Tag Archives: integrated marketing communications

Corporate Communication, Stakeholder Engagement and Corporate Social Responsibility

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Companies are increasingly dedicating their time and resources to promote their public relations initiatives. Corporate Communication Managers and executives have a wide array of media channels at their disposal. These may  be used to communicate their corporate social responsibility CSR credentials. As a matter of fact, businesses are continuously being scrutinised by media, customers, monitoring groups, consumer forums and blogs (Du et al., 2010).

Very often, businesses disclose their CSR activities through official documents, such as annual corporate responsibility or sustainability reports, media releases, dedicated sections of their corporate websites; as well as in social media pages or groups. CSR communication is produced, translated, and integrated according to the companies’ contexts and their specific reality constructions (Schultz and Wehmeier, 2010).

Companies could use broadcast advertising, including TV and radio commercials. Businesses could also utilise print media (e.g. newspapers, magazines) to disseminate their message to their target audience. Newspaper articles reflect corporate ideas of social responsibilities and assumptions about public expectations, and react herewith to what they perceive as the public’s expectations (Schultz and Wehmeier, 2010). Alternatively, they may use outdoor advertisements such as billboards and signage on brick-and-mortar premises. These traditional media are based on a hierarchical one‐to‐many communication; with a clear distinction between producer and consumer of information. Notwithstanding, there are other communication channels that are not entirely controlled by the company. For this reason, businesses are encouraged to become more proficient in the use of digital media in addition to traditional media to increase their impact of their corporate communication.

Evidently, the internet has reshaped communication at different levels. It has enabled the emergence of a new participatory public sphere that is based on a many‐to‐many communication where everybody can dialogically and publicly interact and collaborate in the creation of content and the definition of the agenda (Colleoni, 2013; Jenkins, 2006). In a relatively short period of time, the internet has become an essential tool for organisational communication (Capriotti & Moreno, 2007a; Stuart & Jones, 2004).

Moreover, in today’s digital era, the engagement between the public and the organisation is one of the main characteristics of the internet (Colleoni, 2013). Many corporate websites already possess a high degree of interactivity; including their ability to disseminate information and to generate relationships between the different publics and the organisation (Capriotti & Moreno, 2007). In the first approach, the level of interactivity is low, and the use of the Internet is unidirectional; as its essential objective is to diffuse information and to try to improve the corporate image of the business. However, in the second approach, the degree of interactivity is high, and the Internet is used to facilitate bidirectional communication and to nurture relationships by allowing dialogue and interaction between the organisation and its stakeholders.

Interactive communication is becoming one of the most important information channels for corporations as it is changing social dynamics (Fieseler & Fleck, 2013; O`Reilly, 2005; 2006). Web-based co‐operation and data exchanges have empowered the communication between businesses and their stakeholders (Buhalis & Law, 2008; O´Riley, 2006, Fieseler et al., 2010). It enables them to engage with online users and to take advantage of positive publicity arising from word-of-mouth marketing and digital platforms. Corporations can maintain legitimacy better as they engage with stakeholders via social media; and take on the gate keeping function of traditional media (Fieseler et al. 2010). At the same time, there are protest actors; who have become more powerful online as they disrupt the corporations’ legitimacy by using social media (Castelló, Morsing & Schultz, 2013; Bennett 2003).

Societies are currently undergoing a fundamental transformation toward globally networked societies (Castelló, Morsing, & Schultz, 2013). Unsurprisingly, the public relations and corporate communications of business have benefited of social networking software (Etter, Morsing, and Castello, 2011; Pressley (2006). Of course, these technological advances also have consequences for CSR communication; as companies can reach out to stakeholders in a more interactive way. In a similar vein, the use of social networks have offered the businesses new forms of interactivity and enable them to address the CSR information toward a variety of stakeholders (Isenmann, 2006). A powerful stakeholder group, the consumers serve as an informal yet highly credible CSR communication channel. In particular, the power of consumer word-of-mouth has been greatly magnified given the popularity and vast reach of interactive communication.

