It’s not a stretch to say that social media has fundamentally changed the way people communicate.

Whether we’re talking about sharing messages with friends on Facebook or alerting the world to events via Twitter from Tahrir Square in Egypt during the Arab Spring, social media has changed the way the world works.

But for companies that want to communicate more freely and directly with customers, it’s not as simple as creating a Facebook page. In order to harness the global reach of social media, companies must develop content management strategies that smoothly integrate with social media activities.

Yet strategies are only the beginning. In order to successfully leverage the power of social media, marketing departments must adjust the way they operate. Gone are the days when a company could simply create a piece of collateral and email it to prospects. Simply pushing out messages and content via email for a one-way dialogue doesn’t cut it anymore. SiriusDecisions issued a report in 2011 that said that more than 50 percent of marketing is inbound, and that by 2012 it will be 75 percent inbound.

That fundamental change, largely driven by social media, means that marketing, as an organization, needs to change at a tactical and structural level. The over-arching goal for the chief marketing officer is to cultivate a marketing organization that is geared toward soliciting specific reactions or behaviors from customers. In order to take full advantage of the power of social media, companies need to ask themselves a series of questions:

  • What is our new content strategy?
  • How does the change in strategy impact the marketing team?
  • Which components of our content strategy will help us secure a two-way dialogue with customers?
  • How can we incorporate the power and versatility of mobile devices to tailor our marketing efforts to specific customer needs? 

Content Strategy — It Starts at the Top

In the past, marketers would develop yearly plans and create a library full of materials, images and other collateral that would help turn prospects into customers. However, in today’s business world, developing a new content management strategy that focuses on establishing two-way conversations with customers must start with the chief marketing officer as well as other C-level executives whose departments will be impacted. Once buy-in is secured at the top levels, it’s up to the CMO and his or her direct reports to outline the messages and programs that will help generate specific customer actions. Once the messages and programs are agreed on, the IT team can help structure the organization so that everything works smoothly and efficiently.

For instance, in a social media program it is important for the marketing department to create digital assets to help support sales and marketing activities. Key, however, is that these digital assets must be organized in a manner that makes them easily accessible to enable mass personalization or to respond to changing markets. Equally important is the metadata about the assets that describes to the user what the content was created for, its intended purpose, and how it can be used. The next steps involve activities that separate the winners and losers in the marketing realm.

Cultivating a Relationship

The concept that marketing is a two-way process is not new. Back in the early 1990s marketing expert Regis McKenna noted that, “The successful marketing plan is a plan for dialogue, not monologue.” But establishing a relationship with customers is not easy. Or I should say it wasn’t easy in the past. The introduction of social media tools, such as Twitter and YouTube, has dramatically changed the playing field for marketers. -Online surveys coupled with tools for closely monitoring user behavior and the performance of various website elements make it possible to adapt to every consumer whim in real time.

Being able to communicate digitally with customers on a personal level is the new pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Securing a two-way dialogue with customers allows the company to better understand personal habits, buying patterns and issues that drive purchasing. Knowing and understanding this type of granular detail allows companies to offer uniquely customized outreach to its customers. In a sense, the marketing department is now in a position to tailor assets for each customer, offering the kind of one-to-one connection that drives sales.

Yet companies often fail in their marketing efforts because they lack the vision to push beyond simply gathering customer profile data. The information garnered from profile data needs to be incorporated back into the larger content management strategy. Use of marketing tools, such as modular assets, must be part of an intelligently designed content strategy. Marketing assets need to be designed to address specific customer tendencies to strengthen the relationship between the customer and the company.

For example, a social media channel such as a Facebook page must be designed with a specific online experience mind. This might sound obvious but is often mishandled. For example, does your company’s Facebook page link all customers back to a generic website or does it segment the customers and send them to more specific parts of the website? It may sound simple but it is these types of things that can either alienate customers who feel that the company is not listening or leave golden opportunities on the table.

For instance, a sports apparel supplier could use the location-based information available from Facebook to drive traffic originating in New York city, for example, to a custom page of New York Giants Super Bowl winning merchandise. The tricky part is determining if the customer is a Giants fan or a Jets fan. This is where having systems that can harvest content and interpret individual tendencies can be critical: maybe the fan tweets “go Jets” on a regular basis, offering vital insight.

Personalizing Your Message

The shift from outbound to inbound marketing can dramatically alter the way your marketing department functions. In the past a company might have used a marketing automation platform to create a strategic brief, build a campaign, develop supporting collateral and establish metrics to measure the success or failure of the campaign. In reality though, this is a very manual process that is more cookie-cutter than targeted.

Social media has opened the door for new marketing tactics that are tailored to specific types of customers. The ability to personalize and customize the two-way dialogue between the company and the prospect based on their profile data that you are continually gathering (as in the case of the Jets fan) is very appealing. Understanding your customers and their needs will help your company create marketing assets that appeal to each individual customer, not just a mass audience. 

The Mobile Marketing World

The pervasive adoption of extremely capable smartphones and tablets has fundamentally changed the behavior pattern of customers. The 2012 Super Bowl football game offers a prime example of shifting customer experiences. According to a recent survey by Harris Interactive, nearly 60 percent of mobile phone users planned to look at or use their phones during Super Bowl XLVI. An impressive statistic, but what if your Web assets aren’t designed to work well on a handheld device? It’s critically important to have a simple, affordable way to adapt marketing assets to handheld devices. Given the diversity of the mobile world, costs of accommodating all the various mobile form factors can really add up if you’re not prepared.

In order to take full advantage of the benefits of using mobile technology to market directly to customers, marketers must ask themselves two questions: “How can I make this a great Web experience for my mobile customers?” and “How can I deliver a mobile platform to customers in a cost-effective manner?”

Developing an application that is specifically designed to support mobile devices can be a daunting endeavor. Developing company branded applications is not something to be taken lightly. In some cases, a browser-based approach can be fine, while in others the application route will have the best result. In any case, know that creating applications to support the wide range of devices and operating systems is at minimum a slippery slope. One way to help keep cost under control is to use a platform that allows you to follow the mantra “write once, run often.”

And in the Future…

This is truly an exciting time for the people who work in the marketing world. The ability to personalize messages and tailor content based on customer preferences has fundamentally changed the way companies can interact with their customers. Organizations that can most effectively deal with the complexity of media assets, managing unstructured information and text analytics are the ones most likely to come out on top.

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