The 10 Rules of Social Media Marketing Engagement

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans. Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic. But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix. However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program.

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans.

Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic.

But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix.

However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program:

1. Be Aware. Get to know each community’s rules. Each site (network, forum, blog, chat room and bulletin board) has its own set of rules—many you have to agree to, if you read the fine print, when you sign up for membership. If a site has a specific area for promotional or marketing messages, keep posts of this nature restricted to those areas. If rules dictate what type of messages are allowed (such as no overtly self-serving, defamatory, illegal, elicit or pornographic material), follow the rules. Any deviation will prompt a warning by the site’s moderator or immediate ban from the site.

2. Be Active. Don’t be a “hit and run” marketer. In other words, don’t just go in a few times and hit members with your marketing message then forget the site for weeks or months at a time. Get involved. Participate in discussions. Interact with members. Read and respond to engaging posts with no hidden agenda. Involvement encourages interactivity and interactivity solicits followers and reinforces credibility within the community.

3. Be Relevant. Some “rules” are not imposed, but is common sense if you’re a seasoned marketer. Targeting your message to the right, relevant audience will prompt better results. Make sure the community and site itself are synergistic with your goal, target audience and message. Also, ensure you’re posting in sub areas of the site that are relevant to the topic you’re discussing. Many forums have segmented subfolders by category and interest level. This granular dissection to your target audience helps the members easily find the topics they’re interested in and keeps you from muddying the waters in unrelated areas of the site.

4. Be Genuine. Posts that are contrived, unrelated and have a hidden agenda can be seen a mile away. Let the conversations flow organically. Contribute real, thought-provoking comments that members will find interesting. Talk to your audience, not at them. Not every post has to be a marketing message.

5. Be Useful. As a social community member, your goal is to participate in intelligent, useful discussions. Make sure you’re adding value to the site in some way. Your comments should also be valuable to the readers and not random posts. Nothing gets under members’ skin more than messages that are blatant spam.

6. Be Subtle. Many marketers embed their entire message with URLs to whatever page they’re trying to drive traffic to. If a community allows links in your post, use them sparingly. Less is more here. Some sites even have rules about not allowing links in the body copy of a post, but keeping them only in the auto signature field where your username is. Links should be relevant to the post (such as a great article that you want to share with members—then enclose the link so they can read for themselves).

7. Be Balanced. Mix up your messages. Not all your posts have to be promotional (and they shouldn’t be). Hang out in the community. Read other posts. Get to know the members and the site. See which areas have topics and discussions that vibe with you. Mix up your posts. Find balance with the editorial and marketing messages. The idea is to provide value and engage.

8. Be Informative. Be aware of what’s happening in your area of interest. Be able to have intelligent discussions about different news, events and publications under your subject matter. If you see other related articles that you think members would find interesting, even material from other publishers, share the knowledge. After all, that’s ultimately what social media is about.

9. Be Personable. Develop relationships with the community on both a “friend” and an “expert” level (for your area of specialty). Let your personality and credentials shine through with the information you share. Offer free expert advice. Share funny stories. Have witty discussions. Start to truly develop a memorable presence and bond with the community members. This helps your posts stand out in a whirlwind of background noise that passes readers each day in their news feeds.

10. Be Respectful. Don’t spam your fellow members. Some social communities allow users to post their email addresses on their Profile pages. This could lead to a flurry of unsolicited emails from social marketing barracudas who use this personal information for their own self-serving purposes. Remember, just because an email is posted on a user’s profile page doesn’t mean that person opted in to receive solicitations, promotions or similar email communications. Sending unwanted and unsolicited email is spam, plain and simple. Don’t exploit community members’ personal information.

Getting Your Email Heard Above the Roar of the Holiday Crowd

Getting your message heard above the roar of the holiday crowd requires a different approach. Instead of being the loudest voice, you have to be the voice your customers and prospects want to hear. This requires a marketing shift from one-off deals to providing the service that people want when they need it. The better the relationship between company and customers, the easier it is to connect with them in crowded channels.

The noise in the marketplace is almost deafening under normal conditions. It reaches a high point during the holiday season. Every marketing channel is filled with offers and one-off stunts designed to capture people’s attention, if only for a nanosecond. Frenetic cries from marketers desperate to generate revenue overwhelm the senses of the customers and prospects they seek to engage. Enjoyable shopping experiences become a crazy event that people dread.

