There's been discussion between Gini Dietrich and Mark Schaefer, which I've been calling, The Great Debate. Essentially, the argument is whether or not social media really levels the playing field. According to Gini, it does because as a business, “no longer do you need millions of dollars to spend on PR firms and ad agencies in order to build your brand and reputation among the masses…All of the tools are free so it’s a really low barrier to entry. And it works.” According to Mark, social media no longer levels the playing field because “there is an enormous amount of data to get through these days…and to succeed on the social web today you better bring your A Game and a bucket of money.”

With two social media authorities at opposite ends of the spectrum – and both whom I admire and use as my social media compass – what’s the real truth?

Let me back up for a minute and break this down…

What makes social media great is that nearly everyone – including the small business owner – has access to relatively free tools to market themselves to a mass audience. That’s significant and that’s something that has never really happened before. At the same time, social media is becoming so saturated that itTeam Mark’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd.

I recently asked folks on my fan page what makes them ‘unlike’ a page. Most of the responses included, “too much content.” I agree. This saturation problem has permeated the web – too many channels, too much content – and not enough value.

My colleague, friend and Internet Marketing Strategist, John Webster, had this to say about “The Great Debate:”

In my experience, most business owners will not put the effort into making these ‘free’ resources pay off for them. For some reason, business owners and overweight couch potatoes are very similar – each wants a bit of magic that will allow them to do the same amount of activity and see different results.

To win at the content game and make social pay off, you have to play the game consistently over a long period of time. The problem is the results, although steady, are slow to come. In addition, many business owners are starting out behind competition that has been doing it for much longer. And, to further exacerbate the problem, companies like Google are working feverishly to remove the ability to ‘game’ the system and keep the playing field ‘level.’

Value-added content – over time – is what generates results. In a world of instant everyTeam Ginithing, succeeding at social media still takes time. The way I see it, in order to create the quality content that attracts attention, a business has three choices: spend money to hire the people to make it happen, dedicate time to developing a creative marketing plan, or shift resources and prioritize.

But I don’t believe that means one has to spend a ton of money or dedicate a ton of time. I’m a big believer that less is more. That ‘less’ has to be great, but it doesn’t have to be on every channel and be everything to everybody.

Two years ago, I would have developed a marketing strategy for a business with a handful of online media. Now, I suggest only two. I believe in this over-saturated environment, it’s more important to make your content powerful and consistent, but only on the channels and to the people that matter most. Is it easy? No. Does it generate instant results? Usually not. But does it work? In many instances - it will - if you’re in it for the long haul. Just like the ‘couch potato’ who sets small goals and starts exercising regularly will begin to lose pounds, the small business that targets their audience with value-added content will begin to see the true power of social media.

Where do you stand on The Great Debate?