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Friday, July 8, 2011

Social Media Marketing or Traditional Marketing? It Depends...

One question I constantly get from CMOs and other marketing pros these days is “How much of my spend should I be shifting to social-media marketing?” I’ve read a ton of stuff lately about this topic and I’m happy to recommend an excellent thread on Quora entitled “How would you measure the ROI in social media?” To date, 42 contributors have supplied answers to the question, along with links to many great additional resources. But what’s perfectly clear is that the answer is more or less “It depends.” It depends on what your program objectives are (e.g., cost savings in customer service vs. revenue enhancement?), and as importantly, it depends on what your tactics are to achieve those objectives. So that’s just it, it depends.

That said, there is a lot of confusing and conflicting information about social-media effectiveness for commerce floating around at the moment. A few weeks ago, for instance, this Business Insider chart hit my inbox, showing how Google is still the most important influencer in making a purchasing decision, while asking friends on Facebook is incredibly unimportant. However, another recent post, this one on AllThingsD, describes how the traditional internet itself — the so-called “document” web — is actually shrinking at a fairly rapid pace in terms of minutes of use. And what has consumed those minutes is the explosion of video, mobile and, yes, Facebook. The author of the latter post goes on to say, “The change in the Web’s direction is a clear indication to me that we aren’t just in the midst of a boom for new interaction modes, but rather in a generational overhaul of the Internet.”

So which is it? Is the document web — Google’s domain — the most essential to making purchasing decisions, or is the social web? Unfortunately, it’s both. As for what marketers should be doing about this tug-of-war, it frankly… depends. Again, it depends on your business objectives, time frames, etc., etc.
However, there is a set of Best Practices that every marketer should follow — regardless of objectives — that can provide tremendous value. But first I’ll point out what you shouldn’t do. Do not approach social media marketing with what I call a “Sunday Circular Mentality,” by which I mean doing basically old-school, one-size-fits-all advertising. For instance, don’t post the same content to everyone once per day, at the same time of day. This is akin to blast email strategies; both are simply lazy.

Okay, now for some key digital-marketing Best Practices:

1. Optimize your digital content for the new search principles. To do this well, you need to understand the Semantic Web. On June 2 of this year, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo all announced that they will be partnering on schema.org, a website that will provide “a resource for site owners and developers to learn about structured data and gain insight into how to improve their sites’ search results.” Simply put, and without all the boring details, you can tightly link your content with search by more carefully defining and marking up the underlying components of that content. This provides meaning to the search engines, allowing them to produce more relevant content to searches. Doing this provides the added benefit of having much more meta-data about your content, which means that content can be exposed to analytic techniques and optimized for specific personas. This is a necessary step to phasing out the “one size fits all” approach to digital marketing.

2. Have a strategy to get the most information from your brand advocates. The ultimate goal is to get them to log in or register with your site, and have them provide access to their data (how you do that is entirely up to you). With that, you can finally begin to measure and track social-media efforts similar to traditional, more direct efforts. For instance, you can do keyword analyses on their profile descriptions to see if they match the content you are currently pushing. You can do demographic analyses to understand if your brand and merchandise needs to evolve from your strictly off-line brand. And you can do rigorous data analysis to understand how your efforts on social media are leading to conversions and real revenue. At the very least, when someone likes you, immediately make them an offer to sign up for your email list (but don’t start blasting them!).

3. Finally, adopt some of the hard-won strategies learned over the last century in direct marketing. A few to start with:
• When you do a promotion using social media, create and store campaign meta-data about that promotion, just as you would with a direct mail promotion. Save the date, time, details about the specific promotion (price points, etc.), and the targeted audience (your fans). Having done this, you can then start to analyze the effects of that promotion on web or store traffic and sales.

• When you make an offer through a social-media channel, ensure that any link in that offer goes directly to that offer! Yes, that's obvious advice, but I'm amazed at how many times marketers simply link to their home page, forcing visitors to either search for the offer or simply leave. In the same way you'd unify a direct-mail offer — making sure that the promotion spelled out in a brochure is repeated on the reply slip or postcard to show the customer exactly what they're getting — you need to sync your social messaging with your web destination.

• Make sure that everything is track-able by source. For example, if you're going to advertise a mobile promotion on Facebook, Twitter, and your branded website, use different sign-up messages or unique URLs to track the customer's starting point. In other words, though they might all see the same offer, you'll always be able to see where they came from. With promotions based around discount codes, you can likewise segment those codes by Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Adopting these techniques, and marrying all of this great new data with analytics, is a sure way to hedge your marketing bets, in whatever way and pace that purchasing decisions, and content consumption itself, evolves.

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