As marketing has evolved over the years – from print to broadcast to digital – marketers have had no choice but to adapt their methods to encompass and integrate the impact of each new medium.

Those that have tried to stick their heads in the sand have come a cropper, finding that they’re unable to keep up with competitors and failing to reach important customer groups and demographics.

However, of all of the new mediums and technologies that have emerged, arguably the one that has had the most impact in changing the way that businesses do marketing is social media. Here are the top five reasons why social media has turned marketing on its head:

1. Access
With most companies having a presence on at least one social media channel, it’s much easier for the general public to get in touch with them directly. This can be a blessing as well as a curse.

If handled correctly, engaging in conversation with customers on a direct level can endear them to you, turning an occasional buyer into a brand ambassador.

On the other hand, if handled badly, it can turn a positive perception into a negative one  and serve to undermine all the hard work of building a positive brand. It’s a hard line to walk, and one that ties in very closely with my next point….

2. Transparency
Social media not only provides companies with another channel through which to target customers, it gives people a place to air their thoughts too – and very publicly.

Everyone is familiar with stories of companies making social media fails, amongst which include customers and employees going on Twitter or Facebook and publicly airing their grievances. Unfortunately, often at this point there is little a company can do to win them back around. Appease them they might, but the brand damage runs much deeper, and reaches much further.

In the age of social media, companies cannot afford to ignore complaints like they may have done before. Now, they need to be much more transparent in their actions, and quick to engage with stakeholders in all situations to ensure they turn those fails into social media wins..

3. Networking
Unlike traditional marketing, social media platforms make it easy for people to share content. Rather than relying on word-of-mouth, which has limited visibility in terms of return, companies can see where their content has been shared and seen and by who. This makes customer acquisition much more targeted and effective.

It can also give precious insight into what sorts of things a customer base is interested in – providing ideas for other avenues for channeling marketing efforts.

4. Reach
In the same vein, sharing content via social media means that it can reach much farther than traditional forms of marketing – just take these viral brand videos for example. In effect, this means that ROI for brand awareness can be much greater with social media than other, more traditional forms of marketing.

5. Data
When people ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ something about a certain product or brand, it is a significant action for marketers – it gives them invaluable data on how a product or brand is being perceived or is performing. It also provides a vast amount of data about the target market as a whole as well as the individual customer, enabling companies to really hone their marketing efforts. In theory this should allow them to get maximum return on marketing spend, and capture customers which will turn into brand ambassadors.

Overall, the introduction of social media into the marketing mix has meant that companies have been forced to revolutionise the way that they approach their marketing. Although real world promotions are still an integral part of the equation, the fact remains that for 99% of businesses, social media cannot be ignored.

Next in the series, we look at how companies should approach social media marketing in order to get the best results.