Good marketing messages get lost in the attempt to outshout the competition. The constant barrage of screaming marketers becomes white noise to recipients. They become adept at filtering out the extraneous information to only hear the messages they need. This ability is similar to athletes who hear their coaches over thousands of fans.

Getting your message heard above the roar of the holiday crowd requires a different approach. Instead of being the loudest voice, you have to be the voice your customers and prospects want to hear. This requires a marketing shift from one-off deals to providing the service that people want when they need it. The better the relationship between company and customers, the easier it is to connect with them in crowded channels. If your past marketing strategy included provided highly targeted messages your customers are already tuned into your messages. If not, here are a few things you can do now to be heard above the crowd:

  • Make everything as easy as possible. When it comes to making people happy, easy trumps exceptional. This is especially true during the holiday season when time is limited. Create emails that include everything needed to make a buying decision and minimize the number of click from the email link to check out.
  • Be available. Sometimes people have questions that are not addressed in the email, catalog or online. Put your telephone number on every piece of marketing materials, in every email and on every web page. It will increase your sales without significantly increasing your calls. If you offer click to chat service, include a link to it in your emails.
  • Preselect items to simplify the shopping process. Buying patterns change during holiday season because people shift from shopping for self to shopping for others. Review historical data for seasonal purchases and make appropriate recommendations for similar products or services.
  • Offer reassurance. The best delivery and return policies cannot influence purchase decisions if people don’t know about them. Provide specific “order by to receive in time” dates during the shopping process. Send transactional emails that include expected delivery dates and shipping confirmation numbers with a link to the carrier. If there are any issues with the order, notify the buyer immediately.
  • Follow up on abandoned carts. Life gets a little crazy during the holidays. It’s normal to see a bump in abandoned carts since people are ordering more and trying to be secretive about it. Browsers get closed quickly when others walk into the room. Double check your online and email reminders to make sure that they are working. If you don’t have a reminder process in place, add one.
  • Show appreciation. After enough time has passed for the order to be delivered, send an email to verify receipt, thank the customer for the order, and offer assistance if needed. Doing this distinguishes you from the competition, encourages feedback and improves trust. Be sure to use a valid reply address. Test using an individual’s email address versus a generic corporate one. People tend to respond to other people better.
  • Prepare for next year. Create and implement a strategy that is designed to keep people engaged and listening for your voice. The more they are tuned in to your marketing messages the less they will hear the competition.

Email to Repair Broken Customer Relationships—What J.C. Penney Got Wrong

Email is one of the more personal forms of electronic communication. Notes from friends and family are co-mingled with marketing messages. This makes it an excellent vehicle for repairing broken relationships. When done well, email apology letters drive sales in addition to mending relationships, but can they save a company from a death spiral? The management team at J.C. Penney is hoping that the recent note from CEO Ron Johnson will reverse (or at least slow down) the sales free fall for the last two quarters.

Email is one of the more personal forms of electronic communication. Notes from friends and family are co-mingled with marketing messages. This makes it an excellent vehicle for repairing broken relationships.

When done well, an email apology letter drives sales in addition to mending relationships. A few years ago, a client had a system failure that resulted in delayed shipments of holiday orders. An email was sent to every customer who had placed an order that season (even the ones who had already received their orders.) The message explained what caused the problem, apologized for any inconvenience, promised to expedite shipments of remaining orders, and offered a gift certificate for future orders.

The immediate response was so positive, the President quipped, “We should plan a problem once a quarter so we can apologize!” The revenue from the apology letter more than covered the expedited shipping. Furthermore, the relationship between customer and company became stronger. The people who received the letter consistently outperformed their counterparts who didn’t get one in both sales and lifespan.

Personal letters help salvage relationships but can they save a company from a death spiral? The management team at J.C. Penney is hoping that the recent note from CEO Ron Johnson will reverse (or at least slow down) the sales free fall for the last two quarters. In May, the first quarter results revealed a 20.1 percent drop in revenue because shoppers didn’t like the new pricing and marketing strategy. Second quarter was worse with another revenue drop of almost 23 percent. Traffic was down 12 percent.

When things are going south at this rate, quick action is required. Johnson admitted to pricing and marketing mistakes when speaking with investors, but his letter to customers is more like an introduction than an “Oops! We goofed.” The letter reads:

Dear valued customer,

You’ve probably heard about recent changes at jcpenney. I’m honored to
say that I’m one of them.

I’m Ron Johnson, and I came here because I have a lifelong passion for
retailing—and jcpenney has been one of America’s favorite stores for
over a hundred years. My goal is to make jcpenney your favorite place
to shop.