Companies such as Stonyfield Farm and Ben & Jerry’s have been benefiting from consumer ambassadors who raved, in the virtual world, about their social responsibility endeavours. For example, one consumer wrote enthusiastically about Ben & Jerry’s butter pecan ice cream and its support for an educational foundation, ‘besides the great flavour that the Ben & Jerry’s Butter Pecan Ice Cream offers you, a portion of the proceeds go to the Tom Joyner Foundation . . . [that] provides financial support to students attending historically black colleges and universities’ (Associated Content 2008). Companies can be proactive in using social media to engage consumers to be their CSR advocates.

Timberland, a company that is known for its environmental stewardship, launched the Earthkeeper campaign in 2008 to recruit one million people to become part of an online network designed to inspire real environmental behaviour change. As part of the Earthkeeper programme, Timberland launched an innovative global network of online social networking tools, including a strong Facebook presence, a YouTube Earthkeeper Brand Channel and a richly populated Earthkeeper blog, as well as an Earthkeeper product collection which serves as the pinnacle expression of the company’s environmental commitment (CSRWire 2008). Through this campaign, Timberland not only effectively communicating its sustainability initiative, but also engaging consumers to spread the word about this initiative and, importantly, the company’s involvement in this initiative.

Fieseler et al. (2010) suggested that communication through social media is dynamic in relation to traditional media. The global diffusion of social software like blogs, RSS feed, wikis, electronic forum, social networks have facilitated companies to attract prospects and consumer groups. Social media have the technological potential to speed up communication processes (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010) and to increase direct interaction, dialogue and participation across organisations and various audiences (Colleoni 2013; Schultz et al. 2011). Such interactive communications are referred to as “viral” because ideas and opinions spread like epidemic diseases through the network via word‐of‐mouth and are perceived as highly trustworthy sources (Colleoni et al., 2011; Schultz and Wehmeier, 2010).

Accordingly, social media has transformed the communicative dynamics within and between corporations and their environment.  Social media networks are effective monitoring tools as they could feature early warning signals of trending topics. These networks may help business communicators and marketers identify and follow the latest sustainability issues. Notwithstanding, CSR influencers are easily identified on particular subject matters or expertise. For example, businesses and customers alike have learned how to use the hashtag (#) to enhance the visibility of their shareable content16 (Some of the most popular hashtags comprise: #CSR #StrategicCSR, #sustainability, #susty, #CSRTalk, #Davos2016, #KyotoProtocol, #SharedValue et cetera). Hashtags could be used to raise awareness on charities, philanthropic institutions and green non-governmental organisations. They may also help during fund raising events. Hence, there are numerous opportunities for businesses to leverage themselves through social networks as they engage with influencers and media.

The ubiquity of Facebook and Google Plus over the past years has made them familiar channels for many individuals around the globe. These networks have become very popular communication outlets for brands, companies and activists alike. These social media empower their users to engage with business on a myriad of issues. They also enable individual professionals or groups to promote themselves and their CSR credentials in different markets and segments.

Moreover, LinkedIn is yet another effective tool, particularly for personal branding. However, this social network helps users identify and engage with influencers. Companies can use this site to create or join their favourite groups on LinkedIn (e.g. GRI, FSG, Shared Value Initiative among others). They may also use this channel for CSR communication as they promote key initiatives and share sustainability ideas. Therefore, LinkedIn connects individuals and groups as they engage in conversations with both academia and CSR practitioners.

In addition, Pinterest and Instagram enable their users to share images, ideas with their networks. These social media could also be relevant in the context of the sustainability agenda. Businesses could illustrate their CSR communication to stakeholders through visual and graphic content. Evidently, these innovative avenues provide sharable imagery, infographics or videos to groups who may be passionate on certain issues, including CSR.

Moreover, digital marketers are increasingly uploading short, fun videos which often turn viral on internet. YouTube, Vimeo and Vine seem to have positioned themselves as important social media channels for many consumers, particularly among millennials. These sites offer an excellent way to humanise or animate CSR communication through video content. These digital media also allow their users to share their video content across multiple networks. For instance, videos featuring university resources may comprise lectures, documentaries, case studies and the like.

