Social media is changing how businesses find customers and how customers engage with brands. There are many reasons to believe that it will eventually overtake email marketing, but I’m a firm believer that it’s here to stay.
In fact, I believe email marketing combine with search (SEO) and social media will the best strategy moving forward.
However; let me get a few things straight. First, email is the original social network. Second, you need email to open social network account and get alerts.
And third, search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) will continue to index and aggregate social network data not to mention most social network has their own internal search engine as well.
It sounds like there is a lot of cross-over between the three, so how should you use these three tactics to help you strategize your marketing efforts?
It’s hard to realize how these tactics can impact your business without some basic understanding of the big three. Let’s look at how each works and what you can do to get the most bang for your marketing bucks.
The Big Three #1 – Email Marketing
Why email – Today it’s hard to find someone without an email account and majority of account holders have had it for a while (I still check my hotmail from 14 years ago) thus letting it go is not likely for most.
Almost all basic business communications are done via email not via social networks. The perception is that it’s more secure, private and user friendly (centralized contacts, integrates with calendar, easily accessible via mobile devices).
Simply put, people will use what’s easy to achieve the same goal – to get work done and to communicate.
Another benefit of email is that it’s a direct private channel of communication to alert customers on new product offerings or promotions. At the same time, customers can use e-mail to provide feedback and ask questions.
Done right, you will be kept away from the spam folder and earn a permanent spot on the white list.
This is why great email marketers tend to focus on delivering high value content at the right time, with the proper frequency using attractive subjective lines that encourage clicks and forwards.
Building your email list should still be all marketers’ top priority. Give people a reason to subscribe and to remain subscribed is the ongoing art and science of email marketing.
The Big Three #2 – Search Engine Marketing
Why SEO – This one should be a no brainer. What is the first thing you do when you’re looking to buy a product? If you do your homework you would first Google it.
This applies to almost anybody looking to learn more about a company, a product or how to do something.
Often times, people don’t even question the search results because it’s just easier to trust Google’s rankings and feel good about the decisions you’ve made based on what was found.
It’s no surprise that 79% of United States hiring managers and job recruiters search online information about job applicants according to a recent research commissioned by Microsoft.
This is why smart businesses (and individuals) are putting more emphasis on content marketing and shifting their mindset to operate more like a media company.
They understand search engine is catered to “people” and people want relevant, valuable content that’s going to move them a step closer to identify the information they’re searching for.
The key is to create great content around what your customers are interested in when looking for your product; such as how things work (the outcome of your product or services), step-by-step guides or research reports that reveals product comparisons.
Then tie these high quality content with relevant keywords and over time you’ll likely to move higher through the non-paid “organic” rankings. And today you can SEO anything from websites, blog posts, videos, images, podcasts you name it.
SEO is one of the key marketing arsenals especially for retailers, direct marketers and authors.
The latest Internet Retailer Survey (some sample data below) clearly shows a growing interest and investment in search to drive more online sales. It’s not a matter of why, but how.
There is simply too much information and too little time. Search engine is our instant gratification to today’s ADD (Attention-Deficit Disorder) society.
The Big Three #3 – Social Media
Why Social – If search engine is a way for people to find information, then social media is a way for people to find conversations and be part of them.
It adds the credibility fuel to the fire of trust since social media is basically word-of-mouth. Instead of just believing in what you read from company websites or reviews you found online, you can talk to people you trust or listen to experts you follow.
Similar to search, you can get people to your site with social media, and it’s a great tool to tell customer stories, demonstrate expertise, and stack up your social proof to win business from competitors.
The goal is to connect with customers on an ongoing basis to further understand their needs, wants and concerns.
This will help you to build strong, lasting and engaging relationships with your customers for future business as well as referral opportunities by getting people to share your products on social networks to bring in traffic and find new customers.
And since social media is word-of-mouth, it’s your brand’s reputation on the line. Your digital reputation is your first impression and perception is reality.
How The Big Three Can Work Together
Although you can choose to only do one or two of the three, but to get the most out of your marketing investments, you should consider doing all three.
Here are a few ideas to consider on how to leverage the big three:
1) Create Once, Recycle Many– Focus on content not just promotions and sales, it’s about facilitating people through the sales cycle. People usually don’t buy base on just one piece of data think of it as adding “trust points” to people’s decision to buy.
If prospects consumed a great piece of educational content on your landing page, that’s one point. If they read some great reviews about your product from a third party site, that’s another point.
If there is more positive comments than negative ones about your brand in social networks, that’s another point.
The goal is to accumulate enough trust so prospects feel good about why they’ve made the decision over you than others.
