With Twitter now positioned as a News App – and not a Social platform – how should brands react?

3m to read / 

Twitter has switched its position from social network to 'News' on the App Store. While most of us can understand the new position – micro-blogging platform Twitter will no longer fight for pole position with the likes of Facebook on the Apple App Store.  Twitter is well known for real time news feeds and events and unlike Facebook, it is preferred less when it comes to keeping in touch with friends. The move makes sense.

It is a change that makes a lot of sense and fits with both how Twitter has positioned itself as well as how it is being used,” the technology website Endgadget reported. Does this new categorization mean a lot to the end-user? No. But it does tell us about where Twitter is headed – and in some ways where social networks are headed. Twitter hasn't been doing well, financials and growth has been dismal. This move it will likely help it get more visibility and therefore downloads, it hopes.

What Twitter's new position means for content

Twitter might be able to shift the focus onto its role in news gathering and breaking. Endgadget says "Watching news and events unfold in real time is arguably the platform's best feature – it's less about keeping in touch with friends and more about following people who share things you find interesting and relevant, whether you know them or not. Twitter Moments was probably the biggest new feature the service launched in the last year, and it again shows its focus squarely on curating the best commentary surrounding current events." The move also puts Twitter’s app in front of a different sort of audience – those who are looking for easier ways to keep up with news on their mobile device, rather than those who want to use another social network. Brand strategy for engagement on twitter hasn't changed much, and the fundamentals still apply.

What Twitter's new position means for brands

If there's going to be a shift in Twitter's target audience to news hunters and trend seekers, brands naturally need to adapt quickly. Brand tweets need to be a lot more in the here and now – with their content focused on being newsworthy and on trend.  Product launches, new features announcements, and special events will be better received – but simple brand tweets that are re-purposed from Facebook posts are not going to resonate. Brands must remember to tailor their twitter content in the right context – to cater to the state-of-mind that the audience would be on the newly, re-positioned platform. Here are three simple ways to improve twitter content for brands.

Curation will be key

Brand content on twitter needs to be immediately shareable. Brands can (and will) continue to use twitter for customer service because it provides a sense of immediacy. But 'breaking news' will now probably take prime position. Curating and sharing other people's content that's wrapped around current and trending content – related to the brand and product in some way, ideally, will be really useful as a brand tweet strategy. Quality of content needs to be top notch, naturally, and consistency and frequency will now become crucial. The only way to be able to curate and build relevancy on twitter will be to listen to what's happening around you.

No matter what position Twitter takes on the App Store, brands need to remember the power of dialogue and interaction. Twitter has never been about selling, it has always been about building a following and interacting, and nothing will really change that. To really deliver meaningful content, one needs to keep track of audience intent. That's the basics of any brand strategy. That's digital marketing strategies 101.

Intent is the new black in digital marketing. In-the-moment marketing is what's hot.

5m to read / 

Demographic targeting is giving way quickly to intent driven targeting and 'in-the-moment' marketing. Google tells us that marketers who rely on demographics to reach consumers may risk missing more than 70% of mobile shoppers. With the huge increase in mobile consumption, we're now discovering the power of consumer intent as it happens, moment by moment.

Micro moments

Google has defined four key moments when we are online. When a need arises, consumers quickly turn to Search on, say a Google and a YouTube to find a resolution to that need. These needs arise when a consumer wants to know something, wants to go somewhere (on a holiday, to a restaurant, to a business location), wants to do something and wants to buy something. Simply put, these are the four basic need states that digital marketing needs to answer.

Intent is more important today than identity

Marketing used to be, and pretty much still is, about targeting an audience depending on who they are, where they are, what they do generally. It's about their 'identity'. But bigger than that today, and bigger than what their demographic group habits are is the intent in the moment. It is about immediacy. And, most of this new wave of targeting is based on the fact that consumers today quickly turn to their smartphones for immediate resolutions to their needs. Google underlines their stand "Understanding consumer intent and meeting their needs in the moment are the keys to winning more hearts, minds, and dollars." The key to discovering intent is listening, and particularly when it comes to providing the right content that will resonate with your target, social media listening is critical.

Why just demographic targeting is so last year

Age, gender, occupation, geography, group behavior are all important, but if that's all you use to target an audience today, your marketing is so last year. Your demographically targeted consumer may seem like just someone who would convert to purchase, what you don't know at all from that is their actual 'need-state' at the time that your content or your online or mobile ad hits their eyeballs. It does not give you the opportunity to connect with exactly those people who are looking for that something at that exact moment in time.

Re-think your strategy

Do you have the right content strategy – and is it geared for answering to the needs of your audience at the right time and in the right context? Google shares the success of Home Dept as a brand in the US that totally gets 'need-state' based content as a resolution that pushes their products far more than anything else.

"Home Depot is a real-life example of a brand that understands the power of intent. Years ago it figured out "do-it-yourselfers" were turning to their phones—especially YouTube—to learn everything from "how to tile a bathroom floor" to "how to build an outdoor fire pit."

So to be more useful in these I-want-to-do moments, Home Depot built a content marketing strategy centered around "how-to" videos on YouTube. Today the collection has hundreds of videos, with the top 10 videos each reaching a million views or more. The full Home Depot "how-to" collection has received more than 48 million views." says Lisa Gevelber, Google's VP of Marketing. In this new era of marketing, your strategy should be set for the new era. Get it right, and avoid making these crucial mistakes.

Your new age mantras: Be There. Be Useful. Add Value.

When your target audience turns to search and is looking for a solution to their need, you need to first be there. Whether in the form of searches, app interactions, mobile site visits, or even YouTube video views, these need based micro-moments happen constantly. Just being there with the right search results, the right content, the right message is key.

What you really must focus on is to be useful for your audience at that moment – that's providing value in the immediate, in the now. An amazing statistic emerges from Google "Our research shows 51% of smartphone users have purchased from a company/brand other than the one they intended to because the information provided was useful."  You need to really think seriously about unique, tangible ways your brand can help solve a problem or make life easier in real-time during a micro-moment.  And, you can only do that if you start with the right consumer insights. Providing value, providing resolution to a need in the moment is key. You may find that women seek different answers – and that insight could be a starting point, but what do they want at that moment is more important.

Get your mobile marketing right: Intent is mostly mobile

Start with getting your mobile marketing strategy right (see how here). With the proliferation of smartphones, our world is in a whole new age where mobile is absolutely key. Ensure that your mobile experience for your audience is seamless and geared towards in the moment decision making that will lead them to the action you desire.

I'm not sure if this is going to a whole new subset of digital marketing, or even marketing as a whole – this in-the-moment intent marketing. 'Intent marketing' if I dare to call it that has always been around. You've seen it in stores with the 'impulse buy' aisles. But today, it's just become imperative because consumers have 24/7 access to content and information. It's an easy bet to win when we accept that today's consumers are different, they want solutions right away, and that loyalty to brand is second fiddle to solutions at the right time by anyone. 

