I refer to some of Silicon Valley industrial analyst Jeremiah Owyang's ideas about social media at several points in Connecting With Consumers, so it stands to reason that I'd be mentioning them here as well. His most recent Web Strategy blog installment includes another in a long line of 2X2 matrixes, this time clearly identifying some of the key costs and benefits of participating in social media.

                   Like all investments, there are risks and rewards, use this matrix to help
                   decision makers understand the downsides and upsides by participating.

This is not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but I like 2X2 classification schemes - they simplify and highlight and conform to our growing tendency to devote no more than 5 seconds to process material.  (In fact, if you've made it this far, I 'm pretty satisfied.)  But Owyang's matrix accomplishes something other than simplification - it reminds us that participation and engagement in social media isn't for everybody.  Unfortunately, as soon as the media and corporate communications departments glom onto the big new thing (and for many companies, as surprising as it may sound, social media is definitely something new), corporate decision makers start to think they have to spend on it, regardless of objectives and ability, just to say, 'we're there.'

Of course, not participating, while it may have its benefits at least from the firm's point of view, is business as usual.  And I wrote Connecting With Consumers in large part to convince how business as usual just doesn't work anymore in marketing.  And then there is last year's Engagementdb's analysis showing how corporate mavens (i.e., companies high in engagement and social media presence) financially outperform companies characterized by other engagement/presence profiles - results that certainly argue for participating in social media.

It goes without saying that any new business venture bears some risk, so perhaps the moral to this story is not so much that gun shy companies should opt out of the Marketing 2.0 party, but rather, must consider the risks beforehand, proceed slowly, rely heavily on social marketing metrics, and adjust strategy accordingly - a moral succinctly summed up by Wetpaint/Engagement db founder Charlene Li:

Doing it all may not be for you — but you must do something.

The optimal social media marketing strategy will depend on a variety of factors, including your industry. If your most valuable customers do not depend on or trust social media as a communication medium, or if your organization is resistant to engagement in some channels, you will have to start smaller and slower. But start you must, or risk falling far behind other brands, not only in your industry, but across your customers’ general online experience.