living on both sides of a blog.

If one thing has been made clear throughout these last weeks, it is this:

The digital marketplace is  vast, comprised of numerous interactive platforms that are constantly evolving and adapting to better suit our digitally motivated culture. The Internet is accessible to more consumers than ever, and that fact, paired with the growing desire for global connectivity, has taken our marketplace into new territories of brand accessibility, reach, and experience. Take a look at this infographic that shows just how connected our digital world has become. Some of these interesting stats include:

-78.6% of Americans are on the Internet daily
-The use of mobile Internet access nearly doubles every year
-There is an average of over 3.2 billion Google searches every day

a-day-in-the-life-of-the-internet_5186937ec9c53_w587

This information is probably not all that shocking. Of course there has been a shift in digital communication, with a great explosion of digital adaptation in recent years alone. That is why there is a clear place for everyone and everyone in the digital marketplace – for social-sharers, content creators, information disseminators, fact gatherers…regardless of how you use and peruse the digital marketplace, the one likely fact remains that you do, in fact, use it.

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A very powerful “vendor” in this marketplace is found in the blog. Lifestyle blogs, fitness blogs, travel blogs, marketing blogs, inspirational blogs, and special-topic blogs. The blogs that exist in our digital marketplace are as unique and diversified as the marketplace itself. A few examples of blogs that I follow include:

The Londoner
The Happsters
Thought Catalog
CravesAdventure
MindBodyGreen
Skinny Mom
What Have We to Lose (my personal blog)
*And of course, all of the lovely blogs by my classmates on my Blogroll

Why, though, are blogs such a powerful tool in the business world? Blogs are flexible, relaxed representations of a company. Blogs are a place for information gathering and sharing, but also for questions. Blogs are thoughtful, and are one of the great assets to the marketing mix. Again, why? Because to a consumer, a blog is one of the strongest ways to connect with a brand.

From a consumer’s perspective, I love that I can visit a blog and get exactly the information I expect. I never have to search for information and filter through a variety of Google results. I know that when I visit MindBodyGreen, for example, I’ll be met with a plethora of fitness and nutrition tips that I can utilize. I know that the brand I’m connecting with has valuable information I need, all of which I can sift through, save, pin, share, like, tweet, or otherwise hang on to. I also love the intimate nature of a blog. The words are written by someone I feel connected to, through our common interests. I feel like I’m valued enough to read their specific words that they took the time to write. It’s a very personal experience, which only makes me a more loyal consumer. I’m all the more invested.

From a brand’s perspective, there are several advantages to managing a blog. From bettering skills as a writer, to expanding reach to new audiences, brand representatives can learn quite a few things (actually, 20 things) from implementing a blog. A blog is an inexpensive way to create a personal relationship with  consumers. Businesses can take advantage of the conversational nature of a written blog, which welcomes readers and strengthens consumer connection to the brand. Andrew Davies wrote a blog post that confirms this, saying “We all relish the personal touch, and this is no less the case when it comes to the marketing we are subjected to online.” When consumers feel they are receiving personal and pertinent information to them, they are much more likely to engage with that brand long-term. Additional advantages of blogging include building brand network and database, enhancing company visibility, increased product exposure, solidifying and enhancing brand identity, and optimizing your search engine efforts. All of these ideas are explicated here.

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I have a blog for my personal and professional life, and can speak directly to the truths of this post. Blogs are not only an excellent way to express your own thoughts and observations on life and work, but are an incredibly exciting “vendor” in our digital marketplace. We experience the familiarity of our social media favorites. Of course, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr etc. will always have a place in our everyday. Yet, a blog offers a slightly different experience. As both a consumer and a marketer, blogs are a vibrant representation of the digital world in which we live, interact, share, and learn.

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social butterflies.

In this day and age, we’re all somewhat of a social butterfly, thanks to the two social media giants that we all love so much: Facebook and Twitter. These two platforms truly are giants, and as the two most popular social platforms in the marketplace, they offer users valuable, but vastly different social experiences.

