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Web marketing is still marketing

Once or twice a year, I get to speak to MBA students at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, and today was my lucky day. It’s always fun to talk to students who are either out there in business already or getting ready to start their careers. And even though the Internet feels so breathtakingly new in so many ways, one thing that students must know is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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I’ve given variations of the talk in my previous trips to the school, but each one seems fresh because of the questions the students ask. Today, one student asked how financial services companies can respond to all the complaints about them on the Internet. She mentioned that it is costly to dream up the answers and everything must be reviewed by lawyers, so the whole process takes too long and isn’t worth the expense. She said that anytime they produce web content they send an RFP to their agency, and there’s no way she can justify the cost.

And you know what? She’s right.

You can’t treat engaging in social media the same way you treat creating a web page. It’s not a campaign–it’s conversation. So, how to answer such a question?

There are a few answers. The first one is that not everything that companies say must be vetted by lawyers. Customer service people are trained to have the right answers to customer questions and the lawyers don’t listen in on the phone while they talk to customers. Perhaps your customer service people can be dispatched to the message boards–you might find that having the right answers online might reduce calls, because customers Google the answers and don’t need to call as much.

The second answer might be to set up a workflow that allows the lawyers to review any proposed response in social media. [Full disclosure: I serve as Chief strategist for Converseon, who offers such a workflow service.] If the lawyers want to review everything, challenge them to work on Internet time so that they are monitoring what needs to be reviewed and are ready to get the customer’s question answered as soon as possible.
A third way is possible, too–perhaps people with a track record of properly addressing customer issues (such as senior customer service people) can answer questions without any legal review, but folks who are new to this must be monitored by the lawyers. Over time, more and more people can be granted their wings.

And, in keeping with the theme, this is no different from other kinds of marketing that we are all familiar with. You wouldn’t let just anyone make a speech at an important conference, representing your company. No, you’d select someone very carefully–someone that you knew is able to operate in a public venue. Similarly, you might need to train people to operate in public social media, and perhaps have training wheels (in the form of legal review) for a while.

If you put your mind to it, you can usually come up with something that works. In that way, this new marketing ain’t much different than old marketing.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for 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 serves 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, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com 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 is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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