Customer Insights is your First Step in Digital Marketing

4m to read / 

Marketing today is not about your brand or product – it's about the customer. Digital marketing is built around the customer, the audience you want to talk to, and getting proper insights about your customer, the consumer, their needs is what should be your first and fundamental step.

Unlike advertising as we know it, today's digital marketing is way beyond the sell-sell. It's about engaging the consumer, and moving them down the funnel from awareness to action with meaningful, relevant interactions. The first thing you need is a Customer Insight Strategy. Listening is key.

Start with Why

When you start on your Customer Insight journey, start with why. Why would you want that insight? What's the end-game, what's the clear and specific goal? Just wanting to know more about your customer or your target audience is not a real goal. What you need, in the end is value from the data you gather, and that needs to be actionable. Setting a specific goal is key here, otherwise your insight is not actionable in the true sense.

If you just launched a new product or service, a specific goal may be to learn about the initial customer response, as well as likes and dislikes. What product feature did they take to most? Is it the same highlight feature that you expected and built your marketing strategy on? If you are looking to launch a 'new and improved' version of your box of detergent, what are you improving? What were customer expectations? Did the current detergent not deliver? What worked for the customer? What didn't?

Not just about why, but focus on Who

You cannot talk to every one all the time. Insights are far more valuable when they give you specifics on a certain target audience. Otherwise, it's information, not insight. Fence in the customer, or consumer, that you want to know about. Your insight strategy could be targeted by location, behavior, social platforms, their visits to your website, reactions to your advertising etc. Who are your customers who visit your home page and jump straight out? Once you know your goal, knowing who you want to find out more about is important. Once you know this target, figure out how you are reaching that segment.

Who are you engaging (or not) and where? Your website, social media channels, your paid media reach and results, your email campaigns, your sms, online forums and reviews are all points of engagement that you could check as to where that specific audience is. Is your audience tuning out on your social content because you're posting way too much? Get this right, know about what works with that segment and the platform they're on.

Set clear metrics

Having pre-defined metrics of measurement is crucial. If you brand is heavily social reliant, define what you will measure. Engagement? Shares, comments, likes? Retweets? Reach? Click throughs on paid social? Do you have high mobile ad click through rates – but nothing seems to be converting? Have you looked at your ads and have insight on how and why people are clicking? Is it accidental clicking? Measure that. If you sent out an email campaign to launch your new product, this would probably measure your opens, clicks, and top clicked content. There's plenty of data that's out there – information that you can use to form insights.

Analysis turns information into insights

There's no point in having all that data, unless you are able to apply proper analytics. What do those numbers mean? What does that negative sentiment actually talk about? If a particular piece of content was most clicked and shared or commented on, what does that tell you about your customer or your target audience? Look at your numbers on social media – have you chosen the right social media channels?

Good analytics demands whether or not you can correlate a pattern in interactions with marketing materials and consumer behavior. If you are a retailer with click-and-mortar stores, are your customers buying that new phone mostly at your city stores. May be that particular phone has features that customers want to test for themselves...

Audience and Customer Profiling via Testing

You cannot really have deep insights on your audience or your customers without testing the elements of your marketing efforts. Would the audience that you are gathering insights on respond better to email or to social? In your online and mobile advertising, do A/B testing with headlines, images and Call to Actions to see which one generates better responses. This is a crucial insight. What would happen if you target your chosen segment with organic content rather than promoted? Is your content marketing strategy working based on blog posts or is video content on YouTube generating more leads?  Get your content marketing strategy right based on what insights you keep gathering.

Insight is all about questions

Keep asking questions. Ask your customers, ask your front-desk people, your sales staff, your marketing team for insights. Ask your agency for the latest demographic behavior patterns that relate to your targets. Listening here is key, as always. Listen to what's being said about how your customers and audiences are adopting the latest platforms, how they are behaving around the latest trends. Are your banners on line that have video working better than the static ones? Let your audiences (rather than your marketing teams) tell you.The answers you find should really be answers to what you started out with – which is Why. Ask. Ask. Ask. And you shall receive.

That's the basics of digital marketing strategies 101. Insights is your golden key. Open that door to your audiences with that.

What do women want from brands online today

3m to read / 

Women are increasingly engaged with brands online via mobile – what they want from brands is a better hand held experience, they want visual driven content, and most women have actively posted about a brand on social media.

In a recent survey conducted by Adweek and Influenster, we learn that brands need to move towards a mobile skew if they want to make meaningful connections with women. In the MENA region, in particular, women today, are equipped with the latest smartphones, and they are increasingly engaging with brands via mobile.

Types of Brands women engage with

The type of brands and products skew for women-to-brand interaction is pretty much what you'd expect. Without stereotyping, women follow certain types of brands closely, and that's common across the world. Beauty brands score a high 90%, and clothing a close 83%. Personal care is at 61%, online companies like Amazon are at 56%. Restaurants, Food & Beverage brands, Retailers and Jewelry follow.  Fitness wear, travel, swimwear, pets and furniture are on the top list. But it's not all Barbie doll stuff. Electronics and tech come in at 34%, gaming scores well at 19%. So does sporting goods and automotive.

How do women engage with brands?

The major take here is that around 95% actively engage with brands. 45% interact a few times a week! Around 65% have actually made an original post about a brand on social media. A brand's website is still the top ranking platform of interaction, while 40% engage on social media platforms.

Women, brands and social media

Instagram, today, is the most popular social platform for brand engagement amongst women at 81%, followed closely by Facebook at 79%. Pinterest at 59% is no surprise at all. YouTube comes in at 51%. What is clear from these metrics is that the gravitational pull of visuals is what women feel drawn to. Women prefer photos – particularly across their favorite social platforms. Compelling content – specially video and visual based seems key.

Why do women follow a brand on social media? 74% of the surveyed women said they follow a brand for news about promotions and discounts, 72% follow a grand for a early peek at new products and services, and 70% for updates on current products and services. It's the news they are after from brands.

In the Middle East, Instagram scores high with women – the demograhics show Instagram has a high 46% following. One women interviewed about why she followed brand related posts across social media responded by saying she found the visual content by brands far more inspiring than what her friends shared. What's important for brands is to listen to what women are saying on social media. And then provide solutions to what they're looking for as a brand experience. What we are learning quickly is that women are often far more open to form a on going relationship with brands (remember: 95% actively engage with brands), and brands should recognize this and not try to sell, sell, sell.

Women in the region also were inspired by influencers in social media – particularly for beauty, clothing, fashion and personal care brands. "Influencers take time to create their posts – they have an image to protect – so they produce a higher grade of visual content" said a media planner who works closely with influencers across social. People such as Dubai-based Huda Kattan, the queen of beauty, with her 11.2 million Instagram followers are leading sources of inspiration for women in the region.

