Plan don’t plunge

07.10.2009

Today marketers have an array of new web 2.0 tools at their disposal: viral marketing, blogs, social networking, podcasts, virtual worlds. Marketing 2.0 allows communication with customers that is often far more personal and frequent than in the past and can provide a depth of customer engagement that could only be dreamed of a few years ago.

Therefore it is little wonder that businesses are rushing to join this marketing revolution. But be warned: There can be pitfalls. Do marketing 2.0 well, and you can raise the profile of your brand to new levels and engage with your customers on a much deeper basis. But get it wrong, and you can inflict lasting damage to your brand.

For example, when Habitat used the “hashtag” #Iran at the end of its promotional messages on Twitter, it was blasted by other Twitter users and bombarded by negative press across trade and consumer titles for days. Hashtags enable other Twitter users to easily find posts on the subject cited. Habitat added #Iran to its tweets during the recent election-related violence in that country, when Iran was among the most popular topics on Twitter. Habitat’s seemingly opportunistic use of a hashtag irrelevant to its posts is just one demonstration of the potential risks associated with adopting new tools before fully understanding them.

The key to successfully implementing marketing 2.0 is to evaluate the merits and potential problems of each activity against predefined goals. Then you can steadily build on the existing blocks of your website that have already proved successful at increasing conversion rates, in order to achieve a complete marketing 2.0 strategy.

Slow and steady wins the race
The hype surrounding Twitter and Facebook is a concern for anyone with a website. But before taking action, you must define your goals. Be ruthless about specifying the relevant success criteria, be they be quantitative (sales, leads) or qualitative (loyalty, amount of interaction, customer feedback).

Keeping these goals front of mind when developing marketing plans will ensure that you stay focused on reaping commercial benefits from your initiatives rather than just being drawn into the buzz. Don’t be one of the many companies that have invested a lot of time and money into social media only to discover that whilst it’s taken up considerable management time, it has made little difference to the actual business.

You must also be certain that you can follow up on any marketing 2.0 commitments you make. Say you’re integrating a blog into your website. You must have the resources available to regularly update it with content relevant to the target audience. To enhance the interaction and engagement of a blog, site visitors should be allowed to comment, which requires additional resources to moderate posts and ensure that bad language or offensive remarks are removed before they can be associated with the brand.

Don’t rush into multiple tactics simultaneously. Introduce one at a time, and use analytics tools on a real-time basis to see how such tactics are being received by users. By adopting one tactic at a time, you can learn what works and what doesn’t. Flexibility is key; you should be willing to make changes according to shifting trends and to keep the user experience fresh yet familiar.

When considering using third-party sites such as Facebook and MySpace to enhance brand engagement, be aware that you can lose control of these pages if you don’t have the resources to support them. Be prepared not only to deal with abuse by unhappy customers on these pages but also for people to use the pages as customer service portals-whether or not that was the intention. Therefore you must plan how to respond to the good, the bad, and the ugly that can come from integrating social networking.

Regardless of whether marketing 2.0 is right for your business today, it is vital to protect your brand names on all the key social websites. In the same way that you would protect your business by registering domain names associated with your business, you should register your brands as user names on all the key sites (Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace for starters). Most of these sites allow you to keep your profile private, so registering on them is a safe way of ensuring that when you are ready, you have the best possible user name available.

As consumers become more mobile and increasingly able to access websites from multiple devices and locations, ecommerce sites and brands need to be continually accessible if they are to see a return on their online investment. At the moment, some companies are more concerned with recession 2.0 than with marketing 2.0, but you do need to begin planning your social-media strategy now so that as the economy recovers, you can ride the wave of recovery.

Don’t be afraid of integrating marketing 2.0 across the marketing mix, but plan carefully which activities you are confident you can support that will increase sales and provide ROI. Social media are here to stay. Your customers will not be judging you on how quickly you dive in but rather on how well you carry your strategy out.

Robert Barnes is operations director of digital agency DesignUK.

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