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March 11, 2012

The Marketer’s Practical Approach to Social Media

If you are a marketing professional, you likely don’t live a day without being bombarded by messages about the importance of including new media, especially social media, in your marketing mix. From workshops by so-called “experts” who have been exploiting social media since before Al invented the Internet; to free webinars that result in a barrage of spam messaging, who has time to sort through the clutter and make sense of it all? Most marketers recognize the opportunities tied to participation in new media, but the question is how to do it effectively and strategically – in a way that makes participation worth the allocation of time and resources.

Why is New Media Strategy Important for a Modern Business?

The real problem for marketers is that a shift has occurred in how people communicate and where they interact with information and entertainment. Traditional advertising and marketing mediums are nowhere near as effective as they were three years ago. Here
are just a few evidences of the migration to new media:

The Wall Street Journal has reported that advertising in US print directories is expected to fall 39% over the next four years “as people migrate en masse to the Web.”

According to Wikipedia, the newspaper industry has shed 20% of its journalists since 2001.

According to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project study, released in November of 2011, 66% of online U.S. adults use social media.

In July 2011, Knowledge Networks reported 38,000,000 people in the US age 13 to 80 said social media influenced their purchasing decisions, a 14% increase over the previous six months.

TOA Technologies estimates that 1,000,000 people view customer service related tweets every week, with 80% of them being critical or negative in nature.

eMarketer has projected that by 2013 the number of US Facebook users will increase to 152.1 million.

comScore determined that 176,000,000 US Internet users watched online video content in May 2011, an average of 15.9 hours per viewer.

Most of us are aware of the trends and shifts, so the question becomes one of how to adapt marketing strategies for effective participation.

How Can My Business Use New Media Effectively, Strategically?

Many marketers have reacted to the shifts and trends by rolling up their sleeves, reading books, attending webinars and seminars, and diving in here or there. While this is an admirable approach, many such proactive endeavors fizzle when the proponent realizes their effort requires objectives and strategies, and their communication needs to conform with the rules and etiquette of each medium in order to be effective.

While competence may be obtained on one social media node, such as Facebook, the vision blurs when it comes to how this competency relates to, or interacts with, other aspects of the Web presence – or the marketing strategy as a whole. In many cases, this initial fire gets doused by frustration or lack of directed time and resources, and the company ends up with a handful of inactive assets doing more harm than good for the brand and visibility of the entity. Sound familiar?

The key to effective use of new media and social media in your marketing plan is a strategic framework that dictates the objectives of each web asset – both as an autonomous tool, and as a component of your overall web presence.

New Media Strategic Framework

When using new media in your marketing plan, it is crucial to understand that the Web has evolved into 3 basic levels of interaction:

Consumption Level: This is the original level of the Web. The hallmark of this level is company-controlled information about products and services (a.k.a. company websites). The consumption level allows companies to facilitate interaction through contact forms, information requests, or ecommerce. It has evolved into a final level of Web interaction that users utilize when they are ready to proceed with a final purchase or consumption decision.

Credibility Level: The Credibility Level of the web has evolved because users recognize that the content generated on the Consumption Level is company controlled. In order to get beyond contrived marketing-speak, users demand technologies such as YouTube, the blog-o-sphere, directories with rating systems, and consumer-generated satisfaction surveys. These tools on the credibility level allow users to form their product or service consideration set based on more transparent content such as video demonstrations, blog posts, consumer feedback, and satisfaction ratings.

Conversation Level: The advent and popularity of social media has led to the development of the conversation level of the Web. This level of the Web features content that is completely user-generated and, in fact, facilitates real-time questions, answers and critique with regard to products and services. The nature of the social media tools allows this conversation to get exponentially beyond one-to-one interaction – opening the floodgates of many-to-many communication. Consumers rely on this level of the Web for forming their opinions and brand perceptions – often prior to seeking information on the Credibility Level or Consumption Level.

