Reality is being honest about Social Media potential in the future, with reality today. The US has 310 million people. Take away children under 14 and you have the real pool of consumers you can sell too. So minus 60 million gets you 250 million people who can buy your stuff.
Considering Twitter has 8m to 15m users in a day world wide. And Facebook claims 200m logging in world wide each day. What are your customer pools in the US for each platform? Not the numbers I just gave. Last number I saw was 60% of Facebook users are outside the US. Nice pools of potential consumers yes. Not close to the number for TV you can reach with a 30 sec spot on a mid-level TV program that gets 2-5 mil viewers. But still very nice.
The problem is when I see too many statements, workshops, articles, conferences promoting Social Media for Advertising and Connecting with Consumers....that make it sound like everyone is using Social Media. But the fact is over 50% of consumers are not using Social Media on a given day. And your reach is so small compared to TV or even a Billboard on the 405 Freeway in LA currently. And due to the massive live feeds on Twitter and Facebook your posts will only be viewed by 5-10% of your Fans and Followers depending on factors such as time of day and each person in your network's volume flowing through their screen.
It's not a silver bullet and you can't reach everyone with it right now. Just don't get sold on the over hype.
Social Media is really about value. Using the networks right now is free minus your labor costs and any special content. Your not spending 100k on a commercial and then all that ad spend to reach millions of people. You will spend long term thousands to Engage with tens to hundreds of thousand of people in various ways. This can range from them viewing your post or tweet (Impression), to doing some sort of action (Engagement) such as clicking through to a video, a blog post, or participate in a contest.
The difference between say running a contest off line and on line is tremendous. Off line I might send in a sweepstakes card, or play McDonald's Monopoly game. No one knows if I win or lose. And the value is minimized by the isolation of each contestant. But on Social Media I get seen playing the game, I get seen winning the game, and I can give back to the Brand immediately.
A great example is Tony Hawk does an Easter Scavenger Hunt in all 50 States. He hides a box with Tony Hawk gear such as Skateboards, Pads, Video Games etc somewhere in a major city in each state (I am unsure how many prizes total). He then Tweets clues and eventually someone finds the prize. Then they take a photo of themselves with the prize and they tweet it to Tony Hawk. And he just earned himself so many new Brand Ambassadors and Brand Champions that a 30 Sec Commercial or a Monopoly Game at McDonald's can not buy. Tony has over 2 million followers on Twitter and doesn't even have a Facebook presence aside from like 300 small Fan pages created by Fan's.
I recommend using both Facebook and Twitter due to the different attributes of each and funneling people back and forth. Twitter is perfect for games and broadcasting. Facebook it perfect for showing photos, having more cohesive discussions and feed back, and is a bit more viral in nature.
So while the reach of Social Media is over stated right now, the value is actually understated. When you interact and engage properly with your customers or potential customers, it is more similar to direct sales (active) than it is to advertising (usually passive). And you can target people based on what they like versus traditional paid media guess work. And when you run the numbers the closer you get to direct sales the more value each customer/contact is. A traditional advertising channel will cost from $0.01/impression to maybe $0.50/contact to sometimes over $10.00 for a Google Adwords click through. So ask how much an active engagement with 1 customer/potential customer is worth. Ask how much a Brand Champion or Ambassador is worth, especially one that works for free.
And think of all the feedback you get without paying for focus groups. You have a readily available pool or people who will give opinions for free because they care about your Brand or Product. They wouldn't be engaging with you if they didn't!
But remember this starts with a great product or service. You won't earn Brand Champions if your product isn't a good one. If you follow me on Twitter @skypulsemedia you will find I am an active Brand Champion for a few Brands I believe in. Skullcandy, Volcom, Billabong and Vans are great examples. They pay me zero. I buy their stuff. But they make great products and they are fun brands that have incredible content on their websites.