Five tips for savvy marketing on social networks

Around five years ago, online marketing usually meant sending out tons of e-mail, or creating a Web site that showcased your products.

Mass and targeted e-mail marketing still produce results, research shows, and if properly executed can dramatically boost sales and revenues.

However, the Web 2.0 explosion, and the growing popularity of these sites across multiple demographics, are quickly changing all the rules.

In a competitive environment, businesses that fail to take advantage of tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter may be at a disadvantage, industry insiders say.

The best way to use these tools is for building communities rather than selling goods, according to Wayne Carrigan, vice-president of ThinData Inc., a permission-based e-mail marketing firm based in Toronto.

Carrigan’s company handles digital messaging campaigns for organizations such as Air Canada, the Bank of Montreal and Delta Hotel.

Around a decade ago, he recalled, marketing emphasis was on “getting the company message out.”

Today it’s on what the client has to say.

Another online marketing expert agrees.

Your target audience reveals its interests, likes and dislikes in conversations on social networks, noted Steve Mast managing director at Delvinia Inc., an interactive digital marketing firm based in Toronto.

By staying attuned to this discourse, marketers can cull valuable information that helps them craft more effective messages.

Mast cited the example of how Random House Canada recently started using Facebook and Twitter to extend customer contact among avid book readers.

Delvinia helped the Canadian arm of the U.S. book company set up its Web site several years ago.

Through Book Lounge, Random House Canada’s online meeting place for Canadian book lovers, an in-house marketing team was able to develop a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

“The purpose was not to push products but simply to get book lovers connected and build a community,” Mast said.

At a time when book publishers aren’t making much money, using Web 2.0 tools are a great option, as they require very little capital outlay, and thrive on online word-of-mouth or viral marketing, he said.

Here are some of Carrigan’s top tips for smart marketing through Web 2.0.

Capture multiple contact points – Around 70 per cent of e-mail users have more than one e-mail address. It’s important that your database capture multiple e-mail addresses and other contact points of your customer, says Carrigan.

But he urges marketers to keep the data gathering process permission-based or there is a danger a customer could be irked and opt out.

Also companies should only gather pertinent data for the campaign. For example, there’s no need to get a phone number if you have no intention of calling.

Analytics could also be used to identify clients’ online search or surfing patterns.

Design for various technologies – Seek out ways to tap into popular mobile devices such as the BlackBerry and iPhone. If people are not spending as much time in front of their computer screens think of ways to market to them on their smart phones.

This means designing messages that can fit smaller screens,  and are still readable.

Tap into social networks – User-generated content can greatly influence purchasing decisions of online community members, said Carrigan.

That’s why it’s vital that your campaign taps into these communities, he said.

For example, he said, by getting “the right kind” of online surfers to endorse your products, your business benefits from the weight those recommendations carry within a social network.

Carrigan suggest companies join, encourage, or start, discussion groups, podcasts, or blogs relevant to their products or campaigns.

Personalize messages – Once you’ve planned your message and decided on the delivery method, give it an added punch by personalizing it.

Think back to the direct marketing letters you used to receive in the mail. They had a canned message but also had your first name in the opening line.

“That was old school,” said Carrigan. “Today every sentence, every paragraph, font style, colour and even the tone can be personalized.”  

Use analytics – If you’ve invested time, money and effort in a campaign, also ensure you can measure its success.

Web analytics can tell firms if their online campaign is producing a desired response, said Carrigan.

Typically these programs evaluate log files from Web servers and –
based on values contained in the file – derive indicators about who, when and how a site is visited.  That data can be used to develop targeted advertising or marketing campaigns.

Despite these advances, Carrigan said, the e-mail still plays a crucial role in marketing. “If you look at the most successful campaigns the catalyst for activity remains to be e-mail.”  

He said while Facebook may be great for creating a community of friends, e-mail is still the trigger mechanism.

“People receive their Facebook alerts through e-mail. It’s the means by which you get people’s attention, the tool they use to send out messages, and a way to get people to act.”  

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