Data … big data? Or back to the Dark Ages

Back in the 80s, there was this thing called “junk mail”.  And it was so called because it involved blanket mailing a mass market with little or no targeting. In other words, the message was irrelevant to a huge proportion of the recipients, so just got thrown in the bin.

Then we discovered targeting, analysis, insight and profiling.  And the direct mail messages become more appropriate, relevant, cost effective, and considerably less irritating to the consumer.  A classic case of less was more.

I remember the day that “personalised laser text” became available, and we were able to send out mailings with personally addressed letters which referenced the prospect’s other interests.  Letters that said (something along the lines of)

Dear Mrs Bloggs,

Because of your interest in the world’s wild places, we wanted to introduce you to our our brand new books which demonstrate the extraordinary and dramatic nature of our own planet earthfrom volcanoes to earthquakes …. 

The letter, including that simple piece of “personal” text, was enclosed into a small envelope with a miniscule brochure and mailed out.  It achieved over three times the response of the standard pre-printed control direct mail letter which was mailed in large envelope with enormous, heavy, expensive brochure

But now the European Union is proposing to take us back to the Dark Ages and the days of blanket mailings.  Their new proposed legislation is currently in progress, and will impact every level of prospect marketing.

It’s quite clear that the increasing use of new technology makes revisions to current data law essential, particularly given consumer concern over privacy which has not helped by our own government’s appallingly cavalier behaviour and carelessness with our personal data.  (Some of the breaches committed by government departments would have, if committed by the data industry, have caused severe punitive measures.  Somehow when it’s the government which gets it wrong, the whole thing just quietly gets swept under the carpet. Rant over…)

However, in addition to technological and social media impact, the traditional media channels will suffer significant difficulties.

A brief summary of the key areas is listed below:

  1. Explicit consent to be granted by the recipient prior to any direct marketing – either by word or by action.  In practice this means that where consent is required, organisations must ask for permission to process data.  Without such explicit permission, marketing prospects will not be allowed to receive mailings or cold telemarketing calls.  Current legislation allows such mailings and / or calls to be made unless the prospect has actively opted out.
  2. The customer has the “right to be forgotten” – ie they can insist that their details are emoved from a database in their entirety.  This is entirely impractical.  Once deleted, when or if that customer appears again on the database (if, for example, rented from a third party list, or in the event that the customer makes another purchase), the customer’s request for deletion will have vanished.  So in practice, the “right to be forgotten” should trigger the inclusion of that customer into a ”suppression” or “do not mail” file so that there is no inappropriate future contact.
  3. Profiling or segmentation may not take place without consent.  This will have serious impact on those data businesses which hold shared transactional data from multiple companies, or geo-demographic data, or indeed simply work with marketing profiling models.
  4. List broking is likely to require significant changes to comply with new legislation.
  5. The definition of personal data has been extended to include, potentially, IP addresses and some cookies.  Quite apart from the fact that an IP address or cookie may be used by a number of individuals, this will make it much more difficult for businesses to analyse and profile web activity.  The impact on digital marketing will be significant and, arguably (given that there will be no ability to provide relevant, targeted marketing) counter-productive.
  6. Cost:  DMA (UK) Ltd research shows that complying with the proposed regulation could cost companies an average of £76,000 each. It estimates a total loss to UK industry of up to £47 billion in lost sales.  These costs come, in part, from:
  • Companies with 250 or more employees will need to appoint a data protection officer
  • Under current legislation, subject access requests can be charged at £10 each.  Under the proposed new legislation, this charge is to be eliminated. This is likely to result in increased numbers of requests.  In addition to the lost revenue from existing volumes of which is likely to increase the number of requests, frivolous and serious.
  • Every organisation that suffers a data security breach would have to notify Information commissioner within 24 hours
  • Right to compensation from the controller or the processor in the event of processing activity causing damage to a person
  • Increased fines / sanctions to be imposed

On the face of it, the picture looks pretty bleak.  But there’s no need to despair just yet – there is time to provide our views on required adjustment, amendment and refinement  before these proposals are ratified and become law in the UK.

But for that to happen, businesses need to act now.  There is a fantastically detailed amount of excellent information to be found at the DMA (UK) Ltd.     So have a look and check to see how the current proposals are likely to affect your business and your marketing.

Then we need to write to our MEPs – and the DMA has made this easy by providing this link which has all the vital information, including who your MEPs are.   We need to ask them to fight for the fair interests of business.

