Putting Pinterest to Work for Your Brand

Pinterest is the new hot property. Overnight this visual curation powerhouse has generated more traffic to websites than Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and YouTube combined. Its clean and simple design, including pleasing graphics and neat organization, allows users to quickly and easily gain access to the content that matters to them. Marketers have taken notice and are asking themselves, “How can Pinterest help me form a deeper relationship with my customers and prospects?”

Pinterest is the new hot property. Overnight this visual curation powerhouse has generated more traffic to websites than Twitter, Google+, Linkedin and YouTube combined. Its clean and simple design, including pleasing graphics and neat organization, allows users to quickly and easily gain access to the content that matters to them. Not surprisingly, both unique visitors and time spent on site have steadily increased. Marketers have taken notice and are asking themselves, “How can Pinterest help me form a deeper relationship with my customers and prospects?”

The answer often starts with building a connection around a shared passion aligned to your brand, be it music, sports, travel, fashion, cars, food/cooking, interior design, gardening, technology, etc. For Real Simple magazine that meant creating more than 58 boards and 2,312 pins focused on giving followers practical, creative and inspiring ideas to make life easier, which is central to the brand’s core mission. Specific boards include “Organization Inspiration,” “Weeknight Meals,” “Spring Cleaning” and more. For more inspiration, check out the 10 most followed brands as well as some of the power users with huge followings (provided by Mashable):

10 Most Followed Brands: 1. The Perfect Palette 2. Real Simple 3. The Beauty Department 4. HGTV 5. Apartment Therapy 6. Kate Spade New York 7. Better Homes and Garden 8. Whole Foods 9. West Elm 10. Mashable.

And here are some power users with huge followings: Jane Wang, Christine Martinez, Jennifer Chong, Joy Cho, Maia McDonald, Caitlin Cawley, Mike D, Daniel Bear Hunley.

Once your brand’s Pinterest mission and vision has been determined, attention turns to growth and engagement. Leverage your existing communities to grow awareness for your Pinterest presence and stress the unique value and content that can be found there. For example, Lowe’s saw a 32 percent increase in followers to its Pinterest page after it integrated a Pinterest tab into its Facebook community. In fact, some Lowe’s boards saw as much as a 60 percent increase. Additionally, Pinterest referrals back to Lowe’s Facebook page increased 57 percent, demonstrating the importance of using each community for its inherent strengths, be it breaking news, discussions or photos. More recently commerce powerhouses Amazon and eBay have added tiny Pinterest buttons to their deck of social media sharing options on individual product pages.

Next, build on this awareness by thinking creatively and forming programs that engage and accelerate growth. Apparel brand Guess used the inherent strengths of Pinterest’s visual platform to ask consumers to create inspiration boards around four spring colors and title their boards “Guess my color inspiration.” The four “favorites,” as selected by Guess’ noted style bloggers, received a pair of color-coated denim from the Guess Spring Collection.

Other retailers such as Lands’ End created a “Pin It to Win It” contest designed to encourage consumers to pin items from the retailer’s website for a chance to win Lands’ End gift cards, while Barneys asked consumers to create a Valentine’s Day wish list using at least five items sourced from Barneys’ website. In each case the brands leveraged the strengths of Pinterest’s visual platform to engage followers by encouraging them to create their own inspiration boards associated closely with the brand and its products, thus increasing buzz, visibility and followers.

While it’s important to experiment and have fun as you grow your following, you also want to gather critical insights and learnings along the way. Treat your Pinterest promotion or program just as you would any other digital marketing program. Set up goals, objectives and appropriate key performance indicators, and be sure to communicate those metrics to all involved to properly gather learnings and the overall impact and success of the effort.

For consumer product goods brand Kotex, it was all about honoring women and leveraging the power of Pinterest to reward the women who inspired it. The program included finding 50 “inspiring” women to see what they were pinning. Based on those pins, the women were sent a virtual gift. If they pinned the virtual gift, they got a real gift in the mail based on something they pinned. The result: 100 percent of the women posted something about the gift across multiple social networks (Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), resulting in greater reach and visibility than was initially anticipated.

