Keith Errington

marketing strategy
07860 267155

Starting Conversations

As someone who spends a fair amount of time monitoring the Internet on behalf of organisations and brands – one of the recurring issues clients face is not so much 'What are people saying about us?' but 'Why isn't anyone saying anything at all about us?'

I occasionally have to explain to quite large organisations, that unfortunately have an obscure product, that nobody will be talking about them, as nobody in their right mind actually starts a conversation with – 'I bought the most amazing bit of insurance last week' or 'That radiator valve I bought at Wickes is really very good'. People simply do not have conversations about such things and listening to the Internet will be fruitless.

And even established brands with exciting products often have problems building a fan base or getting a share of the great social conversation.

So here are some suggestions for ways of starting a conversation:

Ask questions
On Facebook, in your blog or on Twitter, ask your fans/followers a question – get their opinion about an existing product or a future development of a service or a proposed product.  By asking a direct question you are not only more likely to elicit a response over a passive post, but you are involving your customers and making them feel like their opinion is valued.

If your product or service is not that interesting (now be honest here) ask a question about the market or about their usage of the product or service.

Start a competition
From your Facebook page or web site – start a competition and blog and tweet about it. Good competitions with a relevant and valued prize (relevant to and valued by your audience – not you) can build a fan base quickly and generate interest in the media too. Try and be as inclusive as possible – give everyone a reasonable chance of winning – this will make the most impact.

Make sure you get the maximum amount of benefit when you have a winner (or winners) – engage your PR machine and again, blog and tweet about it.

Be controversial
If you say something controversial in a blog or a tweet – that is likely to get you talked about. Of course you need to be very careful with this approach as you don't want to alienate your audience or make them think you are fools. But you could put forward a controversial point of view and then discuss its validity in a reasoned manner.

Another key way of getting noticed and talked about is to sponsor a sport, a challenge or a set of awards. Questions, polls and updates, can all be used to sustain interest.

Organise a conference or seminar
This is a great way to create ripples in the social river – think of a subject or topic area that your target audience is interested in or keen to know all about and set up an event around that. Make sure your brand name or organisation name is part of the title of the event. Arrange for someone to blog throughout the event and also someone – or several people – to tweet about it as it happens.

Again, utilise your PR machine and contacts to make the maximum impact in conventional media as well as news websites and key bloggers.

If you do not have the manpower or resources to organise an event yourselves, then sponsor one.

One of the oldest ways of boosting sales is promotion – and this works for social media too. Run a promotion on your product or service and then make sure you publicise this across all channels. If the product is not suitable for this – try offering a free item – make it unusual and relevant to your target market.

General rules
Make any of these initiatives as unusual and unique as possible – the more strange and individual the initiative, the more likely it is to be talked about in the social stream and the more likely it is to be picked up by the conventional media. On the other hand, you could try making it as useful as possible – whereupon it is more likely to be talked about in social media.

Getting people to talk about your product or service – especially if it is boring, mundane or unexciting is difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Try some of these techniques – and let me know how you get on, okay? 
(Right, now, did you see what I did there?).

Challenges of the Real Time Web

The concept and impact of the real-time web on marketing is that as information systems improve, connections become faster and cheaper, and people spend more and more time connected to the Internet we will reach a stage where many more marketing campaigns will need to be planned, conducted and monitored in ‘real time’

This is not possible with conventional media – once you have booked a TV ad or a poster site you need to use it – you need to create a poster or an advert ahead of time, and it can’t be changed if circumstances change.
With social media the campaign can evolve over time. The real time web concept suggests it could evolve minute by minute if need be.

In order for marketing to move that quickly there are a number of challenges:
  • Real time monitoring and analysis
  • Understanding the objectives
  • Responsibility and control
  • Flexibility and agility

Real time monitoring and analysis
This will be essential, monitoring of social networks and web analytics will have to produce relevant results in real time. This is not that difficult, many systems can do this right now. The problem is the analysis of that data. This will have to be performed faster than ever before. At the moment most intelligent analysis has to be done by human analysts and it will be a while before computer systems can match their level of understanding and insight.

Understanding the objectives
As a marketer, if you are reacting and responding in real time to developing situation, it is essential that you understand what the company line is on any subject and it is vital you understand what the organisation is trying to achieve. This is easier if you are responsible for marketing strategy, but more difficult if you are not, or if you are working for a third party such as a marketing agency or PR company.
There has already been a number of incidents where third parties have made questionable decisions in the heat of the moment and ended up working against their client’s best interests.

Responsibility and control
Similarly, whoever is carrying out real-time marketing will need to have the responsibility to make marketing decisions as there will be no time to refer them back to a higher authority. They will need to be in control of the marketing budget for the campaign and in turn, control mechanisms will need to be in place to quickly and seamlessly control them.

Flexibility and agility
Given that the real time web will require quick reactions, decisions and deployment of resources, marketers will need to be flexible and agile to survive this environment.

The move to the real time web presents a number of unique challenges for the organisation, brand and marketer – but it’s shaping up to be an exciting, dynamic and rewarding experience.

Overcoming the Social Media Hamsters

Social media is very addictive, it’s very easy to… hang on… just received a direct message… oh… ha… LOL… Now where was I? Oh yes, social media is very addictive and can dominate your working life if you’re not careful. You can also find yourself interacting with the same set of people every day. Whilst spending lots of time on social media with your friends is not necessarily a problem, if you are using social media for business then it’s definitely an issue.

Have you ever watched hamsters? Some hamsters will spend a few minutes a day on their wheel, happily getting some exercise and stopping after a while. Less happier hamsters will get on their wheel with a determined look on their furry face, a glint in their eye and with gritted incisors. And they won’t get off the wheel till they are exhausted, or the darn thing breaks.

This is like some social media users – they spend hours on Twitter or Facebook, conversing with the same few people, often about the same few things. We all know people like that – or are you someone like that, a social media hamster? Again, this is no great problem if you have plenty of free time, but if you are using social media for business, then you will need to deal with this behaviour.

Before you send for Freddie Starr, there are a few simple steps you can take. Set limits for the amount of time you spend on social media – time is money, and the more time you spend in the social media world, the more it costs you – so look at the results you are getting for the time you spend. What would be the effect of halving your time on Twitter, Facebook etc? Make sure you are getting a return on your time investment, or you are not a social media professional, but a social media fan.

And widen your contacts – don’t get trapped in the wheel. Set yourself a target to make contact with a number of new people every day. Re-tweet, like, quote, and comment. Follow new people every day. Talk to people from outside your industry, not always to your peers.

It’s fairly easy to be… oh… that’s funny… must reply to that… oh, good one! So, as I was saying it’s fairly easy to get stuck on the wheel – make sure you overcome you inner hamster.
(*I misread a tweet and found the perfect title for a blog)