There is this tendency among many people to latch onto the latest trend, and hype it way beyond what is really deserves. To hear some of these folks talk, the latest “thing” that they champion can solve every problem you have, bring peace and harmony to your life, and then sing you to sleep after the loving.

To that end, what are the big buzz phrases today? Well, there are hot concepts like VoIP, Big Data, Wireless Networks, and let’s not forget Mobile Devices. But if you really want one that trumps them all, then you have to go with “social media”.

Yes, social media is hot, and all the cool kids are doing it. But is it really the end-all, be-all that its proponents (most of them whose jobs are probably related in some way to social media) declare it to be?

Here Comes Reality

In order to fairly answer the question, it needs to be clarified. No one disputes that social media is great for calling attention to websites, goods, and services. The real question is, does social media conjure up the kind of visits that turn into actual customers?

As the article “Are Social Network Visitors Actually Valuable to Your Publication?” notes, the issue is one of engagement. Do people who visit a website because they were led there by means of social media actually do anything there? Or do they just look around then leave?

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, users who visit a website through social media are the least engaged. Visitors who arrived at a website directly looked at six times as many pages and were there four times longer than visitors who visited the site via social media.

Out of fairness, it bears mentioning that the study was based on visits to news sites.

On The Other Hand …

Social media’s influence can’t be dismissed outright. The trick is, how does a business, organization, or individual leverage the power of social media in the right way, so that it does in fact yield remarkable results?

The answer is one word: community. Social media needs to be used in such a way that it draws people in by getting them involved. Rather than just using it as a means of initial contact, social media needs to foster an ongoing relationship.

How, you ask? Use social media to advertise and run contests, for instance. Maybe your business has a Facebook page that you can use to hold a photo or video competition. For something simpler, there’s always a trivia contest. Offer a cool prize, even if it’s something modest, for the winner, as well as giving them their moment in the spotlight.

If contests aren’t a good idea, then try to open communication by conducting a poll. People love to be asked their opinion, and many relish the opportunity to express it. Once you get people talking, you have the makings of a full-blown interactive experience, which in turn builds a self-sustaining community.

It’s The Human Touch

At the end of the day, this simply reinforces a long-standing truth about consumers and marketing. People want to be treated like, well, people, not as a commodity or a point of sale. By using the economical and easy to use tool otherwise known as social media, you can bring people in, then use that same tool to keep them there, hopefully resulting in some good conversions.