By Sam Cece
The internet provides consumers with more choice than ever. But with so much choice available many can find it difficult distinguishing one product from another. Meaning, businesses must develop long-term relationships with customers or risk losing them to the competition. Relying on traditional channels to reach and monitor the behaviour of customers is at best hopeful these days, and at worst inaccurate. To successfully market a brand, organisations need to take time to develop a thorough understanding of the interests and behaviours of customers, and how to best to reach them.
To understand how prominent social media data has become, marketers need look no further than the House of Commons. Politicians are experimenting with these channels in an attempt to better understand and connect with their public. Most PM’s regularly use Twitter to communicate with their constituents, while many petitions are now organised via Facebook to secure the maximum awareness possible. Even David Cameron has recently joined LinkedIn to connect with more business leaders, adding fuel to the argument that social media is now a key communications channel.
But despite the rise in popularity of social media channels (such as Facebook and Twitter) many businesses still ask: “why invest precious resource in such a fledgling technology?” Well, every day, consumers post information on social media channels that can be leveraged by marketers to refine the targeting of their campaigns. This ranges from generating reviews to recommendations or comments from forums. They also voluntarily share public information about their lifestyle preferences and interests that can be tapped for significantly better targeting across channels. Facebook, for instance, has a global database of valuable lifestyle and demographic information from over 800 million people worldwide. That’s more than most traditional data providers will ever have.
Can social media really be an effective business tool?
So once you have your data – is it also worth also using social media channels to communicate your message? Business social media channels like Facebook and LinkedIn are now seen by many as key channels to conduct business and share views. This throws up a number of questions, which many organisations are struggling to answer. For instance, is LinkedIn purely a resource for business networking and job opportunities? Or like its younger social media compatriots, is there a scope for brands to reach and engage prospective customers with well-targeted marketing offers?
The short answer is – social media has grown up. While marketers are beginning to embrace Facebook and Twitter, they have not yet fully capitalised on them as valuable marketing resources. To leverage the social media channels successfully, for instance, email subscribers can be asked to connect with a brand on Twitter, Facebook and other networks. Similarly, members of a brand’s social networks can be encouraged to opt-in to their email communications.
Enabling Facebook Connect and Twitter Sign-on capabilities, as well as promoting Facebook applications can be another way to access this data. Many organisations are currently investing in building Facebook apps to drive brand engagement. All members of the marketing department need to ensure they get access to the data secured through the process. Instead of leaving social media marketing to the brand marketers, email marketers need to collaborate with their brand counterparts and look for opportunities to leverage the massive amounts of data on the social web to learn more about their email subscribers.
Securing a greater insight
When you combine this knowledge with the ton of customer data that companies often sit on (derived from interactions across multiple channels – retail stores, website, call centre, etc) businesses can create a more complete picture of each customer. The next step is to deliver the relevant message to customers.
In order to take full advantage of these huge deposits of data, email marketers need to: actively source, then append customer and prospect email databases with the wide array of social data that is available from a variety of sources. There are tools such as our proprietary offering that enables businesses to append and then query off of this data, which is currently returning a 70% match rate simply using name and location. The match rate is even higher if you’re appending off an email address as the primary key.
A good example of this is a project that StrongMail recently ran for Castrol, which effectively leveraged social media to engage with its customers on a one-to-one basis via complementary brand pages on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. In addition to providing integrated communities for its fans to congregate, Castrol is also leveraging the user-generated content to better understand topics that are most important to their customers, which they can in turn use to refine their products and marketing efforts.
Making social media work for you
Marketers need to be able to link referral marketing programmes from websites or emails to social media channels (such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr). This allows consumers to recommend products or services they like via the channel that most suits their current needs. Marketers can then analyse the effectiveness of campaigns, identify their biggest influencers and the total reach of a programme across multi-generational sharing activities by reviewing key factors such as: email open rates, standard click-throughs and sale conversions. By collecting social data (from the likes of Facebook and Twitter), appending it to a database and then leveraging it to increase the relevancy of a business’ messaging, marketers can exponentially improve the performance of campaigns across every channel.
Combing customer information with data sourced from listening platforms and social data providers (like Fliptop and Rapleaf) allows businesses to build rich subscriber profiles. Using this high-value, self-reported information allows email-marketing campaigns to be highly targeted leading to superior results.
My advice – watch this space. With new tools entering the market all the time we may see a change in mind set regarding social media within the retail and most definitely the marketing community.
About the author
Sam Cece, CEO StrongMail, has played a pivotal role in guiding StrongMail’s transformation from its genesis as an innovative email infrastructure company to a full-service, top-tier provider of email marketing and social media solutions for Fortune 2000 companies.
StrongMail is at the forefront of enabling marketers to acquire new customers and foster deeper loyalty with existing ones through email marketing, social media marketing and the web. StrongMail empowers leading brands to boost the performance of their interactive marketing programmes exponentially by enabling them to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. www.strongmail.com