In order to remain viable and relevant, it is important for businesses to effectively participate on all 3 levels of the Web. And it’s possible to do so in a way that enhances company brand, improves customer service, and maximizes entrance into the consideration set of target consumers.

By organizing Web assets according to their level of interaction, it brings direction to the purpose and objectives of the asset. For example, recognizing that establishing a YouTube channel will allow the company to participate on the Credibility Level, directs the purpose of the channel – to establish brand voice, demonstrate expertise, and showcase experience.

Once content is generated on any one node of participation, that content can, and should be, integrated into other nodes. For example, once a YouTube video is uploaded to the channel, the same video can be strategically embedded into pages on the website, or can be utilized to enhance the value of a blog post, a tweet or fan page announcement. By leveraging new content across the Web presence, you improve the efficiency of your effort, and keep all nodes more relevant and active for the user.

Branding is another key. Each node of your Web presence should be well encased in brand identity. The Web presence as a whole should be viewed as single user experience. Migration between levels should be cohesive in terms of visual identity (logo, fonts, colors, symbolism), brand promise, and brand messaging.

The strategic framework requires two additional areas of consideration:

Interactions of Value: It’s one thing to have branded, linked nodes of participation established, but another thing altogether to activate the nodes with content that will engage users. The rule of thumb is to create and feed the model with content that informs, entertains or both.

Search Engine Optimization: By interlinking the nodes of participation, you allow Google and other search engines to find and correlate the content and its corresponding key words and key phrases. This improves the organic visibility of the entire Web presence. Conducting key phrase research and understanding the terms people use when looking for your products and services will also enhance the value and strategy of your new media efforts.

Visibility Plan

Understanding the strategic framework makes improvement of visibility a methodical process. The visibility plan should cover 5 basic areas:

1. Branded Assets
2. Enhanced Citations
3. Strategic Listening
4. Engaging Content
5. Promotion

Using the strategic model above as an example, the visibility plan might include the following activities:

* Conducting key phrase research for content improvement/optimization.

* Enhancement and strategic activation of custom-branded, core social nodes on both the credibility level and conversation level of the Web.

* Optimization of directory listings, citations and ongoing establishment of inbound links.

* Activation of a blog, including a detailed content plan that aligns with traditional marketing initiatives and provides interactions of value. Enhancement of each post to include dynamic content (photos, graphics, videos) and key phrases tied to organic visibility objectives.

* Establishing a listening post for tracking of company mentions, competitor mentions, and key topics across the Web and social space – providing real-time market intelligence, competitive intelligence, and key opportunities for joining target-audience conversations.

* Weekly listening post reporting and flagging of key opportunities for response.

* Monthly assessment and reporting of Web traffic analytics and ROI.

* Review and collaboration on current SEO, SEM and PPC efforts to maximize performance and resulting lead generation.

* Design and deployment of a measurable, geo-targeted online advertising campaign – maximization of a monthly spend for geo-targeted advertising across local and national assets that align with the target audience demographic.

Assessment of weekly and monthly reports that indicate traffic generated, traffic sources, click-through rates and other key performance indicators (KPIs) of the campaign.

* Ongoing adjustment and optimization of the campaign based on KPIs (Key performance indicators).

Having a strategic framework to work from is a major component of successful participation with new media. However, finding the time and capable resources for carrying out your visibility plan can be a challenge. Many companies are creating full time positions tied to new media deployment.

With the shift to new media, the market is producing capable experts, consultants and employees. Companies that stay on the leading edge of the shift to new media, using a sound strategic approach, are sure to gain a significant competitive advantage in the decades ahead.

What if you could have the resources of an entire team of new media professionals – highly trained in the models and methods outlined in this article – all at a fraction of the cost associated with a new employee?

Jibe Media offers visibility services that are adaptable to the specific needs of your organization. From consultation, training and support to full service visibility plan deployment, Jibe’s services can be obtained at a cost that is affordable, smart and effective.

Contact Jibe Media today for a free visibility assessment and proposal. Contact: Mark Farr 801.433.5423 ext. 201 email: