Author Archives: J-P De Clerck

About J-P De Clerck

J-P De Clerck is a 360° customer-centric business and marketing consultant, strategist and trainer. He is managing partner of integrated marketing and digital business consultancy i-SCOOP. You can follow him on Twitter via @conversionation. Connect on Google+ via +J-P De Clerck.

Do Consumers Trust Retailers More Than Social Networks?

Trust and private data

Trust and private data

Consumers are said to rely more on the advice of their peers and even social connections than on businesses themselves. However, this doesn’t mean they trust the social networks themselves when it comes down to sharing their data.

Recently, the e-tailing group and MyBuys released some findings from a survey stating that the surveyed consumers feel more comfortable sharing data with retailers than with social networks.

They do so even more when sharing data improves their shopping experience. I bet the same goes for other experiences as well. Most social networks suck at dealing with consumer data and don’t take into account what their users want in that regard. They dictate on how they will use these data, and it does take some time to find where to change settings or stay up-to-date with latest changes. Even as someone who follows the industry carefully, I often lose track. Continue reading

This blog post in InboundWriter

How to Write Blog Headlines People (and your Goals) Deserve

You can write the most interesting and best content in the world but if your blog headline doesn’t attract attention, appeal and convince people to read on, why even bother? You wouldn’t be doing yourself, your content and your readers a favor, right? Brian Clark says that “on average, 8 out of 10 people will read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” Discover how to write blog headlines – with a twist.

Your blog headlines serve different goals and there are various elements to take into account before you start: your ‘targeted readers’, your goals, relevance and how people look for content. Continue reading

Content Marketing: Content and Blog Frequency

Content Marketing Evangelist Joe Pulizzi

Content Marketing Evangelist Joe Pulizzi

Content marketing is marketing. So it should serve your business goals, take into account the needs and the behavior of your different ‘audience’ segments and finally be relevant for the audience and optimized from the perspective of the costs, benefits,  and resources (for instance, by having a good mix of external partners and an in-house content marketing expert team). These elements have an impact on the frequency of putting out content via the different channels you use. Frequency is important, but it doesn’t mean you should create content on all platforms every day. Let’s take blogging as an example.

When you blog you create expectations among your readers, also regarding frequency. If you blog a lot for a while, and then you stop, it’s impossible to create a valuable and lasting dialogue. Setting these expectations at the beginning is important. Find the right mix and certainly do the math on the cost and return on your blog efforts, compared to the needs of your readers and direct and indirect goals. Continue reading

comScore: the Shopping and Customer Experiences Across Buying Stages

140x121xcomScore-ecommerce-online-shopping-experiencesExcellent customer experiences and relevant touchpoints, across all channels, are rapidly becoming the focal point for smart marketers. Customer satisfaction is not a goal anymore. It is – or should be – a basic component of your business DNA. All customer experiences must be optimized to move beyond the level of satisfaction.

Obviously, perfection is a goal and seldom a reality in business (or in life, for that matter). In the end, it’s about people. However, increasing customer satisfaction and raising it to the next level by striving towards perfect experiences is an ongoing task, whatever role you have in sales, marketing, management, support or any other function.

Shopping-related customer experiences are obviously crucial, before, during and – let’s not forget it – after the purchase. Continue reading

Ten Blogging Lessons from Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan

Chris Brogan

2012 is the year of oversaturation. On social media too. So says Chris Brogan. He has a point. You know the phenomenon. There is too much ‘noise’. And we need filters.

Content curation” is hot. That’s why Twitter acquired Summify. We will scale down.

We live in a consumption society, says Brogan. “People can barely read a tweet.” We must keep everything brief. Ten blogging lessons. Continue reading

community coral

Online Communities Are Like Coral: Give Them Space To Grow

“I told a friend and she told two friends and so on and so on…” Those words come from a famous seventies commercial campaign for a shampoo. It was ingenious in that it not only recognized the power of word-of-mouth advertising, but capitalized on it by promoting the brand had that very power.

All the clever advertising in the world doesn’t carry the weight that a friend or trusted personal source has regarding product recommendations. Getting the thumbs up from someone you trust whose opinion comes from experience makes all the difference for most of us.

In a report on word-of-mouth advertising, Lithium Technologies looks at its power and how the web and social media has affected it. The report looks at online communities and SNA or Social Network Analysis. For this post, I’ll focus on online communities and address SNA in a follow up post. Continue reading

mobile internet

Mobile Internet: Does Your Content Travel Well?

Power users crave power and when they have power they crave more power. When they don’t get more power, they get angry, turn green, grow gigantic and break buildings. Well, OK, they don’t actually go “Hulk” and tear down cities, but they do get plenty frustrated. The power user has smartphones and discovers, consults, consumes and shares content over the mobile internet…

One of the most attractive things about smartphones is their ability to provide connectivity on the road – in fact, that’s the most attractive thing about them in my opinion. However, that use is still heaviest among the early adopters or “power users” and it’s not always smooth surfing and latte all around for them.

According to the “2011 Mobile Internet Attitudes Report” by Antenna Software, 20% of US mobile phone users access the web at least daily and usage is most frequent among those under 45. Men were 7% more likely to use the web on the go each day than women. I wouldn’t think that is a lead which is going to be maintained for long as smartphones gain more market penetration.

While the survey is US based, it still has some interesting insight for mobile marketers because it gives a view of what annoys users most about connecting with the mobile internet via their smartphones.

Adapting Content To The Mobile Internet User Experience

According to the survey, marketers and content producers are missing out on hooking more smartphone users simply because the content doesn’t travel well over the channels consumers use on the mobile Internet. In other words, if the content were tailored better for the display on mobile phones, the users would do more online via their phones.

For example:

  • 46% of those surveyed would use email more on their mobile devices and to interact via the mobile Internet.
  • 38% would use maps more and the same percentage would check for information via the mobile Internet more often.
  • When it comes to shopping the percentage that state they would do more of it via their mobile devices if the information was displayed better is 28%.
  • Even social networking has a high percentage of those who say the same at 27%.

See a pattern here? All the things you’d like people to do via mobile are hampered dramatically if the information/content does not display well on a mobile device and on the mobile Internet. We’ve all been there haven’t we? That meeting where you try to push for something such as a friendlier mobile website or email newsletter and some joker makes the point that there is not enough mobile Internet usage to justify the resources. Yet, as this survey seems to indicate and as common sense dictates, you won’t have anyone using mobile to visit your site or read your newsletter if it looks awful on their phone! This may be a classic example of the “Catch-22” for some marketers.

Online activities US mobile Internet users would perform more often via mobile internet

Online activities US mobile Internet users would perform more often via mobile internet

It doesn’t have to be so. The best path for someone in a situation such as the above may be to switch tactics and go for something a bit more basic. Perhaps what you should be trying to do is convince your team that it’s a multi-channel world out there now and your content has to be multi-channel too. People increasing search for content and interact via the mobile Internet and Interwebs. Certainly numbers from surveys such as the one I’ve quoted here should help by demonstrating that you are missing out if your content is not cross-channel friendly.

The Death of Email Marketing and a Bowl of Petunias

The Death of Email Marketing and a Bowl of Petunias

The Death of Email Marketing and a Bowl of Petunias

“Curiously the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias, as it fell, was, ‘Oh no, not again.’ Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly *why* the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe than we do now.” – The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I feel like that bowl of petunias every time we go through yet another round of the “email is dead” discussion. Oh no, not again! How many times do we have to dance this jig before it gets old?

The sad fact is that it will happen over and over again. We are in transition and email is evolving. If it was dying there might actually be some hope that at some point we wouldn’t be subjected any longer to what seems like a never ending cycle of faulty pontification and the consequential hand wringing which follows.

Remember when the Wall Street Journal declared last year that email was dead? People fell all over themselves either trying to refute that post or substantiate it.

Oh no, not again.

It got even worse when Ben & Jerry’s in the UK announced they were going to focus more on social and HubSpot ran a post (lacking some information) which spurred countless erroneous tweets and blog posts suggesting email was being forsaken wholesale for social marketing. It turned out Ben & Jerry’s wasn’t dropping email marketing, but it gave some of us ice cream headaches.

Oh no, not again.

The latest round of virtual “whack-o-mole” was started by a comScore study which reported that web based email usage was dropping like the proverbial stone, especially among teens. Keep in mind that’s web based email they are talking about – when was the last time you used a web based email interface? The data was misleading but, dramatic and that made it good fodder for posts.

When heavy weights such as Simms Jenkins and Loren McDonald feel the need to step into the ring to punch something silly, you know someone said something really kooky. They both posted last week on the issue and give excellent perspectives on the latest round of drama.

Oh no, not again.

Young people coming into the workforce will adopt those tools which are best suited to attain the goals set for them. That’s not conforming, that’s just plain smart and today’s kids are damn smart. Smart enough to recognize and develop new channels (while using the current ones) for communicating and doing business, and establish those in the workplace as well. While we’re all focused on how well the young are adapting to our way of doing things, they’ll be busy changing how it’s done.

Young people are cross-channel animals and they already have adapted to communicating and interacting via multiple channels. They’ll use email at work, but I’m not sure they’ll find it any more relevant personally just because they use it professionally. It’s just one of many channels to them and it’s as relevant as the content it delivers.

Oh no, not again.

At times it almost seems that many of us want email to fail. Is that perhaps because we are finding it harder and harder to connect with consumers? Has the effort become so taxing that many of us secretly just want to start all over with a new miracle channel? Do we just expect that email marketing should make pennies rain down from heaven even if we just keep doing the same thing over and over? It’s not the channel which becomes stale and irrelevant first, but the content being delivered by it and whose responsibility is that?

Things don’t have to die to lose relevance. It’s not about how dead you are is it? It’s about how alive you are.

Parents are Social and Cross-Channel Consumers

Parents are Social and Cross Channel Consumers

Parents are Social and Cross-Channel Consumers

It’s pretty easy to start thinking that demographics are just about age and gender, but of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. What channels people frequent are affected by where they happen to be in their lives and what they are focused on. Those stages and the inherent priorities are important flags which marketers should be sensitive to.

According to a report from Media Audit (as reported by eMarketer) on social media users, where we happen to be in life means different frequency and usage of different channels.

It won’t come as any surprise that younger respondents with no kids are the most active on Facebook, Twitter or Myspace. However, the study also found that adults with children were much more likely to be on social sites. More than 60% of those adults with kids living at home used Facebook, Twitter or Myspace. Parents with young children under six were the most avid users with 67.1% responding they had been on one social site at least in the past month, while 58% of parents with teens reported the same usage.

When you have a kid (especially if it’s your first) you are always looking to share information and learn from other parents. You also want that sense of perspective – you are not the only one going through stressful times. And of course, proud parents love to share their joy.

Parents sharing isn’t something is new, but something which is just easier to do online and thus social has become a powerful tool for parents to share resources and support. The meetings which once may have occurred in church basements or community centres, now take place online.

These online communities which are loaded with resources are very attractive because how involved you get is up to you. You can jump right in or simply “lurk” and soak up the information and advice. As well, it’s important not to discount the fact that the information can be accessed at the convenience of the user and so, fits into the busy day of a parent.

Young parents represent a demographic with an above average propensity to make big ticket purchases such as cars, PCs and appliances. You have to know video and digital cameras are also big on their shopping lists.

Parents are also extremely mobile. While the study didn’t focus in on smartphone usage, we would all do well to remember that parents are cross-channel and always on the move. They’ll go wherever they have to go in order to get what their kids need and they won’t spend anytime looking for a brand which isn’t convenient to their fast paced lifestyle. As a parent, your time is not your own and what little time you do have to get things done is going to be very highly valued. It’s important that marketers show them how valuable their time is by providing them with useful information across all channels when they want it.

content sharing

The Nonlinear Buying Journey of The Cross-Channel Social Customer

Treat different customers differently by knowing what makes them tick - source

Treat different customers differently by knowing what makes them tick – source

Allow me to repeat some key trends that describe the modern marketing evolutions. There is an abundance of communication/interaction channels, people have increasing opportunities to gather information in the buying journey, we live in a cross-and multi-channel reality which makes it more difficult to determine exactly how people become customers and what steps they are taking and finally: there is a shift from selling to buying (pull). The buying journey and customer journey have changed and continue to change.

The purchasing process is complex for companies and advertisers. How do email messages, online advertisements, offline advertising, peer influence, online and offline word-of-mouth, social interactions, recommendations, sales efforts, visits to trade shows and all the other contact moments interact with one another?

Traditionally we have always looked at selling, buying and lead nurturing as a funnel. Furthermore, this image of a funnel was a quite linear one. However, it has been an image to understand how things work but it doesn’t reflect reality, especially today.

There are many opportunities to follow the customer journey in lead nurturing and sales processes once a (potential) client enters your company’s (online) influence sphere and becomes “measurable” but even then you never really know everything. In a cross-channel world this is an additional plea to implement marketing ROI on campaign, macro and micro levels.

Flaws in the attribution of conversions to interactive marketing touch points

It is obvious that the purchasing process is all but linear, as many marketers who specialize in a certain field still seem to believe. How often do you have an immediate conversion or direct road from a search engine ad to an online purchase for instance? Every company also has a different business model, go-to-market strategy and selling/buying cycle (from very short to very long).

For instance, you do not just purchase a strategic software application, which sometimes costs millions, in one click. But the same also applies for buying products with a short cycle online, even if they are immediately measurable. Here is an example that I have established today from my own buying behaviour. During the holidays I often try to get away for a few days. I just booked a short vacation online. Through my favourite travel agency. I did not type the URL of the travel agency; instead I typed the company’s name into Google. Why? No idea: the force of habit. The first thing that I saw as I typed the company name into Google was a text advert of the company, right at the top of the list. I clicked on it, was directed to the site and I booked my trip.

