Like it or not, social media is an icon of the Digital Age. Erik Qualman, known as Digital Dale Carnegie and the author of Socialnomics, says, “We don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is how well we DO it.”

Popular belief holds that social media is eroding meaningful relationships by a subtle distancing of real-time personal relationships. Yet, social media chisels more detailed and dynamic relationships simply by engaging people in what they love. Best-selling author of books on social media, David Amerland says, “Social media is addictive precisely because it gives us something which the real world lacks: it gives us immediacy, direction and value as an individual.” For instance, when you post something on social media, you are creating your own personal brand. What you post defines you and makes a statement on how you want to be seen. So, your social media behavior makes everything a conversation and engages specific audiences who are interested in what you say.

In a world where materialism has reached into every facet of life, marketing is seeking ways to become more meaningful to a generation that reaches out to social media for any and everything. If someone or something is worthwhile, you can find them on the Internet. The essential difference between traditional marketing and digital marketing, is the dynamism and excitement and the aura of “newness” that the ever-changing internet is capable of creating. And it is all about the impression and impact that is created on people who use the product. As American author and marketer Seth Godin says, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but the stories you tell.” The human interest angle of social media belies the thinking that it is anti-social. Social media is online chatting. Conversations among like-minded people create specific demand for specific products and services. Marketing really becomes all about what the customer wants. The days you advertised a product in print or electronic media with a “spray and pray” strategy and engaged in a monologue, are over. It is no longer the product, but the conversation of what that product means to people, that matters. As software billionaire, Scott Cook says, “A brand is no longer what we tell the customer it is – it is what customers tell each other it is.”

As traditional marketing fails to make an impact on potential customers, there has been an almost seamless transition to digital marketing, whetting the appetite of youth obsessed with the internet. According to Forbes, a survey done by social media tech firm Council and Lithium found 80% of respondents “tried new things based on friends’ suggestions”. This effect is magnified for influencers offering product reviews.

The numbers speak for themselves. A global aggregation shows people spend 700 million minutes per month on Facebook – which equates the time that a student needs to earn a regular four-year college degree. There are 300 million active monthly users of Instagram. Teenagers spend nine hours day on social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. This is about 30% of their time spent online. Smart marketers have realized that it makes sense to make an impact digitally, because that is where the merits of products and services are discussed, analysed, recommended or criticized.

Digital marketing is on fire. Money spent on social media ads is expected to reach $36 billion this year. Digital marketers are discovering that social media advertising is the most cost-effective form of advertising available, as they are able to reach 1000 people for every $5 spent.

The conversation of people experiencing the impact of a product or service decides whether a company will head toward the stars or nosedive onto the ground. Therefore digital marketing requires creating conversation that inspires and engages. Experienced entrepreneurs know, however, that finding your place on social media platforms is not just about business. It is also about sharing content your target audience will get pleasure out of watching or reading. It can be something funny and rib-tickling or touching and heartwarming. The brand becomes closer to the heart when marketing becomes more human. In a world bustling with the latest conveniences of modern living, it is easy to overlook the evergreen truth that people love to talk about themselves. When companies are able to reach out and make this truth a part of what their brand will be, they are on a winning course. Digital marketers who understand that in social media, every customer becomes a reporter, they are able to make the reporter instinct in the customer their best brand ambassador. However, like the proverbial baked product, social media marketing needs freshness, quality and credibility to sustain appeal. Unlike in traditional marketing methods, social media will always expose the truth. Online relationships may be impersonal, yet that detachment is what results in unbiased and honest conversations. It is difficult to hoodwink customers when they are talking among themselves about your product. It is self-destructive too to be less than transparent, because losing credibility on social media is a death-knell for the marketer.

As digital marketing expert Matthew Goulart says, “Social media is about the people. Provide for the people and the people will provide for you.”