You can't be all things to all people, the old saying goes. You can, however, be some things to some people. For the purposes of online marketing, think of these people as your audience. Regardless of your passion or product, there's likely a built-in following just waiting for you to find it. It's a tricky proposition, though. You can't just blanket Twitter or Facebook with nonstop advertising and expect the masses to come calling. So what on Earth are you supposed to do?
Good question. Glad I asked it. To begin with, there are no hard and fast rules in digital marketing, which is just as much an art as it is a science. It's important to remember that what works in one context won't always yield results in another. That being said, there's still plenty of people who either want or need whatever it is you have to offer. The following set of best practices can help you develop - and expand - a well-informed and ever-faithful digital following.
IT'S A CONVERSATION NOW
Where most digital marketers go wrong is in confusing what they do with advertising. The truth is, it's anything but. As the emergence of Web 2.0 has taught us, audiences are anything but passive. They can - and do - speak back. Beat them over the head with too much ad copy, and they'll call you on it before abandoning you for good. For this reason, it's essential that you steer clear of perpetual self-promotion.
Instead, you need to recognize digital marketing for what it really is - a form of ongoing conversation. This means you have to do more than merely speak to an audience. You also need to listen. Indeed, it's only by 'listening' and paying attention that you can even figure out where your potential followers are lurking. Keep reading to see what I mean.
CHOOSE YOUR PLATFORM(S) CAREFULLY
In the parlance of online conversation, listening essentially amounts to research. Different social media platforms attract different kinds of people, and you need to figure out where you'll make the biggest splash. The goal is not to run a campaign on every social media site, but to excel on a chosen few. Do your research on the front end, and you won't be wasting time and energy down the road. There are several ways to 'listen' to social media chatter to figure out where you'll strike the loudest chord.
- Develop a conversation map and test response to different keywords on different platforms
- Research the demographics of each social media platform you're considering to see if there's a natural fit for your brand
- Perform searches on various social media sites to find specialized communities or conversations
- Poll your existing customers about their online behavior. Use your findings as a starting point
START THE CONVERSATION
Once you've figured out where you belong, you need to start talking to your audience. Again, take care to do more than simply drown them in promotional ad copy. At a minimum, you should be offering content they find meaningful and worthy of their attentions. The net you cast can be fairly broad, too. Your content needs merely to intersect in some way with your audience's overriding interests. Some examples of relevant content might include
- Topical memes and cartoons
- Book reviews
- Pertinent news stories
- Related scientific studies
- Interviews with key figures in your company or market sector
- How-to pages
- Appropriate Youtube videos
- On-Topic movie reviews
- Relevant bills or legislation
- Popular trends
- Audience contributions
- Lots and lots of images
Because online audiences literally flock to relevant and interesting content, your following will inevitably cluster around you. Remember, it's okay to push some promotional content so long as you keep it within reason. What counts as 'reasonable' will vary from brand to brand, of course, but keep it to a modest amount to ensure your audience doesn't defect.
Here's another way to think of it. Imagine your feed is a television station and your promotional content is the advertisement that pays for the other stuff. How much of it do you want mixed in? Ten percent? Twenty percent? Answer that question and you'll have a basic formula for running promotional content.
A conversation requires that you do more than talk, however. You also need to listen. As you continue offering quality content, your audience will begin to engage with you in whatever forms are available to it - likes, shares, comments, emojis and so forth. Pay attention and, in time, you'll develop a sense of who exactly your audience is and the kinds of content it prefers.
And don't be afraid to poll your followers about your brand's offerings from time to time. This can be a great way to glean insights and feedback. But again, be careful not to overdo it.
An online audience can't just be developed. It also has to be sustained - and preferably enlarged. Digital marketing is a marathon, after all, not a sprint. Stop nurturing your audience, and it will dissolve like thin ice in hot water.
The good news is that once you've built an audience you've already got some idea how to sustain it. In most cases, consistency is key. Keep them coming back by offering the kind of content that brought them to you in the first place.
At the same time, though, don't be afraid to try new approaches. Experiment. Crack jokes. Use your analytical tools to see what flies and what bombs. Adjust and repeat. Feel free to be anything but bland and antiseptic.
And don't be dismayed when something you've tried suddenly stops working. See it for what it is - a sign that it's time to change strategies. Adapt and move on. Remember, you don't have to be all things to all people. That's not the point of digital marketing. But you do have to be a consistent voice and reliable ear to those who comprise your audience. Achieve that and your brand might just outperform even your wildest dreams.