Whether it reflects how women are more visually impressed by brands in the region, or globally, what's key is that their go-to source for that is their mobile device. What's important for brands is to get their mobile strategy right.

In summary, we learn from Adweek that "Digital consumption, especially of visual content, is happening at such a rapid pace on handheld devices marketers should push mobile optimization to the top of their checklists and not allow it to come as an afterthought," said Influenster president and co-founder Elizabeth Scherle. She added that even though videos and GIFs are in fashion, women still prefer social posts that involve photos. Infographic courtesy of Adweek.

2016 Digital Marketing Trends and Buzzwords

5m to read / 

Almost five months into 2016, we are seeing some consistent trends and buzzwords that are the main topics of conversation in digital marketing circles. Digital marketing – or mainstream marketing is an ever changing scenario. We are clear on one thing – consumers are the key drivers of change – and user behavior, user preferences is what drives trends in the field of marketing. Brands have to adapt, and be early adopters to stay ahead of the game. With constant changes in hardware, software, platforms, mediums and technologies, it's important for marketers to keep up and be aware of what's hot, what's not.

Video everywhere

With the battle for video supremacy hotting up between Google and Facebook, we know for sure that 2016 will be the Year of the Video format. YouTube (Google) have introduced 360-degree live streaming video. Earlier this month, Facebook, at their annual F8 conference also stressed on video – live video. And toped it with 360-degree camera support and VR as well.

Video will certainly come out the leading format in all things to do with social content and advertising. In online and mobile advertising, particularly, we are definitely going to see the domination of video. Google is getting on board with in-SERP video advertising. 

Mobile will lead over the desktop

Mobile has been big over the last couple of years, but now, in 2016, we know from Google that mobile traffic has actually overtaken desktop traffic. Google also stresses that today, a mobile only online presence (your website) is fine, as opposed to a desktop site that's optimized for mobile. Most social platforms are betting huge on mobile and there are signs that desktop is slowly fading away in comparison. The new platforms in social are clearly mobile focused. Brands better prepare their advertising and content strategy for mobile.

VR is emerging quickly

Not just as an entertainment application, but for marketing, VR is coming to the forefront. Facebook is certainly betting on it. With VR devices like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR and Playstation VR, it seems that in 2016, we will see Virtual Reality go mainstream. Brands are already jumping on board with highly immersive branded content for VR.

Apps becoming key for marketing with app-indexing

Apps have massive visibility – they are with us on our smartphones 24/7, and this, combined with the ability of apps to be more personal, intuitive and convenient will push this ahead. With app-indexing, and Google pushing hard on this, search rankings are becoming complex, and brands are realizing the potentials of dedicated apps for their marketing efforts.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is probably the hottest trend in social media marketing, and brands are trying hard to get this right. Influencer marketing focuses on specific key individuals rather than the target market as a whole – who then, in turn influence their following with the right messages about the brands. Influencer marketing is still pretty new, and growing, and with trends showing that consumers trust 'user content' a lot more than brand content, this is no surprise as a big trend already.


Listening is clearly the main topic in focus this year. Social media listening, also known as social monitoring is not only an everyday task these days, it's a 24/7 job. The process of identifying and analyzing what is being said about your brand, your product, your service (or you, for that matter) on the internet is crucial for any social media effort. There are hundreds of tools out there for this – some simple, free, and some complicated and detailed. Either way, you need to monitor what's being said out there, and this is no longer a trend, it is an absolute must have. Here's how brands get listening right...

Content and Context

While content marketing has been hot the last couple of years, context is becoming a huge buzzword in 2016. Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the leading lights in digital marketing says "content is king, but context is God". So, we are seeing "Contextual Marketing" emerge this year. Contextual Marketing is an online marketing model in which people are served with targeted advertising based on terms they search for or their recent browsing behavior. Brands create content specifically for each individual target client. Content delivered in context depends on deep analytics and a respect for the platforms that the content is purposed for. 

Real Time in Data

While 'Big Data' as a buzzword lost its shine, 'now data' or Real Time Data is certainly big for 2016.  Having access to real-time, in-the-now data helps brands make effective marketing decisions quickly. Social Media managers and media planners are tracking real-time conversations around their brands and technology is enabling this to become an important weapon in the marketing arsenal. While most data is clustered into three kinds of data (read here), real time data is what really matters most to the maketing folks who are on top of their game.

Programmatic – beyond media and into creative

Simply put, programmatic is automated media buying. Today, however, media agencies, armed with the power of insights derived from data, are now delving into 'automated creative' as well – which allows for highly optimized and individualized creative messages to be delivered in the right context at the right time. It's the battle for eyeballs taken to the next level.

Newsrooming and newsjacking

Brands today are utilizing the power of the here and now, discovering trends as they happen and riding on that wave almost immediately. Brands have set up 'newsrooming' teams that leverage on a in-the-moment news story that's relevant to their brand or viral content to put forward its own content or message.

And, the winner is... Snapping!

Brands are jumping on the Snapchat bandwagon and trying to get this platform (aimed at the younger audiences, primarily) to work for them. In social media marketing, this is by far the biggest trend already for 2016. Brands are discovering the importance of being 'cool' when and where it matters, and are building audiences on this hot, trending platform. Creating 'snapchat stories' is fast becoming a great way for brands to engage their younger audiences. Here's how brands can build their experiences and audiences.

2016 is young yet. These are just some of the basic trends that are grabbing headlines. I'm sure there's more happening out there, and yet more to come. But so far, that's just the basics. That's Digital Marketing Strategies 101.

Data made simple: What is first, second and third party data?

4m to read / 

Every one in marketing knows the importance of data today. What's important to know and understand the three types of data available to us – first party, second party, and third party data – and how do we benefit from it?

First party data

First party data is data a company collects directly from its customers and audiences. This is the most relevant kind of data – it’s the information you collect and collate directly from your customers and your audiences, It is the most and accurate and insightful data – and the most relevant to your business and your marketing efforts.

First party data gives you a more accurate picture of your audience and your customers than if you bought some data from another resource or culled it from parallel sources that was somewhat ‘representative’ of your audience but taken from people who largely aren’t your customers at all. Also, your first party data is yours – it is unique to you, to your products and services, It is a direct feedback to you. You own it 100%! In several surveys, around 80% of marketers said that first party data is the one type they used the most, and it was the kind that provided the most valuable insights.
What's most important is that your brand looks out for this – and makes listening key to the marketing process.

Where do you get first party data?

From your owned media, of course. The most frequently cited source for collecting first-party data was a brand’s website (70% for those with strong data ROI), while 63% collect it at the point of sale and 61% via email or SMS.

Second party data

Second party data is really an extension in some ways of first party data. It is another brand's first party data that is shared with you directly. Usually this kind of data is sold or shared depending on common interests. It enables brands to exchange data with each other in situations where it would benefit both parties. A car rental agency may benefit from an airline's data. A restaurant in the neighborhood of a large hotel may have reason to get data from the hotel.

One can actually get a lot of insights from second party data, if the information is mined properly and relevant bits are extracted in a timely and organized manner. Often second party data is converted into insights and then shared – this is value-added second party data.

Where do you get second party data from?

Brands whose data sets might compliment yours and vice versa, as mentioned above, agree to exchange, buy or sell data – that's second party data. There's usually a pre-determined and well-defined agreement, and marketers set goals and KPI's to understand if that second party data is really benefitting their efforts. Second party data is not very easy to gather – because it is fairly limited in supply.

Third party data

Third party data is data that is collected from audiences and customers by a company that is not directly involved with the audiences and customers. These are what we call 'bought' lists. Third party data is usually available pre-collected from sources, and is less reliable, and less time and context sensitive.

Because third party data is  ‘off the shelf’, it is certainly not unique, which of course diminishes their value and means competitors could easily access the same insight. Third party data has been around forever – remember mailing lists you would buy for email marketing? Or sms marketing lists of a bunch of numbers?

Where do you get third party data?

Third party data can be purchased either from a data company specialising in data collection or any other business that has valuable data sets, and is willing to sell or share it. Usually, these data sets are costly to acquire and because they can be sold to anyone, the ROI on this is really low.

Three kinds of analytics

There are three kind of analytics to work with when you have data. They are descriptive analytics, predictive analytics and prescriptive analytics.

Descriptive analytics is the simplest class of analytics, one that allows you to condense big data into smaller, more useful nuggets of information. The purpose of descriptive analytics is to summarize what happened. Around 80% of business analytics – most notably social analytics are descriptive.
Number of posts, mentions, fans, followers, page views,  are all just simple descriptive sets.

Predictive analytics uses kinds of statistical modeling and data mining methods to study recent and historical data, allowing marketers to make predictions. Sentiment analysis, for instance, is a common type of predictive analytics:

Prescriptive analytics is an extension predictive analytics.It is developed when we need to prescribe an action, so the business decision-maker can take this information and act accordingly.

Data is crucial in marketing today. Data is crucial for social media engagement, for determining targeting, spends, advertising messages, for product development – for every aspect in marketing. Data today is driving advertising, and media agencies in particular are using this for programmatic media as well as advertising. Just as long we know how to use it properly, and have the right people in place to be able to convert data into information and information into insight. That's the basics. That's Digital Marketing Strategies 101.

5 Simple Ways to get your Mobile Marketing Done Right

5m to read / 

If around 80 percent of social media time is now on mobile, and the numbers of video consumption on mobile is up 100 percent (50%+ of YouTube views are on mobile according to Google ), it's time your brand got mobile marketing right. Today, your best marketing efforts (and the best results you may get) should be from mobile.

Mobile penetration in this region is high, and so is smart phone adaption. Mobile is everywhere – and we need to be aware is mobile today is not just about the handset. Tablets, wearable devices, connected cars, are all mobile. Brands today are creating apps, doing ad campaigns, focusing on mobile search and jumping on to the mobile-first bandwagon without a blink. Are they getting it right?

1. Think customer-first before you think mobile-first. 

What does the customer want from their mobile experience? And, how are you adding to that – providing value – rather than interrupting that? What service would you like to receive? What information? What would make your life easier as a mobile-first user? With multiple screens now playing a part of our daily lives, how is your brand making that experience far more rewarding?

Remember, mobile marketing is most successful when your brand provides a resolution for your customer or your audience. Mobile is way, way beyond the one way, and it's really about creating experiences. What kind of experience does your audience want from you? Get data and insights to build on that. The shift is towards utility and value-adding rather than just a monologue. And a dialogue – a social conversation is customer-first.

2. Optimize the mobile experience

If you understand the fact that experience is key on mobile, how have you optimized that experience for your audience? Is your website mobile friendly – is it responsive and scalable across devices and platforms? Have you done a mobile centric UX (User Experience) audit of your owned media? Test your site using Google's Mobile Friendly Test. This is your first step. All social media platforms today are mobile-first and totally optimized for a rich mobile experience, so every thing you do on social-on-mobile should take advantage of that.

Optimizing for mobile should be across every thing you do. If you send an email offer for instance, use an eye-grabbing subject headline and keep it brief with smaller images. Also be sure that users clicking on that offer are taken to a place featuring thumb-friendly navigation optimized for the mobile experience. Every effort of yours on mobile should be on trend, sophisticated, delivered in context and compelling enough to make it a rich and rewarding experience.

3. Engage your audience. Participation in mobile is key.

Get your content right – that's key to get your audience to enjoy the experience, participate and share. That's how you get both user generated social voice and content for your brand. Fresh on-going content is important, but make sure your content is delivered not as an interruption but as a value-add.
mobile is a dialogue, and can be converted into a multi-way conversation if you get your participation focus right. Create mobile content that is enjoyable and sharable  specially on social on mobile.. Listen first to what your audience is saying, and use those insights to create experiences. And there are ways to build a better following.

If you feel strongly about developing a mobile app, and are confident that it truly add value to your audience, go ahead. When someone downloads your app, there's an expectation factor there – it means that they’re interested in what you have to offer. Make sure you deliver on that. The more great content you put out, the more satisfied your users will be. Mobile is not about selling. Move from selling to building relationships. It has to be relevant and not necessarily just about your brand. Deliver cool.

One way to improve the come-back factor for your app (user loyalty) is by keeping audiences up to date on new products and deals. Being aware of deals before everyone else is good. Offer users deals (relevant to your audience, of course) that are only available through mobile purchases to incentivize app users to check in regularly! That's mobile-first, and mobile-only done right!

4. Time your mobile efforts

If your goal is to engage, to provide specific 'resolutions' to the needs of your audience – timing is critical. If your brand is in fashion and beauty, don't send out messages for a night-out make up on a weekday morning. Or a restaurant dinner experience reminder just around breakfast time. Timing is also key in context. You can't really engage someone in mobile on a food related site when their interest is in weekend surfing at the beach. Whether you use text messaging (sms advertising, and that's not dead just yet), mobile ads, or Search, be in the right time slot, in the right context. Getting timing wrong is sure-shot interruption º and that's not engaging – that's pure annoying!

5. Mobile has to be personal and local. 

Mobile as a marketing platform has to be personal, providing users with messaging and content that is meaningful, appropriate, relevant and contextual. The information about your brand, your product, your service has to be relevant in the local context. Which means you may need to hyper-target locally. A high percentage of local mobile searches result in purchase (Search Engine Land says, it's almost 90%). Particularly for Search and mobile advertising, location is something you really need to focus on. Leading experts say that location is the most important factor today in mobile marketing.