We’re all for sharing knowledge and information and enjoy a healthy debate, so if you have any questions, views, tips or knowledge, please  just “reply” below. Victoria Tuffill – victoria@tuffillverner.co.uk   01787 277742 or  07967 148398.   Feel free to visit our website.  And yes, we’re on Linked In, and Twitter

Direct marketing – 13 communication channels …

Puffins larger and croppedThere’s a lot of huffing and puffin-g around marketing, even down to definitions of words and phrases. Take Direct Marketing, which seems to have a variety of definitions, including the very limited perception that it is just another name for Direct Mail.

Regardless of channel, direct Marketing is really all about communication. The Wikipedia definition states:Direct marketing is a channel-agnostic form of advertising that allows businesses and non-profits organisations to communicate straight to the customer.

Shouting loudly in public may generate awareness, but it won’t generate effective engagement.

Direct marketing is indeed channel-agnostic. And effective direct marketing needs to be targeted to a specific audience, with the individual marketing communication (through whatever channel) written and designed for the group of individuals who will receive it.

Direct marketing should also generate some kind of measurable reaction or response from the recipient – whether that be to visit (and buy from) a store, website or social media platform; to reply to an email, or to place an order by post, online, mobile or telephone.

Measuring the response to direct marketing activity can be challenging if the desired reaction is less tangible than, for example, an actual purchase or physical response to the marketer.

Over the next months we’ll cover the main channels in our blog, including the top thirteen which are (in no particular order):

  1. Direct Mail
  2. Email
  3. Online
  4. Mobile / smartphone
  5. Telephone
  6. Press advertising
  7. Inserts and product despatches
  8. Social Media
  9. Billing and loyalty devices / vouchers
  10. Direct Response TV
  11. Direct sales (eg Tupperware parties)
  12. Door drops
  13. Content marketing

The disciplines behind direct marketing carry through all of these channels. Regardless of whether you are mailing, calling, advertising or selling online, the key elements of a successful direct marketing campaign are:

  1. Data quality and accuracy (postal address, email address, telephone number, mobile number)
  2. Understanding the customer or prospect (purchase history, demographics, geography, lifestyle and affluence profiles)
  3. Turning data, analysis and research into insight, to ensure appropriate marketing, relevant list and media selection (online and offline); appropriate selection of channels and channel integration
  4. Determining offer and price
  5. Creating copy and design (which will need to be specific to each channel)
  6. Budgeting, including break-even metrics and “what-if” scenarios to evaluate and establish required financial performance
  7. Forecasting response and financial performance based on history and recent evidence
  8. Measuring performance regularly and ongoing
  9. Proactively developing and refining marketing strategy based on performance
  10. Maintaining appropriate levels of service and quality

Finally, there is a great deal of talk about integrated marketing, and while it’s an excellent start to have cohesive brand and messaging delivered through all channels, there’s more to it than that.

Targeting relevant customers through relevant channels based on what the customer wants – while allowing them to respond through their own channel of choice (which may be different again) is a vital part of any successful direct marketing campaign.

The channels should interact in a way designed to ensure engagement – maybe by moving consumers across the channels, for example from TV to social media platforms, like Daz, Innocent, Aero and by getting them involved in alternative or more complex storylines, or voting for favourite characters or flavours, or entering competitions etc. This is the sort of behaviour that engenders brand engagement, affection and loyalty.

More puffins croppedVictoria Tuffill       01787 277742     07967 148398   victoria@tuffillverner.co.uk

new heading for consultancy

Linked in logo twitter logo

Social media, offline and online media … joining the dots

Because social media is so relatively young, and fast moving, there is a view that it doesn’t need to follow traditional marketing rules.   This is simply not the case.

Social media is a fantastic marketing opportunity for businesses today – whether it’s  b2b, b2c, b2b2c or c2c.  But social plans built without a solid strategic foundation are doomed to failure. The building blocks are critical, and should include marketing strategy, target audience, customer and prospect communication, channel choices, content and integration with the overarching brand principles.  Any social media campaign should also be integrated with other online and offline channels such as print, telemarketing, DRTV, press ads, sales promotion or PR.

In my view, joining the dots between social media and any existing or new media channels, (whether online or offline) is critical.

There are six key elements in the social media process:

  1. Strategy
  2. Marketing planning
  3. Marketing implementation and integration
  4. Ongoing engagement and responsiveness
  5. Considering social media data
  6. Measuring results

If a business wants to develop a social media presence, it needs to allocate the time and resource to ensuring that these steps are managed.  Also, as part of the engagement strategy, just like any other marketing channel, regular social media activity needs to be scheduled and delivered.  It is also worth considering that social media operates 24 / 7, so there will be a need for businesses to consider how to monitor customer posts that occur out of hours and at weekends.

