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Social media is the biggest bandwagon out there. Massive percentages of the population are already on it and boomers and seniors are starting to fill in the gaps. There are gurus and ninjas and a host of people with New Age job titles all telling us to hop on. But with this gushing enthusiasm comes a healthy dose of skepticism.

Is social media right for my business? Can I make money online? Where is the ROI? How long will it take for my efforts to pay off?

I have been asked these questions countless times, but they're getting easier to answer as the business cases for social media strengthen.

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Many high-level executives are still wary of the real-world ROI of social media, but it is gaining traction in all industries and becoming more and more difficult to ignore as part of a company's marketing mix. There are extensive, cost-effective opportunities to create brand engagement online that cannot be replicated offline.

Many well-known brands have delved into the social world to find success in reaching their target audience. With Facebook alone, organizations can engage 16 million Canadians with their brand.

The proliferation of smart phones and tablets further amplifies the impact by giving brands the opportunity to connect with their audiences regardless of location or time of day. Social media doesn't simply raise brand awareness – it can also become the new focus group, trade show and product launch platform.

Recently, Nike used Facebook to launch a video for their Chosen campaign. The 90-second TV spot aired on Facebook three days before its scheduled TV premiere during the NBA finals. It generated a lot of buzz and the video was shared all over social by fans who have become brand ambassadors. Much like Pepsi, which raised eyebrows by turning away from traditional advertising during the Super Bowl, the marketing experts at Nike have sent a clear message about their opinion of social.

Online advertisements also demonstrate how social media is changing the marketing game. Companies that once devoted large portions of their online ad spends on products are now dedicating them to social properties. Ads with social overlays are interactive and display the brand's Twitter or Facebook feeds. People spend more time engaging with these ads and click through rates are up by 72 per cent over traditional online ads*. These ads gives people a chance to see what's going on within their own community before they make the decision to join, and the brands are happy to have a 'like' or 'follow' now in exchange for the possibility of a sale later.

While your small business may not have the marketing budget for splashy billboards and TV advertisements, I have seen small businesses have big success on social media by being clever, agile and authentic. It is a cost-effective way to create an army of brand ambassadors who will go out defend and promote your organization and add credibility to your offering. It can open up new potential markets and crowd source your focus groups and product development. The ROI will be there – right in your community.

*Reference: The Nielsen Company 2010, April. Understanding the Value of a Social Media Impression: A Nielsen and Facebook Joint Study

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Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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About the Author
Social and Earned Media Columnist

A combination of entrepreneurial spirit and timing led Mia Pearson to co-found North Strategic, a communications agency built on the belief that social needs to be integrated into everything you do. A serial entrepreneur, Ms. More

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