This contribution suggests that corporate communications managers and executives are in a position to amplify the effectiveness of their company’s CSR communication efforts. They are expected to create relevant content and to engage with stakeholders through different marketing communications channels.

 

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Digital Marketing trends to look out for during 2015

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(This contribution also appeared on Business2Community.com)

As 2014 is winding down, it’s time for businesses to start planning their marketing strategy in a business scenario that is continuously changing at the speed of technology. Firms should adapt themselves to the online marketing environment. Many marketers are already chasing their daily meanderings in terms of “likes”, “shares”, “tweets”, click-through rates and ever more immediate metrics. All these interesting developments on internet allow businesses to differentiate themselves to get ahead of their rivals. Smart marketers regularly collect social data to offer more personalised, relevant and wanted content toward customers. Interestingly, 78% of marketers believe that data-driven marketing via digital channels is the path to new growth (American Marketing Association, 2014). In a sense, web 2.0 has helped businesses to share relevant information about their branded products, service features and propositions that may have generated leads and conversions. Nowadays, some of the best businesses are focusing their attention on inbound marketing techniques as they diligently segment their audiences and target them with online advertising through different social platforms:

  1. Social Media Marketing: It is in the businesses’ interest to get to know about the demographic profile of customers. In addition they should be aware of the latest contemporary trends and conversations that are happening on social networks. Businesses ought to present themselves in a way that feels native and endemic to customers. One of the main ways that companies are establishing authority and trust among their consumers is by consistently creating high quality content that may provide useful and interesting insights to audiences. Through integrated marketing communications involving social media channels, companies are steadily building a strong rapport with customers, which will inevitably help them to develop brand equity.
  2. Ad Re-Targeting: Today, businesses use content marketing tactics by producing valuable, engaging content that is designed for specific customers. Content on social media is becoming more conversational in nature. Consumers value those brands that show their human face. They consider them as trustworthy and authentic. Therefore, businesses communicate with their targeted audiences to build fruitful relationships with loyal followers. Several marketers are increasingly becoming quite proficient in re-targeting customers. Retargeting works by utilising browser cookies that track websites that are visited by internet users. Once the users leave these sites, the products or services they viewed will be shown to them again in advertisements, across different websites. Therefore, ad retargeting works to increase the overall conversion rate by reminding consumers of the product or service they had viewed. This keeps the brand and the product at the top of the consumers’ minds. Many studies have indicated that simple exposure to brand names and logos may ultimately lead to purchase decisions. Even if there’s no instantaneous purchase, an increased brand awareness can really pay off in the long run.
  3. Search Engine Optimisation: The goal of Google, Bing and other search engines is to provide their users with the most relevant and highest quality content. It goes without saying that, these days social signals may play a key role in organic search rankings. As more people share content through social media channels, it is very likely that the most popular content will be featured in search engine results. It’s no coincidence that the top-ranking search results tend to have lots of social shares, while those ranked lower have fewer. Moreover, social shares may often serve as a stamp of approval or can be considered as a trust signal for visitors. That’s why so many businesses are installing social share plugins and encouraging consumers to share their content, as much as possible.
  4. Mobile Marketing: We are living in an era that is characterised by mobile readiness, responsive designs as well as the revival of ‘going local,’ Businesses are encouraged to produce content that “scales down” on mobiles. Such content may include marketing emails, eNewsletters, websites, social posts and the like. According to (Forbes, 2013), “87% of connected devices sales by 2017 will be tablets and smartphones”. Whether businesses opt to create an alternative mobile version of a website or decide to utilise responsive web design, it’s important for them to provide a positive experience for those internet users that are browsing via mobile devices.
  5. Video Marketing: When it comes to potential reach, video is peerless. YouTube is currently receiving more than one billion unique visitors every month – that’s more than any other channel, apart from Facebook. For the record, “one out of three Britons view at least one online video a week – that’s a weekly audience of more than 20 million people in the UK alone” (Guardian, 2014). Of course, it’s vital for businesses to offer content that is easy to digest; if not, consumers will simply move on. Apps such as Twitter’s Vine (with its six-second maximum clip length) have dramatically increased the opportunity for businesses to upload social videos having authentic content.