Joining the dots

Social media marketing needs to be integrated into existing online and offline  marketing activity, keeping the social media channels and messaging consistent, and producing a fully rounded, integrated marketing story for a brand.  To achieve this, consideration needs to be given to the brand itself, the company’s values, the overall marketing strategy, budgets (both in terms of money and resource), measurable goals, social strategy, and customer communications.  It is also essential to explore the key metrics and the end goals of the business before starting the process – whether that’s gaining customers, making sales, or revenue, donations or profit.

Strategy

The critical starting point part is the strategy, which requires thought, commitment and understanding of the business’s audience, and how best to communicate with prospects and customers.  What is the size of the market?  Any trends to be aware of? Who are your customers and prospects?  What are their needs?  What and why do they buy?  How much do they spend?  What does the competition look like?

Once that research is complete, you can begin to work out the communication strategy – how can you best make a connection with your specific target audience?  What are your brand values?  How to do you want to communicate with your customer or prospect – offline? online?  What should your website look like?  Is TV appropriate?  Or print?   Which social media best fit your goals?  Where and how is your audience they likely to engage with you?  Facebook?  Or Pinterest?  Or Google Plus?  Or You Tube?  Or a combination of all of them?  Is it about competitions, or building a network?  Understanding the demographics of the various social media channels is every bit as critical as creative, which – no matter how clever or witty or engaging – will fall on deaf ears if it’s inappropriately targeted.

Having made that decision, how can you link them all together into one over-arching message?  For me, social media is about creating an ineractive buzz – it’s about moving the conversation throughout the marketing channels both online and offline – teasing your customers into engaging with you – developing a brand and story, interrupting the story and moving it across channels all the time making the process fun, engaging and interactive.

Once you have engaged your audience, the job becomes increasing reach while maintaining engagement levels, coming up with fresh material and content … with the ultimate goal of making it easier and more appealing for your audience to buy from you.  And that’s the secret – you need to make them want to buy from you, recommend you to their friends and connections, talk about you.

Fully rounded activity

Having worked out which social media to integrate into your marketing activity, and how to make them engaging, build a calendar of events, posts, content and links.  And stick to it.  If you’re not able to guarantee you can keep the momentum going, don’t even think about social media.  It’s time-consuming, and can become a costly waste of time and resource if adopted on an ad-hoc basis.

Keep the activity alive – here are a couple of examples, both clever, with one slightly flawed, the other excellent:

Don’t fail to deliver on your promises

Daz has a great concept on Facebook where there’s a storyline developed along a soap opera theme involving characters from Cleaner Close.  The campaign works across channels – Daz’s Dive DRTV ad   pushes viewers to Facebook to see how the dive ends up.  BUT in this instance, Daz fails to deliver.  Though they draw viewers into the soap opera storyline, the dive is not shown in the video clip … which has clearly upset viewers who took the trouble to “comment” and express their disappointment.

A great example from Innocent

Then there’s the Innocent website – excellent in that it reflects the brand’s core values, is simple and clear to read, with great sales promotion concepts such as the Big Knit, great characters and strong links to Facebook and their blog.  It even has a link heading called “Bored?” – irresistible!

For me this is a great example of making social media work for a product which is essentially an impulse purchase.  It engages customers, builds loyalty, and keeps them coming back for more.  Not only is it fun, but it’s healthy too!   They bring the characters to life and engage their customers by running votes and competitions, their blog brings the story to life, and they pursue their brand values through charitable donations and links.

What’s clear about this activity is that it was not thought up in a day.  It was carefully planned and developed, the characters took time and budget to develop, and the activity is regularly managed and kept up to date.  In particular, there is a clear strategy and branding which is consistent through all Innocent’s marketing activity, both online and offline.

It is businesses who approach their social media strategy in such a way who will enjoy the greatest success.

We’re all for sharing knowledge and information and enjoy a healthy debate, so if you have any questions, views, tips or knowledge, please  just “reply” below.

Victoria Tuffill – Partner Tuffill Verner Associates – victoria@tuffillverner.co.uk 

 01787 277742 or  07967 148398.  

Feel free to visit our website.  And yes, we’re on Linked InTwitter  and Google+

Social media, email … and clownfish

The special relationship between social media and email is similar to that of  brightly-coloured clown fish and the sea anemone.  It’s quite straightforward … the anemone doesn’t sting the clown fish … the clown fish aggressively protects the sea anemone’s (and its own) territory.  The anemone catches and eats the food … the clown fish eats the leftovers – which in turn keeps their habitat clean.  And, because its fins fan furiously while it whizzes around, the clown fish also improves water circulation.  All in all, a very satisfactory relationship which allows improved survival of each party.

