It’s the season for bonfires, direct marketing and social media. In the case of bonfires, perhaps in your own garden, with foil-wrapped potatoes baking at the base. And maybe with some sparklers and fireworks to light the night sky. Or as part of a local community celebration where everyone dresses warmly for the evening and gets together for fun, chat, catching up, watching a straw effigy of Guy Fawkes burning fiercely on top, and, of course, spectacular fireworks.
There is something about bonfires that is enormously appealing. The smell, the crackling sound, the warmth, the smoke, the sparks, and the variety, movement and colour of the flames. And there’s a primeval fierceness about a fire. The way it grows from a tiny spark into a roaring body of light and heat is a reminder that, although it may be lit by a person or people, fire itself can be dangerous. It is much bigger than we are, and needs to be monitored and controlled if we want to benefit rather than be harmed by it.
Direct marketing campaigns are similar. Like bonfires, they need fuel to come alive – whatever the channel or mix of channels. There can be no successful marketing campaign without the carefully laid fuel of end-to-end campaign strategy, including product, audience, offer, price, PR, fulfilment, delivery and customer service. As a bonfire is lit by bringing flame and fuel together, a marketing campaign gains life when the consumer and the brand, product and offer come together.
As long as the fuel has been properly laid, then the fire will burn well and provide warmth and enjoyment to the crowds. Like a social media campaign – if the activity is planned and structured well, it will deliver your customers’ needs and provide value to your business. If not, or if it is left untended, then either it will never grow beyond a small spark, or – worse – it will grow into an uncontrollable inferno devouring your brand and reputation as it spreads. And those are the fires that are most difficult to put out.
A point worth noting is that social media essentially allow a dialogue between business and customer (or prospect), that is held in public. It impacts every area of a business, so it is vital that everybody within the company understands the goals and aims of the social media strategy and engages appropriately. And it is also essential that there is an understanding that though the conversation is held online, it is a real conversation held between real people. So basic everyday “real life” social principles, behaviour and manners need to be considered and included in whatever social media strategy is developed.
Laying the fire
Before deciding you want to build a social media strategy, the first thing to consider is why. What do you want to gain out of it? Are you looking to extend awareness of your brand? Or improve your reputation? Or engage with a particular audience? Do you want to increase sales? Or improve customer loyalty or customer service? Or do you want information to help you deliver better marketing – whether in terms of product or price or delivery?
Having addressed those questions, if you decide to go ahead, then you need to know your own brand’s audience. Where are they to be found? Are they on Facebook or Twitter or Linked In? Do they use Pinterest or Instagram? Google + or You Tube? If so, how do they use these networks? What’s their style and tone of voice? Does it match your brand values? Might there be value in creating groups and forums on your own websites. What do you think your customers or audience would want to get out of a social media relationship with you? What do you want them to get out of it? Where should you focus? Do they talk about you? If so,what are they saying? Are they complimentary or are they promoting your competitors? And if so, why? And so on.
At this point it’s probably sensible to start outlining, in words, diagrams, flow charts and pictures, exactly what you want to do and how you intend to achieve your aspirations and integrate a social media strategy throughout the business. You’ll need to establish a team and allocate responsibility. You’ll need to make sure that what you are planning complies with all legal requirements.
If you use a third parties to manage your direct marketing and social media activity, the communication between your business and that agency or those agencies will need to be ongoing and seamless from all areas of the business. Especially where your brand is concerned – any third party will need ongoing information on what is going on in the business, what is under development, what are the current key areas of strength and weakness. And if you want to build trust through your social media activity, that information needs to be up-to-date, relevant and honest – whether the news is good or bad.
Your communication style will need to be considered. Generally speaking, it can be more relaxed and fun than some other channels, but it should reflect your brand values and the values of your audience. O2 has a great social media reputation, build in part from the disastrous few days when the service went down. Not least on Twitter, where they were able not only to address genuine customer service issues, but also turn the whole problem around and generate more loyalty simply because their responses to their customers were wholehearted, honest, apologetic, helpful and witty. Having said that, there are inherent dangers within that sort of approach – it’s potentially only a matter of time before one ill-chosen, unfunny, “witty” response has the same effect as pouring petrol on kindling – an instant explosion that – at the least – removes your eyebrows and much of your hair and probably blows you backwards!
Tending the fire
Fires need to be controlled, and monitored until such time as they are put out, or run out of fuel and die down to embers, which can then be allowed to cool, or be used to start a new fire.
Having laid the groundwork for your social media campaign, you then need to consider what you want to measure. If your campaign is designed to increase awareness, you’ll be looking at likes and shares, reach, comments and other forms of engagement, subscriptions to newsletters, blogs and emails. Sales and loyalty can be measured through a variety of methods – including mining data retrospectively, using control groups to measure differences in performance, and measuring sales from social e-commerce. Again, what you want to measure and how you intend to do so needs to be part of your documentation, and what you learn from this analysis will enable you to drive your ongoing activity based on performance.
You’ll need to be ready to deal immediately with issues that will come up in real time like complaints that come up in a public forum or negative comments on your Facebook page. So it’s well worth the time to brainstorm before the issue comes up so that your team know how to respond to a negative comment before it actually comes up. You also need to monitor whether what your fans are saying is appropriate to your brand, and, if not, how you should deal with them.
Having established your policy regarding the networks on which you want to concentrate, how you want to use them and integrate them with other channels, how you want to communicate with your audience, how you will resolve any issues, who your team is, who will do what, what competition you will monitor and how that will be reported, how you will measure your own performance etc etc …you need to execute your plan.
This means you need to know what content you are going to create, where you are going to post it, how you are going to promote your social media activity. For a start, you’ll need to include icons, links, addresses on your website, promotions, advertising, invoices, email signatures, letters, employee business cards, and all your communications so that you encourage your audience to visit and engage with your social networks.
You need to provide content for each of the networks – whether you want to blog or promote or sell direct or chat or conduct research or offer prizes in return for information or just run simple but fun competitions. As well as integrating with other channels, you can also integrate social media channels – use Twitter to promote a competition on Facebook, use You Tube to broadcast results and promote the next.
But what is absolutely vital is that your content is planned and scheduled before you push any buttons. If social media is done randomly or on a whim, if it is unplanned, or if too little time, resource or budget is spent on it, the whole campaign is likely either to go out or – more tragically – be rained on before the fire is properly lit.
We’re all for sharing knowledge and information and enjoy a healthy debate, so if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Or if you disagree with any of our views above, just let us know why. And of course, if you have a social media strategy and would like to share your tips or thoughts, please feel free – in all cases, just “reply” below.
As ever, if you’d like some help with your social media strategy, don’t hesitate to ask – you can reach me on 01787 277742 or 07967 148398. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org If you’d like to know more about us before you do so, by all means visit our website. And yes, we’re on Twitter and Linked In. And if we believe we can’t help you, we’ll make sure we recommend one of the good guys.