Thinking differently about digital marketing

By Luisa Mazinter

My wide reading and workplace experience tells me that we are living ina world that is changing at a faster rate than ever before.
Current realities

Changes in the market environment – economic, regulatory and technological – have had an impact on how we do business, consume media, and access information and share it with one another. In this dynamic and uncertain landscape, marketers must face the challenges associated with a proliferation of competing products and services, diminishing brand loyalty and increasing customer sophistication and cynicism.

Media used to be the sole preserve of newspapers, broadcasters and publishers; an industry that created content and then delivered it to us through carefully controlled traditional broad-casting channels. We, the ‘audience’, were classified, targeted and conditioned to receive messages presented in familiar ways via familiar sources.However, we are no longer a passive or unsophisticated audience. We actively create and share content with almost no effort, and we love doing it.

Media consumption now takes place any time, anywhere, from a wide variety of sources. This enormous fragmentation of the media space is both over-whelming and empowering. We pay attention to the ‘stuff’ that’s relevant to us and simply tune out those messages that are not.

And in a media landscape where we are mostly overwhelmed and over-stimulated by the sheer volume of information to which we are exposed, we filter everything through the lens of what Linda Stone – the American writer, speaker and consultant focused on trends and their strategic and consumer implications – calls continuous partial attention: a crisis-based mode of being where, in order to remain connected and in-the-know, we pay partial attention on a continuous basis.1

Social networking and business growth

Sustainable business growth relies on having a true understand-ing of who your customers are and what they really want, so that you can customise your offerings to meet their needs consistently and exceed their expectations. One of the key benefits of the internet is that it creates the opportunity for businesses to listen to what customers are saying in relation to their brands, their competitors and their industry. This can provide incredibly valuable insights into the minds of their target market.

More than just a listening platform, the internet and other social media can facilitate engagement and interaction with customers in an honest, human and authentic way. It can become a powerful platform for both customer relationship building and service delivery.

Social networking platforms

It is not so much the platforms that you use that are important, it is your approach that will determine whether your social media strategy is effective or not. Social networking platforms can be used effectively in any business context where transparent communication with customers is valued.

There are a multitude of social platforms available, both broad-based and niched, and the choice of where to establish a brand presence is dependent on who your identified target market is and on which networks they spend their time. All businesses – including schools – should have some sort of presence on Facebook. With 665 million users worldwide – 3.8 million of them in South Africa – it cannot be ignored.2

Create a Facebook page for your organisation, populate it with useful information and tools and encourage discussion and debate amongst your customers and loyal followers. Twitter, on the other hand, has been used very effectively by all types of businesses to deliver real-time service, to keep customers up to date on special offers and promotions, and to establish a thought leadership profile in a particular industry. Twitter is also a very powerful personal branding tool if you want to create a name for yourself in your industry.

LinkedIn, a niche social network that has just reached the milestone of 100 million users globally, (612 336 in South Africa),3 is a powerful platform to reach and engage with business professionals.

Then, with over 5.2 billion active SIM cards and 3.7 billion active cellphones worldwide (42 million in South Africa),4 the mobile social ecosystem cannot be ignored. Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places are the largest location-based mobile social networks worldwide, MXit and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) are huge among the youth market in South Africa, and many new services and niche networks are appearing every day. With Apple’s app store having reached the milestone of 10 billion downloads in two short years, and the inroads Android is making, mobile is undoubtedly the next wave.

So how do you get social?

First listen – spend time searching for and monitoring the conversations on the social Web to find out what your customers are saying about you, your competitors and your industry. You can do it yourself or employ an external company to do it for you. There are a wide variety of both free and paid online tools for this purpose, the simplest of which is Google Alerts – a free service that e-mails you whenever a website mentions your name, brand or an identified term of interest.

This process can be overwhelming to do yourself, so you could use a company that specialises in social monitoring to hold your hand through the process. Then, once you have a clear understanding of the nature and form of the conversations taking place online, you can start to participate in them. Use an authentic, human voice in these conversations rather than traditional ‘marketing speak’. Don’t use a hard-sell approach just promoting your products and services – rather offer value in the form of advice, support, guidance, knowledge and assistance wherever you can.

Learn from these experiments to see what works and what doesn’t work for you. Actively engage with people who need help or who are interested or even frustrated with
your products or services. Resolve any issues and respond to complaints as soon as possible. Help people find what they are looking for, either by starting a direct conversation or linking them back to your own website or your Facebook page and offer them real value in the form of knowledge, tools and applications that are directly related to the issues raised or topics being discussed.

Do it wisely

In this transparent and real-time world in which we operate, businesses need to be responsive 24/7, in a way that’s supportive, honest and human. There is enormous social pressure on companies to be ethical and to operate with integrity. To paraphrase Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics5 – in this new world, all companies are naked.

And if you’re going to be naked, best you look good! Social media is not a cure-all. If you have an image problem, you can use social media to help. If you have a ‘reality’ problem – in other words, a fundamental problem relating to your business practices, products or services – social media will only make it worse. If your core business fundamentals are poor, fix those before you even consider experimenting with social media.

If you are not willing to engage actively with users in the broader digital community, social media is not for you. If you intend to use social media purely to broadcast and not to listen, the community will learn, very quickly, to ignore you. No business today can ignore the social Web. Your customers, prospects, staff members and learners are using these platforms, often to talk about you. You need to start listening, participating and engaging, if you want to remain relevant both for your current market and, even more importantly, for your future one.

Luisa Mazinter is CEO of TheMarketingSite.com. This article is based on a presentation she gave at the Independent Schools’ Marketer’s Association (ISMA) 2010 national conference.

References
1 http://lindastone.net/qa/continuous-partial-attention/
2 http://www.internetworldstats.com/facebook.htm
3 http://afrographique.tumblr.com/post/4285157029/infographic-of-south-africas-linkedinusers-
and
4 Tomi Ahonen Almanac 2011.
5 Tapscott, D. & Williams, A.D. (2008). Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Portfolio Trade, Penguin Books (USA).

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Category: e-Education, Winter 2011

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