Research from Microsoft says "People often search for local information (e.g., a restaurant, store, gas station, or attraction) from their mobile device. Local searches tend to be highly contextual, influenced by geographic features, temporal aspects, and the searcher’s social context. Respondents looked for information about places close to their current location only 40% of the time. Instead, they were often in transit (68% of our searchers) and wanted information related to their destination (27% of searchers), en route to their destination (12%), or near their destination (12%)." So whether they are at home, at work, are traveling – you need to be there on mobile in that context. 

The mobile marketing environment is growing exponentially. Brands need to find new ways of reaching their customers and communicating in the most personalised way possible. Engaging them on that device that's with them 24/7. 

Mobile marketing is far far away from one-to-many marketing as we know it. It's always on, it's hyper-sensitive to context and timing, and only relevant when it's truly personal. That's digital marketing strategy 101. That's the basics.

How to get a job in"digital" at an agency

8m to read / 

Apparently, here in Dubai, almost mid-way through 2016 it's a tough job market in advertising and media. What's surprising though is that there are so many positions open across leading agencies – big and small – and a lot of them are in "digital". How do you get hired for these "digital" jobs? How do you move up the ladder?

What do you want to do in 'digital' at an agency?

The first step is to have an idea of what you want to do in the 'digital' world at an agency? There are plenty of jobs across the whole digital spectrum and they may be in advertising, media, social media or PR. They may be in the creative area, in strategy, in media planning and buying for the digital age, in content creation and distribution, or in digital design and development. There are specializations and jobs in social media, in influencer marketing, in usability, performance marketing, in data and research, in Search (SEO, particularly), online marketing, mobile marketing (both mobile advertising and.or apps etc).

There are now job titles and job openings every day. Some are new and unique and are reflective of the ever changing world of digital marketing. We used to have creative directors who a bit of digital. We used to have digital specialists like coders and app creators. Today we have 'creative technologists'! In social media, we had community managers and strategists. Today we look for 'social insight managers' and in media we hunt down data miners and information engineers.

What kind of an agency do you really want to work for?

Today there are several kinds of agencies that offer digital services – and are looking for digital people. They may be 'pure-play' digital agencies (only do digital such as online and mobile design and development and production) or 'hybrids' (do both offline and online). Pure-play agencies are often drilled down depending on their specializations – web design, web development and coding, SEO/SEM, mobile, UX, and social media.

I must mention here that while mainstream or brand agencies are heavily into social media these days, and offer services across all of social, there are specialized social media agencies as well. Two big agency models are 'mainstream advertising agencies and media agencies (here's what a media agency does). And, today, the lines are blurring, and media agencies, because of their huge bank of data and insights are also doing creative. That, is a whole new window of opportunity. Check out UM, one of the leading global media agencies, and how, here in Dubai, they're a 'creative media agency'

Of course, you'll hear a lot about "going back to the old days model" – which is really about how some agencies are fully integrated or 360°– and offer across the spectrum. Take a look at some of the jobs listed by MCN (Middle East Communications Network) – one of the largest advertising, media, PR and specialized communications agencies groups in the region. You'll get a drift of some of the jobs that are on offer in digital at their different agencies.

Start with research

Research the job you have in mind. Research everything you can about the agency where you're thinking of applying. What do they do? Who are their clients? What are their real specializations? What's required of the role? Where do they have offices? Are they a local agency or regional? Or part of a global network. All of this insight will help you not only get a foot in, but once in, that will give you an idea of how much 'ladder' there is, and how to climb that. What's most important is to try and figure out about their 'digital' capabilities – and their digital clients. What kind of work do they do in digital?

Your research should give you enough information to create a great first impression at an interview. Or even before that, it gives you all the word power you need to make your application cover letter effective and as well 'cutomize' your resuumé. What's the culture of the agency? What's the usual dress code? Which accounts did they win, or lose? You'll have to dig far deeper than just the company website to get proper insights – so work hard on social media.

The key is identifying your specialization in digital. Some jobs in agencies require specialized skills. RBBI in Dubai is a niche agency that offers unique services in UX, usability and CRO – and needs certified skills at top levels.

You'll need a broadbase understanding of digital first, and then a deeper knowledge of the specialization you are interested in. You won't be coding programs or building full websites as a digital agency person, but you will need to work with developers and designers or other web specialists to communicate your marketing design needs. A basic knowledge of how the web works, HTML, and one or two programming languages, such as PHP, JavaScript, CSS and Ruby, will help you understand the current boundaries and opportunities that will affect your marketing campaigns. And of course, today, the basics of social media and Search.

Link with your contacts

Linked-in is a great place to start. Not only do agencies have career pages on LinkedIn, but you'll get a whole lot of insight on the agency, the people there from LinkedIn. Check to see if your contact bases across social media are somehow connected to the agency you want to apply to, and leverage that. Call people you know who may be able to offer you a tip on the job, the agency, the people you may be interviewed by.  And, it's not just LinkedIn, look across all other social platforms. Both Facebook and Twitter are amazing sources of information.

Get your CV and your portfolio perfect

When you want to move to an agency, your CV and portfolio needs to be top notch. In the old days, the creative folks would have a 'bag' (a large flat black case with their creative work filed in clear acetate covers). These days, for digital, you'll need all your work on your laptop, or uploaded on to a website. In fact, the website is much better to show off your work, because the link always stays with the agency team, they can look at it, share it, and decide later. You don't necessarily need to have your own domain and owned website (that is a plus, though), because there are so many free online portfolio sharing options.

About your CV: customize it for each job, each agency. Make it look like you want that particular position at that particular agency. Keep your CV short, and to the point. But do be specific and ensure that it addresses what that digital position might require from both experience and expertise perspectives.

Spellcheck. Double spell check. Grammar check. Remember, if you're emailing, get your subject line to work for you. Brands and agencies know the importance of the email subject line. So should you.

Know your digital

Research your topic. Digital is constantly changing, evolving, and you need to be absolutely up to date with the latest trends, industry news, technology, consumer behavior and more. There's so much information available, that going in uninformed these days is stupid, really. If you are applying for a job in social media and you don't know anything about Snapchat. Stop. Learn. Stay tuned with digital focused portals like Mashable, Wired, digitaltrends, MediaPost, The Verge, etc.

Your interview, your cover letter, what you say across the table are all reflections of how much you really know about digital in general, and about the specialization you want to be in. It's key that you don't come across as shallow and that your information is out of date. Be on trend.

Ask questions, follow up, persist. Digitally.

Ask questions that are relevant at the interview. Ask digital centric questions, that, somehow reflect both your interest in the field, in the niche you want to be in, in the agency and the position. Not about how much sick leave you'll get. Follow up your interview with a thank-you email, again be specific, make it personal, and relevant to why you should be hired. If there's an interesting development in digital, mention it.  If you haven't heard back, persist, but don't be annoying. Showing up at the agency reception is not a good idea – sending a quick email with a relevant bit of add-on value (digital info, perhaps) is better.