Now let’s look at it from the companies’ point of view: in their dashboards I appear as a customer who immediately purchased something after clicking on a Google ad (unless there are all kinds of cookies on my PC or they have a sophisticated tracking system). Or in other words: they attribute the turnover directly to their text ad activities. This happens thousands of times per day. Often it is much more complex. How many people search for something via Google after they have heard about it from a friend? If they then also click on a text ad, the lead or sale resulting from this should actually be attributed to “referrals” or “word-of-mouth” and not to search engine advertising. This is only one example of a pre-sales and information channel of the many hundreds that people of today have. I have not even included the impact of online branding effects.

The necessity of integrated online marketing: beyond the social buying journey

Conclusion: the funnel is everything but linear and was it ever linear to start with. Only when you can track someone you can draw some conclusions with the necessary reserves. This applies for both B2B and B2C, although there are differences. It is however clear that the way to a purchase is ‘nonlinear’ and not a simple funnel. Especially in a more socially connected buying reality, the funnel looks really like a series of touchpoint or customer experience maps and you know what that means.

Businesses apparently start to finaly realize this. eMarketer wrote an article, titled “Shoppers Take a Nonlinear Path to Purchase”, wherein the results of a global retail study from Microsoft Advertising and Carat were summarized. The study indicates that the recession (apparently also a factor) and the rapid adoption of digital tools and platforms has changed the purchasing behaviour in retail sectors. I believe that this has been happening for much longer.

Types of conversations influencing purchases

Types of conversations influencing purchases – eMarketer

Quite simply put, the report looked at the way in which different ‘media touchpoints’ influence the buying behaviour of the consumer and found the complexity of the ways in which people gather pre-sales, sales and post-sales information and discuss their purchases with others. Therefore, it concludes, the conventional funnel from awareness to sale has changed.

Econsultancy provides similar examples to mine: the article explains how consumers can first learn of a product via a tweet or a link on a social network, then search for the product online or for example consult product reviews. In the study the importance of offline word-of-mouth is further emphasized and it is pointed out that there is a “complex experience” on the road to a purchase.

In another piece of research, “Reset! Engaging Consumers and Growing Market Share in the New Normal”, CMB (Chadwick Martin Bailey) and a few partners clearly showed consumers have adapted but marketers haven’t. And the same thing is happening in B2B.

Even if we use the model of the funnel or the customer relationship corridor as CMB calls it (with 8 stages but again, these are models), the conclusion is the same: “treat different customers differently by knowing what makes them tick”. Yet another sign how familiar customer-centric B2B tactics and methods are conquering consumer marketing.

The customer relationship corridor by CMB - research here

The customer relationship corridor by CMB – research here

What it boils down to is the following: there is nothing new under the sun, the buying journey of the consumer and B2B buyer is multi-channel and therefore our marketing must also be so (a plea, again, to take part in “social media marketing” in the broadest sense) but maybe most of all: please look further to the direct lead and the attribution of a lead of sale to a specific medium. This does not only entail interactive marketing but also PR for example. The best solution to tackle all this is by having a fully integrated digital marketing approach, far beyond social and also taking into account other techniques and tactics such as content marketing, email marketing, search, offline, you name it. But most of all it requires you to have a customer-centric view by looking at the customer experiences and touchpoints, using buyer personas and, ideally, even take it on a personalized level. Reverse the view: look at the buying journey from the – connected – customer’s perspective (and even without social media he is connected).

The non-linear buying journey and the limits of the funnel metaphor have existed for a long time; they are only becoming clearer and more pressing as we move further in the direction of a cross and multi-channel reality where new ways of connecting and social conversions across different layers of customers and their social networks are key, depending on the segment, demographic or – ideally – buyer persona (or target audience, which is not the same). What can you do about this as a company? Starting by integrating and looking further to what our dashboards say from the individual medium, channel and campaign perspective.

It’s not just about social, it’s about digital integration and engagement, measured in actual conversions and results, across different stages, channels, touchpoints and phazes in the customer life cycle.

time concept

Business As Usual: What I Have Learned In The Year Of Social

I have to confess something : I don’t like New Year. In fact, I don’t like artificial and commercial festivities at all. Especially if they go hand in hand with traditions such as celebrating them every year with the same people you don’t really like. You can’t always get what you want though, right?

This year there hasn’t been that much room to party and celebrate. It was all about building, connecting, working and growing. There are a lot of changes going on in my line of business: marketing. And I love them. Especially the renaissance of content, the fact that companies start to remember there is such a thing as a customer who needs attention again and, my favourite one, that some people start to see that it’s not about media or technology but about what you do with them. All obvious, all forgotten.

Privately, you do with media and technology what you want. In business, you use them to create value for your customers and your business. Period.

The main thing I have learned in business this year is the same thing as last year and all the years before that.

1. There is no brave new world
2. People haven’t become more social
3. In the end, it’s still a very selfish industry
4. Sometimes you get stabbed in the back by people who smile at you

Sounds depressing? Well, it’s not. It’s business as usual.

Social Capital “And Quid Pro Quo”

The best thing that happened to me is that I got in touch with some genuine people and even some people that actually care. I met many of them “online”. Social, email, whatever. Some of them turned out to be what I didn’t expect, others turned out to be more. Some became friends, a few really good, challenging, fun and nice customers and some vampires. That’s life. Online and offline.

The “quid pro quo” that exists in all human relationships, even in those where it doesn’t matter in the short term and where you make the balance over many years, doesn’t exist enough in business life yet.

That’s OK. It means we’ll still have work in 2011.

Businesses that do not value their social capital and human interactions and do not improve the “quid pro quo” will increasingly be confronted with problems. The same goes for the world of consultants, experts, bloggers, media and so on. It’s not the social world as it may seem to the neutral observer. Sometimes it’s a very nasty one, trust me.

But at least now the observer has a voice. And so have I.

Use your voice. Don’t let anyone silence you. Now and in 2011.

Thanks to the friends for the friendship and making it so interesting. Thanks to the others for the lessons.

Happy New Year.

@conversionation

digital channels spending forecast episerver

Survey Looks At ROI Of Web Site, Email, Mobile And Social: Comments And Context

According to a recent survey by EPiServer conducted at ad:Tech, nearly 60 percent of respondents realized the highest return from email marketing and their company website. Those same channels are top of the priority list for spending among 46 percent of respondents. So, do corporations just not get social and mobile or are these channels simply not effective?

“The survey results clearly illustrate what many in the marketing world already suspect, that while marketers are experimenting with social media, they are also struggling with the practicality and ROI of these channels and driving the bulk of investment to the more “traditional” digital channels, “ said Bob Egner, Vice President of Global Marketing at EPiServer. “The reality is that as marketers we’re still early in our understanding of how to best use social channels such as Facebook and Twitter and that clearly more work needs to be done to effectively connect social and mobile marketing to lead generation and revenue growth.”

Mr, Egner makes an obvious point and I would imagine that the toughest spot to be in at a management meeting is when the question is put forward about what if any ROI social and mobile are providing. The seat squirming likely intensifies if someone asks about the human resource costs involved since most companies are likely doing social and mobile by hand and on the fly.

