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Social media is direct marketing

Lee Odden posed an excellent question in his blog recently, as to whether social media is direct marketing. Brian Clark told Lee that it is, most definitely, direct marketing. Lee said, maybe so, but you cannot use direct marketing pitches in social media. I am here to tell you that they are both right, and if you think about it, there’s no real conflict in what they are saying…if you understand a little bit about direct marketing.

When I say “direct marketing” to you, what do you think of? Probably a lot of mail sticking out of your mail box. Maybe a bunch of catalogs for products you don’t want. Or that classic three-page letter imploring you to get just one more credit card.

Typical junkmail.

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And you’d be right. All those things are part of direct marketing. But they are only a part. Those forms of direct marketing pitches work. They have their place in the marketing world, but they aren’t terribly effective online, as Lee pointed out. Not only are they not effective in social media, but they tend not to be effective on your Web site, either. They are typically too wordy for people to slog through on a small Web page.

Ditch ’em.

Another part of direct marketing is about list management–how you decide when to keep mailing to someone who did not buy. How frequently to mail to those that do. How to acquire new prospects for your list. Lee points out that e-mail marketing is a natural complement to social media, and he’s right. But unless you’re doing e-mail marketing (and most of you aren’t), you don’t need to understand any of these direct marketing mailing list techniques either.

So what’s left?

A whole lot, and all of it is pertinent to Web marketing, including social media. The biggest thing you need to know about direct marketing is that it is feedback-based. Its success is judged based on how many sales it drives. So, that credit card letter? How many signed up? The catalog? How many bought?

With brand marketing—those TV commercials and print ads we’ve all grown up with—if a nickel rolled in under the door because someone watched your 30-second spot for Coke, no one would ever know. There’s no direct correlation, even though Coca-Cola has done enough research to know for sure that there is some positive effect. They just can’t directly pin someone watching a particular ad to buying a particular bottle of Coke.

Contrast this with an infomercial. The moment you watch it, you are exhorted to CALL NOW. If you do, then it worked. If you don’t, then it didn’t.

Now, I understand that life is more complicated than that. Sure, you might have watched several different infomercials before you decided to call. You might even have seen ads or a direct mail piece first. That’s why direct marketers use matchback systems, where they use formulas to allocate credit among the various “touches” that a customer had before they bought. If you’re a sophisticated direct marketer, such as L.L. Bean, you can measure the impact of every touch for each customer as you allocate your marketing budget going forward.

So what does all this have to do with social media? Everything. Social media is a customer “touch,” too. It’s just a touch much earlier in the process, like a publicity story. You’d expect that people exposed to your social media messages are more inclined to buy from you than others. You’d like to be able to track the persuasive power of your social media—not that it directly tells people to buy from you, but it eventually leads them to buy from you.

Look at a personal example. I send out this newsletter every month. I post on my blog almost every business day. I update Twitter numerous times most days. What am I saying in all that information? Hire me to speak at your event? Buy my books? Bring me in as a consultant?


Instead, I am just providing information that might help a potential customer of mine. I’m showing them what I know so that they might someday get the idea that they could use me. I’m using social media in the very early part of the buying cycle and trusting that enough people will remember to hire me when they need me.

Thankfully, it is working. But I am measuring it a lot more like Coca-Cola than like L.L. Bean. People tell me that they read my blog post and bought my book and then got in touch with me. Or they started following me in Twitter and then came to see me speak and then hired me.

I want more. I want to apply direct marketing metrics to social media. I want to know what percentage of people who find my blog eventually subscribe to it. And how many of them eventually hire me for something. Now, on my shoestring marketing budget (when I can afford shoestrings), I can’t invest the money it would take for me to measure all this stuff, so I take it on faith.

But bigger companies don’t need to do that. Lots of smart people are working on applying direct marketing measurement principles to social media. It’s hard to go a few days without reading something about social media return on investment. So, expect it to be possible soon. The question is, will you be thinking this way? Will you be ready?

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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