’Tis the Season To be Social

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firepr_small.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — As a marketer, you know that now is the time to take action on holiday marketing promotions for your company. And with all the excitement this year about social media marketing, this is a perfect opportunity to use this fun, creative channel to generate holiday buzz for your brand.

What is social media marketing and why should I care?

We live in a socially connected era; even Scrooge would probably have a Facebook page if he were around today. We consult our friends to inform the decisions we make every day. Whether we’re aware of it or not, our peers influence what we eat, what we wear, what we watch, what we read, where we go online, and—especially during the holiday season—what we buy.

Social media marketing uses online tools to tap into social influence, driving targeted marketing goals and identifying particularly influential individuals. These influencers can act as brand evangelists, carrying your message through the holiday season and beyond. Online sharing tools maximize each potential influencer’s reach; hosted experiences and offers help you control the messages being shared, and advanced measurement and optimization tools make social media and word-of-mouth marketing initiatives more effective.

When it comes to holiday promotions, a given program can drive a range of marketing goals such as growing your list of “family & friends,” increasing gift card sales, boosting performance of your holiday coupons, driving donations to your favorite charity and many others. Beyond initial results, influencers identified through social media marketing programs can become powerful brand evangelists, providing invaluable insight and triggering ongoing cascades of market activity around new brand activities and offerings throughout the New Year.

This best practice guide provides proven techniques that can help you add a social element to your holiday plans and boost the performance of your marketing activities.

Open your workshop early

Santa’s elves are already in full swing this time of year, and you should you be too—after all, your competitors aren’t wasting any time getting started with their social media marketing programs. Getting the right program designed and seeding the market takes time, so you don’t want to launch late in the season. Starting early lets your customers get a jump on their holiday shopping and spread awareness of your products through their networks—and leaves new contacts enough time to get in on the action. Programs should be ready to go in the fall, so that means you need to start today!

Make your list and check it twice

Not all influencers are equal, so knowing your audience is vital to success. Identifying the “naughty” and “nice” influencers on your email list lets you determine the most effective distribution route for holiday surprises and promotions. Insight into the social networks, online activities, and demographic data of the folks on your list will help you improve targeting and learn what people think is worth sharing, and who is the most connected. With a detailed understanding of your audience, you can focus your communications more effectively to achieve maximum ROI.

Delivering surprise and delight

Some people are natural storytellers, but most could use some help. To excite your audience and encourage them to share, give them fun and engaging material to start with: compelling messaging, shareable content, a captivating Web site they can refer their friends to. Not only will this help people engage their friends and contacts, it will also help you maintain control of your message, because you can update it as needed.

Be sure to test your content to find the most effective offers, gifts and featured products; then, optimize the program by continuing with the elements that delivered the best results. Remember, effectiveness needs to include both the amount of peer-to-peer sharing and the number of actions taken. Finally, don’t exercise too much control—some of your influencers are natural storytellers (or as we like to say, salespeople!). Give them the ability to create their own content and add their own messages, and they may come up with your next great campaign.

Hark! The valuable influencers sing!

The easier you make it for people to reach out to their contacts, the more friends they will share your holiday program with, and the greater chance they’ll have to influence purchasing behavior. The audience research mentioned above pays off here, by showing you the right channels for sharing your content.

The “right” channels are, of course, the ones your audience already uses—email, their favorite social networking sites, blogs, and so forth. Make it as convenient as possible for people to share by providing tools that let users open up their Yahoo!, Gmail, or other address list and pull in email addresses automatically, instead of entering them manually. Give users easy ways to post your program to their social network profile or to a blog, and the increased reach will pay off in spades.

Be sure that your interface is simple and straightforward, so that people can share with a minimum of clicks.

Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good

You should know, too—because the key to social media success is data. Your program should include tools that let you measure and track sharing and success rates, so you can accurately identify the most effective factors of your holiday promotions, measure individual degrees of influence, and assess the true impact of your program.

In addition, your program should provide insight into the key words and phrases that people are using when socially engaging with each other. For example, you believe you are selling the classiest gifts on the Web but your consumers introduce you to their friends stating they like you for the most outrageous white elephant gifts around. During this holiday season listen and learn from the chorus of word-of-mouth! It will likely highlight areas for improvement and/or areas of incremental opportunity for the holidays and beyond.

The gift that keeps on giving

To get you thinking outside the gift box, here are a few creative holiday promotions to consider integrating into your mix. They’ll help grab the attention of your most influential consumers and motivate them to share this season.

Exclusively for Friends & Family

Present your offer as an exclusive gift or insider deal with a clearly defined end date that people can share with their friends. The implicit recommendation from a trusted friend drives high conversions. This year, your audience will know who their friends truly are!

Boost Performance of your Holiday Coupons

Shoppers love to tell friends about great finds and super deals. Grow your customer base or launch new products quickly by letting them share viral coupons, free trials, and more. Provide mutual benefits by tying to a loyalty points program or offering reciprocal rewards.

Share with Friends

Make the lives of your customers easier by suggesting great gift ideas and helping them share these ideas through their networks. People love to tell their friends about new favorite products and even plant the seeds about gifts they might like to receive! Target post-sharing and post-purchase offers to drive additional action and purchases.

Make a Charitable Donation

Making a donation to a charity is a great way to share the holiday spirit, and helping your customers do so will drive conversion rates for your program. Make it emotionally rewarding for people to follow your call-to-action, whether that means making a purchase, signing up for a service, or fulfilling some other marketing goal—and be sure to make it socially rewarding for people to share the offer with their network.

By planning, creating and testing your social media marketing campaigns early, you can set the social tone and listen as your register rings in the season.

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