Ad hoc strategies lead to inconsistency in both message and frequency, result in errors and are counterproductive. It’s not just the impact on your resources or the direct single-channel return but a mixed or disjointed message across multiple channels actually increases the chances of consumer disappointment and alienation from your brand.

ROI, excuses and innovation

However, the “ROI challenge” is also often an excuse to not start using the media and channels our customer use. There should be no more social media ROI excuse. And in fact, there should be no more discussions regarding the ROI of channels. Sure, what is “proven”, known (comfort zone) and used a lot in the eyes of marketers delivers high ROI. However, being innovative and taking some calculated risks (yes, once again, you can measure social media ROI), much higher ROI can be achieved raising average ROI of your marketing programs.

And it’s not (only) about the channels, it’s about the customer. ROI in marketing is by definition tied to the cross-channel picture. You cannot measure cross-channel ROI if you only look at individual channels because you miss all cross-fertilization effects and because you are not looking enough at what should be the center of your marketing universe: the customer!

There’s nothing wrong with testing the waters and doing a little experimentation, but it would be best to keep in mind that channels such as mobile, social and even email are live – that is to say that the only one who likely knows you are testing is you. The consumer doesn’t know and doesn’t care and if they see you have a presence in these channels they expect a satisfactory level of consistency and service. In fact, today the consumer expects that you will be there. You can’t zip in and out of these channels when it suits you – you must be there when it suits your customer.

Without a plan in place you may never come out of testing mode. If you don’t have an answer to the question of why you should be in social, mobile and other channels, then you are a like a sky diver who just leapt out of the airplane without checking to see if he chute was packed correctly.

It’s hard to really judge any ROI if from the beginning you weren’t sure of what the objectives were. There is strong ROI to be gained from multi-channel marketing if you plan your strategy and use the correct tools, processes and resources. You can carry on a conversation with consumers on their terms and be there when and where they want you if you start from step one by mapping out your route and have the right vehicle to get you where you want to go.

The future

Anyway, the “good news” is that, according to Mr, Egner  “In 2011, we expect to see more detailed analytics related to social behavior and sentiment that is closely coordinated and synchronized with the other online marketing metrics”.

And I like his conclusion best: “In order to drive greater investment by marketers in the social channels, we also encourage digital agencies to take an integral role in bridging the gap between marketers and technologists to drive greater understanding of social media, and to paint a clearer roadmap to conversion and ROI.”

Let me add to that: bridge the gaps within your business first and start speaking a common metrics language across all channels and divisions.

Some data about the priority list for spending below. More info here.

Buyer versus seller

Social CRM: Customer-Centricity And The Need For Redefinitions

CRMCustomer-centric thinking and working is the main driver in all marketing changes, we are going through, including social media marketing, email marketing, etc. Customer-centricity is not some kind of slogan.

It’s a necessity for businesses and is achieved through direct and indirect processes of listening, understanding, providing relevance and optimizing the value of content, interactions and relationships from the customer viewpoint.

Redefining Customers And Products

To be and work customer-centric, businesses have to broaden their definition of a customer. It’s not only the person that buys your products or services. It’s also your employee (who buys security, an environment to realize his potential and respect), your investors, the media and all people that in one way or another are connected to your ecosystem. Continue reading

Changes in social networking site use by generation feature

Social Relationships: Why You Want Old Friends And Not Only Digital Natives

A report from Pew Internet: Generations 2010 is full of fascinating facts and insights regarding web usage demographics. In fact, the analysis is going to fill more than one post to be sure. Let’s start off with some figures which caught my eye right away.

The percentage of those Americans who do go online has remained relatively constant since 2006 at 79%. While most generation demos have an adoption rate of at least 70%, the report finds that this drops off after 65. Only 58% of adults between 65 and 73 and 30% of adults 74 and older go online. So, younger generations sill have a disproportionate representation on the web right now.

Social Network Adoption Rate Of ‘Older’ Generations Grows Faster

It won’t come as any surprise that younger generations are still more likely to use social network sites, but here’s an interesting tidbit for you: the fastest growth in this regard has come from internet users 74 and older (aka G.I Generation).  Their usage of social networking sites has quadrupled since 2008, from 4% to 16%. Other ‘older generations’ such as the boomers are doing well too.

16% may not sound like much, but that number is just going to increase. Not hard to predict that trend since we all age and social network usage is becoming mainstream. However, do we really get it? The fact that this is just going to grow with time is not really the main concern here. Are we considering the value of seniors online and relating to and engaging with them right now? I would say that in general the answer is no.

How readable are your email campaigns? Do you use tiny text or text/background combinations which make it harder for seniors to read? What about your messaging? Do you include seniors by seeking content relevant to them? When you get a complaint or comment from a senior (assuming you know they are a senior of course) do you make assumptions of how web savvy they are or their technical comfort level based on their age?

Pew and the use of internet by different generations

Old Friends Know Where You Have Been

Look, depending on what you sell, there may not be a need for you to have much focus where older generations are concerned, but if you are making assumptions that they are not potential influencers via social media and other channels, you are making a mistake.

Perhaps I am generalizing, but older people tend to know the value of relationships better than many younger people do. They understand the importance of communicating with their family and friends. They’ve had a lifetime to understand that there is nothing more important in this world than the relationships you build.

Is it any wonder that they would see the value of social media, when it is so effective at keeping them in touch?

To quote Stephen Chapin: “Old friends, they mean much more to me than a new friend. Because they can see where you are and they know where you’ve been.” I would say that any company or brand would be lucky to have such old friends.

The Digital Natives And Label Risk

In the mean time many agencies and marketers are looking mainly to younger generations when it comes to social media adoption. The ‘Digital Natives’ are key in their approach. In Belgium, where I live, there is even a 360° interactive agency that started to position itself as the Digital Native Agency. Risky if you ask me, knowing that the budgets they win are certainly not approved by those same natives. Recently I read a column by one of its founders claiming that the era of physical consumption is ending with the arrival of the natives. Come again?

Anyway, many people seem to forget that, Digital Native or not, every generation is different and every individual as well, whether we label them as Gen Y, Millennials, Boomers, Digital Natives or whatever. People evolve and are not defined by technology alone. We are still a more primitive species than we like to think and, again in response to the mentioned column, we don’t control our world and life from behind computers and dashboards. That’s the wishful thinking of people who confuse the possibilities technological innovations with narcissist divine control.

People have basic needs beyond their more ‘spiritual ones’, they also still experience basic emotions (they often tend to focus on the “good ones” and suppress the “bad ones”), they need to eat and drink and, yes, they need to have a sanitary break now and then.

All sarcasm apart, there are also facts and figures.

Another recent survey, this one by the Nielsen Norman Group, found that “marketers are misguided in assuming that social media is the best way to reach the college-age audience”, as MediaPost puts it.

Sure they use social a lot and many of them know and understand digital technology but they don’t want everything to be social and online. As MediaPost writes: “college students don’t necessarily live up to the stereotype of an especially tech-savvy, social media-obsessed segment of society”.

You can read more about what they really want here. And what will the “Facebook Natives, Mobile Natives, RFID Natives or Whatever Natives” want? We’ll know in a few years. But putting all your eggs in one basket has never been the wisest business strategy.