Facebook is the social site where users go to connect with friends and family members, connect with acquaintances, RSVP for events, support causes, “like” pages, post pictures and videos, share content, find hilarious memes, and keep up with the world in nearly every way imaginable. It’s also a place for businesses and organizations to disseminate information, build cause-campaigns, engage with consumers and fans, listen to trends, augment brand awareness, enhance brand perception, and Facebook has integrated every aspect of life, and has created a digital version of our communities – local, national, and global. The following infographic characterizes this idea:

Facebook Stats1

This infographic comes from an article entitled 13 Mind-blowing Facebook Statistics.

Follow the link to learn the other 12!

With obvious reason, the size of Facebook alone makes it an incredibly valuable tool for marketers. Consumers are constantly accessible, and conversations are no longer one sided. Where brands used to communicate to the silent masses, the masses are now given a voice to communicate back. Facebook exemplifies 699 million voices, all of which are engaging with each other and with the brands they support on a daily basis. And the site continues to grow as well. In just the last year, Facebook has grown in the following ways:

Facebook Stats2

Facebook is all about engagement. Connect with others; share content; post content. However it’s used, it’s all in the name of connectivity. So, how do you use Facebook? What can brands do better to make you, the consumer, feel more valuable and more engaged with them on this social platform?

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Now we turn to Twitter, which is equally embraced by our digital marketplace. Just as Facebook is about connectivity, Twitter is about information gathering and dissemination, and engaging with other information creators. The concept of the hashtag and the retweet speak directly to this idea, making information gathering even more simple through specific searches and tagging, and information sharing happen in the time it takes to retweet. With over 465 million Twitter accounts, and 175 million tweets per day, the potential that brands have to share and connect with consumers is enormous. What kind of content makes consumers willing to engage, favorite, or retweet? Check out the following infographic.

Print

Just like Facebook, Twitter is also a social site that bridges national boundaries and connects people across the globe. Actually, Twitter has even more relevance in our global culture, from my perspective. Take a look at the following Twitter statistics that really highlight this global nature:

Twitter Stats2

In 2011, co-founder of Twitter, Biz Stone, talks about the intent of this social platform. He got to a point when he realized “‘this was not just something in the Bay Area for technical geeks to fool around with and to find out what [they’re all] up to, but a global communications system that could be used for almost everything and anything,’ Stone says.”

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He continues to say

“People all around the world are realizing that we’re not just necessarily citizens of a particular state or a particular country, but citizens of the world. And this is a growing feeling, and I think that the Internet and social media tools are making the world a smaller place and allowing us to feel this empathy.”

This very truth is what makes our digital marketplace so exciting, and so valuable from a marketing perspective. Regardless of which platform you prefer, we are growing into a global world where we can connect and share. These social giants have transformed and continue to transform how we communicate; each makes our world seem bigger, making everyone accessible to everyone else. They also make our world seem a little smaller, too, instilling a digital sense of community and connection.

#hashtagpower

Today was truly a wonderful day to be a Mountaineer! Our Mountaineers took on number 11 Oklahoma State Cowboys, and played a great game! Though it was supposed to be a definite loss for our boys, we worked hard and finally became a team. We defeated our Big 12 competitor with a score of 30-21. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful day for some old gold and blue!

What does this have to do with the digital marketplace? EVERYTHING. I’ll tell you a little story…

Once I got home from the game, I decided (like almost everyone else I know after our win today) to get online to make posts that illustrated my utter pride for our Mountaineers. I am hardly a fair weather fan, so I’m always proud of them. But today was a different kind of pride. The odds were not exactly in our favor, yet we proved an entire country of college-football-loving-viewers wrong. I logged into Twitter from my smartphone and composed a tweet:

“A stunning day for such a satisfying WIN! I’ll always love those #Mountaineers! #letsgo #WVU”

As I wrote my tweet and thought of hashtags to use, I started contemplating the recent discussions I’ve had and witnessed about the art of hashtagging. This contemplation began earlier this week, actually, as I viewed the YouTube video of a skit starring Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon. If you haven’t seen it, please watch! It’s hilarious.

