7 Online Marketing Lessons from SummitUp 2013

The social media experts and online marketing firms that came together for SummitUp 2013 generated so much brainpower that we almost had to start selling it back to the grid. Here are some great takeaways from a sampling of the day’s speakers. Leave a comment or tweet us if you have some more tips, and we’ll include them in a follow up post. Thanks to everyone who made this event a spectacular success. We make the entire region shine by helping each other stay ahead of the curve

7. Question everything, then do the work.

Todd Henry’s presentation, “Die Empty,” reminded us that excellence requires discipline. That means  discerning the work that will really take you to the next level, and then executing it with the quality you want to be known for. Our consumer society often portrays success and reward as inseparable concepts. When we succumb to comfort we no longer challenge ourselves to go the extra mile. Todd reminded us that mediocrity is earned/learned through practice. To have a reputation as the best in 6 months, you have to be the best today.

6. Understand your platform as a partner.

Joe Robb of SparkPeople gave a fantastic presentation on best practices for Pinterest, but also highlighted an important point. Social media channels are businesses with which you, and your clients, have partnerships. It is important to understand the goals that these media companies are striving to accomplish. Pinterest, for instance, has historically been embroiled in a war against spam content. When SparkPeople changed the domain of their blog, Pinterest saw the redirect links on their old site/posts and treated all of their content as spam. Robb also gave a positive example of what can be learned by keeping in tune with the businesses behind social media channels. Pinterest currently faces a choice: continue to dominate niche topics like exercise and food, or try to expand its reach to the entire photo-sharing space. Focusing on Pinterest’s ongoing march towards advertising  will alert managers to the direction the platform is headed. Knowing what your platform is focused on will keep you aligned to the vision of its managers and in the zeitgeist of the most powerful users.

5. Social media ROI is all about equity.

Kimberly Collett of Olive, an urban dive, brought us the perspective of an owner operator using social media as her sole marketing channel. There is often a big question about the ROI of social media. Kimberly easily breaks it down to: if a traditional ad costs “X”, what can I do with online content to drive more than “X” in sales? That is the mark to beat. Kimberly illustrated a wide range of techniques she uses to create engagement, shouting out patrons on their birthday, announcing specials and taking advantage of analytic tools to name a few, but the gist of the message was “be dedicated.” This comes with a warning however, and the big takeaway for this session: business owners too often think of social marketing as “free.” Maintaining strong engagement takes time. Solving the time vs. profit equation is critical to maintaining a positive ROI. Kimberly’s advice? Be methodical. Have a strong and thorough plan before you start, and don’t stray from it.

4.  Balance experimentation with a defined process.

Ohio State’s Vice President for University Communications, Melinda Church, brought us a perspective on social media that has been understated in the years since the “lean” approach to online ventures took hold. To overhaul the communications strategy of an organization as massive as Ohio State, the oft touted method of “try, evaluate, iterate” was simply not going to work. Melinda reminds us that for content marketing to succeed entire organizations must get fully on-board. The “swing the bat” mentality is good for individual pieces of content, but a precise and programmatic roll-out process is necessary to get individuals working in silos to understand and except the cross disciplinary nature of a comprehensive communications plan.

3. Experiment Methodically

Identifying niche groups, read as “marketing opportunities,” and mobilizing them is one area where digital media has clearly moved streets ahead of other platforms. Patrice Hall walked us through the process reaching one such group, barbecue enthusiasts, for Sears. Patrice used her quantitative skills to drive her creative efforts when identifying the campaign’s niche, structuring content and reaching out to influencers. Her efforts remind us that data can and should be applied to all aspects of a campaign. When you find that niche you need to be capable of recognizing it. The first follower of the right kind won’t appear different from any other, unless you have identified metrics for differentiating them. Patrice sums it up perfectly: experiment, improve, repeat, then find/create a niche around influencers who can be a passionate vehicle for your brand.

2. Don’t think about photos, think about moments.

Brian Zuercher put words to something we have all probably been feeling since the dawn of the social media age. Photos are not what they used to be. Once pictures were kept as memories; today they are a means of defining yourself. Images signify to the world that you had a specific experience. This can create both dissonance and opportunities for brands looking to exploit user-generated visual media. Why? The photos associated with your product or service will most often reflect a niche use that matters a lot to a small number of people. Photos don’t reflect what is common, they portray what is most meaningful. Brian shared the story of a tin foil brand to drive this point home. Foil is, ostensibly, a cooking tool. The visual media customers produce about foil, however,  is almost exclusively related to the hair salon. Does that mean consumers don’t know the value of tin foil in the kitchen? Of course not! It means a portion of tin foil users have much more personal relationship with the product. That is a valuable realization.

1. Get existential. We live to serve (CUSTOMERS!)

“Why is our discipline so important?” Asks Dawn Shirley. Marketing and advertising are services designed to identify and meet the needs of consumers. The rising tide of tools, and the typhoon of data coming along with them, can distract us from our customers: those who consume/use advertising and marketing messages. What we need to focus on is understanding customers. Big data allows us to set up control variables, but consumer psychology remains the variable which firms must solve for. We often talk about the “discovering an niche” as a core proficiency of advertising and marketing, but it can be easy to forget that a niche is just a group of like minded individuals. Stay focused on understanding your customer’s psychology. It opens the door for more tailored messaging, which goes hand-in-hand with reduced waste and improved ROI for clients.

BONUS: Social Marketing is just marketing.

Steve Biddle of Facebook wrapped up the day with some great insider looks at the platform’s marketing potential, but he also delivered a more universal message. Success in social marketing, like every other type of marketing, depends on building the organizational infrastructure to support it. When designing a campaign for display, television, direct mail or radio, every department of an agency is leveraged. This is also true the most successful social-centric campaigns, and soon it will be true for all social efforts. A few years from now, predicts Biddle, the so-called “social team” will disappear. Social will be an end goal which engages every department.

Ian Bowman-Henderson

Ian Bowman-Henderson heads up content marketing for the Ohlmann Group. Ian's responsibilities include copywriting, SEO, social media management, public relations, and event planning

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