So, look beyond the obvious and think. There are more people out there than the stereotypes…

You can find the free Pew report here (PDF opens) and order the report from the Norman Nielsen Group here.

Changes in social networking site use by generation

vocus 2011 strategy

PR And Social Media Survey: Mixed Findings For 2011

Vocus has released their 2011 Planning Survey and there are some very interesting findings and stats highlighted in the report. This year Vocus teamed up with Deirdre Breakenridge to produce their PR planning report.

As Breakenridge points out, corporations are realizing that social conversations about their brand will happen with or without them (and as always, I have to stress that these conversations have been going on forever) so, it’s best to be a part of that conversation: “be where your customers are, remember?”.

She also observes that small social victories for organizations which dipped their feet into social this year will lead to more focus next year.

Vocus surveyed 508 professionals, with about half being PR and the rest a mix of social media specialists, advertisers and search marketing professionals.

23% of respondents said marketing is leading the social media charge with PR contributing and 22% said PR is leading their efforts with a variety of departments chipping in. Wrong, according to me. More department should be involved in a cross-channel customer world where everyone in your business should look in the same direction: people and value.

In general, respondents felt social media budgets would improve as compared to 2010. 42% expect budgets to “increase somewhat” or “increase significantly” while 29% responded the same last year. Also, 20% felt budgets would “decrease somewhat” or “decrease significantly” as opposed to 29% that indicated that in last year’s report. Of those surveyed, the most optimistic group was search professionals and advertisers.

How much of your relations and brand do you “own”?

Organizations certainly seem to think they are right in the thick of social media and participating. When asked about social media maturity, 67% responded that they are actively involved and contributing to social media.

Vocus survey PR social media maturity

Even so I have to wonder how public relations will truly find its place in social media. Is PR best placed for social media? PR people seem to wonder themselves since 60% said PR will be more challenging in 2011, amongst others due to social media. On top of that, there seems to be some consensus on marketing taking the lead and PR providing assistance. According to me, more divisions should be involved.

And anyway, customer relationships are, however you look at them, not only about “public” relations (and, yes, journalists, bloggers and media are your customers as well). How much can you manage these relations in the era of the “public”?

Companies don’t “own” conversations anymore (or better: they never have, they only owned broadcasting) so it follows that they can’t really expect to fully own their brand either. You are not pushing information out on your schedule anymore – that is being dictated by consumers with a core of influencers who carry a great deal of weight across multiple channels.

Take a good look at your corporate culture and consider if you really are an active participant in the social media channel and all the others which today’s cross-channel consumers thrive in.

Are you looking at new ways to do things to connect and interact with them or are you trying to shoe-horn the new consumer into what amounts to outdated processes and procedures?

The full survey results can be found (with registration) on the Vocus website.

spinning plates

Avoid Social Media Marketing Wobble Worry: Select

US-based agency R2i (short for R2 integrated), recently surveyed 296 marketing professionals on social media and came up with yet more evidence that companies are still struggling with social media strategies and tactics.

Nearly 42 percent responded that time and resources were the biggest hurdle preventing them from entry into the channel. 20.9 percent quoted skepticism of return, which basically boils down to ignorance and being incapable of having a goal and a plan, just like other barriers including “too many platforms to decide” or “not sure where to begin”. 38 percent of respondents responded that their big mistake was not allocating enough time and resources.

Greatest barriers to entry into social media

As the report notes, the problem may well be that companies are trying to be in too many places at once and simply have too many plates spinning (“too many platforms to decide”, “not sure where to begin”, “lack of time and resources”, which partially might mean “we want to be everywhere at the same time doing good stuff for everyone”).

Have you ever watched one of those plate spinning acts? I’m sure there’s a technique, but the only strategy seems to be to react as quickly as possible to whatever plate is wobbling – two seconds to get it spinning again and off to another wobble.

Wobble Worry Is Not An Efficient Strategy

Wobble worry may be an effective tactic, but it’s hardly an efficient or practical strategy. It’s certainly going to overwhelm you in the long term. You may have noticed that even the best Chinese acrobats have a limit of how many plates they can wobble worry over!

How many plates have you got spinning? How many are wobbling? Do you even know? It’s very possible that the first time you know something is wrong is when you hear the crash!

As the report mentions, social media presents a great deal of potential for lead generation, business development and brand monitoring. However, it’s also a great channel for customer service and support, if you have the resources to dedicate.

You can’t just run from one wobbling plate to the next and expect that to generate leads, help with business development or even brand monitoring. As well, if you try to conduct customer service this way, you will be cut to shreds by broken china. Select your goals and channels, depending on your business and customers.

The Multi-Channel Customer

Social media is just one channel the multi-channel consumer exists in. Imagine if you will that today’s consumer is that wobbling plate. If you don’t run over there fast enough to get the relationship spinning well again, the plate will fall and your relationship is broken. That is no way to run a business.

It might be a better idea to automate the spinning of your plates so that instead of running from wobble to wobble (channel to channel) you have a system set up which keeps those plates spinning at just the right RPM and when you need to give it a couple of extra pushes, you are there just in time and only have to use just the right amount of energy to get it spinning nice and smoothly.

PS: let the audience (your communities) decide on the spinning speed, the direction and even the plates.

More data from the survey – including all the graphs and forecast you love – here (PDF).

Digital Brands Expressions Survey Social Media In Businesses

Businesses Fail Incorporating Social Media Due To Lack Of Plan and Key Players Defining It

There are many reasons why businesses fail incorporating social media in their value creation chains, customer relationship programs and marketing mix. From corporate culture to overemphasizing message and medium to ignoring the listening priority to short-term tactics. And more. One of the reasons is obviously also a lack of strategy and planning which clearly came forward in a report by Digital Brand Expressions I blogged about before. And there is more.

The survey by the US-based company (published last Summer) shows that a lot of companies integrate social media into their strategy unprepared and without a clear plan. This is not the first time that a lack of goals, planning, cross-divisional cooperation, and even strategy regarding social media marketing shows up in a survey.

However, there is no reason to exclude social media marketing from a broader framework, and to approach it as an ‘island’ stripped of any form of strategy.

The fact that it does happen so often can be destructive for the company’s actions and reputation and it gives social media marketing in general a bad image as well.

Even more important: it often doesn’t provide any value whatsoever for the people using social media (and therefore, neither for the company).

Digital Brand Expression found that 78% of all participating companies practice social media marketing.

Yet a mere 41% of those actually have a strategic plan for their use of social media, in which is put down just what the goals are, which division is doing what, how the company involves its employers, etc.

Still, 88% of the companies without a social media plan finds it important to actually have one.

The conclusion is simple: a lot of companies aren’t ready for social media marketing because they don’t succeed in developing a coherent strategy as well as a clear plan that goes beyond the borders between different departments.

This silo-way of thinking, the walls between the various company divisions, a lack of coordination, and a bad insight into the possibilities of social media undoubtedly play a role in this.

Recent studies that fruitlessly debated on just who within the company is responsible for social media (PR, marketing, etc…) pointed this out already.

