Social Media. One for the sceptics and cynics of the online world.

The dawn of the 20th Century saw the professional development of a special breed of influencers. Forget philosophers and political leaders. These are the men and women of the marketing world. The ones with the real power…

Marketing techniques have followed the same line of trajectory as technical advancements. From humble beginnings on billboards and in magazines to radio and TV. Then came the internet. Banners, pop-ups, email, then… Social media.

Little wonder then that with the development of social media in the 21st Century, every marketer is looking for new and inventive ways to exploit it.

Marketers are making wonderful use of Twitter as a way of truly connecting with their customers.

Twitter_icon

Social media marketing has changed the marketer/customer dynamic from a one way street to a two way street. This change to a century of marketing best practice has meant most marketers have had to throw the rule book out the window and start a fresh.

The early days of Twitter were an innocent time for marketers where trial and error was the order of the day and social media gurus were still mere mortals.

Social media as a concept is still in its infancy but have marketers already killed its innocence?

Marketing efforts on social media appear to have gone from playful and innocent to sinister and manipulative in double quick time. Consumers are not unaware of this shift however and are perhaps not as passive as marketers presume/wish. The scepticism and cynicism that some consumers view social media interactions is likely caused by the fact that, unlike other media, it was popularized and adopted by the consumer before the marketer. I see this role reversal as a key influencer in the way social media has been approached by marketers and the power that consumers hold over them in the digital space.

The clued in consumer views many Twitter interactions with a suspicious eye. Take this perfectly innocent conversation between consumers and what turns out to be 5 big UK brands.

Twitter conversation

Image courtesy of Buzzfeed.

Is this a perfectly innocent serendipitous turn of events or a well-choreographed Twitter ballet?

Probably the latter but it has humour, connects with people and most importantly in my view, doesn’t appear to be trying too hard. Two thumbs up to the social media Sith Lord behind it.

Why digital strategy is pivotal to digital success

Call it what you like; focus, goal, objective, purpose. If digital marketing lacks strategy, a business’ digital marketing may not be performing as well as it can. Digital content and user engagement both need to be driven by a strategy to maximise potential ROI.

It’s never too late to implement a digital strategy but by defining the strategy and core objectives of a digital marketing programme at conception stage rather than production stage, the objectives are clearly defined and the resulting production of, and interaction with, digital media is far more focused. It’s this focus that ultimately returns a positive ROI.

If a business is already engaged in digital marketing without a clearly defined strategy then measuring effectiveness is a great deal harder. If effectiveness is hard to measure, how can anyone determine success?

A pivotal element of digital strategy is the setting of targets. If targets aren’t met, action can be taken to reach those targets in a more effective way. Without targets it’s very difficult to determine success. Without being able to determine success how can a business ever work to improve?

Creating a strategy will result in better focus for the continued use of digital channels. The result for the user is a greatly improved experience and the result for the business is a digital marketing programme that is easier to quantify as successful or unsuccessful via analytic results.

The importance of analytic tools to gauge user engagement peaks and troughs is integral to a successful digital strategy. All businesses will have aspects of their digital strategy that aren’t working according to plan but without analytics to prove what is working and what isn’t, decisions on next steps and changes in focus cannot be made with any certainty.

Defining core objectives is integral to future success of a digital marketing programme. Deviation from core objectives can result in a disorganized approach to multiple digital channels, blur the message, and possibly impact upon the user experience.

Regular patrons of a business (especially those who conduct the majority/all of their affairs digitally) require a familiar pattern of interaction.

I am a regular patron of Just-Eat.co.uk and have grown familiar with their digital channels. I know, when I get the “Tom Hacon, thank you for not cooking” email, it contains my recent order and contact details of the restaurant I ordered from.

Tom, thank you for not cooking

Not once have I needed this email but it’s nice to have my order confirmation in my inbox within 2 minutes of my order being received. It builds trust.