Social media and email 

Social media (such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest and the like) and email marketing have an equally symbiotic relationship.  They both provide a means of sharing information in real time, through words, images, video, audio, links and attachments.  To be successful, both require strong communication skills and interesting content.

So whether you want to use email to improve engagement on your social media activity, or use social media to highlight your latest newsletter or article and encourage your audience to read it – each can be used to support the other very effectively.  And the end result is pure gold.  This article focuses on b2b, but the same is equally true of b2c which will be covered separately.

Using email to support social media – case study

For example, if you are trying to get a message across or generate engagement from your social media activity, you can achieve a terrific impact just by sending personal emails to your contacts, connections, friends, followers, circles etc.

Last week I ran a poll on a few LinkedIn groups – nothing mind-blowing, I just wanted to get a rough feel for the longevity of a mobile phone number in relation to ‘contactability’ for a client’s telemarketing campaign.

In one group I wrote a personal email to each of my 1st connections asking them to vote, comment and / or like.  The results so far are excellent, with a response rate of 94% in terms of 1st connection votes (within 5 days), of which 50% also commented and 15% shared.

In addition (or as a result) my LinkedIn profile was viewed 7 times more than normal, primarily by non-connections.  These views were of greater relevance to my goals than the normal visitors who drop by.  So the end result has been to gain not only information on a poll, but also high quality, relevant new connections.  And this was simply because I was able to use email to interact with my strongest connections, who, by being decent enough to respond and share, encouraged others to do so too.

94% of 1st connections voted, new profile views increased by 7 times, number of connections increased by 9.4 times

If implemented well, and as long as you don’t wear out your connections, friends, circles or followers, this tactic is effective across social media. It also benefits from being absolutely measurable, while increasing your reach, and driving that all-important engagement. Which takes you a long stride down that the path towards meeting your ultimate business objectives, whether they be as simple as brand awareness, information, charitable donations, sales, ROI or just contacts.

 Using social media to promote your email marketing

So, you’ve finally put together your email newsletter.  You’ve written, edited and/or uploaded the articles, included a couple of blogs, got your guest writer to write something meaningful, found some decent images or videos to support what you’re saying, written a case study or two – and it’s ready to go.

So you mail it out to your email list.  But you’d like more people to read it, share it, and subscribe.  So, there are several ways of doing so.

Firstly, add it to your profile.  You just need to go to “Edit Profile” and you’ll find  Publications – click on Add a publication, and follow the instructions.

You can do the same thing with your blogs – under Applications, add your blog  to your LinkedIn profile.  You can automatically upload each article just but including LinkedIn in the tags, and/or post it in your status bar with a brief note that pulls out the highlights and entices people to read.

Of course those techniques only work if people are viewing your profile.  So the other way to increase your readership do it is to post your article in a LinkedIn group discussion.

But just posting a blog or newsletter link under Discussions is either effective nor engaging.  It just smacks of self-promotion.  At best there will be few if any comments (time is precious, and people have enough to do without looking at yet another blog link that is pretending to be a discussion); at worst it will be moved to Promotions and nobody will look at it in any case.

So you need to create a real discussion about the subject.  And that discussion needs to be tailored to the Group into which you’re posting your link.  Most effective is to provide a brief summary of the point of the article, and ask for views, feedback or comment.  If you achieve comments, stay engaged with the discussion, thank people for commenting, and respond yourself to keep the debate going.

Oh, and it’s worth giving some thought to using email to support you in this.  Perhaps start by  emailing your closest contacts to ask them to help get the discussion moving … and you can equally do the same for them.  The results should be beneficial, and it keeps the symbiotic circle going.

And it’s always quite special when humans operate symbiotically to help each other.

We’re all for sharing knowledge and information and enjoy a healthy debate, so if you have any questions, views, tips or knowledge, please  just “reply” below.  Or if you’d like to discuss any part of the article, or we can help you in any way, just let us know.

Victoria Tuffill – Partner, Tuffill Verner Associates – victoria@tuffillverner.co.uk 

 01787 277742 or  07967 148398.  

Feel free to visit our website.  And yes, we’re on Linked InTwitter  and Google+

Content marketing … back to school

I recently met Simon Hepburn virtually, through LinkedIn and his excellent website, Marketing Advice for Schools.  Simon is a teacher and schools marketer who set up his website to help those looking to make their school stand out in today’s increasingly complex market.  He is also the author of ‘An Introduction to Marketing for Schools‘, an excellent         e-book which summarises the key issues involved through all areas of marketing a school.

