By Josh Cline
One of the first things clients want when they hear “online” or “social media” is “viral.” But, the first thing I tell clients is that “viral is an outcome, not a strategy.” Online marketing – whether it is social media, e-mail, web, apps, or, ideally, an integrated marketing campaign – is a long-term effort filled with community and relationship building: not a campaign to start and stop at whim.
Unfortunately, there are too many out there selling ‘social media snake oil’ and promising to make your content go viral. “Viral” however is the direct outcome of creating quality relationships, having a worthwhile product/service, and being open and authentic – over time.
As written in iMedia Connnection: “What makes something viral is in no small part its authenticity. The intentional structure of marketing is in direct violation of this authenticity…Viral marketing isn’t a strategy. It’s not even a tactic. Viral is a possible outcome that brings an unplanned life to a piece of advertising.”
Your strategy should not be to go viral. Instead it should be to build relationships in order to serve various business goals (build brand awareness, raise credibility, sell a product or service). And to do that, takes time – even over a digital platform.
Whenever possible, when proposing to clients, I try to give them an article called “The Lifecycle of a Digital Marketing Campaign.” This article takes a digital marketing campaign from start to…continuation (there really is no finish if you want to continue to communicate with your audience). Here are the expectations projected for the five stages of the Digital Marketing Life Cycle:
The first stage is “Setup.” It doesn’t happen instantly but success in the setup stage will lead to future success. Success includes developing and analyzing your goals and developing a coherent marketing strategy that fits your resources and your aims. Another goal of the setup stage is to assess your marketing touch points: where are your customers or audience and do you have the resources to reach them. What messaging and positioning do you need to reach this audience? Do you have the resources to create content? Are your employees already acting on the company’s behalf in their spare time? What resources do you have already existing and what do you need to develop? Other steps include building an online environment – this might include redesigning your website, adding new pages, or setting up a blog, or perhaps determining what social network accounts you need – a company page on LinkedIn? A corporate industry group? An e-mail newsletter? After doing this, in online marketing, you must be found. If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, did it really fall? If you have value to offer to your customers, but your customers can’t find you, are you really creating value? This is where best practices in online architecture – from information architecture to SEO must be considered. Then – still in setup phase – start listening, gaining followers, initiating relationships, developing a content strategy, and then you will begin to see new referrals and leads. This can take up to the first three months.
After setup, you can expect to start gaining traction. People will start coming to you: develop relationships, gain traction on social media sites, gain responses to calls to action (you do have them right? That’s part of the setup stage). This is also where to start initiating additional outreach and technical integration, such as integrating mobile with your activities as more and more people are getting their information and accessing the Internet from smartphones and tablet computers, such as the iPad. During the traction stage you may also start to gain thought leadership interactions, and receive customer service feedback and engage in customer service tasks. This is likely to be the next 4-9 months.
The next stage is positioning, which only takes place 10-15 months after gaining traction. This includes converting conversations into actual conversions: sales, recommendations, or whatever your ultimate goal is. During this stage, as your credibility increases, your search engine rankings should also increase. This has the simple goal of helping your customers find you. You may also begin to get noticed by thought leaders in your industry. This will help you to develop brand loyalty.
The next stage is expansion. This is a long term period in which you can grow, expand, and begin to establish credibility. This does not happen until the previous steps have happened. Expansion includes stabilizing your position on search engines – you may not be increasing in position, but rather remaining at a certain fixed position – and establishing recognition of your own as a thought leader. This may also lead to media contacting you for your opinions and views about the latest issues in your industry, and help them view you more credibly when your public relations contacts make connections with the press. At this stage, you will begin to gain brand power and steady revenue – 16 to 27+ months after you began.
As you can see, it is a long process before you begin to see results. But then, in the future, this is when you may start seeing “viral growth” – as a response to the previous phases. At that point,more than two years after beginning, you may expand networks exponentially through social networks and communities.