The old days of traditional media saw marketers sending marketing messages out to a great many people in the hopes that the messages would resonate with the right group and cause them to take action of some sort. Sure there was targeting and market segmentation as much as could be achieved with the available media, but sending a broadcast message out was the way to reach your target audience. Kind of like carpet bombing in the right general area.
Unfortunately, in the process a lot of uninterested people also heard those messages and that is what gave marketing and advertising bad reputations.
The difference between traditional marketing and social media marketing (SMM) is this: Traditional marketing sent messages to an audience that contained people who just did not care about what was being offered.
Social media marketing, on the other hand, attempts to attract an interested audience through dialog and engagement first and then targets them with relevant marketing messages of interest to them.
Think of SMM like permission-based marketing except instead of people opting-in to your mailing list they actively follow what you have to say through networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, YouTube and other sites that allow social interaction.
Instead of uninterested parties opting-out of your mailing list they simply stop listening to you or stop following what you say.
It isn't rocket science but what remains is the same challenge for marketers: Find the right people who want to hear what you have to say and engage them in a conversation. The Internet just makes it a lot easier than it used to be.
For those marketers currently trying to attract as many Twitter followers as possible or as many social networking fans as possible please keep history in mind. When you try to build quantity instead of quality you are repeating the mistakes of marketing history and trying to turn a one-to-one medium into a broadcast medium that puts your message in front of many of the wrong people.
Provide value and give some of it away first and the right people will find you, follow you and be receptive to parting with their dollars to receive more of what you have to offer.
It really is just that simple.