Several key players are left out of the social media plan and strategy

The survey also looked at who is responsible for creating, carrying out, and maintaining a strategic social media communications plan.

The marketing divisions takes the lead in this with 71%. The ‘corporate communications’ scored 29%, while sales and IT are both good for 10%. The management team only scored 16%, which is a shame, since drawing a social media marketing strategic plan demands the executive team’s cooperation, in the very least.

Which area of your company is responsible for the creation and maintenance of your strategic social media communications plan?

At the companies that have a social media marketing plan, it turns out that several divisions are barely included in it, if at all.

With an impressive 94%, marketing is almost always included. Public relations follows with 71%, while sales ended third with 55%.

Yet customer service is only included in 26% of all cases, and HR only in 16%. Management is barely included at all.

Which areas of your company are included in your strategic social media communications plan?

The fact that customer service is included so little, means that many companies don’t yet realize that the role of customer service is getting more and more important in these times in which customer satisfaction is so crucial.

The overwhelming presence of marketing and PR shows that a lot of companies overlook a large part of the essence of social media marketing. And the fact that HR (and therefore also the company’s employees) is included so sporadically, emphasizes this conclusion even more.

Obviously, these aren’t the only reasons why businesses still often fail in social media marketing but they sure are important ones.

You can download the report here and watch the slideshare below.

Bryan Eysenberg

Leverage Social Media Effectively And Increase Conversion Rates

Bryan EisenbergBryan Eisenberg and his brother, Jeffrey, need no introduction. The have written books with titles such as ‘Persuasive Online Copywriting: How to Take Your Words to the Bank’, ‘Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results’ and ‘Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?: Persuading Customers When They Ignore Marketing
‘.

An interview about social media and content with conversion specialist Bryan. After all, there is a strong correlation between content, search, conversion and social media.

My first question for Bryan was how, according to him, topics such as creating relevant content and conversion have been affected by social media.

People create content for two reasons

Bryan says that the most obvious thing is that social media have shown the content gap that companies have neglected for so long. I can only fully agree with that.

Bryan continues: “Consumers create content for two reasons: 1. the company failed to adequately answer the questions they have and/or 2. they’re excited (positively or negatively) about the company’s offering. That’s why consumers are more credible than the company. It is only because companies have spent so many years hyping up their “value” that the consumer B.S. meter has gone into overdrive, and we count on advice from others like us that we can trust. The fact is companies that learn how to leverage social media or voice of the customer effectively can see increase their conversion rates”.

Bryan is of course completely right when he says that people increasingly count on advice from people they trust. And who trusts companies that spread B.S. and don’t open up? Next I told Bryan that I remembered that in his book ‘Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results’ there was quite some advice on persuasion. Isn’t persuasion after all a big part of what conversion is about?

I asked Bryan, who described the clues to persuade website visitors, etc. very well, what according to him, are the best ways to persuade social network users to become connections and later real business relations?

It’s about people and relationships

Bryan: “It’s the same secrets to creating any human relationship. Listen, be worthwhile to know, be a valuable friend. People should re-read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People”.

Then I asked Bryan why he thinks it’s still so difficult for companies to act customer- and visitor-oriented. I mean, he wrote in 2005, that companies have to offer value from a customer-centric perspective, but five years later this is still an issue.

Bryan: “People tend to believe that their customers are just like them. They aren’t. I was just with a client who was doing a good job marketing to 1, maybe 2, of their personas, when, in fact, they had 6 personas in their target market. It is very hard to read the label when you’re inside the bottle. When you are inside your business day after day it can be hard to get the perspective you need to be truly customer-centric”.

Indeed, to have a perspective, you also have to take some distance and talk to people OUTSIDE of your company, like…customers for instance.

Since I’m in the “business of creating content” since many  years now and Bryan is a content and conversion expert, I wanted to know his opinion on how (the importance of) content has changed.

Bryan: “The one main change has been the length of content has changed. We’re in a world that loves micro blogging and status updates. In the 60s copywriters used to say that copy should be like a woman’s skirt, short enough to be interesting but long enough to cover the essentials. I think that skirt would be mighty short today”.

Email marketing is the mule of Internet marketing

I guess that doesn’t need further explaining. Next I asked Bryan, who, again, is a conversion specialist, what email marketers should focus on to get the best conversion.

Bryan: “Email marketing is the mule of Internet marketing. It may not be that sexy any more, but it continues to deliver results day after day. You should continue to focus on developing great content and make it easy to share”.

So…share.

mobile email

Survey Reveals Mobile Email Trends: Where Is Your Subscriber?

We are on the go and so is our inbox, according to a new report from eROI. For some time now the focus of email marketers has been getting to the inbox and making sure that the message is compatible with whatever email client the subscriber is using.

While the personal computer has stabilized and standardized to a great degree and the email client wars have shrunk to only a few major combatants, what seems to have snuck up on the outside are new devices for accessing those inboxes. It’s no longer only a case of what client they are using, but what device and even where they are at which affects readability.

Now marketers have to contend with where their subscribers might be when they read the email. Are they at the office or on a train or at a football game? You just can’t be sure where anyone is these days and that complicates the issue. Where your subscriber is may well be as important as the day or time you send the email to them.

In other words, it’s 11 PM and do you know where your subscriber is? A key finding of the report is that there is no real universal case study for mobile subscribers. Your mobile messaging should be tailored to your specific subscriber base.

The report found that subscribers are more likely to be mobile from Thursday afternoon through the weekend. While that may not come as a surprise, it does mean that if you send your emails out in that range, you need to be even more mobile device friendly.

Mobile devices started out at a reasonably slow pace, but this is accelerating as would a sled on an icy slope. The technology is picking up speed and adoption is increasing at an exponential rate. Those who do not now take a good look at how their subscribers are interacting with their messages will find themselves left behind fast.

The report suggests marketers use a tool such as Litmus to determine what devices subscribers are using and when. Tracking this information over a 30-60 day period should show some trends and give you a deeper understanding of how to optimize your campaigns to suit your subscribers best. Knowing this will allow you to efficiently allocate the resources you have available.

As well, don’t forget using this data to optimize the content and landing pages you are driving subscribers to. If that content and those pages are not optimized for the preferred platforms, then your work is not done.

And while device detection is pretty much a non-starter for email clients, there is technology available to detect devices for your website and landing pages and you can then tailor that content accordingly.

As well, simply putting a “mobile friendly” version link in your emails can go a long way to smoothing the user experience for mobile users.

label

Social And Other Marketing Labels: Rip Them Off And Stomp On Them!

Labels, we love them, don’t we? Humans seem to have this need to categorize everyone and everything. Once we slap a label on something we then fall all over ourselves to differentiate what we’ve labeled and we even resort to what at best can be called embellishing, to more starkly define those differences.

Labels reassure us but make us blind for the reality behind them. And they divide the world in easy-to-understand categories that we can compare, claim, criticize or embrace. In real life. And in business.

Take marketing “channels” such as email and social for example. Sometimes advocates for social media and email remind me of a panic stricken drowning man who tries to push his buddy under in order to climb up and save himself. I’m not suggesting social is drowning of course, I’m simply attempting to paint a bit of a picture here.

Promoting one channel over any other by pointing out the short comings is counterproductive. It’s kind of like choosing Miss Universe by virtue of how effective she is at describing how much uglier her competitors are. This approach (sadly) is an established tactic in politics, but using this tactic to advocate any channel over another should be a flag that the person employing it has very few bullets in their gun.

Social media and email are channels for people to be social in. Anytime two humans interact it’s social, period end of sentence.

Marketers must stop thinking about channels as different and start seeing the world with a wider view. Knock down the silos! Rip off the labels and stomp on them! As soon as you try to categorize something, your vision starts to narrow and you lose perspective.

Sometimes it seems we have enough social media gurus out there to fill up a football stadium. Some peddle easy solutions and promise absolute salvation waits if you focus on social and not email or a traditional channel such as broadcast. Don’t you believe it!

Digital business requires automation but no robots

Why? Because people today are cross-channel animals. The days of one media channel such as TV dominating their attention are over. People know they have the power of choice and they exercise that power at every opportunity.

The real challenge for marketers today is tracking all those channels, combining them to offer relevance and personalizing the interactions. Most of us would likely prefer those interactions to be human-to-human, but that is getting progressively more difficult just due to volume and pace.

Using automation to support your interactions and touch points with customers is going to become more and more vital. Automation in this regard isn’t about replacing people with robots. It’s about adopting a strategy which allows your customers to choose how they interact with you and allowing you to better target the resources you need to initiate and nurture your relationships with them.

All the rest is about personality, authenticity, value and moving from those triggered, automated, social, non-social, direct, indirect, one-way, two-way, anyway touch points, that are merely opportunities to briefly connect and interact, to business relationships.

Online, offline, whateverline. By being human, earning trust, thinking emotion, delivering relevance, listening and seeing people instead of users, consumers, suspects, prospects, subscribers, fans, followers, Klout scores, digital natives, early adopters and all the other labels we like to use to understand. Sure, we must differentiate, identify, segment and target.

But we shouldn’t label so much. And that goes for channel and people. Good customer experience, service, value and respect go for everyone, remember the long tail.

And the human-to-human? Let’s bring that back in real life, shall we? Including our digital life that is now part of who we are.

Now, how are YOU doing today?

Blogging

Blogs Are the Hubs of the Social Network Ecosystem

Many businesses don’t have a blog yet. Too bad since blogs are really social media hubs and more. But there is hope. Since blogs are almost a must for all businesses that want to do “something” with social media.

A little more than a decade ago many companies had no websites. And if they had one, it was often no more than some online brochure. Now, for most businesses their website is a critical part of their daily basis and a hub where various online and offline activities start and come together. In little over ten years the corporate site has become a crucial component of the marketing and communication strategy. Today companies face a new challenge: social media.

Actually, the challenge is not that new but the success of social media and the fact that people continuously want more control over the communication process and tap into their social networks force companies to use social media as well.

Social media, including blogs, are so frequently used by people – and thus also by prospects, clients, suppliers, potential employees, competitors, journalists etc. – that you HAVE to follow what is happening in the social sphere and participate in it.

The Role And Advantages of Blogs

Blogs play a crucial part in this. A blog, as I have been saying for a long time, is a social media hub. In some cases social networks can also be social media hubs and even the corporate website offers various – underused – possibilities regarding social media marketing. But blogs are definitely the main social media hubs. They are the source of social interactions and facilitate dialogues.

Blogs are the online properties to which companies can link their social media presences and where dialogues with clients and prospects also effectively take place. Furthermore, blogs play a crucial role in search engine optimization and a brand’s reputation, amongst many others.

Businesses can blog in various ways. They can setup a separate blog which is more or less separate from the company (website) itself, they can leave the initiative for blogging to persons within the company who have something to say and create their own blog, etc.

But it is also absolutely advisable to have a blog that is setup within the website or connected to it and where different persons within the company can blog.

The benefits are tremendous: a simple integration with web analytics, a more ‘open’ and transparent image, search engine optimization and a rapid real-time interaction with people whereby relevant content is crucial.

Company blogs also open up new doors to strengthen other channels and client aimed actions, even in more outbound activities such as e-mail marketing. And of course they are essential in inbound marketing: people are in need of relevant information they can interact with; using blogs you can provide this much faster and in a conversational way than on a website.

The Social Content Management System

Just as today the website has become a marketing hub, blogs will for a long time be the hubs of social media marketing.

Content plays a crucial role in this and are often the start of your social media activities that aim to engage people and have touch points and connections that might lead to business relationships of any nature whatsoever.

If you don’t have a blog yet, it’s really time to get started or to come with another social media hub.

The next step is to build, what I call a social content management system. It’s not content management as we know it. It’s social, cross-channel, integrated and two-ways. I will develop the concept in a later post.

Identify The People And Connections Behind Your Email Subscribers And Social Connections

The success of the activities of email marketers depends from the actions of one group of people: subscribers.

For community managers and social media marketers the same applies, although here we don’t call them subscribers but members, friends (Facebook), followers (Twitter), fans (Digg, Facebook,…) and much more.

Whatever they are called: ultimately, they are just real people like you and me. 80% water, some flesh and bones, a brain and plenty of desires, issues, problems, challenges and dreams.

Treating Email Subscribers As People Instead of Email Addresses

It’s the loyalty of people that will determine success in your business. Not email addresses or followers: people.

In email marketing, subscribers are still often seen as email addresses in a list instead of human beings, that need to be thanked, involved, etc. and have needs.

Email marketers should begin interacting with their “subscribers”: ask them what they think about the emails they receive or about the company.

Ask them what communication channels they prefer, what frequencies etc. Invite them to comment on your marketing efforts, occasionally reward them and put them in the spotlight.

Treat your subscribers as friends. And what applies to email marketing, also applies to social media like Twitter or Facebook.

Once you are ‘connected’ with someone, that doesn’t mean there is a relation. There is a connection and nothing more.

Social CRM, Relationships And Communities

Connections become relationships when they become personal. When you get closer. As a business you can only get closer if you offer value and relevance by listening. If you are reliable, trustworthy and open. And then the rules of any human contact apply.

These rules are introduced in marketing: people need to be recognized, valued, praised and heard, they need to be able to share, communicate, participate and belong to social groups.

And I’m not talking social media here, I’m talking social groups in a sociological sense: family, friends, communities, clubs, companies, whatever.

Looking at connections, target groups and segments as real people, is what relationship marketing and social CRM are really about.

There is a strong link between social CRM, people and communities just as there is a strong relationship between social CRM, participation and interaction.

Communities exist of people. And they exist without you even knowing it. Even around your brand and businesses. You cannot build them, you can only make them visible, nurture them and involve them in your business, the way you shape your future, your communication and your brand.

Social CRM based on personal dialogue, community involvement, feedback and ongoing, increasingly personalized, people-centric efforts, while closely following all digital, behavioural, lifecycle-based and social interaction signals.

