Opportunities in a brave new world
"Social media marketing allows the marketer to know and contact the consumer directly in a manner that was not possible before," says Anirban Mukhopadhyay, associate professor of marketing at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "This creates huge opportunities for personalisation and instant response."
As social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have entered everyday life, they have provided opportunities for marketers to personally relate to consumers, moving beyond the skill of communicating a message to creating dialogue between consumers and marketers.
Mukhopadhyay says marketers are reacting to what existing platforms offer. But the field, which includes viral capabilities of sites such as YouTube, is evolving rapidly and companies are looking for creative professionals who can explore the area in pioneering ways.
He cites celebrities and political figures, such as American politician Sarah Palin, the Republican Party's vice-presidential candidate in 2008, who use social networking sites and respond to daily events instantaneously - and in a way that appeals to their fan base.
But experts are hard to find in an area so new. Web company and search engine Yahoo is looking for marketing professionals with experience in social media marketing to help it make full use of its platforms in novel ways.
"We want to strategically form a pioneering social media marketing team. [These] talents can help us make it cutting edge," says Tania Lau, head of marketing at Yahoo Hong Kong.
Candidates must be proficient in community management, or possess "influential power" that they can convince followers, Lau says. It would also be an advantage if the candidate owns a community on such social platforms, and is strong in topics such as travel or fashion.
Yahoo has established a social networking page called Yahoo Pulse, which has laid the groundwork for its social media marketing initiative. It is hoped that the site - consisting of integrated profiles and in which fellow members can share updates - is set to grow with developments in the area. At present, this marketing innovation has helped to enhance Yahoo's existing marketing and Web services.
While the advantages of social media marketing are being explored, marketers are urged to be mindful of its limitations. With the field still being in its infancy, marketers face the trial and error that could decide the development of social media marketing.
For Lau, social media marketing can create engagement and increase brand awareness or publicity. But the drawback is that it cannot be measured.
"There is no way to quantify or justify the resources spent on social media marketing at the moment, so we are using it to gain insight into the interests of the community," she says, adding that traditional, or digital, marketing may not be replaced by social media marketing.
As far as Mukhopadhyay is concerned, social media marketing will not replace any form of marketing - just like television advertising did not bring about the end of print, nor did print advertising signal the death of personal selling. Rather, social media marketing should supplement and bolster an existing strategy.
He says companies need to approach the area with professional earnestness.
"Involve the brand managers, [vice-presidents] of communications, and your advertising agency in your [social medial marketing] campaign - don't leave it to the intern just because she is the only one who has an account on Foursquare," Mukhopadhyay says.