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Well, it’s that time of year again.  What did we all just DO?  Where is it all GOING?  Here are a few of my predictions.  Most of them I truly feel will happen, but some of them I just really really hope to have happen.

  • Social Media will stop being a bunch of tools and will start being a legitimate strategy. We all know it, and have lamented it before.  Too many people have completely ignored strategy when using social media in the past few years and have just started grabbing at the shiney new objects in front them.  Social media will actually be viewed as part of your overall communications strategy, as it should be.  Which means, now more than ever, if you just start clicking buttons and throwing up Facebook pages, you’ll be behind the eight ball, and fast.
  • Data will be huge. Not just to sit and prove ROI for your marketing department.  The fact that we can measure so much more in the digital space means that we’re going to see such awesome research and data analysis on things on like behavior and social trending… just plain interesting “stuff”….we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg.\
  • Social media marketing will explode in the higher ed space.  We’ve felt the energy rising on this one all year, and it’s really close to spilling over.  Simply put, if there’s any industry that has a pre-established and enormous audience that likes to be communicated to online, it’s higher ed.  Just get there.
  • Social media marketing will start becoming more prevalent in the B2B space, primarily in industries we wouldn’t have imagined. Think manufacturing or construction.  More people are accepting the wide-range of possibilities that fall under “social media marketing” and realizing that there really are benefits.  They might not be Facebook or Twitter, or they might not be externally-facing, but they’re there.
  • These industries will have front runners. What I mean is that a lot of the industries mentioned in the above prediction won’t enter the space en masse, rather a small group of companies will start to play around, and they’ll gain the advantage.  A lot can happen with a 6-month or 1-year head start.
  • Cause Marketing will not only be used a lot more, but people will stop scoffing at it as a simply a marketing ploy, and actually accept that it’s still good for society and that companies can still be very passionate about social issues, whether they’re benefiting financially or not (obviously this doesn’t include extreme cases).

Happy New Year!

What do you think the next year brings?

I’m working with a company in the B2B space that has an interesting but very common website case:

  • They have an old, basic and static site
  • It has very weak SEO
  • They’re paying significant amounts of money for Google Adwords each month to get them page ranked
  • They’re not tracking anything

Luckily, they want this to change.  In conjunction with a website design overhaul, we’re going to completely up-end this model and flip it on it’s head (or side, or whatever).

One of the main topics of conversation has been the issue of Google Adwords - do we use them or not.  My answer is no, not right now.  A few further thoughts to that end [Disclaimer - I had a quick call with the team at HubSpot, as I would like to use their product in this process, and some of these thoughts stem from a conversation I had with Vas]:

  • Firstly, there is nothing in place right now to determine the effects of their Adwords: they don’t know who’s clicking, what they’re clicking on, if they’re qualified leads, etc.  All they know is that they’re the first (sponsored) link that shows up on Google for one of the keywords.
  • There was little research done to choose those keywords, and it was based loosely on product lines.  The list also hasn’t been updated in many years.
  • They have little to no effective SEO built into their site, which hasn’t been changed in over five years.

Essentially, they’ve put Adwords in place and let it run.

They’re simply paying the meter to reserve a parking spot, and hope they don’t have a cop come around and write them a ticket or tow the car away. Because that’s what would happen the minute they stopped paying the meter if they’d relied on their existing website.  The Adwords are only giving them short-term benefits while they’re still paying.

What we’re working towards is building their own parking lot where they won’t have to worry about paying the meter: An architecturally strong website, with sophisticated SEO, continually updated content, metrics in place to determine how people are accessing and using the site, and developing more paths for people to get there.

Does that mean we nix Google Adwords?  For now, yes. There doesn’t seem to be much point in using them if they don’t know what they’re bringing to the table. It’s sort of like parking in the first available spot before you know if it’s close to your lunch meeting near City Hall (”It’s around here somewhere,” he said.).  There might be spots closer.  Heck, City Hall could have it’s own free parking lot.

But only for now. Once we’ve gone through the process of developing a much stronger foundation - our website, and once we understand the best keywords to use (though, ideally, we’ve keyword-maximized the site so well that it can stand alone)….once we’ve really built something with a long-term future…..only then should Adwords be used to supplement these efforts. We’re building their own parking lot that they can park in on most days, and telling them where the best spot to pay for is next time they have lunch near City Hall….

Consumer industries are in the thick of it now… for the most part companies selling direct to consumer have recognized the need for some kind of interaction in social media and have made at least some inroads in putting together a plan and a presence in relevant circles.

But B2B companies still struggle with the question of how relevant social media is to their marketing and pubic relations programs and whether or not social media really has an kind of impact on their bottom line. Think that’s a tough nut to crack? Enter an even more challenging question: what about regulated industries?

We often note that B2B companies have some specific challenges when moving into the social media space, but regulated industries have it even harder. Financial, medical, pharmaceutical and other industries are all required to play by very specific rules that have a significant impact on how “social” their marketing programs can be.

This week’s article in AdWeek takes a look at recent forays into the social media realm by a  number of pharmaceutical companies, and examines some of the opportunities and challenges regulated industries face in trying to stay up to date on the latest in marketing and communications tactics.

In many cases, pharmaceutical companies and others in regulated industries have addressed these challenges by developing a presence in social media networks, and then eliminating or strictly limiting the actual “social” aspect of their page. While this provides a band-aid for problems they face in allowing for more two-way communications with consumers, taking the social out of social marketing isn’t really a viable long-term solution.

What’s the solution? In some cases we imagine the burgeoning demand for better interaction directly with consumers may actually have an impact on regulations. But barring those kinds of sweeping changes, we argue that in most cases many of the concerns regulated industries have about using social media are largely unfounded. As the AdWeek article noted, many concerns about problems arising online are either extremely rare and unlikely in reality, or do not have the kind of adverse effects many companies assume.

Rather than fear the implications of the unknown, social media can be an opportunity for these companies to spend some time researching ways they can interact in social circles, because in many cases the assumption that they cannot and should not prevents these organizations from even considering or attempting a program in these spaces. Social marketing tactics come in many shapes and sizes, the real challenge is to not try to force existing models to work for regulated industries, but instead to take a creative new approach that addresses the challenges those industries face while still allowing for more two-way conversation to develop.

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