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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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Social media is one piece of your marketing pie

Social media is picking up steam in both the traditional media & in corporate boardrooms day by day. Everyone wants in on the action and wants to figure out how to use social technologies to their brands benefit. With this type of attention brings thoughts akin to “get rich quick” or mistaking a sound, over-arching, communications strategy that integrates social media, with executing social media tactics. Tactics and tools employed are not a strategy and won’t work just because someone tells you that you have to “get on Twitter”. If a consultant or agency pushes a particular tactic your way, ask them to explain why, outside of “it’s hot right now”.

When thinking of social tools there is no set formula or one-size fits all approach. What you get out of integrating these tools is dependant on the strategy you set at the outset. Twitter won’t work for every company, nor will having a blog. What will fit is what is determined based on the same principles any communications strategy or marketing plan is: knowing your product, your audience, your strengths and your weakness. Research is a must – not only what the current sentiment surrounding your brand is, but research into the established norms of the types of tools that may be right for you to use. Communities have a tricky habit of having their own way of doing things and it helps to set expectations up front before deciding, for example, that micro-blogging is the right approach to take. Not every brand can (or needs to) crowd source and not every company can afford to have constant interactions on a micro-level, in fact, sometimes the change that is most beneficial will have little to do with “getting the message out” and more to do with internalizing your customer.  

Knowing your limitations and setting realistic goals up front will help determine how social media will fit within your organization and to do that you have to understand your internal, as well as the external landscape.

Social media is not a cure all for what ails you, and not all of your customers want, or need, to have the same type of relationship with you. Blending how you interact, how you internalize, and what you can offer of value with how your marketing/ corporate message is/ can be disseminated is the path to take when planning. Don’t fall into the trap of taking a short-cut, integrate at the outset.

[photo credit: Vita Arina via Flickr]

 

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Integrating social feedback long-term within the organization is a must

With the constant drumbeat of the need to track feedback and respond within social networking channels online it is not surprising that marketers are drowning in the sea of “moment by moment” – with comments and issues moving in real time it’s all you can do to keep up and respond if needed (if your company is invested in the social space). Unfortunately, this type of cause and effect style of tactic doesn’t go deep enough in long-term actionable value for a brand. It’s reactionary (although extremely important), but not truly evolutionary on all levels of an organization.

The smart companies will recognize that value long-term and realizing ROI will come with integration with customer service and R&D. In the late 90s and early 00s companies spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on shiny CRM systems to track customer “relationships” – isn’t it time we set benchmarks to incorporate all the wonderful feedback we’re getting from customers (and potential customers) within the context of the larger organization? One-off responses to blog posts & following people who mention your brand on Twitter is all well and good, but shouldn’t that feedback close a loop too? 

If, for example, I wrote a post outlining my customer service issues with company X, as a customer I’d really appreciate it if I not only heard from the designated communications person in the comments, but when I called customer service there was a flag there that identified me and my issues from that post. 

That information would empower and inform the CSR and would make me feel as an individual that the company was *really* listening and incorporating my feedback. Sure, this will cost money in the short-term, but imagine the possibilities inherent in actually collecting and acting on that data systemically.  

Truly being strategic about how feedback in the digital social space is used will ultimately set brands apart from the competition and provide valuable, actionable, and measurable results. You spend millions of dollars on customer service, customer relations, communications, and product development – smart marketers will recognize the long-term benefits of layering in direct feedback as well. Incorporating a solution such as this would also enable a broader shift within the organization to truly put customers first… why not, every person at every touchpoint would actually be listening to them.

It’s not only about the communications, but what you do with them.

“Social media” is not just about one person, or even a dozen, within a company, it’s about a shift in how you interact *as a whole* with your customers.

[photo credit: enggul via Flickr]

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Recognizing the need for benchmarks in social media measurement

As the social space begins to mature and more attention is paid by marketers on how you can provide some type of measurement on your outreach efforts through social media channels, efforts are being made to define benchmarks for metrics. To that end, Joe Thornley, of Thornley Fallis Communications, has organized a Social Media Measurement Roundtable for May 20th, 2008 in Toronto. There are some very smart and accomplished people coming (yours truly included), and we will be spending the day debating and trying to establish “dashboards” for measurement and assembling the results in a white paper for social distribution. The participants hail from Communications, PR, Marketing, Analytics, and the social media space. Kudos to Joe & team for doing the heavy lifting and organizing this session.

As those who know me, or read my blog, are aware, I’m a wee bit of an oddity in the social media space because while recognizing the power (and necessity) of community, communications and honest engagement, I also come at the space from an integrated marketing standpoint and recognize the need for brands to continue to “brand”, that awareness still matters at a certain point in the interaction/funnel, that there will always be a “next” but history and context still matter, businesses need to sell stuff, and that the digital tools (and creative) used can impact the nature of the interaction… among other things! To that end, a few of the issues I’m very interested in talking about is interaction and engagement from the “time spent engaged”, “long-tail” & “opt-in” aspects. I’d also love to hear from the community on any questions or points you would like raised during the day-long session!

Leave a comment, drop me a line, or tweet @ me with your thoughts or insight… I’ll share results as we go, and plan on attending Third Tuesday Toronto (on yes, wait for it, a Tuesday this time! :)) and will be happy to chat further!

[photo credit: chrisjohnbeckett via flickr]

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