Social media is now the norm. Everywhere we turn, a high-ranking businessperson, blog, or magazine is pressuring us to replace traditional, "outdated" marketing methods with cutting-edge social media techniques. And without question, there is a lot to be said for social media's brief yet transformative history. But if you're like most marketers, you likely use some combination of search, display, and email marketing. These media have fueled your business with sales and leads for years. Is it not a bit hasty to suggest that we all ditch these proven mechanisms in favor of Facebook pages and Twitter feeds?
There's no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Your paid media and earned media can work together to boost ROI when you leverage the connection between the two. Following is a realistic, three-month action plan that outlines how "traditional" online media can be combined with social media.
Month 1: Mine your social networks to uncover your next ad campaign
While many consumers are quick to criticize traditional online techniques, these criticisms tend to be misplaced. The problem of course is not that search, display, or email are bad ways to reach your audience. Instead, problems occur when the content of these messages is bland or untargeted.
Too many advertisements reflect what someone assumed customers wanted to see rather than what they really wanted to see. It is here that social media can breathe new life into the traditional online marketing mediums. If you already have an actively maintained Facebook page or Twitter feed, it's time to mine them for valuable nuggets of customer input. One way to think about social media is a live focus group that produces true feelings about your brand. Your own Twitter account is a treasure trove of valuable data that can be turned into a successful ad campaign.
This data includes:
- How your customers and prospects voted on polls
- Frequently asked questions (other than those you've answered elsewhere)
- Recurring complaints or grievances
- Extremely positive or negative things said about your products or brand
- Experiences (good or bad) customers have had with competitors
- Content prospects shared, retweeted, Liked, clicked, listened to, watched, or commented on
The goal at this stage is taking you out of the echo chamber of your own marketing department. Whatever theories you have about your customers will likely differ from what social media says those customers truly think and feel about you. Pay special attention to what content was retweeted, clicked, Liked, and shared the most. We'll be using this data in Month 2.
Month 1 summary: Your marketing budget is limited. Therefore, your ads must express the most powerful, attention-getting statement of value you can possibly produce. What better place to find out what this is than the candid remarks of your own customers?
Month 2: Craft a content marketing strategy
Content is the catalyst for building a relationship with prospects in a social media world. Content transcends websites, social networks, and formats. Direct marketing instructor Perry Marshall captured the benefit of well-executed content marketing when he said, "Nobody who ever bought a drill wanted a drill. They wanted a hole. Therefore, you should sell with information about holes."
Just as nobody who bought a drill wanted a drill, it's likely that nobody who buys your product wanted your product. What they actually wanted was whatever tangible benefit(s) your product gives them. The way to sell more products, therefore, is to lead with information that empathizes and connects with the underlying reasons people want what you sell. Pure advertising (whether banners or search marketing) can rarely do this as well as a blog post, article, or tutorial can. Most prospects are, by nature, far more skeptical of messages that contain overt sales pitches.
An article, on the other hand, bypasses this resistance by putting information first and selling second. By the time your content is read, the prospect will already have seen that you understand their problems because you applied what you learned from your current customers by studying their social media interactions. As a direct result, prospects are more likely to see your product as a genuine fit for them than they would have been if you immediately asked for their order. Marshall, for example, sells a marketing course with the help of an empathetic article called "People Are Cynical."
Remember to include a call-to-action on your content landing page too, whether that is a newsletter subscription, webinar or whitepaper sign-up, or even a product offer. You might be surprised by the conversion rate.
How to turn content into new customers:
Step 1: Understand what content your current customers respond to.
Step 2: Create a dynamically updating content widget of the good stuff.
Step 3: Do a media buy. Distribute your widget on one of the various widget networks or exchanges.
Step 4: Implement a remarketing pixel on your content landing pages. Preferably, create multiple segments across your content for more precise targeting (we'll use this in Month 3).
How to monitor response:
- Be certain your blog (or content landing page) includes your analytics tool.
- Determine which metrics to track and focus on (suggestions: pages per visit, newsletter or RSS subscribers, comments, time on site) Advice: Keep it simple.
- Establish a schedule for periodically reviewing response data.
Month 2 summary: Month 2 is focused on building a relationship with prospects. What works with your current customers can be used to attract new ones. Use your current audience's social media click and engagement behavior to help craft a content marketing campaign to attract new prospects.
Month 3: Remarket to prospects with display ads
Finally, head back to the drawing board and remarket to these same prospects and customers using your new, social media-enhanced understanding of what they think, feel, and desire.
Once a prospect has engaged with your brand -- whether by reading your blog, subscribing to your newsletter, or following you on Twitter -- ask for the sale. Present them with display ads by remarketing to them. Because a prospect has been engaging with your content, they are familiar with your brand, and you will see a higher lift.
When drafting up your next search ad creative or email, you want to correct the difference between what your old ads say and what current customers actually believe. Use the data you learned from Month 1 to create new search or display ads. At this point in the process, you should know what makes potential clients click.
Use your scheduled response review times to meaningfully reflect on how your current ads could be improved. Naturally, you'll want to give each ad enough time to accumulate meaningful response (do not assume that a new ad is a failure based on one day). That said, your goal is to repeatedly hit the market with new and relevant content in order to remarket to your hot prospects and proven buyers. Fortunately, because you segmented them by their language, actions, and buying patterns, you can craft unique ads targeted to each group instead of showing one generic ad to everyone.
Putting it all together
While this is an ongoing process, a sharp marketer or consultant could ideally put this approach into action within three months. Conceptually, it resembles an inverted pyramid model more than the traditional sales funnel most of us are accustomed to. Instead of rushing to move people through the sales process, you gather social responses first and use them to shape the funnel through which prospects will ultimately pass.
Truly harmonizing your traditional and social content efforts is an iterative process. You need to systematically monitor response, interact with prospects, and segment them based on what you discover.
Month 1: Use your existing customer interaction data on your social networks to create more effective search and display campaigns.
Month 2: Repurpose the content your customers like to attract new prospects.
Month 3: Leverage remarketing tools and ad exchanges to turn social media visitors and prospects into customers using display ads.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.