I regularly visit Simon’s website and enjoy his articles.  He is, I think, one of the first to identify that with over 2,000 academies and nearly 100 free schools, it is just a matter of time before they realise that they are all competing both with each other and with private schools.  And while schools with the status of, for example, Eton, are likely to continue unhampered, sooner or later schools of all types are going to have to turn to all aspects of marketing – including a mix of traditional and 21st century channels like social media, blogging (perhaps story-telling is a better description) and digital PR.

Simon very kind agreed to let me reprint his article on how to find engaging stories in a school – the perfect subject for our Tuffill Verner blog which looks to share information, content, and encourage stories, information and engagement.  My personal view is that schools simply don’t yet make the most of this opportunity, though I have seen some excellent examples of school blogs, particularly from Heads.  But I have to say that I take particular enjoyment from the blogs that are written by or in combination with the pupils – and I’d love to see more schools engaging in this type of activity – it gives a real insight into what goes on in a school.  This is one of my favourites.

Without further ado, here is Simon’s article.

How to Find Engaging Stories in a School

What would persuade you to buy a new car? You’d probably want a test drive. But that wouldn’t be enough.  You would want to hear from people who had used cars of the same make and model, read reviews, and compare specific facts with other cars.

Choosing a school is a much more important decision than a new car – and so evidence becomes even more important.  A school can claim to do many things – to be academic, caring, exciting, inclusive – but without actual evidence this will not be trusted.

How do you find and present this evidence in a school? Perhaps the best approach to take is that of a local journalist and find the stories that show your school in action. Here are a few tips…

1. Ask face-to-face – in a school community there is a lot of exciting news every day – but much is happening well away from the centre. You can ask in a number of ways but the best is to attend department or year group meetings and talk face to face about what you’d like to hear about. Email is much less effective – although you can follow up meeting with emails.

2. Make it easy for teachers and students
 – don’t insist on fully written stories. All you need is a brief tip-off that something is going to happen.

3. Keep a news diary – record everything in the future with a date against it. This allows you to communicate in advance, when the event is happening (live Tweeting?), and again after you’ve recorded it.

4. Focus on a few top stories – once you’ve got information coming in, filter it and choose the stories that best meet your school’s key messages to work on. (But make sure to thank everyone who sends you ideas!) You will have your own idea of how many stories you can work on.

5. Involve students – ask participants in an event to write down their stories or take photos or videos. You could ask them to keep diaries or blog from a trip (with moderation of course!)

6. Use a range of media to record stories – using photos and video as well as words is vital. The good news is that almost everything will be photographed and videoed on a smartphone – ask for people to email you the best pictures!

7. Interpret jargon and data – a lot of school news (especially when student assessment is involved) can appear dry and be full of acronyms. Take time to remove this and tell the story in a way that a parent or student can understand (and check with a real parent or student!)

8. Encourage sharing of stories. Nothing will encourage more people to tell you stories than seeing themselves featured – whether on the school website, in local papers or on Facebook or Twitter. Creating a ‘news page’ on your website with links to social media is a great way of starting this. Here’s an example from the US

Simon Hepburn, November 2012

As always we welcome views and debate on all subjects – I hope you found Simon’s article helpful, and that it provides food for thought – don’t hesitate to comment if you have any further thoughts or questions.  And we recommend that you hop over to his website yesterday to get even more information from him!  

And if you’d like some help marketing your school, please get in touch.

Victoria Tuffill – Partner Tuffill Verner Associates – victoria@tuffillverner.co.uk 

01787 277742 or 07967 148398.  

Do visit our website.  And yes, we’re on Linked InTwitter  and Google+

LinkedIn communities … and lemon sharks

One of LinkedIn’s key principles is that social learning and sharing is good.  I’ve been talking for some time on this subject, as persuading people to engage in conversation or debate on LinkedIn can be rather like pulling teeth or swimming through syrup. And on the subject of swimming and sharing, it’s worth noting that even lemon sharks instinctively understand the importance of social learning and sharing knowledge.

With that in mind, I’d be interested to understand how many individuals using LinkedIn actually look at group stats – a useful tool that lets you see (broadly) the community size, demographics, and level of activity and engagement.  It should go without saying that as a group manager, the stats are invaluable.

But I suspect not enough members use them, and those who don’t are missing a chance of helpful insight either when considering joining a group  or in understanding the make up of the groups already joined. For example, I’m currently “culling” my groups (starting with those whose emails I now just delete unread)!  I know there are about 10 groups that I really want or need to be part of.  I’m expecting to lose at least half of the others and I’ll use the stats to help me make the right decision.