Just-Eat doesn’t bombard me with promotional emails either but when they do come in I know exactly what they will look like and I know where they will take me; straight to the website and a list of takeaways in my area. What more could I possibly need?

What I certainly don’t need is to be driven to facebook, twitter or any other social media to extol my love of Just-Eat services. The mandatory social media links are in all email correspondence and on the Just-Eat website (completing the digital synergy) but they do not interrupt the user experience.

The social media pages are regularly updated with content for the 800,000+ fans and 30,000+ followers, but thankfully the cross channel marketing of social media is not invasive for those that are not social media-ites but are readily accessible for the fans and followers among the Just-Eat faithful.

I would suggest the primary focus of the Just-Eat digital strategy is to drive website traffic (little wonder given their primary revenue stream) and has a secondary purpose of using email and social media to strengthen brand loyalty and user engagement. The social media engagement is full of offers and freebies to further engage its users along with numerous opportunities to interact with the business, subtly supplemented by email promotion. Take this facebook post of Lego Ramen soup with a link to Just-Eat Japanese takeaways

facebook

Or the blog, where users are invited to share their pizza box stories.

Blog

Both these posts engage the user but both also have quick and easy access to the Just-Eat site. It would also appear the strategy has been defined right down to the friendly and jokey tone of all the digital channels.

Just-Eat have a clearly defined digital strategy that, as far as I can see, is incredibly successful. I wonder if hungryhouse.co.uk digital strategy is similar to Just-Eat? Answers on a postcard.

The way I see it, there can be no right or wrong answer to implementing a digital strategy to focus a business’ digital marketing channels as long as there is purpose behind it.

If the focus of a digital strategy is to centre engagement with social media then it is likely that content on social media will be updated far more than website content. Email correspondence may also centre on driving traffic to social media as well as multiple links to social media on the website.

The opposing strategy; driving website traffic from social media and email will mean website content needs regular updating to maintain user engagement. The important thing for both these strategies is that there is a digital strategy.

Brand familiarity is integral to revenue creation and retention. Just-Eat appear to have cornered the market in its field.

Customers and clients need familiarity. It’s the familiarity that builds trust & engagement and its trust & engagement that creates revenue.

Just as the likelihood of revenue being generated from a party that is not familiar with your business is small, so is the likelihood of a positive ROI on digital marketing without strategy. It’s the strategy that will breed user familiarity, trust, continued engagement and revenue.

Digital synergy – Website, email & social media

All too often a business’ website, email programme and social media activity are all exclusive of each other. This model of b2c and b2b digital marketing is fractured and inconsistent. Although the inconsistency may not directly damage a business it means these three channels are not fulfilling their business potential. The irony is that some businesses are spending a fortune on the three channels but if they are developed exclusively of each other a huge amount of potential revenue is lost. The key to the success of the three channels is synergy. By creating synergy between the three, it is likely that awareness of, and engagement with, the business will increase.

In an age where everything from newspapers to grocery shopping have become digitized, digital marketing has come to play a pivotal role in both large and small business strategy. Although an important medium for all businesses, digital marketing plays a pivotal role in client/customer interaction and business development for a small business, elevating the three digital channels to a position of absolute necessity for generating awareness and growth. This is not to say large businesses do not need these three digital channels but they have the luxury of being able to utilize far more marketing channels and have far reaching marketing capacity.

Creating synergy may be a time consuming and costly task for a large business but a small business can achieve synergy relatively quickly and inexpensively. The advantage small businesses have over large is, by their very nature, there are less employees, less decision makers, and far more opportunity to change things quickly. Large businesses are spread over several departments/floors/sites and so to effect real change and implement new processes is far more difficult.

Smaller businesses ability to effect change and implement new process is their great advantage over their larger cousins. If a small business lacks synergy between their website, email programme and social media and wants to synergise the three this can be achieved in a matter of days and weeks not months. The speed with which change can be implemented is a big money saver along with the fact that a smaller business is likely to have a smaller website, email programme and social media presence. They are also likely to have less affiliate marketing programmes to be liaised with in order to achieve change.