Play the part. Be 'digital' 24/7

Not just at the interview, not just for your job hunt, you need to play the digital part 24/7. Be aware of what's going on. Attend conferences. Show up at tech fairs. Subscribe to digital newsletters and updates. You don't need to be a geek, but you need to have digital at the heart of everything you do.

Agencies today often search on LinkedIn and other social media for digital candidates. Be findable. Be visible. Be digitally eloquent across your social presence. Make sure you are passionate, without faking it. Speak the language.

I once interviewed a guy for a digital creative role who showed up with an old analog Nokia phone and took great pains to tell me about how he found gadgets to be 'disempowering' and so 'wannabe'. Well, you want to move to a digital job, land a position that is future-proof? You better 'wannabe' digital and show it.

I just want to say, from what I know because of where I work and what I do, that today, there are more digital job openings than proper qualified candidates.

Update: List of Digital Roles at Agencies

If you want to add to this, or feel I've missed something that's basic, please add your bit in comments. 

YouTube unleashes 360 degree Live streaming – takes on Facebook

YouTube have announced 360 degree live streaming video in a battle for video supremacy, taking Facebook head on. It has been a battle for live video lately, and for a couple of days after Facebook's F8 conference, it looked like YouTube was lagging. No pun intended. But yesterday, Google's YouTube unleashed a new feature that lets creators and brands live stream their 360-degree clips.

360° Live streaming on YouTube is catching up to Facebook?

It's not a giant leap for YouTube. It's a quick catch up. YouTube had already launched support for 360-degree videos a year ago. Brands like Nike, GoPro, Gatorade, and Lionsgate have experimented with it. Lionsgateused the YouTube feature for a  360-degree video for its 2015 film "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2".

This move, was a retort, a comeback against Facebook, who bragged about a 360° camera support and a live content hub at their annual event last week.

What we can expect from YouTube's 360° Live streaming?

YouTube announced "...these days, virtual reality and 360-degree video can help get you one step closer to actually being at those places and in those moments. Today, we’re taking immersive video even further with 360-degree live streaming on YouTube."

For one of its first big tests with 360-degree live streaming, YouTube will stream a handful of performances during Coachella from April 22 to April 24 with T-Mobile is sponsoring the stream. Google has been live streaming the music festival since 2011.

YouTube says "We first launched support for 360-degree videos back in March 2015. From musicians to athletes to brands, creators have done some incredible things with this technology. Now, they’ll be able to do even more to bring fans directly into their world, with 360-degree live streaming. And after years of live streaming Coachella for fans around the world who can’t attend the festival, this year we’re bringing you the festival like never before by live streaming select artist performances in 360 degrees this weekend."

What's in YouTube 360-degree live streaming for us all?

The YouTube blogpost adds "What excites me most about 360-degree storytelling is that it lets us open up the world's experiences to everyone. Students can now experience news events in the classroom as they unfold. Travelers can experience faraway sites and explorers can deep-sea dive, all without the physical constraints of the real world. And today's kids dreaming of going to a basketball game or a concert can access those experiences firsthand, even if they're far away from the court. What were once limited experiences are now available to anyone, anywhere, at any time." This is really a good bit of storytelling from Google right there. We just hope that brands and marketers – and content creators are up for the challenge. And are they ready for it yet?

YouTube also added 'spatial audio' for the 360 degree feature

"Starting today, we’re also launching spatial audio for on-demand YouTube videos. Just as watching a concert in 360 degrees can give you an unmatched immersive experience, spatial audio allows you to listen along as you do in real life, where depth, distance and intensity all play a role. Try out this playlist on your Android device."

Platform based live streaming may be the future

It seems like platform based live streaming may be the imminent future for live streamed content. And now with 360 degree formats, it may as well become our go to sources for inspired content – well, so we hope. Buzzfeed's Facebook Live content on the exploding watermelon has 10,559, 409 views already!

We'll just wait and see which brands jump on this new opportunity and gain traction. Content has to be thought through to make sure it works in context with the feature. You don't live stream, say, someone applying mascara in beautiful 360 degrees. But you would probably live stream a daring video of a landing on Mars. That's marketing basics. That's Digital Marketing Strategies 101.

Social Media Frequency 2016: How often should you post.

Social Media Frequency: How much is too much and too little?

There is no definitive guide to social media post frequency. It depends – on what your audience is, your goals, and the results you get. This means that the only way to truly master it is to experiment, analyze your results and adjust accordingly. Yes, of course you can end up posting too much or too little to start with. But you'll learn quick. Each social platform has best practices for how often to posts, but there isn’t a specific number.

You'll see brands tweeting four times a day and see a lot of success, while you'll see users that tweet four times per hour, and swear by it. In order to figure out what works best for your business, you will need to experiment. Social media listening is key. Your audience will often tell you how much is too much or too little by way of their reactions. Measure and repeat what works. The trick is in finding a balance – between engaging and informative vs annoying and over bearing. Here are some best practices... (and a great infographic from buffer.)

Twitter – 3 times per day

Or more. Engagement drops off a bit after the third tweet of the day, but there are others who may suggest way more than that. But look at the Social Bakers chart below, and you'll notice that three is seemingly the magic number. Yet, other stats show that the more you tweet, your response numbers go up as well. All the way up to almost 50 tweets per day! Work with between three to five. Measure, and tailor to how you perform. Improve your performance on Twitter.

Facebook – 2 times per day. Max.

Most experts agree on this one. After twice a day, you'll see likes and comments and shares beginning to taper off. Top brands on Facebook post once per day. With constant algorithm changes some brands and agencies are now hedging and posting almost four times a day with organic posts. If you do have fresh, engagement ready content, you can post 3-4 times a day and get away with it. 

Google+  – 3 times per day. 

Google+ is an interesting platform. More is more here. The more often you post, the more activity you’ll get. Brands often see a positive correlation between frequency and engagement. Posting frequency drops result in engagement drops. But here again, there are different opinions. So, measure and repeat.

LinkedIn – 1 per day

The leading thought on this is 20 posts per month (which is about 1 post per weekday). This usually gives you about a 60% audience reach. This is what LinkedIn says anyway, so it is pretty much definitive.

Pinterest – 5 times per day

Successful brands on Pinterest usually get better engagement when they post multiple times a day. That's where they see maximum growth. 5 times a day is a pretty good place for brands to be.

Instagram – 2 times per day

Top brands average around 1.5 times a day of posting on Instagram, but you can do two ore more. The more appealing your visual, the more likely your success rate, so it depends on content, really. Note here, that unlike other platforms, an increase in the number of posts per day does not result in a drop off in engagement ratios. Have an interesting visual to post. Go ahead.

