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Developing Digital/ Social Personas to start your Social Strategy

[Cross-posted from Teehan+Lax]

As the social space matures and companies recognize that they can no longer afford to ignore the “fad” that is social media, a common theme we keep hearing is: who and where are people who want to communicate with us, and whom we should be listening to and focusing our content development on?

As part of the process we’ve developed for formulating a solid and sustainable social strategy for brands, we typically start with developing a Digital/ Social Persona to help guide the engagement and communications strategy. While Personas are common in advertising and UX circles, they are relatively unique within social media as most practitioners will just tell you to “start listening”. While this is absolutely key to understanding and getting involved, it doesn’t provide a roadmap for long-term planning and engagement.

A persona doesn’t replace interacting directly with your customers, however it does give brands an understanding of how their customers are using digital media in all its forms, how they are interacting and engaging with complementary brands, the types of content that resonate with them, and a sense of where the brand “fits” (or could fit) within their online life. It also clearly demonstrates where it falls down, or neglects an important aspect.

In our experience, having this information, backed by thorough data and research, immediately illustrates where traditional communications fall short and why they should invest in 1-to-1 interaction and content development to remain relevant. It also begins to start the process of thinking about what true integration and touchpoints mean on a larger level.

We have a system we use to develop these personas with both qualitative and quantitative research, and with each iteration or new project find new ways to get to know the “persona” of the composite individual we’re modeling. I have a firm belief that with the amount of data we are collectively collecting in the digital realm helping companies make sense of it all and truly understand who their customers and prospects are will become both easier and more difficult. :)

For my social media friends out there – what types of practices do you use to help your clients get to know their customer?

[photo credit: Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo via Flickr]

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Experience Is Everything: Joining Teehan+Lax as Partner- Strategic Consulting

It’s a been a wonderful road watching technology, marketing and social communications evolve on the web over the last 15 years, and it’s been fantastic & exciting being in the thick of it and running my own consultancy for the last 4 years. The last 24 months in particular have been a great journey as social networking tools have come of age rapidly. Seeing companies take the first steps in marketing and DWC (direct-with-consumer)/ social communications in this new hyper-connected reality has been a thrill to watch and participate in. Communications is changing, but at the same time the need for sound strategies, counsel and ideas remains as important as ever to navigate the waters and integrate properly. Social communications is not just outreach and PR; it is part of a larger digital experience with many touchpoints and needs based on standard business objectives.

I have of course focused on the strategy-side of the equation, and in analyzing changes in communications in the digital space. Another part of the digital coming-of-age is having brands move forward in usability and interaction in the online arena to take static, brochure-ware sites to robust, intuitive, user-centric places that continue to evolve and deliver results. Delivering rich creative experiences and personalized programs has started come into its own as clients are willing to invest more of their budget in new media as the value continues to be shown, and not being present becomes a competitive disadvantage. It’s been wonderful to see happen.

I truly believe that Experience touches *everything*: Interfaces, Interaction, Collaboration, Connection, Technology, Relationships, Creative, Information, Service, Engagement, Accessibility, Community…

Currently social media is on the cusp of becoming standard in anything digital, and incorporating digital and social communications with user experience design and solid, engaging creative/ content from the ground up is something I am truly excited about.

One of the best Experience Design agencies out there is Toronto-based Teehan+Lax, with a stellar and incredibly talented team of Associates and amazingly smart Partners (and I don’t just say so myself ;)): Geoff Teehan, Jon Lax, Jeremy Bell & my old partner-in-crime from my MacLaren McCann Interactive days on GM Canada, Dave Stubbs.

In my view, a combination of strategic planning, digital marketing, social communications and user-experience/ interaction design results in a truly robust, meaningful experience that is people-centric and grounded in *business reality*, including insights and analysis that will continue to drive innovation. It’s a natural extension of the way digital and social is moving: doing what’s best for business *and* the public, and doing it as a cohesive unit from ground zero.

Joining Teehan+Lax as Partner – Strategic Consulting makes perfect sense to me. Building this Group to aid clients in strategic business planning, including tapping into social media and mobile marketing & applications, is an exciting challenge, and my vision is to enable Teehan+Lax to provide sound business intelligence and planning capabilities, as a stand-alone offering, or fully integrated with their best-in-class user experience platform and program capabilities to drive business and communications results for clients.

I’m looking forward to the experience and the journey.

[the official press release will go out tomorrow & I'll update this post with the link... but we decided we'd let the social sphere get the scoop first :)]

—-

Some housekeeping:

- Wildfire SM will not be accepting new clients or projects, although I am happy to discuss new relationships with Teehan+Lax. Any existing relationships will be bound by the same terms as initially agreed to in the contract. If you have any questions give me a shout, I’m happy to talk.

- As of today the www.wildfirestrategy.com domain will re-direct to this blog. The blog will still remain (3i) innovate. integrate. ignite. Because that’s my philosophy towards marketing and it applies fully in this new context.

- This blog will change look and feel over the next couple of months, but everything feed related etc. will remain the same.