My best friend and I were joking about this today at the game,  verbally “hashtagging” things like #blueandgold #letsgo #winning, among other ridiculous but appropriate phrases for the game. Just like JT and Jimmy, we had a blast doing it! But as I scrolled through Facebook and Twitter, taking in all of my friends’ posts about the game, I thought about all of this while I also composed my tweet. I realized that while it may be a ridiculous idea, and most people use hashtags more for humor or cleverness than suitability or tracking a trend, there is power in it.

The digital marketplace is booming with this idea. The concept is used on social networking/sharing sites, originating on Twitter, but having since found a home on Google+, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook as well. Users can hashtag different phrases and ideas to add their content to brand/product communities, and make their content searchable by the tag they provide. But are they actually valuable to marketers? Yes and no.

blog entry by Lauren Hockenson describes the positive and negative aspects of the hashtag. “The problem with hashtags lie in their relative ambiguity: there’s no standard for hashtags and no long-running conversation.” This is exactly what kept me from understanding the validity of a hashtag in the first place. There are too many options, not enough stipulations for users to implement when forming a hashtag. The likelihood of a hashtag being absorbed in a trend is very small. However, when a brand utilizes the hashtag, a greater opportunity exists to realize success and value. Brands wishing to use hashtags should do so through promotion – paying for hashtags to be trending for a particular amount of time, or through hashtag campaigns. These hashtags should be specific, consistently advertised, and thoroughly integrated into all other aspects of the brand’s marketing mix. The consistency will yield a profitable result. Brands can monitor the effectiveness and trend success of their hashtags through a handful of hashtag analytics, and learn the frequency and nature in which they are used.

Still, social sites continue to figure out how to use these hashtags most advantageously. For example, the hashtag usage on Twitter vastly differs from that on Facebook. And to be honest, the Facebook hashtag hasn’t been too widely incorporated since it’s integration in June of this year. Take a look at the following infographic to compare:

hashtag comparisons

The digital marketplace is certainly thriving, growing and evolving day by day. The marketplace is a place for innovative connections to be made and concepts to be tested. The hashtag is just one concept that we’ve seen adapted by multiple vendors. What do you think? Do you find them troublesome and lacking value? Or do you think hashtags can be effective, when used well?

#SoManyQuestions #DigitalMarketplace #ThanksForReading

5 rules to reach your shoppers.

We’ve held thorough discussions in the last weeks of the various vendors and platforms that make up the digital marketplace. Now, though, it’s time to discuss those who experience it first hand, and who make it what it is. What would a market be without the people – the shoppers and the sellers who fully embody the success and growth of our marketplaces?

After discussing the topic with several people in my life, some from the Gen X population and some Gen Y, or Millennials, I’ve confirmed that the digital marketplace is experienced in different ways. Before diving into this, however, let’s look at the statistics of web users from 2010 to 2013  in the United States.

Clearly, the saturation of internet users in the United States has increased notably over the last three years. What does this mean? It means that the digital marketplace is growing, being utilized by a greater number of people who represent a wider range of demographics and psychographics. The uses vary just as much as the users themselves. A Pew Internet research study indicated that “Generation X is the most likely group to bank, shop, and look for health information online,” while Gen Y-ers are more likely to use digital media for fun, social engagement. This seems accurate, considering the conversations I have had recently.

While the Gen Y-ers in my life are perusing the marketplace with cautious intrigue, slowly but surely navigating social media sites, book marking sites, digital banking and billing, they are not fooled by seemingly impersonal nature of interactions. Our digital space is a platform through which we are connected 24/7 to the people and brands we love. Yet, this platform is not always conducive to personal, authentic experiences from their perspective.

Millennials, however, have expressed great appreciation for the digital marketplace. Having grown up without AND with new and emerging media, millennials have integrated nearly every aspect of life with the digital marketplace. Not a day goes by, for most millennials, where a blog, video, photo, hashtag, mobile app, advergame, or digital advertisement is accessed, used, posted, read, or shared. This is how millennials live and engage. Authenticity, for this demographic, is less important than accessibility.

Because of the diversity represented in our digital world, much more of which remains to be explained and researched, marketers must make great effort to understand how and where to reach their audiences. Here is a list of 5 simple rules to consider when establishing objectives for connectivity, engagement, and interaction across the board.

