Marketers need to get savvy online

Marketers cannot afford to ignore sites like Bebo, Twitter and Facebook.

Marketers cannot afford to ignore sites like Bebo, Twitter and Facebook.

Forget all that new media training from two years ago – blogs are old hat. The speed at which online marketing is developing may confuse companies that are five years behind the curve but for those on the cutting edge it is all about Twitter, Facebook and Bebo.

From the birth of the blog so-called new media has refined itself rapidly and is continuing to do so by the day, with each stage in the process building upon the last. Blogs originally allowed people to see what their friends were doing assuming they posted regularly, then sites like Facebook gave selected friends access to a better picture of the person they were linked to. Finally sites like Twitter developed to give people a potentially minute-by-minute account of what their friends were thinking or doing.

Of course within all of these media, as with any that have been before, marketers have tried to find a way to turn these interactions into money. However when traditional forms of advertising were applied it failed; it is only now that the marketing potential of this new media is starting to take shape.

“We have spent a lot of time and brought in search engine optimisation experts to help us build content around the web that will tie in with the programmes we’re making,” says Paul Duane, who is co-owner of Screenworks Film which is developing two shows to RTÉ’s online Storyland series. “We have things like Bebo pages for characters set up and people will be able to talk to them or see them chat with other characters from the show.

“We’re kind of leaving little easter eggs and clues around the place for people to find.”

Mr. Duane originated the ITV/Showtime series Secret Diary of a Call Girl and has plenty of television credits under his belt – this is his first real venture into made-for-online programming

RTÉ’s Storyland, which starts on 13th March, will showcase the first seven-minute episode of nine separate programmes online. Viewers will vote for their favourite and the best six will air their second episode the following month with the process repeating itself every month until one is left to complete its run.

Each show has a budget of €8,000 per episode, which is minuscule in TV drama terms. However while online marketing may be seen as a way of saving money, it is not as simple as it seems.

“It was a lot of work to create content for the Bebo pages,” says Mr. Duane, who pointed out the difficulty they faced in creating additional content that was interesting but not vital to the show’s plot. “We would often give the actors handheld HD cameras and get them to ad lib something in an hour that would be put up on their Bebo pages.”

“We shoot each episode after the last has aired so we can also react to what the audience is saying and even reference something that happened online,” says Screenwork’s other co-owner Rob Cawley, who has a background in the creation of Australia’s first Aboriginal comedy sketch show. “We have an overall plan for the story but it’s designed to be flexible along the way.”

Naturally creating a world like this works when promoting a work of fiction but it makes less sense for a services or utilities company. That said Twitter and Facebook can still help them market themselves through conversations with customers.

Bord Gáis recently launched a Twitter account as part of the marketing for its electricity sales. According to a spokesperson the Twitter account was set up two weeks before the billboard teaser campaign began and has been used to drum up interest and interaction between customer and company.

“Since launch we’ve run a number of promotions through twitter including promotions pushing people on to our Youtube channel,” said the spokesperson. “Twitter has also become a back-channel answering queries related to the offer and the online elements of the marketing campaign, including the website and the online application process.”

Bord Gáis was also careful to avoid social interaction for the sake of it, as some companies have tried in recent months. Eoin O’Suilleabhain, the company’s “E-channel manager” avoided Facebook and Bebo because it had no benefit to the company’s aims.

There are plenty of brands out there, Irish and international, that have paid lip-service to Facebook and Twitter. They gain a lot of friends and fans but these people might visit the page just once, drawing into question the value behind the numbers.

HB ice-cream recently created a Facebook page which has shown far more thought, however. The page features retro content from Irish TV, 80s music and a section for uploading readers’ embarrassing Communion photographs. Links to it can already be seen getting shared across blogs and Twitter alike and if it is updated regularly it may see readers returning many times.

Its obvious intention is to create a sense of nostalgia that the company hopes would include memories of the ice-cream. Naturally the page has plenty of references to HB but what is key is that viewers are given real content to make the page worth visiting.

How successful it will be in doing this hard to tell but there is a growing belief that this kind of marketing has to become the standard as everything converges to the online space.

“In every job across the world people are expected to be able to do more and television is no different,” says Duane. “Television is still the place to be but it has to keep up with new media.”

An edited version of this article appeared in Business & Finance magazine on the 12th March 2009.

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