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.