Snapchat – 1-5 times per day

Brands using the "stories" feature are usually posting around one story a day, because I guess they're still figuring out the fickle attention deprived audiences on Snapchat. The key is in building an audience. Here is how to build a successful Snapchat audience. Remember the 'life' of a 'story' is 24 hours. So frequency is key, or you just disappear from the top of mind framework. There are many ways to do this, including 'threading' multiple snaps to form stories, so there, frequency caps are unimportant.

Blog – 4-5 times per week

Brands that post on their blog page from 3-5 times a month see just half the amount of interest and lead generation than those that post 6 - 8 times. But it also depends on depends on your company size, industry, and sales strategy. And of course, the actual content and if it adds value and provides information, rather than just sell. On blogs, consistency matters. According to a HubSpot study, 75% of their blog views — and 90% of blog leads — came from older posts. This shows that relevant and sticky content can actually gain value over time. The rule of thumb on blogs? Your best option is to post around 15 times per month, or roughly four times a week.

YouTube – 1 time per week

Your goal with YouTube as a brand is to develop a subscriber base. A following. The main reason someone hits the subscribe button is because they admire the content uploaded by a brand and would want more. YouTube subscribers usually do not like channels that are not regular. Consistency is the key here to develop a long-lasting relationship with your existing subscribers and developing new ones. Compelling video content is your key.

Release your videos in a timely, recurring and structured fashion. Try to publish a video in a week or at least once or twice in a month. Stick to your schedule and do not upload videos as and when you feel like doing it, it will hurt your reputation. Whatever you do, make sure that your schedule is prominent and upload videos accordingly.

In conclusion, the above are just numbers we see from past brand experience. You'll have to learn from your own set of metrics after observing your performance over a couple of months. Don't change your frequency overnight, it takes a while for proper data to emerge on how your brand is faring. 

Every social network is different. Every brand is different. Every frequency pattern, should naturally be slightly different. That's not rocketsurgery.

5 crucial digital marketing mistakes you should avoid

Even though marketing today has evolved and we have learned how to engage with consumers and customers in this connected age, a lot of brands continue to make some terrible mistakes in spite of all the lessons out there.  I want to auto-correct the header of this post, first, by saying that these are basic marketing mistakes, and not just digital. Because, as I have said before, 'digital marketing' itself is a bit passé, because, today all marketing is inherently has digital embedded in it. But, we continue to treat marketing in silos, and that's where the problem begins.

1. Calling it digital, treating it as an "add-on"

A lot of brands continue to separate "digital" marketing from "traditional" or "mainstream".  That's the big unforced error right there, and that's when it all starts to go wrong. For some marketers, online, social, mobile etc are clubbed together under a separate umbrella called 'digital' and that's a box that needs ticking, so it is like an after thought. It is nowadays a must have, but it's treated like a nice-to-have that's briefed separately, with separate budgets, and different goals. 

The trick is in briefing every one involved in one go, and starting from a channel neutral perspective. Your 'digital' agency, your media agency, your 'mainstream' agency should all be briefed in together. By the way, a lot of agencies are already integrated in this respect, and we can see why. It makes sense because they are in a unique position to engage the consumer end-to-end.

2. Launching on new 'digital' channels and leaving

First of all, you do not need to be on every imaginable channel. Specially, on social media, you do not need to be everywhere. Choosing the right social media channels for your brand is key. Even, outside social – brands often launch microsites, create websites (that they might not even need), and then abandon them. Agencies don't usually have a problem doing this for brands – more sites, more pages means more revenue, but it often makes no sense at all for the brand. 

It is much better to launch across a limited number of viable channels, keep them updated, and be more adept at leading audiences to well-tended social media accounts. If you created an asset for a time-bound campaign, or are about to abandon one because you have moved on to a better one, you need to ensure that the presence on that channel is removed professionally, with attention to all content, and so that someone mislead on to that site or page doesn't get a blank wall to stare at. That's a 404!

3. Not ready for mobile.

If your presence is not ready for mobile (or tablet), your brand is not moving. Period. And, no, this doesn't mean having separate mobile .m sites, but having adaptable, responsive websites and blogs. There's absolutely no reason why your page still has to be scrolled across, pinched to expand and read through etc. Your website, your e-commerce gateway, all need to be properly responsive and optimized for the mobile experience. Mobile users are an impatient lot, with 80% of users saying they’ll abandon a site if it takes more than 20 seconds to load. You really need to understand and use the power of mobile for this new 'lean forward' generation.

Mobile apps may just be another tool many brands want to use, and the benefits are quite big. Aside from the convenience an app provides to mobile users, there are also push notifications. These messages can be used to maintain brand awareness while also prompting consumers to act upon offers.

4. Gathering and then ignoring data. Or little or no data and insights at all.

In today's data-rich, connected marketing world, this is another huge mistake. We have so much data available to us, so much insight possible from that data, that it would really be stupid to ignore that as a key must-do, or to not use the full possibilities of that stream of marketing. Some brands have huge social media presence, but they are totally content with just basic insights like they get free from Facebook. They are simply unwilling, or unable, to dig deeper to get better data, better insights out of their interactions and to listen effectively to what's being said out there.

Gathering the right data is key. Some brands do gather a lot of data, but do nothing meaningful with the information and insights they gather. Others – and, sadly, quite a few brands tend to just talk about themselves a lot, without bothering to learn at all. It's not about just getting heaps and heaps of it. It is about having the right people with the skills and ability to understand data and to gain fro it to improve your brand performance both in marketing, but beyond it – in sales, in product development, in strategy.

5. Talking to everybody, all the time.

Marketing has never been about talking to all the people all the time. Doesn't work. It used to work a little bit in the old days, but the move has happened today from selling to building relationships, and you cannot engage every one all the time. Starting with clear brand and campaign goals, gathering the right insights about both your target audience and how/where/why they engage – you need to clearly define who you want to talk to. 

Once you know who you want to talk to, you need to define when and where (your engagement points, your post times, your key announcements) and of course, then where.  These definitions do have demographic and geographic targeting elements, but the key today, is behavior. Audiences behave differently on different channels. Every digital communication channel is getting busier and consumer attention is divided and scarce. It takes effort and investment to cut through the noise to get your voice noticed. Don't spread it thin. Focus. Less is more.

Personalize, be honest, be transparent. listen, respond, have conversations. Integrate everything you do on line with what you do offline. Be consistent across all your channels – from facebook to your business card and your signage. Your tweet cannot be frivolous while your brand's body language is all very stiff upper lip. And make sure that your brand teams, your marketing teams, your agencies avoid the mistakes mentioned above. They're very basic, but making them costs you a lot. And they are totally avoidable. It's easy. And it's not rocketsurgery.

