Social media represents an opportunity to engage with online communities to foster tighter customer relationships. Those relationships, in turn, can increase brand recognition and loyalty, and ultimately increase revenue. That's why social media continues to be an exploding area of interest for modern marketers worldwide.
There are five principles that have proven to be successful in leveraging social media as part of an interactive marketing effort:
- Fit the right tactic to the right goal
- Listen first
- Have a measurable goal
- Evaluate your ability to generate content
- Recognize your limitations
Fit the Right Tactic to the Right Goal
Social media or Web 2.0 tactics are extensions of the interactive marketing efforts that include Web 1.0 technologies. It's the same way a virtual Web seminar can be an extension of a live seminar in a physical location. In both instances, you're pursuing the tactic to achieve an end.
For many marketers, social media is meant only to generate buzz — which, in Web terms, means traffic. Social media can certainly do that, but you should first assess your resource spend and any slightly more-traditional interactive tactics.
The first tactics you tap to build more Web traffic, for example, should be a couple of old favorites: search engine optimization (SEO) to boost your organic rankings, coupled with pay-per-click (PPC) advertising on search engines. Classic SEO is about careful writing, careful coding, and building a community of links for your topics. While it's a slow process that requires focus, the payoff can be huge. You get the branding blush of top rankings, plus the traffic. More important, every click for you is generally a click denied to your competitor.
PPC advertising is an extension of — not a substitute for — your organic SEO work. Visitors are more likely to click on your link if you have the top organic and paid listings. Done right, with adequate focus and oversight, PPC offers a low-cost option to build traffic and attract people who are already in a buying frame of mind.
Social media tactics can round out your SEO offers by bringing in a new set of people to link to you on keywords.
Listen to the Conversation Around You
Before you start holding your own conversations in social media, visit other blogs in your industry or your product niche. Visit Twitter. Listen to respected industry influencers. Take the pulse of your client community through newsgroups, user forums, and product-support sites.
Simply through participation in the conversations, you'll get a better sense of the issues at stake for your business, enabling you to perhaps proactively prevent challenges from becoming headaches. By listening and responding as an expert, it's possible to effect positive change on your brand and also to influence others.
You may discover you don't need to create your own community, and that it's sufficient to work with existing traffic. This route is a good initial approach for smaller companies limited by budget and resources.
Have a Measurable Goal
"If you don't know where you're going, you can never be lost." This may seem to be a logical sentiment, but it's definitely not the mantra for marketers in a social media environment or in the current economic downturn. With finite marketing resources, it's crucial to clearly define your social media objectives as an integral part of your marketing strategy.
You'll need to evaluate how those objectives match up with your existing demand generation programs, search engine optimization efforts, podcasts, blogging, and other online tactics. Detailing how specific tactics can be applied to generate Web-site traffic and why you consider them to be most effective in creating sales leads will help establish the proper foundation for your program.
You can link social media efforts with other marketing tactics. For example, with a traditional product launch, conduct blogger outreach to share your story. For topline traffic growth, you can also create a podcast channel on iTunes to reach a new audience through RSS.
Evaluate Your Ability to Generate Content
The cardinal rule on the Web is "Content is King." People don't browse to your site or read your feeds unless valuable information is delivered (or at least promised). To start using social media within marketing, you need to ensure you have a strong pipeline of content. This includes having
- a coherent story to tell; and
- people to tell it in an engaging way.
First, you have to evaluate your ability to create and package content. For instance, assess whether you can provide a regular newsletter and use that as your content "litmus" test. For real success, content must be original and not repackaged. While blogs are alluring, is it better for your company to deliver a regular and lively newsletter to your customers and prospects? Promoting offers or events are generally no-nos in blogs, but you can safely have ads in a newsletter.
With a strong newsletter in place, marketers have the opportunity to offer exclusives or select stories as a means of syndicating their own content. The creation of trackable inbound links will help build better-targeted Web traffic, for stronger search engine optimization. This process helps build brand and sales over time.
In parallel with the newsletter effort, consider podcasting as a way to leverage multimedia to get your message across.
Recognize Your Limitations
Your resources are far from boundless. Understand that there's no easy way to have an extremely effective social media strategy across all areas. It's best to not enter marketing arenas in which you know you can't do well. For example: Don't host a blog if you don't have the original content to keep it fresh.
Social media comes with its own rules, practices, and behaviors. Make sure you understand them, because you can damage your brand by taking an old-school approach to new-school tactics.
By knowing what you want to achieve, resourcing appropriately, and being smart, you can engage in a whole new and satisfying form of customer-driven marketing.
About the Author
Dave Laverty is vice president of worldwide marketing for business intelligence and performance management at IBM. For IBM's Cognos division, he is responsible for driving the global go-to-market strategy and execution covering product marketing, industry solutions, sales support, strategic communications, and marketing communications.
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For the rest of the June 2009 issue of CRM magazine — The Social Media Issue — please click here.