CASE STUDY:

Carphone Warehouse (CPW) runs a game on its facebook page called Mobile memories.

The basic premise is a timeline of phones through the ages that you select and either lament owning or fondly reminisce about.

CPW works to promote Mobile memories and other games on social media via likes, apps, hashtags and via email (see below)

Once the game is completed a participant is invited to share their story on their facebook wall with links to yourmobilememories.com for friends to take part, or on twitter with a pre-composed post of,


The synergy is working pretty well so far with social media integration along with supportive promotion from email, such as this in a, “Catch up with our latest giveaways, gadgets, news and reviews” mailing.

Where CPW falls down is the lack of integration between all three channels.

The website has no easily accessible sign up form for latest releases or offers and has no promotion of their social media activities making it more a standalone entity than integrated digital channel.

Although there are some links to website from facebook and twitter, the majority of user interaction is based on sharing activity between different social media platforms. The games are built as facebook apps instead of built into the website. This approach concentrates user engagement on social media rather than website interaction. CPW has almost 400,000 likes along with more than 10,000 twitter followers but if these aren’t driven to the website to buy/upgrade/get accessories then what are they for?

An alternative approach to the Mobile memories game would be to integrate it with the website and then give users the ability share their memories on social media if they wish. The game can still be linked to from social media and email but the important difference is that the user is on the website not social media. This approach centres engagement on the website where the buying of products and services takes place. By centring interaction and engagement on social media instead of website CPW are potentially missing out on a huge amount of website traffic.

Better synergy between the three channels would complete the circle for their fans, followers and email recipients. The result would be easier access to all channels and better overall engagement.

Carphone Warehouse is prime example of the synergy between some channels and not others. My research has led me to the conclusion that most businesses certainly use the three channels but in some cases there is a distinct lack of cohesion between them. As I said before, the lack of synergy does not directly damage a business but it means a business is not exploiting the channels to their full potential.

All three marketing channels were born and evolved at different times and as a result, would have been integrated into a marketing programme at different times and with varying degrees of expertise of the implementer. These 2 factors create inconsistencies in the focus and a lack of cohesion from the outset.

Social media is the new kid on the block but for many it has become the focus of a lot of time and money by a lot of businesses (some believe a little too quickly). I say this, not as a jealous cousin (email marketer) but because money has been poured into attaining more likes, re-tweets or pins without the majority of people actually understanding why they are doing it. What does a like on facebook actually translate to? Given recent reports, are the likes on your facebook page even real people?

Social media has been the marketing buzzword of the past few years for businesses wanting to raise their digital profile. The proliferation of businesses focusing their digital efforts on social media may be due to a keeping-up-with-Jones’s mentality as a lot of businesses have a marketing eye fixed firmly on their competitors. There are of course those that see what their competitors are doing and mimic their approach. However without a codified approach toward a marketing channel the danger is that the marketer won’t know how to translate the channel into business.

This is not to say that social media does not have certain benefits. I believe it can raise your profile far quicker than other marketing apparatus. In a digital world where everyone is on the move and digital consumption occurs at an ever quickening pace, social media is by far the most accessible and digestible channel.

I believe the purpose of social media has been over-emphasised. Perhaps its advocates over-stated its abilities as a business generator and somehow convinced the rest of the world that they were right. It does keep you in touch with genuine likers, followers, pinners but prospects do not become customers based on social media alone. Social media is a precursor to website and email engagement. This is where synergy between the channels becomes paramount.

Some have raised eyebrows over the division of digital resources between social media and email. Email has a proven track record of conversion but social media’s is hard to determine. There are those that consider social media the greatest digital swindle since the birth of digital marketing but dismissal of social media is a very narrow-minded view. Social media should not be a standalone marketing pursuit but used in conjunction with other channels.

