If you ask a CMO at one company what social media represents to her, she will likely provide a starkly different answer to that proffered by the CMO at another company. The difference in answer might be exacerbated if the companies work in different market sectors, or if one is B2C and the other B2B, of course. However, the largest source of differentiating interpretation would lie in the fact that social media marketing is perhaps the most abused instrument available to corporations at present (though in some businesses the employee may hold that dubious distinction), simply due to the fact that its potential value is undeniable, but its specific function and application is as yet unwritten.

Let me correct myself on that last point: the function and application of social media marketing is not unwritten, but rather so buried in the ink of prognostication and postulation, that it would suffocate even an arctic seal.

For my money, Social media marketing is NOT an exclusively online or digital undertaking, but rather a relatively recent opportunity that recognizes the influence and power of the end-user, as a partner in the introduction and evangelism of products, services, and solutions. This recognition can be manifest via myriad platforms and channels, including the Internet, mobile applications, WoM, and more. Successful social media marketing is a transversal commitment to manifest and nurture a brand valuation across multifarious sectors. In this way, one is able to both maintain the vitality of a brand, and also reinvigorate it almost instantly through the maintenance of carefully managed yet open dialog with the users of this brand proposition. The cost of such an undertaking are not, as some have suggested, greatly lesser than conventional marketing practices. They are simply transferred, from media to labor.

This factor, along with several others, deserves clarification, and I am pleased to therefore present the musings of my colleague, Tom Pick, below.

As an independent consultant and through B2B technology marketing firm KC Associates, Tom shares expertise in SEO, search marketing, social media, content marketing and interactive PR. In this article, he explores some of the myths surrounding social media marketing.

Though social media marketing is rapidly advancing in terms of adoption and sophistication, many marketers and business executives still struggle with it. They wonder if their organizations are doing enough, if they are doing things right, even if they should be involved in social media at all. This confusion is partly due to some still-common misconceptions about social media marketing…:

1. Social media is so easy we can hire an intern to do it. Because social media is fundamentally about conversations, the individual(s) behind your social media activities is often perceived as the public face of your company. This person is answering questions about your products and/or services, responding to or redirecting complaints, sharing interesting content, providing more information…you’ll probably want to be a bit careful about who gets this responsibility. ->

2. Social media marketing is really hard. True, there are techniques that work better than others, guidelines that are good to know, rules of etiquette to follow and common mistakes to avoid, but the general skills called for aren’t all that uncommon, and the specifics are teachable. It helps to be creative, curious, articulate, friendly and helpful. Okay, so not just anyone can do it, but it’s not rocket science either.

3. Social media is only for the young. Argh, no! On the consumer side, the largest cohort of Facebook’s user base is the 35-54 age group, and the fastest growing is the 55+ cohort. On the producer side, the most important attributes are interpersonal skills and industry knowledge. Age is irrelevant in social media usage, and life experience is a plus for social media marketers.

4. Social media is free. Um, no. While recent studies show that about half of marketers say that social media reduces their overall marketing costs, it is by no means without a price. The primary budget effect of social media marketing is to shift costs from media buying to labor. The tools of social media are (mostly) free, but the time, effort and expertise required to make social media marketing effective has real costs.

5. Since social media marketing is labor-intensive, we should offshore it. Ooh, not a good idea. While offshoring works well for tasks like IT consulting services and software application development, it tends to be less efficacious for market-facing activities. Thoughtful companies keep their SEO efforts local (to avoid link-spamming, for example) and after evaluating all of the costs, many are even moving call centers back onshore. And see myth #1 above.

6. Social media marketing success is all about rules and best practices. Not really. True, there are guidelines as to what works well (being sincere, helpful and knowledgeable) and what doesn’t (trying to use social media sites as one-way broadcasts of your marketing brochures), but the field is new enough that many of the “rules” are still being written. While there are some techniques that seem to work well and are worth replicating, and others that should clearly be avoided, there’s also a great deal of space for creativity in this rapidly expanding and evolving area.

7. Social media marketing has no rules. Now, just because there isn’t an established cookie-cutter approach to social media marketing success doesn’t mean there are no rules. Don’t be excessively self-promotional, don’t try to automate everything, be sincere, add value—there aren’t a lot of rules, but these are a few very important ones.

8. Social media marketing gets immediate results. Almost never. Sure, you may run across an example somewhere of this happening, just as you may hear about a couple who got married three weeks after they met. It can happen, but isn’t common and shouldn’t be expected. Social media is about building relationships and influence. It takes time, but the payback can be much more lasting than a typical “marketing campaign” as well.

9. Social media marketing is too risky. This fear is most common in the medical, financial services, and other regulated industries. And it’s certainly true that there are situations where a company has to be somewhat cautious about its social media participation and content (another reason to keep myths #1 and #5 in mind). By all means, be aware of your specific industry and regulatory environment and put necessary safeguards in place. But people in your marketplace—customers, prospects, analysts, journalists, shareholders and others—are talking about your company and/or industry across social media channels right now. The real risk is in ignoring those conversations.

10. Social media marketing is new. Not really. Certainly the tools are new: Twitter has only been around since 2007, Facebook since 2006, and even blogging has been popular for less than a decade. But social media marketing is fundamentally about participating in and influencing the direction of conversations about your industry and brand. Those practices are timeless, but social media has increased the velocity and magnitude of such conversations.

11. Social media marketing doesn’t apply to my business. There are isolated niches where this is true. For example, if you build weapons systems for the U.S. military, you not only don’t need social media marketing, it would probably be best to avoid it. And there may be a few other such situations. For virtually every other type of business however, someone, somewhere is discussing your brand, your industry or your competitors in social media. You’re missing out if you’re not listening and participating.

To read more of Tom’s articles, go to his award-winning Webbiquity site, where he covers B2B lead generation, social media, interactive PR, SEO and search engine marketing. In fact, he has an article coming out soon that I think will be especially representative of one of my biggest pet peeves: the very mistaken notion that social media marketing can be undertaken in much the same manner as previous, more traditional, marketing campaigns. I’ve said it before, as have several worthy business friends (such as the wonderful Paul Dunay), and I’ll say it again: Social Media is a commitment, not a campaign.