I’ve asked our team to innovate in many ways—to help you look and live
better—and to make shopping more enjoyable.

While you will see many changes, you can rest assured that we’ll never
lose sight of our founder’s values. When James Cash Penney built his
first retail stores over a century ago, he called them “The Golden
Rule,” because treating customers with respect was his highest
priority.

One of Mr. Penney’s guiding principles was offering low prices every
day—instead of running a series of “special sales.” We’re honoring Mr.
Penney by returning to his pricing policy, so you’ll find great prices
every time you visit.

We’ve also made it easier to return items, we’re bringing in more
great brands, adding excitement to our presentation, offering free
back-to-school haircuts for kids, and much more.

Basically, we’re putting you and your family first, trying to give you
new reasons to smile every time you visit a jcpenney store.

You’ll see many innovations in the coming months, and I’ll keep you
informed in a series of letters like this. I hope you’ll let me know
how we’re doing, and share any ideas that could help us do better.
Just click the link below to send me a note.

On behalf of the jcpenney team, thank you for shopping with us.

Ron

I’d like to hear from you.
View email with images.

*Please be advised that any information disclosed or submitted will
become jcp property and may be used in public communications.”

The timing of this letter is off. It should have been sent prior to the pricing changes. Now is the time for J.C. Penney to be open about the issues and invite people to share thoughts without the threat that they “may be used in public communications.”

Email messages designed to repair relationships are different from marketing emails. They have to be simple and personal. The J.C. Penney email is designed to look like a letter from the CEO, as you can see in the first picture in the media player at right.

Unfortunately, it looks like the second picture in the media player when it lands in the inbox. The letter is an image instead of text. It isn’t very inviting to a loyal customer much less an unhappy one.

Do’s and don’ts for creating personal relationship mending messages:

  • Do personalize the name. “Dear valued customer” says “I don’t know who you are.” The individual who shared this email with me has been a loyal catalog shopper and had a J. C. Penney credit card. They should be on a first name basis.
  • Don’t use a ho-hum subject. You have to catch people’s attention in a flash. “A letter from our CEO” doesn’t do it. Wouldn’t “Our CEO wants your advice” be better?
  • Do identify the problem and take responsibility for it. “Oops! We goofed!” followed with an explanation and sincere apology is the first step to mending the relationship. If the recipient doesn’t feel your sincerity, additional damage is done.
  • Don’t limit responses by qualifying. Mr. Johnson asks for feedback and then states that the information shared may be used in public communications. Some apology emails offer a discount based on a specific order size. Relationship mending emails have to do two things: Take responsibility and offer some form of restitution. A discount is a promotion. Basing it on a dollar amount is adding insult to injury.
  • Do use text-only emails. A picture paints a thousand words and most of them send marketing signals and awaken spaminators. The purpose of relationship building emails is to restore the relationship. This won’t happen if the email goes to spam or looks like a bunch of boxes with red X’s.
  • Don’t ever forget that relationships with customers are a privilege not a right. When you are truly grateful for the opportunity to serve your customers, it resonates in your messages. Make sure that your marketing team (including the copywriter) has the right perspective when creating messages.

Left Hand? I’d Like to Introduce Right Hand

What happened to good, old fashioned, “please” and “thank you”? As a customer, it’s nice to be thanked for my business, or appreciated for my subscription to a service. It makes me feel part of the brand and valued for my investment. But as a cold prospect, it’s even more important since making a good impression should always be part of the process. So why is it missing from so many marketing communications programs?

What happened to good, old fashioned, “please” and “thank you”?

As a customer, it’s nice to be thanked for my business, or appreciated for my subscription to a service. It makes me feel part of the brand and valued for my investment. But as a cold prospect, it’s even more important since making a good impression should always be part of the process. So why is it missing from so many marketing communications programs?

After attending a B-to-B webinar recently, I fully expected to receive a follow-up email thanking me for my attendance, and a continued nurturing of me along their sales cycle: A request for a meeting, an invitation to participate in a live demo, or even a link to a case study or two that were geared to my industry. Instead, I got an email that sounded as if they were talking to a cold prospect.

Perhaps the marketing manager failed to merge/purge the webinar registration/attendee list against their cold prospecting list (tsk, tsk, tsk). But I suspect this business didn’t even think to conduct a merge/purge. Why?

