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Social media at the service of direct marketing

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With social media hogging the marketing spotlight, and direct-mail spending expected to decline by nearly 40% by 2013, a lot of direct marketers are feeling scared and left out. But it doesn't have to be that way. Social media can actually be a direct marketer's best friend. With the big Direct Marketing Association conference going on in Boston this week, I thought I would share five tips on how these disciplines can go together like peanut butter and chocolate.
  1. List development. Blogs, Facebook pages and LinkedIn groups can be great sources of constituents for your direct marketing lists. Use Facebook's FBML language to build forms on your welcome page that gather leads in exchange for content downloads. E-mail marketer Infusionsoft Inc. is one of many companies that builds lists this way. Blogs can also be useful for list development. Include an offer on each post inviting visitors to get a custom answer to a question in exchange for an email address. That's what electronics materials maker Indium Corp. does, and it's generating some of the best leads the company has ever had that way.
  2. Market research. You don't want to drop $50,000 on a promotion without knowing it's going to resonate with prospects; so get some advanced feedback from your Facebook fans. Facebook's polling app lets you test messages with your audience. There are lots of third-party Facebook apps that do the same thing. If you have a newsletter, you can do A/B testing of different messages by linking back to the same article or blog entry on your website with two different headlines or messages. Check click-through rates to see which one delivers better.
  3. Create persistent connections. About 5% of email addresses go bad every year. One of the beauties of LinkedIn is that its connections persist even as jobs and email addresses change. Invite valued contacts to connect with you so that you always have a lifeline to them. LinkedIn Corp.'s company profiles can introduce you to people who aren't on your subscriber list but who are members of your extended network. Ask your contacts to forward an offer to them.
  4. Generate content. Use your blog and Facebook page to survey your customers about their best practices and publish the results as an email promotion. Cheap or free survey tools (there are about a million) can generate research to publish as an e-book or white paper. Or sponsor a contest offering a prize for the most creative use of your product. Publish the best ideas that come in.
  5. Create feedback loops. LinkedIn and Facebook both offer the option of creating private, invitation-only communities. Invite your best customers to join and use this virtual focus group to test messages and offers. They can also be a valuable source of new ideas for getting the word out.
What's your company doing to integrate direct and social marketing? Drop me a line and I'll include your ideas in a future newsletter. And if you'd like to download my DMA:2011 presentation, find it on SlideShare. Paul Gillin is an Internet marketing consultant and the author of three books about social media. He also writes the “New Channels” column in BtoB.
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