17 Sep 2012

Digital Marketing & Social Media - My thoughts on todays landscape

My professional career has piggy backed the constant evolution of digital marketing. From the very first paid search engine marketing craze at the beginning of my career, to SEO where everybody and their dog thought they had the magic insight into beating Googles algorithm and promised to get your website to the top of the seach rankings, which even as someone who 'sold SEO' felt morally obliged to tell people it was a black art and the best I could offer clients was guidance on best practice (which is important). Then we had display & affiliate campaigns, email and then mobile marketing, bespoke web development which then blossomed to easy to use content management systems where anyone could easily set up a website. Then website functionality started to bloom with intelligent web functionality such as related products, wish lists, fully customizable AJAX tools, RSS feeds etc all of which we all know as web 2.0.....and let us not forget social media, which had been brewing away all along.


Digital:

The thing I love and continually excites me about digital is the accountability, the user centric focus, and the constant evolution and drive by the successful practioneers out there to deliver something that people want, in the way people want it, probably done best by people that understand people. This is a big shift from marketing from yonder years were there was a huge emphasis on the 'push' mentality. It must also be noted that there are many people using digital very badly.


Is Digital the only way?

The short answer is no, but that is the short answer. A better question would be 'is digital marketing the best use of my marketing budget to achieve my objectives' - to that I would wholeheartedly answer YES. At this stage it's also worth me stating my position on Digital Marketing. Even though I have always worked within digital and I admit am very much a digital evangelist, I am not of the school that believes that every other form of marketing outside of digital marketing is inaffective. In my experience of spending real $$ on marketing iniatives where I am personally very much accountable for results, I have found more times than not that I get significantly more from my digital campaigns than other media. I do not work for a company that has unlimited or sky high marketing budgets. I have x amount and I must deliver x results at x CPA. So if I have a limited budget and I want to get the best ROI, I would always choose digital.

Digital means...

Digital to me means accountability, relevance, adaptability, flexibility, optimised and real time. You can stop, start, edit, amend, and pause digital pretty much instantaneously and all at a very low cost. (as opposed to a misprint in a magazine or newspaper).

Social Media:

I read a lot and having worked agency and client side I often hear the term 'social media specialist' bounded about two to the dozen. Whilst I accept there are people that are much more familiar with social media tools and also people who genuinely do know their stuff, social media is not a new form of marketing, nor are most people who claim this heroic title actually specialists, or more to the point good at what they do. They may spend more time using social media and may even have followers to back up their claim when it comes up but honestly what actually makes someone a specialist? Social media is more about psychology and people management, supported by a well considered engagement and crisis management strategy. Brands are entering an era that is quite unknown, where people can say what they want about a brand and a brand must have a voice where reponses are well considered before going public. Best practice is being written pretty much on a weekly basis with new case studies and laws coming out all of the time.

Call centre managers and other customer facing reps spend years training-learning how to deal with customers and crisis management, and their environment normally consists of a single customer - not open for the the whole world to see! Yet at the helm of many brands social media activity there are often people far less experienced to deal with things potentially far more damaging. It doesn't make a lot of sense.

Social is not a new thing, it's a philosophy based upon basic human interaction. You think this, I think that, we think this, I like that etc. Online it has just been made popular by things like Facebook, Myspace, Twitter. Prior to these, websites often had comment boxes, rating functionality, forums and blogs, all of which were social tools but within a vertical vertical.

The World of marketing is bursting with acronyms and 'specialists' but at the end of the day marketing is about people, 'What makes them tick?','how will they respond to this?', 'what do THEY want?', 'how does what I have help them?', it's about empathy and understanding the customer, it's about measurement and it's about being pragmatic and prepared. As with any social interaction, be personable, be honest, be responsive, be polite. If someone is negative this is a good opportunity to be openly neutralize their feedback and win the customer back. If they are vulgar, rascist, derogatory then remove/delete. You wouldn't expect or stand for that behavior in a normal social setting so you shouldn't on your social platforms.

To finish:

Don't be bogged down by acronyms and follow the flocks. At the root of marketing is people. People don't want to feel like something is being pushed (or thrown!) at them.
Put yourself in the customers shoes, how would you respond to something, where would you go to find out more / complain, how would you feel if a brand heard you and got back to you with something productive or admitted they were wrong. Likewise if what they were saying was relevant and at the right time (your time), would you respond differently?

It's my belief that digital marketing really lets you target, segment, monitor and engage with your audience far more effectively and cost efficiently than other forms of marketing. Focus on strategy, team skillsets and being prepared to test new things. Do marketing (anything) for outcome and not awards. Focus on people. 

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