In a nutshell, this contribution suggests that next year many businesses will increasingly resort to digital marketing tactics to reach their individual consumers. eMarketer (2014) anticipates that in the next 12 months,  the marketing budget that is allocated to social media will rise to 13.2% (from 9.4%). It is imperative that marketers learn how to  engage with online visitors through effective, relevant content. Notwithstanding, it may appear that electronic marketing has changed consumers’ mindsets and behavioural attitudes toward businesses. Perhaps, there’s an opportunity for businesses to leverage themselves through faster adaptations, shorter lead times and always-on, real-time marketing.

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A Content Strategy for Lead Generation

socialmedia2This contribution also appeared on BUSINESS2COMMUNITY

Businesses are increasingly creating a broad range of online content for many reasons. Quality content has the ability to educate, inform, generate leads and entice customers. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the notion of content marketing is gaining ground, particularly in the C-Suite.

Lately, savvy marketers are focusing their attention on content and inbound marketing as they strive to enhance their visibility. The right content on corporate websites, blogs and social media can build the brands’ image and reputation. Carefully designed landing pages often use persuasive content which can ultimately bring good prospects through the buying funnel. Therefore, marketers are encouraged to try different formats of content as they engage with customers. Digital marketers should feature content which should be a good fit for their target customers as well as for their corporate objectives. Their marketing content may be displayed on: web pages; online articles and guest posts; blog posts social media posts, eBooks, presentations; customer review content, product FAQs; videos and micro-videos; pictures, infographics, and animated GIFs among others media.

On-Site Content
The underlying questions is: How can marketers be capable of repositioning their business for search engine optimisation (SEO)? Nowadays, marketers are becoming more measurable in their marketing tactics as they experiment with website design and content variations to determine which layouts, copy text, offers and images may improve their conversion rate. Fresh, quality content on websites and blogs with back-links onto homepages are the basis for successful content marketing strategies. That’s why decent content and flagship pieces should be constantly updated on corporate websites. Content marketing has the potential to raise the businesses’ profile.

Guest Blogging
Another common practice that seems that has picked up in the last two to three years is guest blogging. Many marketers are contributing in blogs and other online media on subjects which are usually related to their niche. These contributions often contain a back link to their site. Interestingly, this trend has become a very effective way to accomplish marketing goals. However, guest blogging is easily abused where there is poor quality content on low-end sites.
Branding and reputation management are some of the other good reasons why site-owners and entrepreneurs should use guest blogging sites. Guest blogging has a wider reach. It promotes content to new audiences. The most appealing content can drive traffic to websites. Content may generate leads and followers as there is more engagement with customers. Therefore, guest blogging may be considered a good tool to build brand equity. Businesses ought to choose relevant sites to associate themselves with.

Promoting the Content
Content is of limited value if no one knows about it. Although content can be found through organic search queries, marketers can add fuel to their content through strategic promotion and integrated marketing communications. Again, this will inevitably bring many benefits including lead generation and better conversation rates. In addition, social contagion and product virality can also affect diffusion across online media and networks. This way, businesses can reduce their dependence on search engine optimisation for their content marketing.

In a nutshell, this contribution suggests that there are different approaches for content strategy. Businesses can enhance their online presence in a number of ways:

Social Media Marketing: Content can be promoted through social channels and viral marketing. Businesses need to simplify social contagion by including follow and share buttons. These plugins can possibly encourage the readers to share the content they liked.
Engage in Trending Conversations: Businesses can connect their content to wider conversations through the use of hashtags in order to promote their content on certain social media including FacebookTwitter and Instagram among others.
e-Newsletters: Subscribers to blogs or corporate websites may have different expectations. From time to time, businesses may send out round-ups of quality content (their very own as well as other bloggers’ curated content).
Targeted Outreach to Influencers: Marketers have to keep themselves up-to-date with the latest developments in their field of expertise. It is in their interest to actively engage with key influencers on social networks.
Direct Engagement with Consumers: Online content should be relevant to audiences. The most attractive content is mostly shared through personal emails and across social media networks. This online activity has the ability to generate leads and it can truly enhance conversion rates for more customers.

 

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