Everything associated with the web is about speed — download speeds, upload speeds, broadband speeds, early adopters, instant feedback and viral campaigns.
Fast is good. And fast is particularly good for marketers. A single tweet, blog post or YouTube video can spread across the Internet in hours, touching countless people, fuelled by nothing more than its own momentum.
But like the actor crowned an ‘overnight success' after 10 years of waiting tables and bit parts in soaps, the speed of social media marketing can be hugely misleading. Is it possible to create a video and have it ‘go viral' with no extra effort? Of course. Is it likely? Not very.
For most people, businesses and brands, it takes weeks, months and even years of consistent effort to build
engaged networks online. But once you've done the hard work, that network becomes an asset which can help spread your message extremely quickly.
So what are your options right now?
Accept it and get started: So if it's going to take time to build your social networks then you might as well get started now — and if you're planning a campaign or launch, the earlier the better.
A simple strategy starts with time spent listening and getting the lay of the land (who are the main bloggers in your marketplace? Where are your customers and what are they saying?).
Next, set up a base camp (usually your website or blog) where people can learn more about you and access useful content.
Finally, use your chosen social networks to start participating in relevant conversations and adding value. Then keep doing it. It takes time.
Piggyback on someone else's profile: Social media is based on connections — and an endorsement or mention from someone with lots of relevant, high-quality connections can be enough to kick-start your own efforts.
Of course, everyone else knows this too and are busy trying to connect with big name Twitterers and Facebookers.
This can certainly be worth the effort but make sure your approaches are genuine, relevant and personal. And while big names can be great, there's also lots of value in working with smaller bloggers and social media users with influence in your market.
The recent campaign by the Derry-Londonderry City of Culture bid to engage with 50 of NI's most connected online influencers is a great example of this.
Look Beyond Social Media: Social media isn't the only game in town. Pay-per-click ads (small text or image ads that you only pay for when people click on them) in particular can be an effective way of driving traffic to your chosen online destination quickly.
You should also look at combining pay-per-click advertising with your social media marketing campaign.
Get Creative: Of course there are plenty of creative exceptions that prove the rule. A creative campaign, packed full of exciting, useful, interesting, funny or simply ‘share-worthy' content can take on a life of its own, get picked up by influencers with big audiences and spread like wildfire.
Certainly be creative and keep in mind what elements of your campaign people will be likely to latch on to and help spread. But, it would be a mistake to hang all |your hopes on the unlikely viral hit.
All of this should actually be comforting to most small businesses. Simple, consistent efforts build useful networks time and time again. It's not rocket science, but it does mean you've got to be prepared to play a long-term game and do the work. And, after a while, your social media marketing can actually be as fast we'd all love it to be.