Social media are mysterious. Social media are for kids. Social media are free. Social media are frivolous. Social media are all you need to succeed in marketing these days.

False, false, false, false, false.

Social media are part of the fabric of marketing today. They’re certainly not just for kids; in fact, older adults are still the fastest-growing group on Facebook. Doing social media right takes an investment in time and resources. They’re anything but frivolous: they’re a huge business, and getting bigger by the day. Even so, they’re probably not the only marketing vehicles you need.

Still: social media are pretty darn inexpensive and pretty effective in helping organizations achieve their marketing goals. They’re also changing all the time. But here’s a snapshot of where the industry is today—and a few tips to help you navigate the social media landscape successfully.

  1. The three most important words in social media are Facebook, Facebook, and Facebook. Facebook isn’t everything, but it’s huge. Nielsen recently reported that Facebook reaches 70 percent of Americans—more than 140 million U.S. visitors. Americans spend 53.5 billion minutes a month on Facebook—more than they spend on Yahoo, Google, YouTube, Blogger, Tumblr, and Twitter combined. It’s not a question about whether your audience is on Facebook. They are—and you have to be, too.
  2. Consider Facebook advertising. Facebook advertising is incredibly inexpensive—in some cases, a hundred times or more less than the cost of other online advertising. The other great thing about Facebook advertising is that it’s infinitely targetable—by sex, by age, by geographic area, by interest, etc. Don’t expect big results—you get what you pay for—but you’ll make thousands of impressions for very little money.
  3. Facebook is more about the picture. Twitter is all about the headline. A compelling picture to go with your Facebook post will help you get maximum attention—which is not to say that what you write is unimportant. But on Twitter, what you write is everything. Twitter is currently processing over 230 millions tweets a day. If you want to stand out in that crowd, you’d better make the words special.
  4. Tweet early and often—and unselfishly. Twitter is a great way to connect with others who share your interests—and the easiest way to get the attention of movers, shakers, and opinion leaders in your field. The tweet stream can often look more like a raging river, so it’s okay to tweet frequently so you don’t get lost in the current. Eight or nine times a day or more is fine. Any don’t just toot your own horn on Twitter: retweet and connect your followers with other content you find interesting from around the web.
  5. Schedule your tweets. Most busy people can’t afford to stay connected with Twitter all day. So how do you tweet all day long? Use a Twitter client—TweetDeck, HootSuite, Seesmic or the like—to schedule your tweets for the whole day (and beyond). You can update multiple Twitter accounts, plus Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online services, all at once. Spend 15 minutes in the morning and do all your tweeting for the day.
  6. Produce great content. To succeed with social media, you have to have something to say. It helps to have writers with insight and wit doing your tweeting and facebooking. And it helps to have great content to link to: interesting videos, stories with unique perspectives, contests, poll questions, etc. Ultimately, you’ll attract people—and keep them around—only if you’re interesting. Your boring video is easy to skip on the web.
  7. Go mobile. Global mobile data usage almost tripled between 2009 and 2010, and it’s currently thought that mobile usage will outstrip desktop Internet usage by 2014. If you’re basing your social media presence around static websites that look bad and are difficult to use on an iPhone, you’re not really talking with your audience.
  8. Connect with QR codes. Success in social media is not all about the Internet. You should also know when to use posters, flyers, ads, and other media to make your promotions more effective. If your online presence is important to you, consider using quick response, or QR, codes in your printed materials. These can be scanned with smartphones, which then automatically connect the user with a web video, a sign-up page, or some other content you want your audience to see. In truth, QR code usage locally is still light. But it’s growing.
  9. Don’t write off Google+. The buzz about Google+, Google’s Facebook killer, has cooled considerably since its launch this summer, when millions of people, most of them men aged 25 – 34, joined the network. We think it has some advantages over both Facebook and Twitter—not the least of which is the fact that it’s connected with Google and all that search engine power. Everybody’s on Facebook and nobody’s clamoring for a new one. But nobody was clamoring for a new MySpace, either.
  10. You get what you pay for. Even at its simplest, a successful social media program is a combination of shrewd planning, skillful content development, capable technology, expert timing, competent execution, and cold-hearted measurement. Do you really want to trust that to the intern? More and more these days, social media is something your organization needs to understand and embrace at the director level and above.