You want to invest your time and money on creating the best blog content, how-to articles, educational videos, whitepapers or anything that will get your audience to bookmark, download and share.
Then make sure you optimize the content for search engine with the proper keywords and deliver them to the right people in your target channel via email and social networks.
For example let’s say you have a really good article on how to do something (try not to involve your product first, focus on solving the problem then introduce your product later when appropriate), you can package it in a downloadable PDF put it on a landing page that’s highly optimize for SEO.
Then abstract the summary from the content for your email newsletter so you can send your subscribers to that very same landing page, a typical web marketing campaign.
But let’s take it a step further by turning that piece of content into a video (using screen capture tools like Camtasia, or with a webcam or FlipVideo) and upload it to YouTube, Ustream or Vimeo to drive traffic back to your landing page.
Then post the video on your blog, tweet it out via Twitter, send it to relevant groups on LinkedIn or submitted to social network sites like Technorati, Digg, Reddit or StumbleUpon. Continue to produce great content and after 3-6 month you can recycle that piece of content with some updates and do it again.
2) Streamline with Process – Think about how your customers consume information and respond to connections.
It’s NOT jamming the information down their throat like traditional one-way push advertising but allowing them to discover and get permission to establish a relationship.
Talk to your customers, ask them what they read, who influence them and why? Understand what they don’t care about (don’t be surprise if it’s a lot of what you do) is just as important as what they care (a lot of what you should know).
If you make the wrong assumption it will bring you the false conclusion which will impact on how you strategize your campaign.
For example if you know your customer reads certain blogs regularly, should you advertise on their site or is it better to build a relationship with the blogger?
Once you’ve made your decision, focus on identifying the path to your web properties.
Take out a piece of paper and map out that path and create a process to streamline every possible step that your customer may take so you can funnel them via your sales pipeline.
Remember, not everyone consumes media the same way, some people like to read while others prefer to watch videos or listen to a podcast.
It’s important to have as many media options as possible available to maximize engagement opportunities.
3) Target, Track and Repeat – Without the right data you won’t know where to focus your marketing efforts and no accountability in your actions.
What happens after your prospect conducts a search?
What actions were taken after consuming your content?
Was it shared on Facebook or forwarded to a colleague?
The biggest benefit from tracking your email, search and social media analytics is that you will be able to tie them all together and figure out your ROI.
You’ll know where your site visitors are coming from, which email links they clicked on and what gets shared so you can make adjustments to improve conversion rates.
Why continue to do something that doesn’t work?
You need to know so you can keep doing what works and stop doing what doesn’t. Perhaps Facebook is not the best social network to target your audience or is it because your marketing messages aren’t resonating with them?
Marketers must aggregate customer behavior information to build a holistic view of the customer.
This means analyzing quantitative data to measure and monitor customer-related metrics such as customer attrition rate, customer retention rate, number of products purchased, repeat purchases, likelihood to recommend, etc.
When you have the right customer insights, you’re in a position to address customer needs, improve processes (to shorten the sales cycle), and to maintain a strong connection for an opportunity to turn customers into fans and fans to brand evangelists.
Do Your Homework, Fish Where Fish Are
Before you start, you should learn where your customers are at, the tools they use and why. This allows you to make better informed decisions and build a framework for your assumptions before you jump in. You can find some valuable research data from the internet and here are two examples I’ve found.
First is the Morgan Stanley Internet Trends Analysis, which has a lot of in-depth information about all things internet, mobile, cloud computing, email, social networks and more. (Check out slide 12 on social networking vs email usage).
The second report is from Edison Research on “Everything You Need To Know About Who’s Using Twitter.” I found it particularly interesting that people actually go to Twitter to learn about products, far more than they do with other social networks. (51% of active Twitter users follow companies, brands or products on social networks)
The take away: Email marketing, search engine optimization and social media are all great, but it takes a combination of know-how and creativity to get people just to open your e-mail, to click on your search results or to retweet your messages.
Business owners and marketers need to have some technical knowledge of what methods produce positive results.
Your goal should be to have a mix and balance of the big three utilizing content strategy that is useful and easy to share.
Think like a publisher, not only do you have to figure out ways to engage your subscribers (and to remain subscribed) but also prospects, people on the fence and try to sway influencers your way.
Yes, it’s time consuming like what Jay Baer mentioned recently but think of it as investing in your customers, you get what you put in. It’s easy to setup your email newsletter, social network accounts and have SEO gurus optimizing your site, those are executions of tactics NOT strategy.
First, learn before you start, listen before you talk and research before you decide.
You’re better off investing your marketing dollars to build your own targeted database (and customer segmentation!) with accurate information.
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