Direct marketer gone social media

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What would you give for customers' undivided attention?
What would you give for customers' undivided attention?

How long have you been involved in direct marketing? For months, if not years, many of us have been focused on developing offers, defining target audiences and creating marketing messages. Direct marketing runs in our blood. We start by developing top level messaging, we carefully define our audience and segment our mailing lists. We focus on the creative and messaging of our direct mail pieces and augment our direct mail campaign run with a series of offers to our in-house or 3rd party email lists. We set up and run pay-per-click campaigns with custom landing pages and work hard to optimize our online presence for search engine crawlers. Depending on our budgets, we might even bid on search engine keywords to display our message ahead of organic search results.  With the help of our PR departments, we create press releases and send them via wire services or pitch a story to industry publications hoping a future article will draw attention and help us achieve the ultimate goal: convincing our customers to convert.

We continue on this marketing journey in hopes of breaking through the noise and clutter of other marketing messages just long enough to be noticed. It gets harder and harder to stay relevant without spending more and more money to generate the ROI your boss is expecting. While you can continue to fight this losing battle I urge you to stop and reassess. Maybe it's time to give social media marketing a try.

While you've been hearing about the world of social media marketing for a while now, I bet you've resisted, secretly hoping that it would go away. Fine, but keep in mind that now is the time to get your feet wet and experiment. Join the growing pack of your peers who are actively exploring social media channels in order to stay relevant in the lives of their customers.

How? Surprisingly, the fundamentals of direct marketing remain the same in social media. You still take your time to identify your audience, develop marketing messages and find channels to communicate with your audience.  The difference: social media invests in social communities with useful content and focuses on participation and recognition. While you can put your traditional direct marketing campaign on auto-pilot and move on to your next project, social media marketing is based on consistency of engagement. What does that mean? Your participation is key. Scary? Maybe a little, but don't feel overwhelmed. There is a method to this madness and when you take the approach of crawling before you run it is manageable and, well, even fun.  Here is your rough plan:

1. Get out there.
The goal is for you to find conversations that are relevant to the product you are marketing in social media. There are a multitude of free and paid social media search and monitoring tools such as socialmention.com (free) or Radian6.com (paid) to help you figure out:

a. Where your customers/prospects congregate in social media? (major social networks,  niche communities, etc.)

b. What are customers' top concerns relevant to the product you are trying to market?

c. How do they like to consume content in social media? (read blogs? watch videos? join communities?)

2. Armed with your new insights proceed to developing your marketing message to:

a. be relevant to your audience (aka address their needs and lose all your marketing speak)

b. provide helpful information (rather than sell, sell, sell)

c. encourage questions and elicit dialog (yes, social media is a contact sport)

3. Distribute your message in social media channels as a person rather than a salesman by:

a. creating social media outposts that offer the opportunity to interact, share opinions and comments (blog with comments, community portal w/ discussion threads, etc.)

b. understanding the etiquette of the channel by listening far more than talking (at least at the beginning)

c. reaching out to the most influential social media participants, offering recognition and making it easy for them to talk about you and your message

d. being available and active, continuing to engage with interested parties by commenting on their posts, offering free advice, providing helpful feedback.

 

4. Make sure you are smart about measuring your social media marketing efforts by focusing on engagement/interaction with your audience and how it helps lead your customers into the marketing funnel. Look beyond the quantity of friends, page visits and eyeballs to measure changes in your customers' attitudes and intent. Use your social media audience as an ongoing focus group to test your marketing offers, adjust your messaging in real time as a result of the community's input and reap the immediate benefits of your crowd sourcing.

 

Your approach to social media marketing may differ from the plan I just outlined, but it should be constructed to support, NOT replace your traditional direct marketing approaches. Focus on cross-linking your landing pages and social media channels, provide easy access for prospects to gain visibility to your social media outposts and draw attention to positive word of mouth you create there.

As you experiment and become comfortable with social media channels you'll develop your own systematic approach that will set you apart from marketers who simply jump on the social media bandwagon without a plan.

Remember to focus on channels and communities where your customers and influencers congregate and be consistent with your participation and message.  Your ultimate goal is to build trust and earn the attention of the community.  Conversions will follow.

Aneta Hall is a social media strategist at Pitney Bowes. She blogs at anetahall.com

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