Seven Digital Rules to Live By

There’s a lot of noise out there.
And sometimes that makes it hard to focus on what really matters. Whether its Apple flexing litigious muscles and debuting a newish and bigish iPhones, or the vagaries of Facebook’s stock price, the digital space is unlike any other when it comes to the sheer volume of news, rumor and conjecture.

It was especially that way in 2013. Call it the Year of Transition — from what we think worked to what really did work, and how. As a result, blogs were full of epic collapses (LivingSocial) and big winners (mobile, local ad spend). Social media transitioned into a more stable and predictable channel on which to engage with owners and prospects. Mobile transcended its name and evolved into the realities of multi-screen marketing. Search underscored the danger of relying on one company to deliver the bulk of traffic to websites.

Really. Can someone out there please compete with Google? Like now?
As for next year, call it the Year of Integration — when “digital” stops being what those people do in the corner of the building and becomes a fully integrated part of business marketing and communications, driven by and accountable to clear business metrics. From selling to socializing, we now connect via digital technology, and our work lives should be the same. With that in mind, here are seven basic rules to remember as 2014 dawnss:

1. Commit Dollars to Content Marketing
According to the Content Marketing Institute, 55 percent of B-to-C shops are planning to increase their content marketing budgets in 2013. That’s amazing and funny at the same time: marketing investing in something that doesn’t sell, isn’t 30 seconds or less and doesn’t come off like a bad infomercial for slippers. Where’s that CTA again? Huh?

Make sure you’re one of the crazy ones that invests, because digital is all about the stuff people watch, read and share. And here’s the thing: Hire a writer or a small local company, and generate original content to go along with the valuable stuff you’re curating. Don’t get sold duplicate content by large agencies or companies that take a cookie-cutter approach on content. CONTENT IS NOT COOKIE.

2. Stink, Stank, Stunk: Make quality the foundation of your digital execution
People make mistakes all the time. The trick is to put in place a process for quality control that catches mistakes and optimizes communication — whether email, ad, social content, video or blog. Make sure there’s a human check in place. Be sure the messaging is on target. Hold your vendors accountable for the way they represent your brand. Yes, the speed of digital is fast and furious — but that will never excuse sloppy work. Take the extra step to make sure every piece of digital communication is on brand, error-free and aligns with advertising rules as much as possible.

3. Measure twice, cut once
Establishing clear objectives gives your team the opportunity to work forward in a sustained and methodical way. Using metrics to establish and track those objectives puts science to your systems and creates an environment of perpetual optimization. And that’s what digital marketing is all about: setting sights, establishing a routine and relentlessly optimizing. The only thing worse than doing nothing is trying to do too many things at once, so avoid getting distracted by the latest do-hickey. Figure out how it fits with your core objectives, then proceed. Better yet, assign someone (a junior person, perhaps?) to report on the latest digital trends in terms of how your organization can leverage them, then establish a protocol for including the next Big Idea into your strategic plan.

4. Will they talk to me, and what are they saying behind my back?
The two pillars of social media are engagement and reputation management. Measure your effectiveness by progress made on these two metrics: how often do you truly engage with fans, and how effective are you at solving problems and boosting ratings? According to J.D. Power and Associates, auto dealership sales and service rankings found that online reviews and ratings sites helped to determine which dealership a customer chose to do business with, and — subsequently — their participation with that dealership on social channels was a direct sign of satisfaction.

So right. Effective social media means effective engagement and reputation control — Duh? Here’s the gem: when it comes to engagement, forget likes, lose comments. Focus exclusively on social sharing.

5. Diversify your traffic sources
Repeat after me: Google is not your master. And if it seems like the Godzilla of the Internet is, make diversifying your traffic sources a top priority. Frankly, too much search means too much reliance on the whims of Matt Cutts and the Google Brain Trust — which can be hazardous to your business. Here’s an idea of what your traffic sources should look like, in order of volume:

Search
Direct
Feed
Social
PPC
*Other

To do that, audit your referring traffic and target areas of improvement. Yes, search (and Google) will and should always be the leader. But finding new avenues of traffic will insulate you from the risk of another Panda episode and may also generate more search traffic, as Google loves sites that get direct traffic. And oh yeah — don’t forget about poor old Bing!

6. Lunch and learn about digital 
Digital is more than a marketing communications tactic. It’s a shift in the way our culture communicates. So make learning about digital trends and innovation a part of your total organization’s mission. Chances are there’s a savvy digital rock star sitting at a desk somewhere in your building, and you don’t even know it. Bring in speakers and share findings that impact all people, whether about sales or just a new app that makes life a little easier. Most importantly, stop thinking about digital as “sales” or “marketing” and work to integrate digital solutions throughout your entire organization, from internal social media policies to metrics and assessment of performance.

Digital thinking makes for progressive and proactive employees.

7. Design for mobile, write for social
By designing for mobile you create priorities that are tightly aligned with your digital objectives, things like leads and phone calls. It forces your team to make tough decisions about what really needs to be on your site, and where. Remember the Cyber Monday Mantra: It’s a Multi-screen World for You and Me and apply these decisions across the board. Write for social media no matter where the content lives because it will take up residence on a social channel somewhere. And even if it doesn’t, the point of good writing is to create something that’s sharable – that makes people stop, think and react.
–Brian Chee
Sources: CMISEOMoz

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