In addition, more than 2,284 interactions occurred overall and Kotex’s program generated more than 694,864 impressions around the 50 gifts. Lastly, the YouTube video summarizing the program has been viewed nearly 18,000 times, indicating the program has been a source of interest and inspiration to other brands and marketers alike.

Don’t forget to leverage Pinterest’s API to collect data, including activity, in order to build insights as well as preference and intent as expressed by your audience.

With meteoric-like growth, Pinterest now finds itself among the top 30 websites in the U.S. and shows no signs of slowing down. The social media platform not only offers brands an opportunity to curate and visually organize information for consumers in an appealing way, but it creates a community of real enthusiasts and advocates for your brand and shared topic of interest. Happy Pinning!

A Look at Facebook’s Premium Ads

Last week Facebook officially announced its new premium ads at the fMC confab, its marketing conference. While there were several announcements, including Timeline for brand pages, the most relevant one for this column was the official launch of the social media platform’s new premium ad units.

Last week Facebook officially announced its new premium ads at the fMC confab, its marketing conference. While there were several announcements, including Timeline for brand pages, the most relevant one for this column was the official launch of the social media platform’s new premium ad units.

The new units put a brand’s page and relevant posts in front of the right audience and amplify its relevance and trust with “social context” by including an individual’s connections who also “Like” the brand. Based on internal Facebook testing, premium ads are 80 percent more likely to be remembered, drive 40 percent higher engagement and significantly increase purchase intent.

Aside from the obvious lift in performance, what makes the launch of premium ads so significant and what should marketers do to maximize this opportunity?

First and foremost, premium ads are a potential game changer. They combine the strengths of Facebook (connections, conversations and community) with the triad of marketing disciplines (paid, earned and owned media). As a result, they should be extremely popular with marketers interested in taking the conversation to potential fans. In addition, premium ads will play a role in potentially helping Facebook to maintain and grow its lead as the top U.S. display advertising company.

Premium ads are spouting a wave of new startups, which is great for the industry and economy. Forbes recently highlighted several social media players scrambling to support premium ads. While their approaches differ with various buy, build or partner strategies, activity is significant, as illustrated by the following:

For marketers interested in leveraging Facebook advertising to grow their community, the game plan is relatively straightforward: prep for a test; review and identify potential conversations to feature; and partner with a solution provider who can help you optimize the most valuable and engaging content to feature.

In addition, look to add retargeting tags into the mix. Premium ads are all about leveraging your social posts and social context to drive acquisition and encourage engagement. Adding a retargeting strategy is the perfect complement to help seal the deal and ultimately understand conversion and attribution for your efforts.

Will premium ads be a game changer and keep Facebook on top? If the emergence of new solutions together with the promise of combining paid, earned and owned media with a double-digit lift in performance is any indication, the answer is yes.

3 Social Media Musts to Grow Your Community

With 2011 holiday sales surpassing expectations, marketers entered 2012 with new customers and a renewed optimism. However, given the ups and downs of the past several years, now isn’t the time to rest on your laurels. 

With 2011 holiday sales surpassing expectations, marketers entered 2012 with new customers and a renewed optimism. However, given the ups and downs of the past several years, now isn’t the time to rest on your laurels. Building community will require a renewed dedication and attention across these three areas:

1. Innovation. Success and differentiation will require proactive planning and a lot of experimentation. Marketers serious about building community must be creative and unafraid of failure. Create an innovation budget is my No. 1 must. Dedicate a portion of your 2012 budget to test new ideas to support new social media programs, networks and technologies.

You’ll no doubt continue to see the emergence of new community players this year (e.g., the increasing influence of Google+ brand pages), as well as the continued expansion and maturity of others, making them viable community platforms. Set aside a portion of your budget to support the building of such platforms as well as the testing of new programs, including but not limited to location-based services, augmented reality efforts, retargeting programs and more.

