Everything I need to know about e-Marketing… A work in progress

Having just finished a crash-course in social media marketing I actually feel like there was some uptake on my part, despite the incredible volume of information thrown at us and the incredible volume still to learn. I had an epiphany while speaking to the clients for whom my group conducted a best-practices industry analysis; I actually felt like I knew what I was talking about! I increasingly have that feeling when I speak to the ‘outside’ world now that my MBA life is drawing to a close. I’m beginning to appreciate my investment more and more.

As with all facets of business, e-Marketing requires a coherent strategy that tactically addresses the best way to engage consumers online. The e-Marketing course as currently presented gave me the opportunity to explore e-marketing from an academic perspective in ways that I had never really considered it. Simply put, I took social media for granted. I had assumed that a business’ social media presence evolved naturally, with user-generated content driving the discussion. This is, in fact, only partially the case. As I found out, some companies are reacting to social media haphazardly; they are in a given space, be it Twitter, Facebook or the other myriad of platforms that exist, simply because other companies are doing it. They don’t consider what value the platform can bring to their company.  Meanwhile others are driving the conversation. What I came to realize is that this is largely the result of the evolution of a company’s social media presence. There are several beautiful aspects of social media:

1)      It allows for two-way dialogue between companies and their customers, which naturally allows companies to get a better understanding of their market’s qualitative attributes

2)      Analytical tools exist that allow individuals/companies to take really thin slices of their market, deriving incredible value from the segmentation that these tools offer

3)      The combination of qualitative and quantitative insights can theoretically provide a comprehensive profile of the company’s online customer

4)      Online analytics can provide companies with insights into their offline market

5)      Creative use of social media works best when strategies are employed that target these thin slices

6)      Marketing with social media can inform a company’s overall marketing strategy

e-Marketing strategy is an interesting dynamic in that every company reaches some level of social media savvy at a different pace. One of the things that I recommended to our clients is to be patient, that their efforts in social media will take some time and if they are seriously committed to evolving their social media presence they will try to understand their customers and the dynamics of each audience they are attracting on a given platform. During this phase a company should be listening to their customers, be they other companies or consumers. In gaining an understanding of what conversations are actually happening companies can move beyond the listening phase so they are actually directing the conversation. It is in this latter phase that a company can have a seriously positive impact on their business.

The other valuable yet often overlooked insight is that companies should be bridging the gap between their online and their offline marketing strategies. As I described to our clients, social media marketing should be part of the company’s overall marketing strategy, not a separate entity. Social media requires continuity with the other marketing efforts or you run the risk of your efforts it falling on deaf ears, or not resonating with your audience. You have to keep in mind that social media isn’t free; it does cost money. It might not have an innate dollar figure attached to it but there is an investment of labour in maintaining your company’s presence. Ask a company that has hired a social media marketer. That does cost them money, to the tune of whatever small salary marketers demand. Today it is a justified and necessary operational expense, and increasingly so.

To this end, return on investment is a very real and definite challenge to quantify. As part of your social media marketing strategy you have to come to terms with the fact that the metrics used to measure ROI are initially completely subjective, often times directly related to internal goals set forth by the marketing department. In that sense, a company has to determine what level of quantitative ROI they are comfortable with. Simply put, interpreting ROI from increases in fans or likes or what have you is sometimes difficult to come to grips. It’s only after you’ve been in a space for some time, when you can look back on historical evidence, that relationships can be drawn. Once you’re able to overlay revenues with social media data you can start to see where social media marketing is effective.

Companies are still developing an understanding of what social media can offer them from a marketing perspective. This, when coupled with the fact that social media is a perpetually evolving space, means that constant monitoring of current and coming trends in social media is necessary in order to remain relevant to the consumer. This presents both an exciting and sometimes daunting challenge, particularly for those individuals that are already lagging behind. In some respects, you really just have to jump right in with a sink or swim attitude. The interesting thing, though, is that much like a person floating in the water, companies can be perpetually buoyant. By this I mean that companies can reinvent themselves in social media; at the bare minimum, companies only have to invest the time necessary to be in a space. If it’s not working they can simply remove themselves from the game. The true test of a marketing department is how well they can assess the current landscape and coming trends and make it work for the company.

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