The stats summary page looks like this, and provides a dashboard of how many members there are in the group, their seniority, with further information on geography, market sector and function to be found in Demographics. You can also see the level of new members under Growth.

And, under Activity you can see how many discussions and comments have taken place in the last week, and review a graph that shows trends over time.

This shows how different the “activity” levels can be and how they can change over time. The group on the left looks to have good activity level, but a recent trend towards a disproportionate number of discussions (green) to comments (blue) suggests that the group manager might need to review the quality of the discussions or start to think about some kind of reactivation strategy. In the example on the right, though the number of discussions is relatively low, the comments ratio is excellent at 4:1 comments to discussion.

For both the groups above, it is worth looking at the discussions in question to see what’s going on and the quality of the conversations. By doing so you can see that, in relation to the graph on the right (from Modern Selling group – another of my favourites), the members of the community are engaged and interesting, the quality of discussions, debates, comments and insights is excellent and the range of topics fascinating.    And that’s largely because of the effort and energy put into the group by Neil Warren.  His contribution to the discussions is substantial, his management of the group and debates is strong, and he has some great group members.  The result is a group that it is a pleasure to be part of.

Here are three more examples of Linked In group and community characteristics.

1.  Looks good on paper but disappoints

I have a particular fondness (at least in theory) for one of my groups – which focuses on direct and digital marketing. This group is a decent size (nearly 15,000 members), full of good people, many of whom I know and have worked with, and who have the knowledge and experience to provide a valuable contribution.  In other words, I would expect them to participate.

 BUT

The number of discussions posted per week runs at around 100.  The number of comments  seems to range from 6 to 18.  The number of “commenters”?  Roughly 9. And that’s from a group of direct and digital marketers!  More worrying is that the discussions posted are not from different individuals, so there is a very low engagement level.

So why is engagement so low?

As ever, there are any number of reasons, ranging from “I’m too busy” to “I know I should be properly LinkedIn, but I keep forgetting about it” to “I don’t have anything to contribute to this debate” to “I only joined the group so I’d get access to the members”.

But there are other issues too.  There are groups that aren’t managed properly.  There are groups with no clear aims or obvious reasons for their existence, and there are groups where it seems that the community has just lost interest, energy and motivation (if they ever had it in the first place) and are effectively dormant.

Too often there is little or no discrimination between discussion posts and promotions. And to an extent I sympathise with this problem.  If a group is receiving literally thousands of “discussion” posts per week, it can be tricky and inordinately time-consuming for the manager to work through them all – at the same time staying within the LinkedIn group rules.

The result is that too many so-called discussions are really just self-promotions which (with honourable exceptions) tend to be posted by those whose intention is to broadcast to the available audience, and who do not intend to do much – if anything – in the way of listening, sharing knowledge or joining a debate.  Let alone the straightforward “spam” postings.  Not only that, but the self-promoters are  highly likely to post without even considering the audience to whom they are broadcasting.

And it is precisely those large-volume groups that need to be managed.  When a group runs along lines that allow self-promotion to be included as a discussion it gets painfully “noisy”. It becomes time-consuming and, frankly, irritating to have to trawl through all the junk to get to the relevant posts that would actually benefit from a debate or discussion.   So of course many group members just don’t bother.  Let’s face it, time is always at a premium.

2.  Huge engagement, interesting discussions, well managed group

The group I’m using to illustrate this category, TED  is also in my Top 10 groups.  The discussions are fascinating and are not specifically business related.  They cover an enormous range of subjects from poetry to religion to archaeology, history, science, conspiracy theories and aliens.  Not to mention some interesting business debates too.

This is the group that, as articulated by Regan George in his Schmooz.me blog,  has, from a single discussion (or in this case, poll) so far generated in excess of  40,000 comments.

In his blog Regan makes (among others – have a look) two great points – the first is that the use of polls, strongly targeted to the group audience, is a great way to increase group engagement.  The second is that the kind of question that creates most engagement tends to be emotion-based.

Which is a very good reminder.  We should never forget that, regardless of our ability to rationalise our decisions, emotion is always a key driver both personally and in business.

3.         Engagement slipping – needs reactivating

The founder of one of my other groups, Lets Talk Here, came too close to hitting the  delete key on his group, because his community was simply not engaging as strongly as it had previously.  This group is a particular favourite of mine because (like Modern Selling) it is properly managed by somebody who completely understands how social interaction – both online and offline – should work.  Mark Longbottom gives enormous amounts of time, energy and effort to make the conversations interesting, relevant and engaging.   There is a clear purpose to their groups.  And the rules are clear cut.  A discussion’s a discussion, and a promotion’s a promotion.