2. Data analysis and measurement. Data is the holy grail. If you haven’t already integrated your social media communities into your CRM database, 2012 is the year to do so. Looking at behavior such as engagement across multiple channels (e.g., web, email and social) will be essential in indentifying key influencers and brand advocates. Build a social media measurement framework to better track and analyze the impact of your social media efforts on individual programs as well as your brand overall. Measurement frameworks should include the following:

  • awareness: reach and impressions;
  • interest: views;
  • excitement: “Likes,” comments, +1s, @mentions;
  • advocacy: shares, retweets, testimonials, endorsements;
  • conversion: attributable sales; and
  • economic value: upsell success, multiple product ownership, increase in satisfaction/likelihood to recommend, loyalty, multichannel engagement, lifetime value.

3. Splinternet expertise. With more than 37 million iPhones sold over the holidays, smartphones as well as apps have become an increasingly important part of all of our lives. The proliferation of smartphones, new technologies, and proprietary platforms and networks has given rise to what Forrester Research calls “the Splinternet.”

As a result, growing and increasing participation across your social communities via mobile platforms will need to be a key focus in 2012. Marketers and their agencies will increasingly need to hone their communication skills in order to reach and engage consumers. Creating positive user experiences will be paramount and content optimization expertise will become as important as program ideas in 2012 as consumers engage with your brand across platforms.

The key to building community in 2012 will require a bit of left and right brain thinking: A thorough analysis of who your customers are and what they want, mixed with some creative thinking and flawless execution across multiple proprietary plaforms.

5 Ways to Leverage the Power of Social Communities This Holiday Season

Tough economic conditions have led to some pretty dramatic changes this holiday season, including earlier and more aggressive promotions, extended store hours, and more aggressive digital marketing efforts such as extended free shipping offers. How can brands leverage their social communities to best stand out from the crowd and drive success this holiday season and beyond? Here are five simple ways to leverage the power of your social community this holiday season:

Tough economic conditions have led to some pretty dramatic changes this holiday season, including earlier and more aggressive promotions, extended store hours, and more aggressive digital marketing efforts such as extended free shipping offers. How can brands leverage their social communities to best stand out from the crowd and drive success this holiday season and beyond? Here are five simple ways to leverage the power of your social community this holiday season:

1. Time and execution. Every marketer is working towards Shangri-la — i.e., the right offer to the right consumer in the right channel at the right time. One of the easiest tactics in this equation is to get the timing right. Take the time to analyze critical response patterns within each of your social communities, including what day and time of day your community members are more likely to engage with your social posts. Then schedule your holiday promotions accordingly to increase reach, response and conversion.

2. Integrate and coordinate. Support your holiday promotional efforts with coordinated social posts. Test the sequencing of these efforts and their impact on sales. Take it a step further by offering exclusives to community members and/or early or special access to sales events and specials. Finally, encourage sharing and consider rewarding those that do with additional discounts and/or rewards. Remember to tag and track all social media efforts so you can measure the impact they have on overall sales. Also be mindful of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines governing social media endorsements.

3. Localize and alert. Leverage the power of social media to update communities about local events, extended hours, price changes and even restocking/delivery of popular out-of-stock items. Use geo-targeted posts on platforms like Facebook as well as location-based services like foursquare to help spread the word and optimize sales both online and in-store at the local level.

4. Thank and welcome. As the 2011 holiday season winds down, remember the importance of the post-holiday season as shoppers return unwanted items and look to use gift cards. Fine-tune post-holiday community efforts and communications by identifying new customers, dormant customers who came back, lapsed customers and brand advocates.

Invite those that aren’t already members of your social networks to be part of the community, thank existing customers for their patronage and recognize brand advocates for their support. Consider leveraging this intelligence to boost post-holiday sales pushes with viral programs starting the day after Christmas. By inviting new customers to join your social communities you’ll be building an even bigger foundation to market to throughout 2012.

5. Survey and build buzz. Use collaborative filtering and data to highlight popular products by category, region and customer segment. Solicit feedback and survey customers about their experience with your brand or products and encourage them to share that experience on your social communities and across the social web to build buzz.

