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As a convenience, most discussions around online marketing include social media as a central player in the process.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Some social media experts will tell you can’t do online marketing without social media.  That’s not true.

It is true that engagements through social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ – can contribute significantly to your online success.  You can build audiences and relationships within these individual networks – which is always a good thing.

But you can build your own audience without a single Like, Tweet or Friend.

You see when you’re using social media for business, the goal is to eventually bring your audiences back to your website, to get them to join your own community and to build those relationships through your own email and blog communications.

The real work takes place at your website.

As I see it, social media is more of a feeder system than a community in and of itself.  I know there are marketers who don’t agree with this – whose businesses seem to function very well within the confines of Facebook or Twitter.

But I don’t think that’s the best strategy for most of us.  What happens if Facebook or Twitter disappear – or more likely, change their rules of engagement (as Facebook has done several times).  If you have your own community, you are not subject to someone else’s whims.

My point though is that while social media can provide a useful feeder system and other benefits, it’s not essential.

You can build an online audience without any social media presence at all.  Start with your customers, both past and present.  Then of course, you have your leads both current and forgotten.  And be sure to include your referral network.

You can also build an audience – and many do – through online advertising both on search engines (e.g., Google Adwords) and on websites, blogs and other web properties that reach your target audience.  And optimizing your website for the keywords that important to you will also help to build your community.

Of course, you can also build an online audience with offline marketing tactics (as many of my clients do).  We often use direct mail to generate an initial lead, but then build relationships with those who respond using email, webinars and other online activities.

I raise this issue because I know many business owners see value in some online marketing activities (like their website, SEO, search advertising, landing pages, email) but have not been sold yet on social media because they don’t see the payoff.

To them, I say “It may not be worth your time. Don’t worry about it.”

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This article may be republished at any time as long as it includes the full bio and associated links below.

Bob McCarthy is a marketing consultant specializing in helping companies with lead generation and lead nurturing.  He has two reports you can download:  Step by Step Lead Generation and Lead Nurturing and Making Snail Mail Work – 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy.