Think Twice Before Dismissing Social Media
Note from Jim: This week I bring you a guest column by Debra Ellis, founder of Wilson and Ellis Consulting, an integrated marketing consulting firm. I love the message and tone of the article Debra wrote for us on social media's impact within the direct and multichannel marketing worlds. Enjoy.
This has been social media's year. Twitter became a press darling with coverage on every major news outlet. Facebook has grown to more than 350 million users worldwide and boasts more than 90,000 apps to keep them engaged. And the average user becomes a fan of two pages each month.
When something is growing that quickly, you have to stop and think about what it means for your business. Odds are, your customers and prospects are participating. But should you join in? And if so, how?
If you spend some time listening to the new gurus of the social media world, you'll hear that direct marketing is dying. Everything from catalogs to email is on its way to becoming obsolete.
If you look at your return, response rates and customer value, the gurus’ declarations seem outlandish. Yes, sales may be down a bit, but that's easily attributable to the economy.
But what if you're missing the best opportunity direct marketing has to improve customer relations? Let's take a brief trip back in time: Can you imagine Aaron Montgomery Ward telling his friends and family that he's planning to start a mail order business? He must have heard the following:
"Nobody will buy things they can't see or touch."
“How will you get to know your customers?"
"Have you lost your mind?"
The first two challenges (and sometimes the third) still plague direct marketers. It's a trust issue. You work diligently with copy, photography, scent technology and database manipulation to improve shoppers’ comfort levels so they'll buy without seeing the product or salesperson. You provide historical and anecdotal information about companies, founders and team members. It's been the best you could do.
Until now …
Social media provides tools that almost eliminate the void left when marketing your products long distance. It allows you to create a community where your customers get to know you and your team. While it doesn't allow them to touch the items, they can chat with people who have not only touched the products but also used them.
The ability for consumers to get answers from their peers outside the company increases trust exponentially. Even if your customers and prospects don't take advantage of this opportunity, it's availability reassures them and contributes to sales growth.
The question you need to ask yourself isn't, "Should we participate in social media?" It's, "How do we effectively use the new tools available to us to improve customer relations, growth and profitability?"
Direct marketers have several distinct advantages in the social media world. You already know:
- how to use analytics to manage your business;
- how to create interest in your products and company without personally meeting your customers;
- how to match products and services with customers and prospects;
- when customers and prospects are most likely to buy; and
- how to test marketing ideas and promotions.
The only thing left is building a community with two-way conversations. Here are the steps to get started:
- Make a commitment to include social media in your marketing mix. Be realistic because it takes time and resources to be successful.
- Develop a strategy that includes goals, objectives, metrics and flexibility. You have to know where you are at all times and be willing to change your course as needed.
- Test different channels and engagement methods to find what works for your customers and prospects. You need to be where they are and move when they do.
- Integrate marketing campaigns so your community receives a consistent message across all channels. This solidifies trust.
- Encourage everyone to participate, and reward the ones who do. It inspires others to follow and contributes to improving your company.
- Learn from your mistakes; it’s the only way you'll improve.
Along the way, you'll find a lot of people promising fame and fortune if you follow their lead. Social media does present opportunities to get massive exposure without matching investment, but your odds of hitting the lottery might be better. Listen to your community. If they aren't talking yet, study your data — it'll guide you to the best balance of social media and direct marketing for your business.
Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog, direct marketing and social media agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gilbertdirect or read his blog at gilbertdirectmarketing.wordpress.com/.