I'm very lucky. I get all kinds of cool emails, direct messages via Twitter and messages on Facebook. People ask the most amazing questions and I feel privileged that they think I might have some kind of answer.
I got an email yesterday, and here's the crux of it (but I did remove all specific information to respect their privacy):
"I need your help.
I am trying to prove the value of social media to my boss. We are hosting an [event]. We are flying in an [industry] Guru to speak to professionals. So far we have had less than stellar results marketing this event through more traditional marketing efforts. I would love to prove to my boss - once and for all - the value of social media by maxing capacity through promoting this event on blogs and podcasts.
Unfortunately after an exhaustive search I have not been able to find any blogs or podcasts catering specifically to [this industries] professionals. Might you be able to suggest some digital properties for this effort? "
And here was my response (also slightly edited):
"I would not compare traditional mass media to social media in terms of trying to promote your event. Making the social channels 'work' for you takes months of providing value and being a part of their community.
I'm doubtful you'll get the results you want by trying to figure out the one or two (if any) Blogs there are in that niche vertical that serve a small geography.
Are there any online leaders in the market you're looking for? Any major websites? Have you tried both advertising and seeing if you could communicate through their email database?
I would start there."
This story reminds me of the countless times I get calls from people who have either lost their jobs or are looking to change positions and want to know where a good place to start networking might be. My standard response is, "the best place to network isn't as important as the right time to start networking, and the best time to start networking isn't now... it was two years ago."
Social Media is not a silver bullet. There are not countless uninformed consumers floating around in some world called "Web 2.0" just waiting for you to sell them your wares. People engaged in these online social channels are not looking for your advertising, they're looking for your engagement. Your engagement can't only be there when it's something self-serving.
The only way that this person (or anybody) can prove the value of social media is to identify the communities their industry serves, become a part of them by adding value and contributing in hopes that when they have an event to promote (or something to sell) that the community responds - not out of marketing hype but out of authentic interest in either the event or to help support a company that is very much part of the fabric of the community or - ultimately - for both of those reasons.
Yes, you can advertise in Social Media channels, but you should expect similar results to the ones you're pulling in from the other media. The bigger opportunity is to spend your time becoming a recognized authority within these spaces because it's the right thing to do - for your company, the community and the industry you serve.