Lets Talk Here strikes a great balance between business insights and discussion, genuine chat and getting to know each other.   It is small and intimate, and though I don’t know the community in “real” life (yet) it feels like a group of friends.  And I’m looking forward to meeting many of the individuals in person or on Skype or through any other method that works.

But though the group had previously been very active, engagement was slipping.  Mark needed to decide whether the community was still viable, or whether he should simply close and delete it.  Lisa Marie Dias summarises the story beautifully, including explanations from Mark himself to explain the thinking and philosophy behind his group, and to share the level of re-engagement he achieved, and how he did so. It’s a great case study if you’re struggling with getting engagement from your own group or groups.

Which brings me to my final question.

What’s the point of LinkedIn anyway?

I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn.  It’s a great network for the business community. I’ve seen it provide enormous benefit for me and our clients. It’s an excellent way to meet and communicate with people, it’s a potential tool for sales, and it’s a database of sorts.  It’s also, both potentially and currently a great place for high quality debate and discussion.

Like all social media networks, it’s vital to remember that just because it’s online, it doesn’t mean that you’re not dealing with real people in the real world.  I see too many people forget their basic manners and rules of social interaction when they go online.

But to get the most out of any social network – online or offline – it’s essential to use it properly – to contribute when appropriate, to help where you can, to share your views, knowledge and opinions.

After all, even lemon sharks know the value of sharing knowledge!

We’re all for sharing knowledge and information and enjoy a healthy debate, so if you have any questions, views, tips or knowledge, please  just “reply” below.

Victoria Tuffill – Partner Tuffill Verner Associates – victoria@tuffillverner.co.uk 

01787 277742 or 07967 148398.  

Feel free to visit our website.  And yes, we’re on Linked InTwitter  and Google+

Direct marketing … social media … and bonfires

It’s the season for bonfires, direct marketing and social media.  In the case of bonfires, perhaps in your own garden, with foil-wrapped potatoes baking at the base.  And maybe with some sparklers and fireworks to light the night sky. Or as part of a local community celebration where everyone dresses warmly for the evening and gets together for fun, chat, catching up, watching a straw effigy of Guy Fawkes burning fiercely on top, and, of course, spectacular fireworks.

There is something about bonfires that is enormously appealing.  The smell, the crackling sound, the warmth, the smoke, the sparks, and the variety, movement and colour of the flames. And there’s a primeval fierceness about a fire. The way it grows from a tiny spark  into a roaring body of light and heat is a reminder that, although it may be lit by a person or people, fire itself can be dangerous. It is much bigger than we are, and needs to be monitored and controlled if we want to benefit rather than be harmed by it.

Direct marketing campaigns are similar.  Like bonfires, they need fuel to come alive – whatever the channel or mix of channels. There can be no successful marketing campaign  without the carefully laid fuel of end-to-end campaign strategy, including product, audience, offer, price, PR, fulfilment, delivery and customer service.  As a bonfire is lit by bringing flame and fuel together, a marketing campaign gains life when the consumer and the brand, product and offer come together.

As long as the fuel has been properly laid, then the fire will burn well and provide warmth and enjoyment to the crowds.  Like a social media campaign – if the activity is planned and structured well, it will deliver your customers’ needs and provide value to your business.  If not, or if it is left untended, then either it will never grow beyond a small spark, or – worse – it will grow into an uncontrollable inferno devouring your brand and reputation as it spreads.  And those are the fires that are most difficult to put out.

A point worth noting is that social media essentially allow a dialogue between business and customer (or prospect), that is held in public.  It impacts every area of a business, so it is vital that everybody within the company understands the goals and aims of the social media strategy and engages appropriately.  And it is also essential that there is an understanding that though the conversation is held online, it is a real conversation held between real people.  So basic everyday “real life” social principles, behaviour and manners need to be considered and included in whatever social media strategy is developed.

Laying the fire

Before deciding you want to build a social media strategy, the first thing to consider is why. What do you want to gain out of it?    Are you looking to extend awareness of your brand?  Or improve your reputation?  Or engage with a particular audience?  Do you want to increase sales?  Or improve customer loyalty or customer service?  Or do you want information to help you deliver better marketing – whether in terms of product or price or delivery?

