The Press, February 2011

I knew the world of marketing is really changing after a recent discussion with a senior executive at a large New Zealand technology exporter about their 2011 plans. His company, supplier of complex products to hard-nosed technical managers at large businesses around the globe, is trialling Facebook to reach these people, with some good results.

Facebook? That domain of uber-geeks and teenagers? A website invented because its computer nerd founder wanted a better way of meeting girls? Helping a company sell big, serious technology to big, serious people?

There has been much hype about ‘social media’ i.e. online media where people can quickly and easily share information with their network (of friends, business colleagues, fellow hobbyists etc). A legion of self-proclaimed experts have emerged to claim mastery of its mysteries.

While there is lots of silliness talked about social media sites like Facebook, it has become a legitimate channel that any company needs to consider as part of their promotional mix.

As companies do their 2011 planning, and decide what resources they can commit to what promotional tactics, a recent ‘survey of surveys’ about online media by the excellent MarketingProfs website has useful insights.

An interesting trend was in email marketing. It seems less people each year are opening up email newsletters and other email promotions. Since 2007 open and click-through (where the receiver clicks on a link in the email) rates have steadily dropped each year.

Email is still a valid approach in the right market, but it has to be about sending relevant content to the right people. If you are really keen, or perhaps cynical, the study did cite that open rates are slightly higher on Sunday than any other day.

Turning to the various social media properties, a major survey showed LinkedIn to be the most effective mechanism for attracting business-to-business (B2B) leads. LinkedIn is a sort of Facebook for business people, where they can connect with their networks to communicate and share information about their particular areas of interest.

It drives more people to B2B websites than any other, outperforming Facebook and Twitter three and four to one, respectively.

The other interesting aspect of the study was that Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia built from voluntary contributions by its users, delivered the best ‘quality’ B2B leads. Quality meaning those who clicked through from Wikipedia spent more time on that company website than visitors from LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter typically did.

That Wikipedia is so effective is the key to understanding how to use these fancy new online channels. There are a lot of specific technical aspects to using social media effectively, with which you can get an expert to help, but fundamentally it’s just as your mother always told you: about quality, not quantity.

People don’t want to be shouted at online with loud, blatant advertisements. They are interested in the kind of authentic, quality content that a Wikipedia delivers. It is that kind of information that motivates people to take a deeper look.

A final study cited in the Marketingprofs survey reinforces this. It found that quality of content is the most important factor in building influence online.

Over half of the respondents, all American marketing executives, agreed that “creating, posting, and sharing compelling content is the single most important action people or brands can take to increase their influence online.”

Only 3% thought that “contributing to as many conversations as possible” was effective. As I suspected, those people that seem to constantly post about what sandwich they want for lunch, the shoes they just bought or their views on Egypt or some other current event, aren’t super-smart social media marketers, they are just plain annoying.

To harness social media, especially as a company selling B2B, you have to be prepared to ‘give away’ some knowledge.

Christchurch-based Pivot Software is an exporter of HR systems to Australia. The company recently created a comprehensive e-book on how to develop policies in their particular area of HR expertise, and then made it freely available on their website, through LinkedIn and other channels.

Written as a genuine contribution designed to help HR executives (in 30 pages it contains one sentence on their products), it was well received. Positive publicity was generated in industry media, and Pivot Software had an opportunity to approach prospective new customers with a useful guide.

It took work and effort, but because it created real value for people it was noticed and helped drive awareness and interest in their products in a way Tweeting every 32 seconds never could.

Companies can only do this if they have some marketing basics in place. Unless you know exactly who you are marketing to, why they want to buy a product like yours, and how you can stand out from your competition, the chances of being able to use social media effectively will be reduced.

Get these fundamentals in place and you too could be Facebooking your fingers off in 2011.

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