Why Social and Direct Marketing Are Symbiotic Partners

By Oct 12, 2010

Hermit crabs and sea anemone have a symbiotic relationship much like direct marketing and social media. Hermit crabs’ soft underbelly is protected by the poisonous sea anemone, which hitches a ride on the hermit crab to increase its feeding area. Some traditional direct marketers treat social media as if it were poisonous and don’t think about the potential ways they can complement each other. These marketers don’t see social as a way to protect their soft underbelly, but the fact is, social media and direct marketing are symbiotic partners that make it more likely that a social or direct campaign will succeed.

Direct marketing is powerful when it is data driven, but has a soft underbelly when it is not powered by rich data. Data can be gathered from purchase history, campaign interactions and customer-stated preferences, among many other sources. The best direct campaigns use all data sources to determine the ideal timing, content, offer, product and channel of an engagement with a client.

Other than purchase data, what better source of data is there right now than social media? Where else are you going to have access to a constantly updated source of your customer’s likes, dislikes, preferences, not to mention constants like birthday, marital status, and gender?

Brands haven’t yet used social media data to augment their traditional direct marketing campaigns. Social listening tools are interesting and useful, but don’t take this logical next step; they give you a big picture of your social media customers without making this data actionable on an individual level.

Integrating direct and social goes well beyond ‘Share This’ and ‘Follow Us On Twitter’ links. A brand must marry a customer’s Facebook profile with traditional marketing data. Facebook Apps or Facebook Connect installations can help make this database link.

After the data is synced, a brand needs the creative knowledge to know what to do—or not do—with it. One idea is to consider those who have commented on a Facebook post as a factor for lead scoring or as a measure of engagement that drive more relevant email, mobile, or direct mail communications.

Social media’s greatest strength as a connection platform is ironically one of its greatest weaknesses as a marketing tool—lack of personalization. For instance, when you post an offer on your Facebook wall, everyone can see it. Currently there is no way to only share an offer with a selected and dynamic audience of, say, your best customers or prospects.

A potential way around this is to use social media as an outbound campaign tool. Although direct messaging via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn today is often considered taboo, this is slowly changing. Just as email and mobile have slowly become established as an acceptable way to be contacted by a brand, it is only a matter of time until direct messaging via social media is also accepted.

Which brings us back to the hermit crab and the sea anemone. Together they thrive. Individually they are vulnerable. Traditional direct marketers would be wise to looks for areas where cross channel campaigns can both protect their areas of vulnerability and increase their feeding areas.

Gerard Murphy (Gerard.murphy@conversen.com) is director of strategic partnerships at cross channel campaign management software firm Conversen.