1) LISTEN – Establishing a qualitative and quantitative listening plan across social channels, blogs, and other digital platforms will, of course, inform marketers about the conversations and perceptions had regarding their brands and products. It will also provide results that will garner a numerical representation of what audience percentages are active on which channels. This allows brands to know who is present where, and therefore, can help them tailor messaging to suit the different kinds of engagement that different segments prefer.

2) REACH them where they want to be reached – This sounds SO simple. And it is! Once you’ve listened, follow through and serve your audiences where they prefer! This will let consumers feel more engaged with your brand, and will increase your accessibility.

3) Challenge ENGAGEMENT  Once you know where the different segments of your market are active, engage with them! How do we do this? Take a look at number 4!

4) Provide QUALITY CONTENT – The quality of the content you provide truly matters. Consumers can tell when a brand is being real. “Real success has always been about knowing ourselves and staying true to that core,” according to an article written by Forbes Contributor Meghan Biro. This kind of authenticity is captivating and magnetic. Brands who are not afraid to be real – in the good and the bad – will ultimately witness greater brand engagement and loyalty.

5) Keep it SIMPLE – Again, this is pretty simple advice. However, when you’re listening to your segments, reaching them through the digital avenues with which they are comfortable, providing authentic content, and challenging them to engage, there isn’t much left to be desired. Consumers want to feel valued by a brand. They want to engage and interact. Marketing campaigns, promotions, or engagement offerings shouldn’t be too complicated to accomplish this. Let your authenticity and desire for true connection lead your digital activity, and you’ll see benefit.

The following statement was made by Kathy Colvin, President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation, with regard to the at the 2013 Social Good Summit (happening now!). It speaks to the idea of community, and is a lesson brands can apply when considering their engagement with various “shoppers” in the digital marketplace.

having it all together.

There are always those few vendors at a Farmer’s Market that seem to have it all together – MORE than all together. The products are great, the people are helpful, and their business seems to be booming. They are an essential presence at the market, and it wouldn’t feel right without them there.

My classmates and I have similarly been discussing examples of brands in the “marketplace” that epitomize the successful integration of digital media. Amazon, Target, Joel Osteen Ministries, Samsung, Disney…all of these brands (and numerous others) have exemplified the trending belief that new and emerging media should be incorporated into marketing campaigns. These organizations hold a powerful presence online, through social sites, blogs, video/photo marketing channels, email marketing campaigns, and variations of each.

Let’s take a look at Southwest Airlines. This brand has received awards for such impeccable and substantial digital integration. With particular regard to Facebook and Twitter, Southwest holds its own, with over 1.5 million Twitter followers, and almost 4 million followers on Facebook. The brand operates a blog called Nuts About Southwest, and is thoroughly integrated across all channels. The following infographic compares Southwest to several domestic and international carriers, and claims that Southwest prevails when it comes to engagement:

Social-Airline-New

Ramon Van Meer, the marketing director at Let’s Fly Cheaper, an online travel agency, stated the “Use of social media marketing demonstrates innovation born out of the simple need to do more with less. The social atmosphere is today’s cutting-edge low-cost/no-cost marketing environment…It’s no surprise to find Southwest at the forefront of social media marketing. Southwest was founded on ingenuity and has always been a leader in passenger and public engagement. Social media fits the Southwest culture perfectly, where older airlines seem to be playing catch-up in this powerful modern marketing arena.”

The Twitter site is one “that is customer-service driven and reactive to people posting their comments regarding Southwest Experiences” and the blog is all about ” improving connections between the Southwest Airlines Team and its clients.” All in all, Southwest strives to enhance its goal of superb customer satisfaction through its integration of various digital media. Needless to say, this brand is one of those marketplace “vendors” that just has it all together.

Pohlman, B. (15 April, 2012). Southwest Airlines Blog and Social Media Use. Retrieved from: http://www.business2community.com/social-media/southwest-airlines-blog-and-social-media-use-0160248#M3wpcYohyG8QKZDd.99

Rice, C. (27 May, 2012). When it comes to Facebook and Twitter engagement, which airline is first class? Retrieved from: http://www.examiner.com/article/when-it-comes-to-facebook-and-twitter-engagement-which-airline-is-first-class