Social media marketing has gone from being the preserve of web-savvy marketers who could see that eyeballs on a brand or a product offered the potential to eventually increase market share, to being the darling of the press and almost every company ‘out there’ who suddenly feels the need to jump on the bandwagon.

This has also created a culture where social media marketing is something suddenly being offered by the world and his brother as online marketers of every description hurry to jump on before the train leaves the station. This is exactly where the trap is.

Social media is so popular because it appears easy to do. After all there is no rocket science involved in putting hashtags on Twitter, getting some ‘Likes’ on Facebook or seeing the +1 counter rise on Google Plus. Now, here’s the catch, even finely tuned social media marketing campaigns, carried out by experts, provide no hard correlation between social media marketing and sales. The number of these is finite and relatively rare.

The majority of media marketing campaigns I see are either ill-conceived or poorly executed, or both. Take, for instance, the very recent and very public social media disaster of the Ragu social media campaign which used a video with last-century, definining, stereotypes to launch a Twitter campaign (because Ragu does social media, right?) which spammed the Twitter accounts of males there and raised the ire of internet marketers. The culmination of it was a grassroots Twitter counter-campaign which centred around the sentiment: ‘Ragu hates Dads’.

Obviously they did not intend to create that reaction, as any journalist worth his salt knows and as any social media manager will tell you every reaction is good and it creates an opportunity to win ‘hearts and minds’. Ragu, to stick with the current example, blew even this opportunity by accusing in their Tweets, critical posts as “lacking balance”. When called to task over it they simply shut up.

What all this illustrates is that what is apparently easy to do in terms of execution, actually is not. I consider strumming an acoustic guitar a fairly easy thing to do also, but going from that strumming to actually producing the kind of tune which will make people around me stop what they are doing and take notice and then raise a clap when I am done takes finesse, talent, sensitivity and damn hard work.

Social media marketing is no exception. Funnily enough I saw the same Bell curve of popularity take off with SEO at the beginning of 2008 with just about anybody out there offering “to SEO your website” and it is only when we got down to needing meaningful results and bottom-line orientated numbers that the inevitable shakeout began to happen.

Social media marketing is no exception. To say that it is difficult to quantify is no excuse. As a social media marketer myself I fully understand the difficulties and see them as a challenge. The recently announced real-time Google Analytics will be able to address at least part of this issue by providing real-time correlation between social media marketing initiatives and website traffic, the behaviour of which can be tracked precisely.

The infatuation of the Press with social media is going to continue for the immediate future but the shake-up will happen and only marketers who understand how to deliver real value and measure it will stand any chance, when this happens.