The term email marketing has long been tarnished with the spam-brush. Some people have pre-conceived ideas that no one reads marketing emails and actively dislike them. This pre-conception simply isn’t true as a look at the DMA’s Email tracking report 2012 highlights.

The reality is that email is a fantastic tool for dialogue between a business and a client/customer and is a proven method of maintaining and improving a relationship. I expect some businesses find the prospect of emailing their clients newsletters and updates quite daunting as they believe they risk being marked as spam or unsubscribed from. Nothing is certain in marketing but what many perhaps fail to understand is that if they provide their recipients engaging content, their subscribers will be more than happy to engage with their email and as a result, their website and other digital channels.

Finding content for an email programme needn’t be a daunting prospect. Content can be created from blog posts, press releases, business developments, new products and a whole host of other sources. A website is undoubtedly the best source for email content. The sticking point for some may well be that their website hasn’t been maintained to a high standard and is preventing a move toward email marketing.

The solution; get an email marketing strategy in the pipeline knowing improvements in website upkeep are paramount to its success. The two go hand-in-hand. If the website is maintained and content regularly updated then there will be plenty of content for email to use. A successful email marketing strategy will lead to greater traffic on the website and greater engagement with the business. The synergy between email and website will be continuous and as engagement with these 2 channels grows so will the social media engagement (and the trinity is complete).

I consider the website to be the lynchpin of a digital strategy. More often than not it is the first place someone will go when first hearing about a business. The website is linked from all social media platforms, email signatures, email marketing correspondence not to mention appearing on numerous Google searches.

As the lynchpin, the website should be maintained to a high standard. I see email and social media’s primary focus as raising awareness which results in website traffic. If the website is not maintained then the efforts of email and social media are all in vain as I expect the majority of web visitors to quickly disengage. The damage of a poor web experience lives long in the memory and is not easily remedied. On the other hand, the reputation of a positive web experience is worth its weight in gold. In the age of digital marketing and digital strategy, the most important marketing tool remains word of mouth. At the heart of every digital strategy should be the question of what people will tell their friends and colleagues. Although we have no direct control over other people’s word of mouth, we can do everything in our power to ensure a positive conversation instead of negative. At the heart of this concept is of course the synergy between digital marketing channels.

There needs to be synergy between email, website and social media in order to maximise a business’ ROI. There are far too many emails and websites featuring facebook and twitter icons that, when clicked on, reveal a lacklustre page that bares no relevance to the content on other digital channels. If this is the quality of your social media page then there was no real point in creating it and certainly no point in cross channel promotion. Unmaintained pages will only serve to demonstrate a lack of commitment and lack of innovation (not the most desirable of business traits). The same is true of a poorly constructed email programme; there is no point in embarking on a digital channel without having the desire and ability to maintain it to the highest standard. It’s all very well conquering one or even two of the channels but without commitment from all three the synergy model falls down. The unhappy result is customer/client disengagement from your digital channels and perhaps from your business.

Effective synergy of the three channels involves continuous and meaningful dialogue between those that maintain them. At risk of sounding like a business-type, everyone needs to be on the same page.

For a company to exploit the synergy to the fullest the channels need to be interwoven. The first steps are evident on most email correspondence. Both marketing and business signatures usually feature twitter, facebook and LinkedIn icons, as do websites, this is reciprocated by links to the website and sign up forms embedded in the other channels. Creating links between the channels is a first step. Subsequent steps involve cross channel synchronization of content releases plus cross channel promotion of content. These steps are the real driving force to better digital synergy and digital engagement.

Content is the driving force behind the synergy of digital channels. If content is decided, not with one channel in mind, but with digital marketing in mind then continuous synergy can be achieved. As the concept of synergy becomes ingrained within a digital marketing programme content is naturally woven across all channels.

The end result of synergising digital channels is a greater user experience, a direct result of which will be greater awareness and engagement. It’s the awareness and engagement that will ultimately provide increased revenue from a digital marketing programme.