It’s hard to believe the 2011 holiday season is upon us. However, with a little planning and coordination there’s still time to leverage the power of your social communities to build sales for 2011 and beyond.

10 Tips to Help Grow Your Twitter Followers

This past Labor Day weekend saw Republican presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, and Twitter was buzzing with location updates, photos and 140-character sound bites. While many of the candidates boast huge Twitter followings, several have come under criticism for the authenticity of their numbers.

This past Labor Day weekend saw Republican presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, and Twitter was buzzing with location updates, photos and 140-character sound bites. While many of the candidates boast huge Twitter followings, several have come under criticism for the authenticity of their numbers.

In fact, a recent review of Newt Gingrich’s followers by PeekYou, a social search company that matches online identities through publically available information, found that only 106,055 out of 1.1 million of his followers were legitimate. Similar results were found for other candidate’s followers, but at much lower rates. Mitt Romney was found to have 26 percent real followers, Michelle Bachman had 28 percent and Tim Pawlenty had 32 percent. With that in mind, here are some best practices for keeping it real when it comes to growing your number of Twitter followers:

1. Mine the database. As always, the best place to start is with your customers. Leverage the knowledge you have about existing customers and prospects in your database and reach out to them communicating the benefits of following your brand on Twitter. Consider sending an email campaign to acquire new subscribers. Remember to tag all existing promotional campaigns, newsletters and service email communications with your social communities.

2. Listen and follow. Leverage listening and monitoring tools such as Radian6 to find out who’s already talking about your brand. Follow them to keep the dialog going and be sure to recognize and thank those that retweet or @mention you.

3. Leverage social tools. Look for and engage key influencers to help spread the word about your brand. Helpful tools include wefollow.com, which helps you to find key influencers within your industry or topics related to your brand. Use Klout and PeerIndex scores to identify who are the most influential. Also look at Twitter’s “Who to Follow” tab for some contextually relevant suggestions on an ongoing basis.

4. Hashtags, advertising tags and Twitter ads. Include hashtags pertaining to popular topics and conversation threads to ensure users interested in similar topics can easily find you. Tag TV, radio and print advertising with your social communities. Use that opportunity to highlight exclusive content prospective followers may find there.

Twitter has and will continue to develop new opportunities to help marketers call greater attention to their brand. The most recent announcement includes Twitter’s expanded advertising program, which allows brands to display ads to Twitter users who are following a particular type of company within a vertical niche. This program is similar to promoted tweets highlighted in a user’s timeline.

5. Directories. List your Twitter account in directories such as Twibes.com, TweetFind.com and Twellow.com. Consider building lists on key communication streams so potential followers with similar interests can find you easily.

6. Search tags, bios and backgrounds. Create a bio with a clear description of your brand and the kind of content you plan on posting. If you have several Twitter accounts serving different purposes, make it easy for users to find those as well by listing them or creating a custom background with the address. Add social links to paid search terms to increase visibility and visitation for your social communities. In addition, be sure to promote your social communities on your website. Include your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other communities on each platform. Better yet, use the strengths of each community to create a conversation flow — e.g., break news on Twitter and ask folks to join the conversation on Facebook.

7. Partnerships and sponsorships. Leverage and cross-promote key partnerships and sponsorships. Retweet, @mention and build a dialog with these partners; become a resource for their followers as well.

8. Unique content. Offer followers unique content they can’t find elsewhere. Grant followers “first to know” status, which will keep them tuning in and engaged. Consider building Twitterviews if you have access to individuals that will resonate well with your followers. Challenge users with trivia and reward those who actively engage with recognition. If possible, offer the chance to win prizes.

9. Engaging conversation. As we all know, the best way to grow your followers is to engage your audience with entertaining and valuable content. Ask and answer questions; encourage people to tweet their thoughts and opinions on key issues; address concerns; ask for feedback and input; and be sure to thank those that engage your brand by either direct messaging them or giving a public shout-out for their contribution. Build a communication calendar around engaging content ideas and find a unique voice. By showcasing your most engaged followers, you’ll create an army of advocates for your brand that will help accelerate your growth.

