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Social marketing dialogue dominates

The marketing implications and opportunities presented by social media are dominating the marketing conversation right now, but marketers continue to struggle with ways to deploy social media, maintain a presence in social networking circles, integrate social advertising with other media channels and monetize those efforts.

Meanwhile, several agency holding companies and marketing services companies have recently begun to stake their claim in the space by formalizing their social media services and dedicating staff to the discipline on behalf of clients.

WPP’s Wunderman and Mindshare units announced earlier this month that they are jointly helming a social media operation, known as Ninja, which will be based in the UK.

Last week, Interpublic Group of Companies’ media agency Universal McCann launched Rally@UM, a new social media arm, to create targeted social media campaigns. Former MySpace executive Heidi Browning,

EVP and global digital officer for UM, will oversee Rally.

Marketing services company Merkle also launched its own integrated social media offering last week, and Publicis Groupe’s Vivaki said it will debut a social media division, planned for unveiling later this year.

All of these developments point to the growing importance of social media marketing, as well as a continued fight among the marketing disciplines as to which has the better mandate to “own” rights to the social Web.

As marketers ramp up strategies in time for the back-to-school season and the upcoming holiday season, social has become a standard element in the marketing mix, even if these early efforts remain largely experimental.

Our main feature in this issue delves into retailers’ plans for the critical fourth-quarter selling period, and tactics they are employing include both the tried-and-true classics, such as catalog marketing, and Facebook and Twitter programs.

Steve Madden didn’t use a social media strategy in 2009, but its digital ad spending increased by double digits this year, and the company is deploying contests and promotions to its customers and prospects through Facebook.

Mike Gatti, the National Retail Federation’s SVP of communications, noted social’s cost effectiveness. “You can push more of the dollars into the actual offers that you are making,” he said. “You don’t have to spend as much money as you do for TV, print and radio.” Don LeBlanc, Staples SVP of marketing, tells DMNews that the impact of Tweeting back-to-school deals is disproportionately very high compared with the investment. Sounds familiar. It reminds me of marketers’ long-term affinity for e-mail.

In fact, marrying the social media channel with e-mail, has boosted effectiveness further.

Measuring these efforts, and tracking engagement with the customer, will be the challenge for marketers. The marketing services providers have advanced the use of analytics and CRM expertise applied to social as leverage to meet those challenges. It is encouraging to see these marketing partners begin to apply rigor and discipline to social media.

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