Facebook and Twitter, along with the more “old-school” email, are arguably the most popular forms of digital marketing today, employed by local and international brands, groups and entrepreneurs alike.
It may sound simple or obvious to many people but not all businesses are “tech-savvy” or quite sure what they want their social media presence to be, much less to determine a budget for it.
Hence the decision of TT-based digital marketing company Caribbean Ideas Limited (CIL) to hold its first major conference on the subject. Caribbean Digital Expo 2011 took place at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, last Tuesday.
CIL co-founder Chike Farrell told Business Day the original projection of attendees was 200 to 250 but by the time registration closed, more than 300 people had signed up.
“This showed us there is a hunger out there for information on how you can better apply ‘this web thing’, ‘this mobile thing’, ‘this social media thing’ and we’re seeing very clearly that companies want to take advantage of social media but they want to learn how to do it themselves, which was the aim of CDX,” Farrell explained.
The conference and expo was divided into two tracks, Communicators and Digital Business, to allow people to focus their attention on the topics most applicable to their needs.
Farrell estimated about 80 percent of CDX attendees chose the Communicators Track, which included a well-attended panel discussion entitled Meet the Communicators that focussed on the Trinidad and Tobago experience with digital marketing.
The panelists were manager of Corporate Communications at bpTT, Danielle Jones; trade and marketing manager of Cold Stone Creamery (TT), Keenon Roper and Caroline Taylor, a woman who wore three hats - editor of Media and Editorial Projects (MEP)/assistant artistic director, Marionettes Chorale/marketing manager of Lordstreet Theatre Company.
All three spoke to Business Day about their experiences using social media as a communication tool. Jones made the point that online advertising does not require a big budget to be effective, thus allowing small and micro enterprises to compete with major brands for a consumer’s attention.
“One of the beauties of social media is that it levels the playing field in the marketing sphere. It doesn’t matter whether you have $10 or $10 million, you can be just as effective. Big man and small man have an opportunity together. It’s much more important to be strategic about your spend.
“So for some businesses, that means developing content on your page that will engage and keep bringing people back while for others it’s much more about advertising but it’s not about a specific dollar amount,” Jones said.
However, she suggested companies with an existing presence online set aside ten percent of their budget for social media, then monitor the results carefully to determine their exact return on investment (ROI).
“This doesn’t mean you have to have a person sitting at their desk monitoring every second of activity on Facebook, Twitter and blogs (weblogs). What it does mean is, you really should have a group approach where everybody monitors a little chunk of activity. If you have an advertising agency, great. Work with it to find a way to monitor your page (website) to your best benefit and really just let people know what you’re doing up-front so nobody is surprised,” Jones advised.
All of this may be moot, Roper noted, if you don’t have clear goals in mind for your company or product image, awareness levels, sales and promotional activities.
“The first thing any marketer should do is understand their brand and where they want it to go. That would answer a lot of questions in terms of how much they want to spend and how you intend to manage your social media presence.”
Roper cautioned though, against placing all of your marketing eggs in the proverbial one basket.
“The key to effective social media marketing is really having a three-line strategy. Today, people use multiple formats to stay connected, sometimes checking more than one at the same time. So as a business, you need to have a presence on as many of your customers’ ‘contact points’ as possible.
“At Cold Stone for example, our website provides us with the ability to inform people about the brand, about the company, about the product. We also maintain contact with customers through BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) messages, email blasts and Facebook updates,” Roper said.
To ensure the messages don’t reach customers to late to be effective, Cold Stone schedules them to go out in the days or hours before a promotion or special event.
“For example, not everyone will be able to reach one our stores in time for a 4 pm special if we send the email blast or BBM broadcast that same afternoon,” Roper explained.
On the publications and performance side of things, Taylor uses three forms of digital media to reach clients, customers and fans. Facebook, emailed newsletters and Twitter.
Taylor noted MEP’s first experience with social media marketing came from newsletters, which the company started as a way to stay better connected with subscribers and advertisers.
“We started sending out emailed newsletters about five years ago because we had a customer data base of subscribers and advertising clients that we wanted to engage with beyond subscriptions and sales. We wanted to develop a relationship with them and create opportunities for them to give us feedback,” Taylor said.
The next step was Facebook, which became an important tool after MEP realised other brands were using the social networking site to promote themselves and engage in real-time with customers/fans.
“We got onto Facebook because we realised brands were on there, engaging with people. Later, MEP switched from having a profile to group pages for our publications, including Discover Trinidad and Tobago and Caribbean Beat,” Taylor recalled.
Facebook and Twitter are both used by Taylor in her capacity as Assistant Artistic Director of the Marionettes Chorale, as well as in her role as marketing manager of Lordstreet Theatre Company.
Twitter is used mainly as an information conduit for followers of these groups though. Taylor explained is particularly true for MEP.
“MEP will posts news but usually only engages with followers who have feedback about an issue of Caribbean Beat or who want to know how to contribute an article, things like that. We don’t necessarily respond to people’s posts, instead we let people contact us directly then respond on Twitter. That’s because Facebook is our primary conduit for our marketing efforts,” Taylor explained.
Why the recent explosion of social media use/digital marketing? According to Roper, the 2008 global financial crisis was the impetus behind many firms, especially big ones, turning to digital marketing as a much more cost-effective method of reaching consumers.
“When that global financial meltdown occurred, all of a sudden a marketing manager had the same or more targets to meet with half the budget. People really had to find innovative and more cost-effective ways of reaching their target market.
“That’s not the only reason though. How people are consuming their media is changing. You find yourself doing a multitude of things at the same time, example watching television and tweeting about your favourite show. So businesses have to use those same forms of social media if they want to maintain and grow their customer base,”
Roper also said there was a third reason for the significant growth in online advertising and marketing. Consumers now are being influenced more by reference than influence.
“If somebody you trust, especially a friend, tells you they like a product, you’d be more inclined t try or buy it than you would based solely on an advertisement. This led to the emergence of ‘Mommy bloggers’ real moms who are often paid by companies to talk about the products they use,” Roper said.
However, Roper and several other speakers at CDX all cautioned against making a total shift to online marketing. Instead, look at how best you can realign your company’s overall media mix to combine traditional and digital forms of marketing.
Farrell said the wisdom of this strategy became very apparent in CIL’s preparation for hosting CDX.
He and his 11-person crew found that online ads, newspaper ads and email, worked best for their target audience of senior business personnel while Facebook and Twitter ensured their younger demographic was informed about CDX as well.
“An integrated approach seems to be the way to go. It was also one of the topics at the conference - online and offline integration. If you do both together, you can have great results,” Farrell said.