Call me old fashioned, but I am a strong believer in planning before making a jump into a new campaign or channel. With the fast pace of digital marketing, particularly in the social arena, it's all too easy to leap into a new marketing initiative before you've had a chance to correctly plan for it.
Years ago, when I was building my digital knowledge, I attended an excellent course from Digital Marketing expert Heather Albrecht, which reiterated to me that planning was essential for a successful digital presence. This was at the cusp of Facebook and Twitter's explosive growth. Brands were 'trying out' this method of communication, with little or no formalised plans or strategies. Many companies were being burnt, bewildered by the speed at which the digital world moved, and unable to respond in the right manner, due mainly to lack of planning. This was most evident in social media.
In her presentation, Albrecht shared a series of slides titled "Shift Happens", outlining the change in the consumption of media. It's really important to understand how people use different 'screens' to consume media in unique and differing ways. For example, decades ago, a television ad offered you a relatively captive audience. Channel 7, 9 and 10 were the only real means of mass market television consumption, and as a result a TVC would yield a quick and instant response. People had little else to do but watch, absorb and discuss.
Today, we have multiple screens. The TV may be on, but you're also checking footy scores on your iPhone and playing 'Words With Friends' on the iPad at the same time, especially during the ad breaks. It's much harder for TV advertising to break through and get their message to the mass audience in the same clarity as it did before. The same scenario exists with other traditional media. I'm not suggesting that TV, newspapers or magazines are going to disappear, but they don't have the same stranglehold on their audience that they once enjoyed.
Because of this, many brands rightly identified the advantages of digital channels, particularly social media. An inherent trust exists between people and their peers.
According to the Neilsen Global Trust in Advertising Report Q3 2011, 90% of people trust recommendations from their friends, 70% of consumers trust recommendations from strangers online, while only 56% trust traditional advertising. To address the falling audiences for traditional advertising and capitalise on the trust associated with personal opinions brands entered the social realm with vigour. And looking at the data above, it's easy to understand why! The allure to capitalise on this emerging (now ever more dominant) medium resulted in some companies failing to take the necessary steps to ensure they were protected during the digital journey. It's true, that customers are going to be talking about your brand online regardless of whether you've got a formalised presence. However, as soon as you do formalise your brand's online presence, you need to have something to say back to your customers, you need a clear message!
One of the most valuable recommendations is planning, which can only be done if internally your company is ready for a social presence. Without commitment and an understanding interanally, it's virtually impossible to make a success externally.
Some suggestions on how to achieve this include:
Strategy: Create a clear, easy to understand plan on how and why you're entering the social media space.
- Treat it like any other campaign plan or channel strategy.
- What are your goals,
- How would you measure ROI – it's very difficult to say you've added value to the business if you don't have a clear understanding on how to generate ROI.
- What are you going to say? On that point, you need quality content. Some Australian brands that do this really well include Virgin Australia, which sprinkles a mixture of fun stories, service updates and latest news to their audience.
Social Group: To achieve quality content, consider a social media working group within your company. This will ensure that you have a wide range of things to say that are relevant to a broader audience. It also ensures buy in, and commitment, across departments
Choose the Platform: Understand the differences in the social media platform you need to use. To pull on my Virgin Australia example again, they do this very well. Facebook is a much more personal experience for a user than Twitter. As such treat them differently.
- Virgin Australia use Facebook for the lighter side of things. Sharing of images of their aircraft, events and new product launches. This is conducive to the personal nature of Facebook.
- They use Twitter to respond to customer complaints and questions in a quick, short and sharp method. This is not to say that they don't respond to questions on Facebook, but rather use Twitter as a preferred way to interact with them. It keeps customer questions short and concise (with the character limit) and allows for 1-on-1 contact in an open forum.
- Similarly, Linked In is another unique platform and quite separate from Facebook and Twitter. It's great for recruitment but not the place to try and engage with customers about the latest business class offering. Make sure you understand these platforms and choose wisely.
Resource: Perhaps the most important point after a plan / strategy – resource this correctly. Don't rely on a receptionist or office manager to upload images and stories to Facebook, take it seriously. Have a marketing professional whose job it is to 'own' the digital channels. You could also consider using your PR firm, if you trust them to engage directly with your audience. I've always shied away from the idea of letting an external agency run my social campaigns. I really do feel that as it's the voice of your company, direct to the customer, you need to own it.