Having addressed those questions, if you decide to go ahead, then you need to know your own brand’s  audience.  Where are they to be found?  Are they on Facebook or Twitter or Linked In?  Do they use Pinterest or Instagram?  Google + or You Tube?  If so, how do they use these networks? What’s their style and tone of voice?  Does it match your brand values? Might there be value in creating groups and forums on your own websites. What do you think your customers or audience would want to get out of a social media relationship with you?  What do you want them to get out of it? Where should you focus?  Do they talk about you?  If so,what are they saying?  Are they complimentary or are they promoting your competitors?  And if so, why?  And so on.

At this point it’s probably sensible to start outlining, in words, diagrams, flow charts and pictures, exactly what you want to do and how you intend to achieve your aspirations and integrate a social media strategy  throughout the business.  You’ll need to establish a team and allocate responsibility. You’ll need to make sure that what you are planning complies with all legal requirements.

If you use a third parties to manage your direct marketing and social media activity, the communication between your business and that agency or those agencies will need to be ongoing and seamless from all areas of the business.  Especially where your brand is concerned – any third party will need ongoing information on what is going on in the business, what is under development, what are the current key areas of strength and weakness. And  if you want to build trust through your social media activity, that information needs to be up-to-date, relevant and honest – whether the news is good or bad.

Your communication style will need to be considered.  Generally speaking, it can be more relaxed and fun than some other channels, but it should reflect your brand values and the values of your audience.   O2 has a great social media reputation, build in part from the disastrous few days when the service went down.  Not least on Twitter, where they were able not only to address genuine customer service issues, but also turn the whole problem around and generate more loyalty simply because their responses to their customers were wholehearted, honest, apologetic, helpful and witty.  Having said that, there are inherent dangers within that sort of approach – it’s potentially only a matter of time before one ill-chosen, unfunny, “witty” response has the same effect as pouring petrol on kindling – an instant explosion that – at the least – removes your eyebrows and much of your hair and probably blows you backwards!

Tending the fire

Fires need to be controlled, and monitored until such time as they are put out, or run out of fuel and die down to embers, which can then be allowed to cool, or be used to start a new fire.

Having laid the groundwork for your social media campaign, you then need to consider what you want to measure.  If your campaign is designed to increase awareness, you’ll be looking at likes and shares, reach, comments and other forms of engagement, subscriptions to newsletters, blogs and emails.    Sales and loyalty can be measured through a variety of methods – including mining data retrospectively,  using control groups to measure differences in performance, and measuring sales from social e-commerce.  Again, what you want to measure and how you intend to do so needs to be part of your documentation, and what you learn from this analysis will enable you to drive your ongoing activity based on performance.

You’ll need to be ready to deal immediately with issues that will come up in real time like complaints that come up in a public forum or negative comments on your Facebook page. So it’s well worth the time to brainstorm before the issue comes up so that your team know how to respond to a negative comment before it actually comes up.  You also need to monitor whether what your fans are saying is appropriate to your brand, and, if not, how you should deal with them.

Having established your policy regarding the networks on which you want to concentrate,  how you want to use them and integrate them with other channels, how you want to communicate with your audience, how you will resolve any issues, who your team is, who will do what, what competition you will monitor and how that will be reported, how you will measure your own performance etc etc …you need to execute your plan.

This means you need to know what content you are going to create, where you are going to post it, how you are going to promote your social media activity.  For a start, you’ll need to include icons, links, addresses on your website, promotions, advertising, invoices, email signatures, letters, employee business cards,  and all your communications so that you encourage your audience to visit and engage with your social networks.

You need to provide content for each of the networks – whether you want to blog or promote or sell direct or chat or conduct research or offer prizes in return for information or just run simple but fun competitions. As well as integrating with other channels, you can also integrate social media channels – use Twitter to promote a competition on Facebook, use You Tube to broadcast results and promote the next.

But what is absolutely vital is that your content is planned and scheduled before you push any buttons.  If social media is done randomly or on a whim, if it is unplanned, or if too little time, resource or budget is spent on it, the whole campaign is likely either to go out or – more tragically – be rained on before the fire is properly lit.

We’re all for sharing knowledge and information and enjoy a healthy debate, so if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.  Or if you disagree with any of our views above, just let us know why.  And of course, if you have a social media strategy and would like to share your tips or thoughts, please feel free – in all cases, just “reply” below.

As ever, if you’d like some help with your social media strategy, don’t hesitate to ask – you can reach me on 01787 277742 or 07967 148398.  Or email victoria@tuffillverner.co.uk  If you’d like to know more about us before you do so, by all means visit our website.  And yes, we’re on Twitter and Linked In.  And if we believe we can’t help you, we’ll make sure we recommend one of the good guys.