Straight Talk: Time to Start Socializing?
I'll begin with your question: What on earth does social networking have to do with direct mail? Not much ... yet.
Look at this statistic courtesy of TechCrunch: In November 2008, Facebook drew 200 million unique worldwide visitors; more than one in five people who accessed the Internet that month visited the site. That's a lot of folks; that's a veritable community that may be more friendly to direct mail than you think, especially if you mix the two together skillfully.
To get the right recipe, I spoke with Paul Gillin, author of the recently released "Secrets of Social Media Marketing: How to Use Online Conversations and Customer Communities to Turbo-Charge Your Business!", which was a follow-up to "The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media." Former editor-in-chief of TechTarget and Computerworld, Gillin now advises businesses on how to use social media to support their marketing initiatives.
Boldt: Many direct mailers consider social networking as an unrelated, foreign channel.
Gillin: It's true. I haven't seen a lot of initiative coming out of direct marketing organizations; rather, it's usually been on the public relations side, or the more conventional marketing communications side, that takes the initiative. It's a career-enhancing move to lead the social media charge. It doesn't have to be the marketing department.
Boldt: You write, "Community is content." Can you explain?
Gillin: There are several dimensions to that. Community support can be a very cost-effective and rich alternative to dedicated paid support. ... You have a problem with your PC; you can find a forum where there is a community of people answering questions. I also find that a community can generate content that can be used in different ways, and there are branded social networks that are doing this-where the company is not actually contributing a lot of content to the group; rather, the company kind of seeds the group with questions and provocative thoughts and gets people stirred up and talking, and the people take it from there. You'll see this on any successful blog, where all of the content is contributed by the readers-so you don't have to have one to two authors who are doing it all. Of course, the more members there are, the richer the content is.
Boldt: Does the direct mailer, having created such a community on the web, have to have a hand in there somewhere?
Gillin: There's different kinds of hands. You can have an active hand, as a moderator or facilitator, and you're interacting with people and stirring up discussions. And then there is the hand that is guiding what the community is used for, which I think is more appropriate for direct marketers-for example, if you want to do a contest using your community members and the results of that contest will be made into a printed piece that will be mailed. That will be a case where the direct marketer would be actively involved in the community, with an end goal of producing something with that interaction. Another example may be using a cross-registration where somebody picked up a mailing and registered and becomes part of a community and signs up for additional mailings, or coupons or discounts, as a result of that interaction.
Boldt: Is it connected to loyalty marketing?
Gillin: Yes. Loyalty marking has traditionally been occasional and fragmented; people go in to the store once a week or once a month, and there's some sort of interaction. And then they go away, and nobody talks to them again. The community aspect is, if you attract people around a topic that is really compelling to them, you can interact with them every day or every other day because they're coming back and finding out more and learning more, and that's all part of the involvement with your brand. The role there is to step up the frequency and volume of contact with the customers so they feel that they really are part of a group, part of a company.
Boldt: Does social networking ultimately help enhance your marketing message?
Gillin: If it's done right, the community should actually help you define message. We don't control our brands anymore. Brands are controlled by our constituents. We have a role in shaping the brand, of course, but branding is now a process of constant back and forth with the people who will interact with these brands. So the community can be very helpful by telling you what's working and what isn't-testing things, like a direct mail piece. Why not consult those people on that piece? You can also use it to spread the word-if you've got fans of your company, they want to help you as dedicated customers usually do.
Boldt: What direct mail sector, if any, is doing a decent job with social networking?
Gillin: Nonprofits. They are so cost-challenged that they are always looking for more efficient ways to reach people. Nonprofits often have passionate members, so you're going to have a lot of success getting those people to join a network and interact with others. Social media is a low-cost channel; you don't have to deal with government regulations and compliance issues.
Boldt: Is there any risk attached to this?
Gillin: Sure, because you can't control what people say, and people have a megaphone compared to what they had a few years ago. If it's not a true dialogue and you're just spraying marketing messages at them, they will react-and will react decisively-and you won't like what they [do]. It demands an open, transparent conversation with people; you can't have hidden agendas and try to sell them something because not only will they walk away, they will also make nasty comments on [these spaces on their way out].