10. Analyze and focus. Leverage social campaign management tools to analyze consumers’ reactions to your content. Create content categories such as news, articles, events and promotions to track responses. Adjust the mix of these categories based on the feedback you receive from your community.

In addition, use your social media campaign management tool or free tools like friendorfollow.com to see who you may be following but isn’t following back. This will help you keep your follow-to-following ratio in check. With a little analytics and creative writing, you can optimize your voice and ultimately your results.

Twitter remains an evolving medium. While most brands have their share of followers who are inactive, there’s much they can do to grow and improve engagement. By paying careful attention to best practices and creating content that’s valued by consumers, you’ll be well on your way to creating a vibrant and engaged community of brand advocates.

3 Ways Social Communities and Engagement Will Redefine Marketing

The growth of social media provides many new opportunities for brands, including the ability to identify best customers and influencers, and to actively engage those influencers to grow brand advocacy and community. Naturally, it’s this prospect that’s helped fuel the enormous growth in spending across and within key social communities like Facebook, YouTube and more.

The growth of social media provides many new opportunities for brands, including the ability to identify best customers and influencers, and to actively engage those influencers to grow brand advocacy and community. Naturally, it’s this prospect that’s helped fuel the enormous growth in spending across and within key social communities like Facebook, YouTube and more.

But as always, marketers have been pressured to do more with less, particularly in today’s tough economy. That means even more pressure to track and measure marketing program success. For many marketers that success is increasingly defined by engagement and the ability to measure its value and impact on the brand. But what’s the value of engagement?

One of the best studies I’ve seen on this front was conducted by Aite Group. The study looked at the relationship between Generation Y and their banks. It dove into how the level of engagement impacted loyalty, influence, advocacy and sales. Specifically, Aite Group found that highly engaged Gen Yers are significantly more likely to use their debit cards, pay their bills online and receive email.

These users were also more than 3.4 times more likely to use their bank’s website and social networks to research products. Additionally, highly engaged Gen Yers were found to be high-value customers. Specifically, they were 86 percent more likely to open new accounts, 73 percent more likely to recommend their bank and 62 percent more likely to trust their bank.

While the value of engagement is likely to vary by industry and brand, one thing is certain: Social engagement is an important component to add to your integrated marketing tracking and it will have a profound effect on the way you plan, target, execute and measure marketing for many years to come. Here are some of the most important changes you’ll see as a result of realizing the enormous value of catering to highly engaged consumers who use social media and influence others:

1. Media mix allocation tools and research will include social channels. Social will take its rightful place in the marketing toolbox as media mix allocation tools and research include social media platforms and networks as viable options. Business goals, target audience, product type and targeting approach (e.g., geographic, behavioral, contextual) will be re-examined to help marketers prioritize and allocate budgets to appropriate channels, including social — e.g., when a new product launches.

More ambitious marketers will embark on customer research projects to customize these findings for their specific products and targets — i.e., prospects and customers — as social formally joins the budget and planning process.

2. Engagement filtering and targeting capabilities will emerge. The emergence and importance of engagement combined with the growth and increasing activity across social networks and communities will redefine how, who and when you target. You’ll see the emergence of next generation query tools that will allow brands to select and target consumers by applying channel and engagement weightings and filters based on the program or campaign objectives and goals. Highly engaged users will be tapped more aggressively to help launch new products and drive product adoption and sales across the social web.

3. Marketing plans and roll-out strategies will be reinvented. Product launch cycles will continue to be impacted by social channels and emerging technologies. Marketers will become better at not only identifying key influencers and highly engaged users across their respective communities, but also crafting more targeted messages to these audiences to encourage the desired behavior.

As a result, new product launches will be supported by a more formalized and sophisticated roll-out plan. Imagine a world where a new product launch will include a phased rollout. Phase one would include a roll out to key influencers where ideas are exchanged, feedback is collected and enhancements/revisions are made. Phase two would include a soft launch to loyalty or highly engaged users as advocacy and product education continues. Lastly, phase three would include a general or mass market-supported rollout. Communications and tactics within each of these audiences will also be customized to include various communication stages such as education, trial and feedback, and, hopefully, purchasing followed by advocacy.