Improving Customer Loyalty And Increasing Sales Is Relational

Marketers need to be human and treat their subscribers, followers, communities, target groups, etc. as human beings too.

That requires an ongoing dialogue, commitment and a personal relationship: dialogues instead of monologues. And the need to treat people this way is a necessity for companies to succeed.

People are bombarded with tweets, emails, Facebook updates, LinkedIn requests, etc.

An opt-in, regardless of the medium (email, Facebook, Twitter, whatever), is a miracle (nowadays).

The path to greater customer loyalty and increased sales is about stepping from behind the technological curtain and getting to know subscribers, followers, fans, etc. in person. And about nurturing your community, even if you don’t know it exists yet.

Michael Kahn Performics

Michael Kahn: Relevant Brands Need To Have A Presence on Twitter

Twitter was meant to be a social communication service that enables people to inform friends and acquaintances about what they are doing. The micro-blogging platform has since its launch grown into a service that is increasingly used by businesses and success stories are published every single day: smart marketers and entrepreneurs have used Twitter to grow their businesses exponentially, service their customers and even sell a lot. Most success cases are known.

What many of them have in common, besides smart thinking, is a clear focus on the customer experience and the human dimension of a brand. Twitter has found its way as an ideal medium in cross-channel interactions. And it is also increasingly finding its way as an advertising medium.

But there is much more. Think about search engine marketing for instance. Recent events and announcements have made Twitter more important than ever before in that perspective (read “Official”: Facebook & Twitter DO Influence Natural Search Rankings on Smart Insights). Before these announcements I interviewed Michael Kahn, Senior Vice President, Client Services, at performance markting specialist Performics (Publicis Groupe/VivaKi) about the role of Twitter, amongst others from the search engine marketing viewpoint.

Michael Kahn of PerformicsFirst of all, Michael, gave his opinion on Twitter as a marketing instrument: “Relevant brands have to have a presence on Twitter. Brand name Twitter handles are far too valuable to your brand to let them sit out there for squatters to scoop up. If someone else grabs your handle, they are controlling your brand’s message. People are searching for brands within the social networks; and the search engines rank Twitter pages highly for brand name searches. Social sites within the search engine results pages (SERPs) are here to stay. If brands do not control their Twitter page, they risk losing control of their brand’s message on Twitter and in search. A user searching for a brand on Google could easily come across a Twitter page that may look like an official brand page, but is really a consumer complaint page or a page controlled by that brand’s competitors”.

Branding, search engine marketing, reputation management, avoiding that squatters scoop up your brand name Twitter handle etc. All good reasons. But what does Michael think a brand should do on Twitter to make the whole experience valuable for the company and, most of all, its (potential) customers?

Michael: “Once you get on Twitter, you need to stay active to build a following. Hone in on your sweet spot and then start tweeting about it. People who are interested in what you have to say will start following you—your followers self-select themselves and thus are highly qualified prospects. Have a brand personality, but also offer people valuable content”.

He continues: “Build a following by holding contests and offering giveaways. Encourage consumers to talk about your brand. For instance, Chicago T-shirt company Threadless encourages its Twitter followers to tweet what Threadless shirt they are wearing that day. People who tweet the shirt are entered into a drawing to win a free shirt. Using this approach, Threadless starts massive conversations about their brand and has gained over 1.5 million followers. Dell has also been very successful using promotions on Twitter, driving millions of dollars in sales by tweeting weekly discount offers to its legion of followers”.

Engagement, commitment, listening and identifying brand influencers

But Michael warns that it requires an ongoing engagement: “On the other side advertisers should not take a ‘launch it and leave it’ mentality to pursuing a presence on Twitter. Brands need to make a firm commitment to managing their presence on this platform whether it is to drive sales, service customers or listen and learn. Otherwise they risk being perceived as out of touch or not finishing conversations they started”.

Until now Michael talked a lot about Twitter as an advertising, SEM and branding tool but in his last answer the magic words appear: ‘service customers’. So what is Michael’s view on the relevancy of Twitter in CRM, customer service, lead generation, marketing automation etc.?

Let’s start with managing customer relationships and gathering insights about customer behaviour and identifying brand influencers.

Michael:Twitter allows marketers to listen to how consumers are talking about their brandSocial listening can inform other marketing strategies like: advertising and paid search copy (learn how consumers talk about your brand to improve copy relevancy/CTRs), search keyword lists (grow keyword portfolios with trends/topics your target market is interested in),  landing page strategies, reputation management campaigns (get on top of negative chatter), competitive strategy (how do consumers perceive you vs. your competition?), display and offline campaigns. Social listening also helps a brand identify brand influencers—fans of the brand who are highly influential because consumers trust their opinions. The brand can reach out to these people through Twitter, keep them happy and keep them talking positively about their brand. Social listening can be done manually by monitoring Twitter Search. There are also automated social listening tools to help brands break through the clutter, mine and compile the relevant chatter”.

Managing your reputation and servicing your customers

When asked about his view on Twitter as a reputation management tool Michael has this to say: “Twitter allows a brand to take control of the conversation quickly before negative media stories about the brand come out during a crisis. For instance, when a hole opened in a Southwest Airlines plane, Southwest quickly informed its Twitter followers that it would be inspecting every plane overnight and that there would be minimal disruption in the next day’s schedule.  Additionally, Twitter profiles can be used for SERP domination. Search engines only show 2 natural results for a native Web site per query.  But what about the content you distribute to Twitter? Twitter profiles rank highly for brand queries. This is a great way to dominate the SERP for your brand, manage reputation or push competitors down”.

In all the answers Michael Kahn gave to my questions it is obvious that he sees that Twitter is – on top of everything else – also an excellent customer service tool.

Michael gives an example: “Twitter allows marketers to monitor and respond to customer service issues. Customer service reps should be listening to Twitter chatter and jumping into the conversation to help customers solve problems. Comcast increased its customer satisfaction score by 9.3% using this tactic”.

Twitter and lead generation

And then it’s time for the big one: can you acquire new customers through Twitter? Can it help you in generating leads?

For Michael the answer is clearly ‘yes’: “A Performics Social Marketing Study found that consumers are open to brand messages on the social networks. Brands should be tweeting deals and promotions to their followers (see Dell example above), especially during the holidays. A brand’s following is a self-selected list of people that are saying to the brand: ‘we are interested in what you have to talk about’ or even ‘we are interested in buying from you.’ Don’t spam your followers, but recognize that they are open to your promotions. Test which times of day and types of messages drive the most clicks and conversions from Twitter and optimize your promotional tweets. Twitter can also be used to drive in-store traffic. For instance, tweet something like: ‘get a free gift when you mention this tweet in one of our stores today from 1PM to 5PM!’”.

Conclusion? According to Michael, from a marketing perspective Twitter is about spreading relevant information, content, brand messages, promotions etc. to those who decide they want to follow us.

Without relevance and an ongoing conversation and engagement it will not work but most of all I conclude that Twitter is more about listening than about speaking (or tweeting). Isn’t that what marketing is about in this digital era?

Twitter is a great platform for many marketing purposes.

And for search engine marketers it is nothing less than a must.