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Use social channels to improve direct response marketing

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Social media is everywhere—whether or not you need it, or think you need it or even quite understand what it all means. The array of social media outlets has quickly evolved into a communications channel attracting a savvy audience of like-minded individuals, each with a variety of interests.

One critical question for business marketers is: can it be a direct response tool at the same time? The answer is yes, but the key challenge is to treat this evolving medium as you would any other marketing tactic—that is, by applying expert data interpretation and creative resources and executing relevant programs to achieve powerful, measurable results.

The ability to see customer comments, opinions, discussions, issues and attitudes at any given moment can't be undervalued. This may be the real power of social media as a whole, but its value is realized only when data is segmented and evaluated in direct response terms. Applying traditional direct response requirements to social media takes the mystery out of this channel.

Interactive tools like e-mail and banners have become more prominent today, given their potential to improve sales and marketing performance. But social media marketing requires a whole new learning curve. Companies may feel they somehow need a social media strategy but aren't exactly sure what that means or exactly what kind of results they can expect from their investments in this channel.

The end goal must be more than improved relationships and customer communication. It needs to include customer acquisition or increased sales as well. To achieve that, social media channels need to be integrated into a client's marketing mix with the same defined expectations, appropriate creative and execution, and meaningful results as every other channel.

Paying close attention to usage models and interpreting customer data makes all the difference in putting the right message on the proper channel. For example, some people may blog extensively about a product's excellent performance and advanced features, even making head-to-head comparisons against competing products. Others, by contrast, may prefer Twitter to air a negative product discussion.

Interpreting complex data
Direct marketers have to effectively interpret complex data stats to track not only what is being said but also where it is being said. For example, they should ask themselves the question, “How would I change my direct marketing tactics if I knew the biggest influencers of my brand were using Twitter instead of Facebook?”

Spikes in social data show response times and discussion patterns, reflecting significant company news and how it filters through the social media options. For a company using its established Facebook presence for ongoing customer communications and direct response offers, this information may also provide an excellent opportunity to re-evaluate and test direct response programs.

By using and interpreting this deep level of data effectively, direct marketers can combat negative product discussions very quickly, driving a sale with information addressing the concern. Consider that a company might tweet an offer for prospects to learn more about a particular product comparison and receive an offer. The company could also adjust its direct response creative to address key trends and issues of importance to influencers.

Further, data can be shared within the company's different marketing disciplines. Public relations, for example, can focus on blogs as media outlets, supporting direct response efforts with product information and special handling prior to product launches.

This real-time monitoring of customer and prospect comments and feedback can extend even further, driving messaging and offers for direct mail, e-mail, ad placement and content on landing pages.

Social media is not a mysterious, single-audience channel, but rather addresses a group of engaged users and potential customers. Applying the same data expertise and creative execution to a social media platform is helping marketers sharpen their focus with highly targeted acquisition, retention and win-back programs.

Direct marketing no longer is split along such lines as direct mail, interactive, print and broadcast. As such, social media has become yet another multifaceted tactic in the direct marketing arsenal, giving companies the ability to keep their fingers on the pulses of their audience, respond and engage more quickly than ever before.

Matt McCullough is director-interactive services at Rauxa Direct (www.rauxa.com). He can be reached at mmccullough@rauxa.com.

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