There’s little doubt the emergence of social media and growth of social brand communities has impacted marketing as we know it. However, bigger changes are in store for marketers as communities occupy an increasing role and influence in the success of brands. This radical sea change requires new thinking and processes.

Marketers who can connect the dots by embracing these new channels and tying social interactions (i.e., engagement) to traditional CRM systems will be a step ahead. However, the real winners will be those that can leverage that data by implementing new strategies and tactics to support the social web and grow brand advocacy and marketing success.

Measuring the Impact of Facebook on Sales

There’s been a lot of talk about Facebook’s impact on commerce from industry pundits. “Will it be retail’s next Google?” asked one report from a leading analyst’s firm. While we’re still very much in the early stages of social media marketing, one thing is certain: In a world where people are increasingly turning to others for opinions and recommendations on the things they need, social commerce, specifically Facebook commerce (f-commerce), is something worthy of additional exploration. But before we jump into the numbers and opportunities, let’s examine what’s required to build a successful f-commerce effort.

There’s been a lot of talk about Facebook’s impact on commerce from industry pundits. “Will it be retail’s next Google?” asked one report from a leading analyst’s firm. While we’re still very much in the early stages of social media marketing, one thing is certain: In a world where people are increasingly turning to others for opinions and recommendations on the things they need, social commerce, specifically Facebook commerce (f-commerce), is something worthy of additional exploration. But before we jump into the numbers and opportunities, let’s examine what’s required to build a successful f-commerce effort.

First off, I’m a believer. (So much so that I recently joined the marketing advisory board of an f-commerce provider, Milyoni.) Some of the examples below, including Warner Brother’s experimentation with Facebook as an alternative digital distribution platform, are powered by Milyoni’s technology. Having said that, f-commerce doesn’t just happen.

I believe that all successful f-commerce programs start with creating engaging conversations and communities. Trust and advocacy flourish over time, allowing brands to develop programs that harness the power of the social graph. If done well, brands have the opportunity to build a commerce platform that not only stands on its own, but ultimately supports and amplifies existing marketing and sales efforts.

If you’ve spent time building your Facebook community and implementing channel tracking for promotions, you’ve probably already witnessed the growing influence social networks are having on your overall promotional efforts. For one of my clients, Facebook is now second to email in terms of rebate form completions and conversions. That’s a testament to the power of building a highly engaged community and its impact on sales.

Now for the data. If you’re still a skeptic, consider the following:

Sales: A recent report from consulting firm Booz & Company titled Turning “Like” to “Buy” estimates social commerce sales will reach $5 billion worldwide this year, with $1 billion coming from the U.S. This is expected to grow sixfold to more than $30 billion worldwide ($15 billion in the U.S.) by 2015.

Consumer acceptance: Booz & Company reports 27 percent of consumers said they’d be willing to purchase physical goods through social networking sites.

Brand acceptance — diversified and growing:

More recently, movie studios like Warner Brothers have shaken up the industry by experimenting with Facebook as an alternative digital distribution platform by offering five movies — “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” “Inception,” “Life As We Know It” and “Yogi Bear” — for rental using Facebook Credits.

In fact, news of the test sent shares of Netflix tumbling by more than 6 percent or $650 milllion. Why? One, social networks offer studios a way to bypass services like Netflix, whose streaming digital influence continues to grow. Two, the ability to post comments and interact with friends opens up a host of new opportunities to not only tap into the social graph to create a unique experience, but to inform the studio and influence future development efforts.

In today’s world, brands need to be everywhere their customers are. So why not facilitate the ability to transact there as well? No doubt social commerce has arrived, but its definition will continue to evolve and expand. From traditional retail stores to an innovative digital media distribution platform, the power of Facebook as a viable social commerce platform is one of the big opportunities of the decade.

