Social media is a hot topic right now and marketers have been scrambling to establish a foothold in the social media sphere – often without really putting in the time and effort to make their campaigns successful. A recent blog post from Jeremiah Owyang, senior analyst for Forrester Research, took a more critical look at all the buzz around the social media craze and asked the question, “Are marketers really investing in social media or are they just paying lip service?” Jeremiah’s post outlined recent research he and fellow Forrester analysts (John Bernoff, Thomas Cummings, Emily Bowen) conducted in a report called,  “Social Media Playtime Is Over.” The report suggests that despite the hype, advertisers are still spending a limited amount of their budgets on social media marketing.

According to the report, 75 percent of marketers have budgeted less than $100,000 for social media efforts over the next year, illustrating that while social media has become a regular part of social interaction, it hasn’t entered the marketing mainstream.

One of the underlying causes for hesitation is that the impact of social media efforts can be difficult to measure, making it challenging to determine just how effective those campaigns have been or will be in the near future. As a result, many marketers avoid engaging in these campaigns and, according to Forrester, 45 percent of survey respondents said their social media budgets are determined on an “as-needed” basis.

We’ve encountered this problem with some of our clients’ social media campaigns, as they try to measure the effectiveness of their social networking efforts; and we’re continuing to look for the best methods to measure what’s driving customers to their sites and generating sales leads. Measurement isn’t perfect, of course, but using tools like Google Analytics and to monitor your click-through rate or monthly site traffic at least offers a snapshot of what’s working, and what’s not.

Progress is still slow, in terms of measurement capabilities, but social media is catching on and many companies are looking to increase their presence on social networking sites. In fact, Forrester found up to 70 percent of survey respondents planned to boost their budgets for social media and over half said they planned to spend additional funds on blogs and user-generated content over the next year.

The question Jeremiah and his colleagues didn’t address in the report, however, is not just how you measure your impact or how much money you pour into campaigns, but how you develop content that goes beyond your interests to engage influencers and prospective clients. It’s important to keep in mind that rushing to have a larger budget for social media isn’t enough; if the caliber of the content you’re producing isn’t drawing people to your site, then no amount of money will make your social media campaign a resounding success.

*Note: Forrester’s results are based on interviews with 145 interactive marketers and the survey was conducted between November 2008 and February 2009.

– Contributed by Gretchen Doores.  Follow her @canadiangal84