks about creating a viral campaign for you, fire them.
Addressing the complex matrix above is hard work. That's where "social media strategists" come into play. Dell did not become a social media force overnight. The calculated growth of their online response team has proven it's ROI many times over. That's why Dell is now being lauded for their social success. Get out there, but go with a guide who has done it before. Going it alone is risky, and could actually backfire. But even a disastrous Facebook campaign or vacant online "community" site can be resurrected.
Your goals should involve social influence. You can buy content, you can buy placement for advertising, but you'd be better off hiring real writers and letting them do what they do best. Get on the Cluetrain and communicate. Open the kimono and let your "social influencers" work their magic. And one of them might be able to pull a viral rabbit out of their hat, but it takes time and effort. And mostly the magic happens as a result of the hard work. The viral nature of content is magic, you can't bottle it, count on it. But you can aspire towards it.