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Part II of the Top 10 Sustainability / CSR and Online / Social Media Marketing Trends for 2011

  
  
  
  

(Read Part I, Top Sustainability & CSR Trends).

At the intersection of marketing and sustainability, the most exciting trends continue in the online space. Businesses are realizing that the online “green” community is growing, active and influential. And  2011 marketing trends surveys forecast increases in online investment.   What can we hope to see as a result?

II. Top Online / Social Media Marketing Trends for 2011:

1. Pharma in Social

Some may wonder why speculation that pharmaceutical companies will fully embrace social media this year should have any bearing on “green” brands.  Quite simply, it’s because of the analytical marketing heft that differentiates pharmaceutical marketing from most other consumer brand marketers. With years of R&D spending on the line, intense regulatory scrutiny, and just one shot at launching The Next Big Drug, pharmaceutical marketing is arguably the most sophisticated consumer marketing practice area. When Big Pharma dips its toes into social media this year, the pharmaceutical industry will bring its disciplined analyses and multi-million dollar launch budgets to bear – causing huge ripple effects for all social media practitioners, particularly in the area of measurement.  Any doubts that pharmaceutical marketers will embrace social? Take a look at the FDA’s seven twitter accounts.  And watch the rush to market when the FDA finally issues its long awaited social media guidance (expected later this quarter).

2. Rise of Customer Integration Into Social Media

For a set of tools that are supposed to be all about a “customer conversation,”  it’s amazing how much of social media is really just a roll of the dice…(or a click of the mouse).  The fact is, Big Brands have no idea if they’re inviting actual customers to their blogger events — or simply the loudest voices in the Blogosphere.

I raised this issue at the last Blogher Business conference, and received some interesting responses from Blogher’s panelists.  The integration of customer lists with Twitter addresses and blog URLs just isn’t there yet. And the privacy issues, as the panelists pointed out, are huge. What’s more, most PR pros (who continue to drive social media in the majority of organizations), are focused on their traditional quantitative incentives of bodies in a room  and “buzz,” rather than marketing-driven imperatives such as customer loyalty and customer relationship building.

Fortunately, there are some signs that the measurement firms are working on this issue – and of course, nimble brands will find a way to mine this data, manually if necessary.  But for now, questions about the value of “influencers” are growing louder.

After all, what would your business rather have? Loyal customers or loud influencers? Where’s the value?

3. An End to the Blogger – Brand Wars?  The Dawn of the Alpha Consumer.

It’s perhaps the worst kept secret in the social media space: the battle between consumer brands, their PR agencies, and the bloggers and other “influencers” they court.   Yet the same old story has repeated itself for years.  Brands want to grab some of that “free viral marketing Mom buzz” they’ve heard will rocket their sales. PR agencies want to sell access to said “Mom bloggers.” And the bloggers? They’re tired of “working for free” and “training PR agencies.”

The fact is, most of the top bloggers in niches like the green space are anything but traditional “stay-at-home Mom bloggers.” Some define themselves as businesswomen looking to make money online or professional bloggers, with a select few ranking among the top affiliate marketers on the web.   Others are trying to sell books. Many are freelance PR & marketing consultants themselves.   Still others hold down full time jobs. Hobbyists? There are some out there…but far fewer than one might imagine.   And true fans, advocates, and influencers?   For the most part, they’re far rarer than most “social media experts” would lead you to believe.  The real fans are customers (see #2 above).

I think it’s more appropriate to dust off the old “alpha consumer” term and apply it to Mom bloggers, as my colleague Maryann Conlin did in this excellent fall MediaPost piece: Social Media Moms are Really Alpha Consumers.

There’s a win-win in all this. Once consumer brands start treating professional Mom bloggers as the savvy Internet marketers, publicity agents, website owners, and SEO gurus they really are, the brands will get both the business and the buzz they desire.

4.  Metrics Gets Real: Bringing Back Qualitative Measures

There’s an old saying in the tech world I come from: Garbage In, Garbage Out.  Originally meant to  refer to the notion that poor data going into a computer results in poor data on the back-end, I apply it to today’s data-driven PR and social media world. With just the click of a mouse, any junior account executive can look like a genius, complete with in-depth statistical charts illustrating volume of ReTweets, Klout scores, Sentiment Analysis, and more….

But as I alluded to in #2, just who is doing all the RTing? Is it an affiliate marketer trying to get you to click on some links? A brand ambassador fulfilling her contractual obligations? Or some fan boys RTing what a social media influencer has to say?

There’s hope on the horizon. Just last week I learned of a major brand backtracking to check in with its former  brand ambassadors. Quantitative? Sexy? New? Perhaps not. But most definitely a worthwhile exercise.  After investing in a brand ambassador campaign a few years back, the brand completely lost track of its ambassadors. Why? Perhaps the PR agency changed. Maybe there was no compensation built into the program for maintaining ties. Who knows? But we can only imagine the lost opportunities – for both the brand and the bloggers.

But all businesses – and all strong brands – are built on deep, hopefully long lasting, emotional ties. And Customer Relationship Management – the qualitative kind – is a measurement metric that has been sorely overlooked by consumer brands competing in the online space.

When brands invest in “blogger relations,” are they building long term relationships, or just counting RTs? Are they taking away lessons from their Alpha Consumers, or are they just counting bodies in a room and column inches in a blog post?

For measurement to be meaningful, there must be a balance between the quantitative and the qualitative – otherwise, it’s just GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).

5. Online Marketing Gives Way to Inbound Marketing

If you haven’t yet heard of Inbound Marketing, you’re not alone. It’s a new marketing category invented by former VC and Sloan Fellow Brian Halligan, founder of a smart software start-up, Hubspot.   The concept is simple: integrate a company’s social media, web site presence, corporate content and SEO in order to make it easy for prospective customers to find a company online.

With an aggressive marketing campaign and the deployment of Value Added Reseller partnerships with top marketing agencies and consultants (including 4GreenPs), Inbound Marketing is bound to become a common part of the marketing lexicon by year-end.

What do you think? Are  these trend predictions destined to happen or just wishful thinking? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

And my apologies for the late posting – as some of you who follow my @OrganicMania twitter stream know, my son was in and out of the hospital throughout January – pushing my blogging schedule down the priority list!

– Lynn

Copyright 2011 4GreenPs

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