5 Steps for Putting Twitter to Work for Your Brand

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Twitter can help you win customers, drive sales, find/solve problems and manage your brand. If you don’t have a Twitter strategy, you need one.

The previous sentences are a combined 140 characters, the maximum length of a tweet. They perfectly capture the power of this relatively new short-form messaging system.

Coming on the heels of a recent $200 million investment and $3.7 billion valuation, Twitter has firmly cemented itself as a force to be reckoned with. A critical communication tool for leading brands, marketers are flocking to this burgeoning social media platform, adding more than 65 million tweets each day. However, establishing and building an effective presence on Twitter takes more than grabbing a name and sending a tweet. It requires work, just like any other channel. With that in mind, here’s a checklist to get you started:

1. Establish your Twitter objectives and do your homework. Spend the necessary time up-front to identify areas of your business that can be served by Twitter — e.g., customer service, tech support, marketing, PR. Define your objectives and metrics for success. Do your homework by conducting a competitive analysis. Read case studies and learn from industry experts and your peers by attending Twitter industry events.

2. Build your presence. Create and complete your bio. Include a clear description of your brand and your stream. Create an avatar and custom background to help reinforce and distinguish your brand. Include a URL to your website or other official brand communities in your bio. Check out @twelpforce if you need help.

3. Develop compelling content and dialogues. Start by listening before speaking. Investigate how your brand/products are organically mentioned and look for opportunities to establish a conversational feed with brand advocates. To engage users, share relevant content and look for opportunities to provide unique value on Twitter, such as offers or photos not found anywhere else. Test content themes such as trivia, historical facts or challenges, and reward your loyal followers with prizes.

Over time, consider establishing multiple accounts to streamline content or interest areas. For example, the NBA uses its primary Twitter account for game updates, offers and breaking news. However, it launched a separate Twitter feed dedicated to historical facts: @NBAHistory.

Also, remember to listen and respond to customer inquiries quickly. Weave conversations across communities. Many brands, such as @CastrolUSA, share news on Twitter and invite followers to join the discussion on their Facebook page.

4. Grow your audience. Promote your communities using all touchpoints — e.g., TV commercial tags, call centers, email. Consider integrating your Twitter feed into your existing website, and experiment with Twitter feeds and advertising units in contextual environments to peak interest and increase followers. Find people already tweeting about your subject and follow them. Identify key influencers, showcase them and encourage them to retweet or @mention you.

Publish Twitter lists to further extend your content and attract followers. List your Twitter account in directories and test sponsored tweets and/or promoted accounts.

5. Manage and measure. A recent study by R2integrated found dedicating time and resources to be the No. 1 issue for marketers when managing their social media presence. Create a team micro-blogging strategy to help keep your social operations nimble and responsive.

The good news is that many people and groups across your organization are interested in learning more about Twitter, and they’ll all benefit from a successful Twitter presence. Get them involved and consider investing in a social media campaign management tool to streamline the process of creating, implementing and analyzing tweets and Facebook posts.

Campaign management tools also enable organizations to manage multiple users. Create benchmarks around key metrics such as customer satisfaction and service levels. Leverage the real-time nature of Twitter to solicit feedback. Be a stickler about channel attribution by using unique coupon codes or tracking URLs tied to shortened URLs.

Finally, take the time to understand the difference and dynamics between public and private tweets, and use direct messages to handle private or sensitive one-to-one conversations.

Twitter isn’t only a new ecosystem, but a constantly evolving one. While a great deal of its evolution is driven by its users, the recent influx of $200 million and focus on making money is certain to increase the opportunities for marketers — advertising and beyond. For marketers to effectively embrace this channel, however, they need to galvanize their internal teams, build a compelling strategy aligned to corporate goals and customer needs, stay current on industry best practices, and maintain and grow their followers by building an engaging dialogue. In the end, some things never change: same marketing fundamentals, different channel.

Maximize Holiday Sales

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, brands are scrambling to maximize sales and results. The growing use of social media and smartphones adds enormous complexity, along with many opportunities for today’s digital marketing gurus. But fear not! With a little preparation and integration, double-digit sales increases are possible. Here’s how to get the most out of your Q4 digital efforts to drive sales and grow lifetime value for many years to come.

