What’s Better Than Facebook for Social Media Marketing?

The social media platform that gets the best results will surprise you. Seriously. It's like 1999 all over again.

Choosing the right social media platform for your marketing efforts isn’t easy. You have no shortage of choices, and it seems like there’s a new tool popping up every day. Of course, it’s easy to be drawn to the largest – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – but you’re always stuck with the nagging feeling that you’re missing something. I’ve been meaning to dig into StumbleUpon for a while, for example, but there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day. So, is it really worth all the research and evaluation?

I ran into an article on eMarketer recently that caught my attention. The companies in the Inc. 500, it seems, are increasingly committing to social media marketing, and it’s working. The tools they are using to drive the best results, though, aren’t necessarily those you’d expect.

The latest study from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research finds that 71 percent of companies used Facebook last year, up from 61 percent the year before. Twitter garnered 59 percent of the market last year, and blogging picked up 50 percent.

So, what works?

Facebook, unsurprisingly, has been driving results: 85 percent of companies saw it as successful for marketing, up from 54 percent in 2009. But, even this social media giant couldn’t catch up to old school message boards, which were reported as successful for marketing by 93 percent of the participants.

It might come with a bit of a shock to see that, but if you have the right niche and a robust user base, this venue can be highly effective for sharing information and driving interaction … the same sorts of behavior that corporate bloggers and social media marketers hope to see on newer platforms.

But, this doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the latest and greatest. FourSquare, for example, wasn’t measured at all in the 2009 study. Last year, 75 percent of participating companies reported marketing success through this location-based tool.

Regardless of the tools employed, the good news is that businesses are seeing the value of social media marketing. Eighty-six percent reported that social media technologies were “somewhat or very important to their business and marketing strategies in 2010,” a solid gain from 79 percent the year before.

Interestingly, the number of companies not using social media doubled from 2009 to 2010, from 9 percent to 18 percent. Online video fell from 36 percent in 2009 to 33 percent in 2010. I can tell you from personal experience that this is a difficult tool to use effectively, especially if the nature of your brand requires serious production value … and if budgets are constrained. Banging out a status update – or even a blog post – is far easier than putting together an effective video.

Only three years ago, trying to get a social media marketing initiative off the ground was a daunting proposition: the up-front education required was substantial, resulting in longer lead times and more complicated approval processes. Now, there’s something of a track record. It’s easier to identify and use success stories. With success enjoyed across the market, look for more in the future.