Is Social Media Better Than Traditional Media?

Here’s another one of those “it depends” questions: Is social media better than traditional media? Well, it depends…

  • Is television advertising better than radio?
  • Billboards better than newspaper?
  • Direct mail better than email marketing?
These are all “it depends” questions and, frankly, if you ever see answers to questions like these I’d recommend a healthy dose of skepticism. They simply can’t be answered with any degree of certainty without some additional information. Before you can determine what form of media to use, you need to know at least the answers to two fundamental questions:
  • What are you attempting to accomplish? (your goals/objectives)
  • Who are you attempting to reach/influence? (your target audience)
If I’m attempting to reach high school students, text messaging might be a good option. If I’m attempting to reach the 50+ crowd, advertising during the local news might be a good option. And social media might work for either of these audiences. But…it depends!

The question of whether social media is *better* than traditional media is a good one, though, and it’s one that more small and mid-sized businesses should be asking (and large businesses as well).

The hype and attention that social media has generated over the past few years has really led to some misconceptions and misuse among businesses large and small. One big one is: “I need to be on social media or I’m missing out.” The example I use with my clients and students related to this is looking at another popular communication tool – television. It wouldn’t make sense for businesses to say: “Gee, I’m not advertising on television-am I missing out?” Social media is the same.
Starting with the tool, and wondering whether you should be using it, is backwards communication thinking in my mind. Instead, marketers should always first consider their objectives and their audience and then determine which of the many communication options available to them, often in combination, make the most sense in terms of:
  • likelihood to effectively reach the desired target audience
  • likelihood to effectively engage the target audience in the content
  • likelihood to generate the desired response
In many ways social and traditional media are very much the same–they are channels to get messages out to desired target audiences. One very important way in which they are fundamentally different is that, with social media, others can observe the interactions taking place between the marketer and their social media audience. And, in addition, the audience can be privy to the conversation whether it’s positive–or not so positive. But, that said, social media is neither better nor worse than other forms of communication.
It all depends, as I said earlier, on the objective and the audience.

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