How similar are social media and direct marketing?


Debra Ellis, amongst others, author of the eBook 'Social Media 4 Direct Marketers', wrote an article last week involving the integration of social media and direct marketing, a theme that is often discussed on this blog.

Ellis's direct marketing vision on social media in the article seems to be a mixture of the facilitation of communities and conversations on the one side and the generating of traffic and directly measurable results, like conversion, as we know them in direct marketing, on the other hand.

In the article, which provides a summary of the steps to take when establishing a social media marketing strategy, there are different terms, concepts and tactics used from the direct marketing sphere. It's striking that this leads to a social media plan that could be written by someone who knows a lot about social media marketing, but nothing about direct marketing.

As Ellis says: "If it works with direct marketing, it will work with social media." Correct? Evidence that social media marketing is not as different from other forms of marketing as we often think? Let's read a few steps and points from the blog post.

A community as an e-mail list?

The social media strategy starts, according to Ellis, with a vision on your "community", a word that is typical to the social media jargon but exists since much longer of course. How exactly do you get to this vision? By watching how your clients interact with your company and each other, what they want and what would encourage them to take action.

Ellis warns that you should not immediately release one promotion after another on your community via social media. No, first you should setup metrics (let's say KPI's), measuring processes and benchmarks including for example the CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) and also focussing on long-term rather than on short term results.

We also have to determine our objectives that should obviously comply with S.M.A.R.T. regulations: they must be achievable, measurable, specific etc. Everything in the first phases seems to revolve around a measurable structure of an as large as possible, yet at the same time relevant (for your business) community. It seems as if we should see communities as e-mail lists: people who are clients in the broadest sense or who indicate that they wish to interact with us.
Obviously the comparison is not 100% correct but it does show how direct marketers often think of social media. On the other hand we should not be naive: not only direct marketers see community marketing as a way to obtain traffic, reach etc.

The clear importance of a cross-channel marketing way of thinking

Further Ellis writes that you should also ensure that you know where your clients can be found online because they are definitely online. On the level of social media this means that you must look at the social networks that your clients use and also which networks will ensure a positive ROI depending on your objectives. According to Ellis this is the point where social media marketing and direct marketing differ from each other.

She uses a "traditional" form of direct marketing, catalogue marketing, as an example: the chance is good that someone will see the catalogue that you send. Opposed to that, in social media it is the recipient that initiates the viewing of the content, according to Ellis. Because of this we need active followers by being on the social media where we should be and by actively participating ourselves.

Finally I would also like to mention that Ellis also, as befits a direct marketer, points out the importance of collecting data in a cross-channel way.

When the author writes about metrics, she quotes, apart from conversion and traffic, also for example conversation. But in the end social media marketers look at the "average value per number of shares" or even want to know the value of a social media conversation as well, as proven by various recent studies.

Trying to have direct marketing and social media marketing try to work together using their different principles and characteristics is a nice exercise but is it important? After all we should no longer think too much in terms of media and channels but in function of the customer journey, experience and satisfaction, and how to optimize this in an integrated and cross-channel way.

Every form of marketing requires a strategy, planning, metrics, benchmarks, data etc. The challenge is to find this through all interaction moments. Whether it is social media marketing or something else. Maybe all forms of (online) marketing indeed lie much closer together than we often think. Actually this is also normal: in the end it involves business, happy clients, profit and value, also for the customers. Direct marketers have known this for a while. They even know that long term relationships are important, just as sales people know this.

It really is time to get this way of thinking into our corporate cultures and take the cross-channel customer-centric road.

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