March 18th, 2009

Online marketing insight from the pros

by sage island

This morning Sage Island CEO and creative director Mike Duncan participated in a panel discussion hosted by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal on leveraging the power of the Internet for business. More than 500 community members and business leaders attended. Mike and the five other panel members — including Chip Mahan, president of Live Oak Bank; Brett Martin, president of Castle Branch; Fred Meyers, president of Queensboro Shirt Company; Justin Queen, president of Blu Zeus Interactive; and Debbie Elliott, president of Talk Inc. — answered questions from the audience about online marketing and social media.

For those of you who couldn’t attend the event, here are the CliffsNotes:

Talk to your customers, not at them.

Social media has changed a lot about the way that businesses market themselves online and offline. But most of those changes can be summed up with one simple idea: the practice of talking at your customers through your marketing has been replaced by conversation. Talk to them through social media, blogs, and other interactive sources. The conversation is happening with or without you. Your customers are probably already talking about your business, reviewing your services, and recommending you (or complaining) online. By participating in the conversation, you’ll build a stronger relationship with your customers and put yourself in a better position to control your brand.

User generated content is the new king.

According to a recent Forrester survey on how technology decision makers in business utilize social media during the buying process, 69 percent of the 1,200 respondents “read blogs, forums and reviews, keep track of podcasts, and watch video from other users” before making purchasing decisions. People trust these sources, because this content is coming from users just like them.

Becoming a participant in blogs, forums, and review communities where your customers are likely to partipate can help stimulate conversation. Seek opinions about your business and your services, and listen carefully to what they’re saying about you. Monitoring the conversation allows you to respond quickly to complaints and make the situation right with the customer — and potential customers who may see the negative review. But remember, transparency is essential. Be clear about who you are, and seek engagement with your customers honestly.

In social media, you are your business.

In order to succeed at social media, it’s essential that you put a human face on your company. People talk to people. Be prepared to get personally involved in your social media campaigns. It’s important to remember, though, that you’re representing your business. Don’t get too caught up in the personal aspect of social media. Many users have gotten into trouble for various degrees of oversharing. Think carefully before you post anything, and remember that the Internet is forever. Would you shout it or share it in front of a roomful of people at a professional networking event? If the answer is no, then don’t post it on your social media profile.

Adapt early for maximum benefit.

By the time an online marketing method has gone mainstream, it’s already old news. Early adapters reap the most benefit from new methods, because they have more time to learn about it and test new ideas. By the time it reaches the mainstream, the early adapters are already pros with a solid grasp of how best to utilize the latest technology. Stay up to date with new ideas, work with interactive marketing professionals who can guide you in new technology, and stay ahead of the curve.

Be innovative.

Mike Duncan closed the panel discussion with a word of advice: “Be innovative.” The world of online marketing is changing so rapidly that there’s no telling where it will go next. If you want to stay ahead, you have to be open to new ideas and willing to try new things. Emerging technologies and interactive marketing methods may seem foreign, but marketing hasn’t changed. The tools are just a little different now. It’s impossible to predict where online marketing will go next, so the best way to stay ahead of the game is to be ready for anything.