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A guest post by Sujata Ramnarayan of SMStrat.

Recently, myriad companies have started their own web stores within Facebook. This is a nascent and tentative move for some. However, looking at what impact digital media is having on marketing strategy overall can give you better direction on how to allocate your resources among the various digital media channels and the role your website should play in your strategy.

Interest in digital media marketing and especially social media marketing has steadily increased since 2008.  It has become a marketer’s nightmare to deal with the fragmentation of channels and a dilemma as to how to allocate resources among the multitude of ways customers seem to be using these different channels.

Do you use tweets as part of your marketing strategy?  Who is listening to these?  Do you maintain and cultivate a Facebook audience?  How do you keep them engaged and reading your Facebook updates?  What about YouTube, podcasts, LinkedIn groups, blogging, SlideShare, whitepapers, and email marketing?  Now adding to the list is Google+. What role does the search engine play in all this? How does a marketer deal with each of these channels and still be effective and efficient?

How Social Media & Your Website Fit in Your Marketing Strategy

The website and email were the first technological marketing tools that came along. What has changed recently is the availability of tools that make it easier for people to share. Email was the first tool that did this.  I remember that when I was a Gartner analyst, the first few press releases that came through email got my complete attention. However, as many more companies started using it, I was numbed by the amount of information coming my way.

A similar thing is happening today with Facebook. While it might be great to have a friends’ circle of 1,000 or more, it is not humanly possible to pay attention to all the information coming your way. What we see going on with consumers adopting different channels today is an attempt by them to simplify their own decision-making and stay on top of what is happening by depending on others they know to filter the information for them. This is their way of dealing with the information deluge.

While fragmentation of channels is a dilemma for marketers, it is also an opportunity for marketers to create more awareness in a multi-tiered  way through “likes,” tweets, or followers. In some ways, this fragmentation is also a result of the way consumers are trying to deal with excess information and to simplify decision-making. When customers see a “like” or tweet, it tells them that they can trust that information and gets them closer to the purchase decision. Using Facebook “likes” and tweets is thus a tool for companies to increase awareness of their products and services and yet, at the same time, win a token of trust from prospects.

Twitter is a little bit different in the sense that it provides for real-time information. While its broadcasting feature has resulted in a lot of noise, it also enables finding real-time information much easier. It is the tool customers turn to for real-time news.  It is the tool marketers should use for sales, for example.
YouTube and podcasts again point to the way in which customers are dealing with excess information by turning to different media for a break from a barrage of textual information. This again gives companies an opportunity to present information in a different format, some of which might be more amenable to this format, as a way to reach customers at various times, places (e.g. mobile), and in a different mode.

Your digital media toolkit should also include corporate blogging.  Blogging is an opportunity for a marketer to build trust and brand personality.  It is also more difficult to do than tweeting or Facebook updates. Thus, it can give you a competitive advantage with investment of time and effort. It also helps with search engine optimization.

Which brings us to search. Searches are still a critical component of your digital media toolkit. Marketing strategy has always had the customer at the center.  What we are now looking at is figuring out what the customer is likely to be thinking at the time of intended purchase.

The Core of It All

Central to all of your digital media strategy is your website. This is because what you are trying to do with the use of all of these tools (and they are really technological tools) is to solve the fundamental marketing problems of how to get the customer or prospect become aware and interested in your product or service, how to get them to purchase and purchase again, and how to get them to recommend your product to others.

As is evident with the disappearance of MySpace and the recent appearance of Google+ as a formidable competitor to both Twitter and Facebook, these tools will continue to change. Your website is where you have complete control. Your website is here to stay for the long term, and it is where customers can get a complete understanding of your products or services. When using these new social media tools, you have to remember what they really are and that these tools  will continue to change. Fundamental marketing issues, though, stay the same.

Use them as technologies to map your problems to solutions. What these tools provide for is greater context, greater reach, and a way to generate greater trust in your product or service. This trust happens at two different levels. One level is when you see a reference or recommendation directly from a friend. There is a second level that comes from reading reviews and experiences of other customers.

What these new tools have done is to give you a way to increase awareness and sharing, and also made it trackable and measurable.  These tools will continue to change and it is worthwhile to focus on keeping control of your website and building it with a focus on blogs and search engines, while continuing to use these other social media tools to generate more traffic to the website.

Sujata Ramnarayan, Ph. D. is  the managing principal of SMStrat. Ramnarayan’s background includes several years in the industry as a senior analyst at Gartner where she managed the digital media research program and as an assistant professor of marketing at Humboldt State University, where she brought changes to the curriculum introducing new courses in consumer behavior and Internet marketing and as an adjunct professor of marketing at San Jose State University.

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