The key announcements from Facebook's F8: what's coming.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, is all excited about live video. And Messenger. And how Facebook plans to move far beyond its role as a social media network. Facebook's 10-year forward plan is to “Give everyone the power to share anything with anyone.” The aim is to launch new virtual reality projects, provide Internet access around the globe using drones and create artificial-intelligence "bots" that can answer to one's every digital request. Wow!

Live Video.

Live Video is Mark Zuckerberg's obsession these days. Seeing more and more celebrities as well as brands take on quickly to Facebook Live, there seems to be no stopping now. Time magazine says "(Zuckerberg sees) a chance to capture the kind of spontaneous, off-the-cuff video that has grown popular on Snapchat. To that end, the company is opening up its Live broadcasting feature so that people can live stream from all sorts of devices, not just smartphones. During his speech, Zuckerberg demonstrated the move by having a drone take off and shoot live footage of the F8 audience."

Facebook will also roll out a video rights manager – pitted against "freebooting" – the practice of stealing a YouTube video and posting it on Facebook without permission. Facebook's new rights management system will let creators upload reference videos so that duplicates are automatically flagged and removed much faster.

Bots and Messenger.

Facebook announced tools to help developers build bots that hold automated conversations with people within the popular chat app Messenger. The early version bots handle basic functions, from delivering news to offering a weather forecast to acting as a shopping assistant. Facebook's plan is to improve on this development by offering advanced coding tools known as the Bot Engine – which will help handle more complex tasks.

360-degree Camera system from Facebook

Facebook is planning to roll out a design and software code for a 360-degree camera system. This will help generate content for the Facebook-owned Oculus VR virtual reality firm. Special stitching software allows multiple cameras to generate stereoscopic 360-degree panoramas. Interestingly, Facebook is hoping the open-source nature of the project will encourage others to build their own rigs. This could also bolster the Live Video more. Imagine what this does for events!

VR on Social

Facebook is betting that virtual reality will enable intimate social interactions over long physical distances. Facebook actually demoed this plan, where executives equipped with Oculus headsets explored various 360° photos of London and manipulated virtual objects in that environment – including yes, a selfie stick!

This year, Facebook's F8 conference was really all about the next ten years. And it wasn't just blueprints and plans. It was almost reality. During his speech, Zuckerberg demonstrated the move by having a drone take off and shoot live footage of the F8 audience! Zuckerberg showed off “bots” that will serve as robotic "customer service reps" for news, weather and retail companies, and showed how he wants to use virtual reality to put grandparents inside baby videos. He also took a dig at Donald Trump.

The Guardian summarized the conference, saying "Zuckerberg’s ambitions illustrate how technology companies are no longer content with getting people to visit their website or download their app; their future depends on being omnipresent in people’s lives.". He also took a dig at Donald Trump. So true. And that's not rocketsurgery.

See post on Live Video: Is your brand ready for it?

The importance of listening in social media, and how to get it right

Social media listening, also known as social monitoring is not only an everyday task these days, it's a 24/7 job. The process of identifying and analyzing what is being said about your brand, your product, your service (or you, for that matter) on the internet is crucial for any social media effort. There are hundreds of tools out there for this – some simple, free, and some complicated and detailed. Either way, you need to monitor what's being said out there. So, why is it important? And how do you get it right?

Why listening is important

With the right listening strategy you can achieve a lot to help your social media efforts. Right way, you'll get to know where and when your target audience (your community) is – which platforms they prefer so you can then have conversations with them. You can identify influencers and advocates. You cannot ignore the part social listening plays in improving customer care. It's a great source for feedback. You can target and attract new customers. It helps you generate leads. Overall, listening is the most important component in your social media strategy. It helps and build every other thing you do on social.

Decide what you are listening for

What is your listening strategy based on? This is the first step, and it's important to have a framework that guides you when you monitor what's out there. Are you monitoring consumer behavior? Sentiment about your brands and products – negative or positive – or the absence of it? Are you listening to generate leads and drive sales? Are you monitoring trends and news? All of this will help you decide how you will turn social voices into consumer insights for your brand. These insights drive your content.

Create a list of keywords and terms and develop queries based on those. Be as accurate as possible. This isn't a shotgun approach, its sniper. The more-accurate your social listening is, the better you will be at finding sentiments, comments, actions, trends and opportunities to engage with fans.

Define how you are going to use what you listen to

Once you know what's being said out there, you'll need a clear plan on how you'll be using the insights that you get out of what's being said out there. Being said about you, your brand, product, service, customer care, your competition, the industry you're in.

Insights help you create content, and it helps you define your content forward plan. You can go to your client (if you're an agency), your management, your stakeholders and defend your content, the platforms you socialize on, if it's based on listening. Listening gives you data, and data is insight. It helps you ride trending topics, and build future content. It's being aware, and that's what should help you define what you'll say. I have said this earlier – God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

And remember, social listening is not only applicable to social media that your brand is on, but to all of online – where information about your brand, product, competition or industry may appear. These includes any website, blogs, forums, other social networks and search engines.

Listen all the time

You cannot turn off your ears. That makes you deaf. And dumb. Use tools to listen round the clock. Automate if necessary. Actually, automation is a great idea. There are several tools that not only help you automate listening, but improve your whole social effort. You cannot go in once a week and dig through your Facebook insights. It's a 24/7 job. Social media fans love when you are listening to and responding, building conversations around what's hot and happening. This also helps you expand your base – folks in social who don't fan or follow you but discover you based on the immediacy and context of your content. Real time helps, real good.

Listen better

Pay attention. Find out who is talking about you, in what capacity, and where. And why. Do they have a beef? A compliment? How important is it for your business? Look at most brand's listening strategy – and you'll notice that they often are listening almost entirely for mentions of their brand name. That’s listening with noise cancelling headphones on. In their social conversations, customers do not necessarily mention your brand or product in precise and perfectly phrased ways. Make sure your listening caters to those whims. It just asks for better listening.

Better listening better requires people who know how to listen

You may have the right listening strategies and tools in place, but do have people who know the art of listening. There's a difference between listening and hearing. Listening requires focus, understanding, and interpretation. You need the right people, the right teams who are able to convert the "chatter" into useful data and insights. Your efforts will only be as good as the people running them. So make sure you have structured your social team with people who know how to listen, what to listen for, and what to do with what they discover.

Respond to what you listen to

Your response strategy is really an extension of your listening strategy. To make your social listening work, you have to be able to and be willing to respond very quickly in response to what's being said. This may mean giving the social media team authority to respond in real-time, or developing a social newsroom specially-equipped to produce content rapidly for social sharing. You should have a clear tiered response strategy – perhaps with bands like 'critical-immediate', 'urgent-within 4 hours', 'critical-but needs input from team', 'customer care-urgent' 'ok to respond next day' etc.

By the way here are some free listening tools:

Listen. Analyse. Respond. Build on what you hear. And generate interesting engagement driven content around that. That's how you can improve your social media engagement, and get better ROI on your efforts. And, it's not rocketsurgery.