Because, like most mid-to-large B-to-B organizations, one marketing manager is responsible for acquisition and someone else is responsible for sales support—and it seems that neither of them talk to each other … EVER.

If this company maintains a database, I should be flagged as “responded” AND “attended an event” so the sales team can take over the management of this “lead.” I’ve met with many, many organizations that don’t have a lead database (or, even worse, they have multiple databases because no one is happy with the company solution, or the solution is too hard to manage/maintain). Worse still, they may have a customer database, but it’s not well maintained, or is too difficult to access/use. So when it comes time to upsell or cross-sell a product, they don’t even know who their customers are, or how to talk to them in a meaningful way.

Thus we circle back to my dilemma. How can you thank me for attending an event and start to sell me on your product/solution, if you don’t know that I attended in the first place?

As marketers, we’re all busy with our heads down, trying to get work out the door. I get it. But at some point, you have to stop all the day-to-day madness and realize that you’re just putting off the inevitable. Insist on investing in a proper marketing database and a database manager to help your company communicate with more intelligence and insight. In turn, that will lead to your ability to target any particular audience and craft smarter, more relevant marketing messages, which will, in turn, lead to better results. I guarantee it.

Oh, and you’re welcome.

Are Ads Ubiquitous, Intrusive, Irrelevant and Offensive?

I’m reading “The Next Evolution of Marketing” by Bob Gilbreath, and he delivers an interesting message about how marketing that has meaning is more effective than traditional advertising. However, Gilbreath drives his message home behind a point that consumers are irate at ads and avoid them like deadbeats dodging collections agents. But me, I don’t hate advertising, and I don’t think most people care that much, either.

I’m reading “The Next Evolution of Marketing” by Bob Gilbreath, and he delivers an interesting message about how marketing that has meaning and adds value to consumers’ lives — before they buy anything from you — is more effective than traditional advertising. It’s an interesting book I’ll probably talk about more in a couple weeks.

However, Gilbreath drives his message home behind a point that consumers are irate at ads and avoid them like deadbeats dodging collections agents. He sharpens this attack with facts and stats such as 76% of Americans joined the National Do Not Call Registry, most people who own a DVR skip commercials, and software for blocking banner ads (Adblock Plus, and yes, it blocks regular, static banner ads, not just pop-ups) won PC World‘s “best product” award. Gilbreath describes a world where people hate advertising the way the Tea party hates taxes, and over the course of the first chapter says traditional messaging is “everywhere,” “intrusive,” “irrelevant” and “offensive.”

He’s certainly not alone in that opinion. Comedians and consultants alike love ranting about stupid advertising, and I’ve edited more than one article about advertisers basically wasting their money. The tradiitonal, godawfully expensive commercial is easy fodder for anyone recommending a new approach.

But me, I don’t hate advertising, and I don’t think most people care that much, either.

The squeaky eyeball gets the Visine, so when someone complains about advertising it makes the news — Gilbreath points out that a handful of calls can get companies to pull national campaigns. But I’m in my thirties, and I’ve got a lot of positive memories of traditional advertising. The Bud Bowl, Geico’s Gecko, pretty much any ad run during the Super Bowl … they can add to the fun, so I give them a chance. Same with movie previews — I really don’t know if I want to see a movie or a new show until I see some ads for it — and coaster ads at the bar. I commute by train, so I relish reading something, anything, interesting on a billboard while waiting for a late one.

Ads can annoy me — anything can annoy me — but I’m not hostile to them. If commercial breaks are reasonable, I’m liable to let them run. I’ve even flipped channels to find spots I was interested in. If someone puts an ad in the restroom, I really couldn’t care less (unless it’s lookin’ at me; that gets weird). I give web banners a chance to catch my click so long as they don’t take 60 seconds to scroll down, stall my browser, or do something else ridiculous to tick me off (many do in fact do ridiculous things that tick me off, but that’s for another future post.)

It’s easy to overstate consumer hostility toward any for-profit project, but it’s a mistake to attribute isolated outbursts to the whole audience. No one complains about marketing messages that interest them and convey information they want. And I think we’re all going to be shocked by just how many consumers are happy to participate in initiatives, like Facebook’s new privacy settings and global “like,” that help you target marketing to them even more.

(If you want me to look at a book, send it to me at the NAPCO offices: 1500 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia, PA 19130. I make no promises. We’re not doing book reviews or a book of the week or anything that relies on me consuming more than a dozen pages a weekend. But I will take a look at anything you send. If it sparks an idea, I’ll work it into Ways of Thinking.)