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How to Build a Social Media Campaign

Good marketers see the value of developing a presence where their audience already gathers, whether online or at the shopping mall.

Posted by: Hilary JM Topper* - Business Week

Social media is all about sparking conversation, not just online, but offline too. Done well, social media draws us in, delights us, and even offers glimpses of the future. These dynamics overlap into the real world, as people go about their daily business. Companies that understand this and interact with their market at every opportunity—both on the Web and face to face—get the most from their marketing campaigns. And they help to further imprint their brand on the public.

Visit a Simons' Mall, for example, where thirsty shoppers who stop at Coca-Cola's (KO) latest touch-screen vending machines are now in for a surprise. Never mind yesterday's technology, where consumers routinely plunked in coins, punched in numbers, and received a bottle. These new machines showcase video images of bottles that you can spin—virtually—and learn more about the product, including its pricing.

Yes, it's a play on that old-fashioned game, Spin the Bottle. Yet it's also a recurring theme with its smart phone app, "Spin the Coke," prompting fans to post online about how much they enjoy the combination of Coca-Cola and the promise of kisses. In addition, Coke gives consumers a chance to build a community around its most recent beverage offerings.

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Such innovation foreshadows new conveniences on the horizon, making it easy to envision a day in the not-too-distant future when consumers might be able to order a Coke on their smartphone and be directed to the nearest deli where a frosty bottle awaits. Talk about one-on-one interaction with the customer.

Coke gets it. And those who model a marketing platform after Coke's can build a foundation where they can not only engage followers and ride the wave to the next generation of social media. Like all good marketers, these companies see the value of developing a presence where their audience already gathers—whether online or in our streets and shopping malls. And by putting themselves front and center, these companies interact with the public, finding out what people want, inspiring spontaneity—and yes, purchases.

Still, as with traditional marketing, a successful social media program must be mindful of consumers' interests. This mission is easy to accomplish, whether by constantly developing tools that help a company remain relevant to its audience or by conducting some research to garner customers' thoughts about an organization's products and services. The best part?

Businesses don't need deep pockets to incorporate an effective social media platform. But they will need the time to engage their market share online, whether through a Facebook fan page, Twitter, or a host of other popular sites. True, not all of these sites are household names yet. Still, they enjoy solid followings.

Below are some suggestions to help jump-start a successful social media platform.

..:: Keep it interesting ::..

Run contests that generate water-cooler talk—whether for a weekend getaway, a dinner out, a new wardrobe, or a gift certificate. For instance, JCPenney, which recently mounted a major effort to build a following on Facebook, is running a contest in which its fans show off their style by posting their photos donning their favorite JCPenney outfit.

..:: Be consistent ::..

Are you fun and whimsical online? Maintain that momentum offline as well. Followers will expect that same identity in all of their interactions with your brand. Here, again, Coca-Cola leads the category—playful on the Web and when customers interact face-to-face with its products.

..:: Comb the Web for free market research ::..

Don't overlook the importance of staying in tune with your customers. Read what they're saying, whether on Facebook, iTunes, YouTube, or elsewhere. And know when to respond. Maybe they love your product or service—something you may want to build upon, whether through developing new offerings or spearheading a new branding initiative.

Then again, maybe their posts reveal that they are looking for a product or service that you in fact, already offer. If that's the case, let them know as quickly as possible, before they go searching elsewhere. Or maybe they are complaining about a kink in one of your applications; you'll want to let them know you are working on a resolution.

..:: Stay relevant ::..

Avoid frequent posts that would not pertain to your base at large. Otherwise fans will lose interest, and worse, begin to consider your status updates as spam. That's a sure way to lose your audience, no matter how great your offerings.

Stick to these steps, and your followers will stay tuned—a surefire sign that your social media campaign is z.

* Hilary JM Topper is the author of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Social Media, but were afraid to ask...

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