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, brands are scrambling to maximize sales and results. The growing use of social media and smartphones adds enormous complexity, along with many opportunities for today’s digital marketing gurus. But fear not! With a little preparation and integration, double-digit sales increases are possible. Here’s how to get the most out of your Q4 digital efforts to drive sales and grow lifetime value for many years to come.

Community tagging. Tag existing offline marketing efforts with Facebook/Twitter tags. Integrate “Like” opportunities at key touchpoints, such as your homepage and product pages. A recent study from Syncapse and Hotspex found the lifetime value of a Facebook fan is about $136 to top brands. Consider offering an incentive to encourage consumers to become a fan of your brand, such as making a donation to a cause/charity for each sign-up. And remember to stress the value of being a fan or follower. Adding a “Like” button or “Join the Community” call to action only makes return on investment sense if you have a strategy and communication framework established to engage the community once you’ve converted them.

Belly up to barcodes. It’s estimated as much as 70 percent of all purchase decisions are made at the point of sale (POS). Therefore, it’s critical to stand out on store shelves and to offer some extra value. How about integrating new 2-D barcodes, which enables consumers to use their smartphones to “Like” your brand or product at the POS? Also, pay close attention to mobile applications like Foursquare, which now boasts more than 4 million users. Mobile will increasingly become a critical channel to not only acquire new customers, but grow the community and drive sales via the serving of location-based offers.

Segment and socialize. Implement sharing capabilities on banner ads and email marketing efforts. For existing email efforts, segment your audience based on engagement and social profiles. By targeting best customers and testing various incentives, you can encourage your best customers to get actively involved in the promotion of your brand, thus extending your marketing efforts’ reach and effectiveness. Remember to not only identify who shared the information, but flag them as an influencer for future campaigns.

Email, social and loyalty. Lots has been written about the integration of email and social media. But the importance of coordinating efforts across channels cannot be underestimated. Coordinate socialized email deployments with Facebook and Twitter posts. Furthermore, for those of you with established loyalty programs and sites, don’t forget to sweeten the deal for loyalty members.

The old rule still applies: With proper pampering, your best customers will become your best advocates. Studies and data also show that they buy more products and purchase more often, so remember to treat them extra special. Integrate offers into loyalty websites and statements, and highlight additional benefits for your best customers.

Remarketing/targeting. If you’re a direct response marketer, you likely have access to lots of data. Start with the basics this holiday season by implementing a remarketing strategy for key efforts. With average open rates hovering around 20 percent, look closely at open/click activity and resend offers based on observed behaviors and actions. Consider sweetening offers when and where appropriate. Implementation of a remarketing strategy can lift overall conversion rates anywhere from 50 percent to 200 percent.

However, be careful not to annoy your customers. Be conscious of the law of diminishing returns. Also, look closely at website data and leverage cookie/pixel technologies to target users both onsite and offsite via ad networks with relevant, targeted offers based on their profiles and behaviors. Don’t forget to review your privacy policy, always be transparent and offer users the opportunity to opt out.

Search and destroy. Search remains an effective and efficient vehicle to drive desired behaviors as consumers are actively in the market for your products/services. But search remains underleveraged. Think carefully about corresponding landing pages, and look to integrate data-capture opportunities that offer relevant value to encourage subscriptions. Doing so will allow you to continue the conversation. Also, pump up your search marketing efforts by adding social links to paid search terms to increase visibility and “Likes” for your social efforts.

Earlier this month, the National Retail Federation forecasted holiday sales to increase 2.3 percent, slightly lower than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent. While this year’s estimate represents a significant improvement over last year, marketers must continue to look for operational and marketing efficiencies. That means working smarter, not harder. While paying close attention to supply chain management, inventory control and minimizing markdowns is a must, marketing must overdeliver as well. Marketers must learn to better leverage data, their best customers and emerging/efficient channels like mobile, social media and email to drive sales in today’s difficult market.