“The early promises of social media marketing seemed almost too good to be true,” said Mark Shipley, President and Chief Strategic Officer of Wanderlust. “It promised to level the playing field and help smaller destinations and those with limited budgets compete with the big brands.”

Almost immediately, a new class of marketing intelligentsia appeared to announce the new world order. “Self-styled social media marketing experts preached that advertising no longer worked, that we should stop wasting money on advertising altogether and put all faith into social media, regardless of the lack of evidence that this would work,” Shipley said.

“Some people bought this snake oil, willing to blindly trust an unproven channel simply because it was new, or viral, or free; which fit neatly into their new budgets,” Shipley adds. Others took a wait and see approach, unwilling to jeopardize their business with untested, unmeasured channels. And another group put social media to work as part of a bigger strategic plan, supported by the same rationales and resources of their conventional media channels.

The next two years represented one of the great marketing experiments of our time, as social media was tried and tested, monitored and measured, and shaped to fit the business plans and visions of marketers around the world.

Sound strategies and best practices still work

“Today, it’s clear that social media has not replaced advertising,” Shipley continues, “but instead coexists quite peacefully with traditional media. Nor has social media leveled the playing field for most players. In fact, it appears the big guys – with strong brands and the support of big advertising budgets – have achieved some of the greatest successes in social media channels.

“We’ve explored social media marketing’s potential and sought success stories and best practices we could put to use for our clients. The greatest challenge was to find direct, measurable results to prove social media marketing can deliver a viable return on investment,” he explains.

The January 2010 issue of the Wanderlust Report, Using Social Media in Destination Marketing, reported on Queensland, Australia’s highly successful “Best Job In The World” campaign. The big takeaway was that social is just one aspect of an integrated marketing strategy, requiring traditional media spending for support and awareness. It’s another tool in the marketing toolbox – and just like you can’t build a house with one screwdriver, you can’t build a successful, multichannel marketing plan with a Twitter feed alone.

So why is social media still the buzz of the marketing world?

“Even with its short comings, social media still holds promise and real opportunities for travel marketers. Having researched and experimented with social media, we have learned a great deal about its strengths and weaknesses as a marketing tool,” Shipley concluded.

Related Link: Wanderlust