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Integration is more than a buzz-word

There are times when it seems everyone is talking about integration without actually looking at what integration truly means. It becomes just another buzz-word used to slap social media or digital tools onto a traditional marketing campaign. Which is sad, because being truly integrated is what provides the most success. Starting to think along those lines can be challenging, but in the end your organization will be the better for it.

What is the driving force behind integration?

Understanding & knowing yourself and your customers.

Your SWOT is more than just a marketing exercise, it should be part and parcel of providing deep insights and a launch pad to developing your strategies. When you layer on analytics intelligence and social monitoring you have actionable data you can start to look at across your touchpoints and develop the best approach.

And that’s where things tend to break down. What are your touchpoints? What are the extensions from those, both short and long-term? Is what you’re doing in marketing relevant and of value? It can be.

Look at your goals and how extending your efforts can enhance them and accelerate them forward. Who are your stakeholders and what are their pain and joy points? Where does your Research & Development come into play? How can you make your customer service more robust and meaningful?

Extend your ideas into where they naturally fit, don’t just accept the same old media buy as the only answer. Take the time to understand your audience and where they live, work, and play. If it doesn’t align to the 30 second spot or a traditional banner ad, don’t waste your time, money and resources there. Big ideas well planned deliver big results.

While we’re looking at where to best allocate our time and resources it’s always a good idea to ask if you have the right people in the right roles. Just because your organizational structure states that this person “does interactive” doesn’t mean they are the right fit to “do social”.

Integration happens by connecting the disparate pieces that should be connected to tell a cohesive, meaningful, and evolving story. Not by one-offs and force-fits.

[photo credit: alto maltes on Flickr]

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Social Communications is NOT Digital Expertise

A lot of chatter these days in social media circles is about new hires, or old guards, having “digital expertise” when what they really mean is social communications chops. The two can be mutually exclusive, but are not necessarily, and are rarely fully integrated.

What qualifies as “digital expertise”?

  • Email Marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization and Marketing
  • User Experience Design
  • Content Optimization
  • Landing Page Optimization
  • Creative Placements (banner ads, takeovers, etc)/ media planning
  • Creative development
  • Offline creative integration
  • Analytics & how they inform business decisions
  • Tools / Widgets
  • Database building/ mining/ usage
  • Website builds and creative applications
  • E-commerce
  • Understanding the different kinds of Tech – e.g. XML vs HTML
  • Flash (strengths & weaknesses)
  • Contest development & rules and regulations
  • Mobile Marketing

… I’m pretty sure I missed stuff too…

What is social communications?

  • Relationship building
  • Content development
  • Outreach
  • Social platforms/ networks knowledge
  • Tagging
  • Communications planning
  • Plug-ins and WYSIWYG understanding

… probably missed a few points here too, but you get the idea…

While the two should ideally be part and parcel and fully integrated (and can be), currently having social communications expertise does not necessarily mean you have digital expertise. Lots of people have spent 10+ years building digital expertise while the social web is not only not even 5 yet, but in reality (business reality), is closer to two. Semantics matter – let’s not confuse the two, and let’s be clear about what the web is capable of delivering in its entirety. It is important.

[photo credit:  takuhitosotome via Flickr]

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Analytics, focus and your digital presence

analytics, data, planning

Being present online these days is standard for any company whose customers can be found in this medium, be it with a website, or taking it further to the social media space. One aspect that remains mandatory, no matter how big or how small you are participating is understanding and being actionable with your website analytics data. Your site data is different from conversational data which comes into play and is layered on when you get involved in the social web.

Setting up your analytics and determining what and how to measure is a key first step in managing your focus and presence in the digital space. Having a strategy in place for reviewing and incorporating the insights gleaned is a must. Doing so up-front will save money and effort in the long-term.

What are some of the things your data can teach you?

  • What content are people the most focused on or drawn to? Does it align with your preconceptions of what was important? If not, what are you missing? How can you adapt? What can you do to increase engagement with the content you think should be a higher priority?
  • Are there frequently specific areas of abandonment on your website? Why? Is it as simple as a 404 error, or more complex – heavy load time, unclear navigation, mis-labled content, etc.
  • What content drives traffic but isn’t sticky? Review it with an open mind. Take off your marketing glasses and put on your consumer hat.
  • Where is your traffic coming from? Links? Do you know who the people are who are advocating your content? Are you present where your content is being shared? Are you optimized to encourage sharing?
  • What type of search engine traffic are you getting? Is it quality? Do you rank well for some terms and not for others? Are the engines indexing the pages the way you would want them to?
  • What are some of the keywords that are driving the most traffic from search engines as well as from social networks? Are they what you anticipated? Do they align with your content and focus? What can you do to adjust?

Taking the time to set a strategy in place can provide a goldmine of actionable data and, if included in review cycles, can continue to be a road map to how your digital presence is managed, and can help refine and focus your marketing initiatives. It’s a must.

[photo credit: jef_safi via Flickr]

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