Social Media Interaction, the University Brand and Recruitment Performance

This paper was in response to a call for research to explore brand identity, meaning, image, and reputation (BIMIR) in higher education in the Journal of Business Research. The paper was written in collaboration with Stuart Roper and Fiona Lettice. The study set out to determine whether use of social media platforms would raise the value of universities’ brands by increasing demand for places. If social media use were found to improve brand performance, the study would then determine which aspects of social media would be of the greatest value.

Rutter, R., Roper, S. and Lettice, F., 2016. Social media interaction, the university brand and recruitment performance. Journal of Business Research69(8), pp.3096-3104. Download PDF

Figure 1: Example of a Tweet aimed at prospective students by the University of East Anglia (UEA)

Introduction – While many effective methods exist for enhancing brand image, use of social media is increasingly becoming the most common across all sectors, as it allows almost universal access.  Although considered controversial in some quarters, Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) have begun communicating in the tone of the marketplace in order to attract students, their de facto customer base, amid inbuilt inequities in both material assets and reputation. Universities with a well-established history of excellence, such as those in the Russell Group, have a significant advantage over newer HEIs or those which are smaller or have restricted access to funding, but the relatively low cost-to-engagement ratio of social media enables all HEIs to embrace it. The research question being: can institutions with lower reputational capital compete for students by increasing their brand presence?

The hypotheses – four possibilities were considered:

  1. The level of HEI initiated social media activity on Twitter and Facebook positively and significantly relates to student recruitment performance –  the first hypothesis would be shown to be correct if a clear connection could be demonstrated between those institutions which initiated a greater amount of social media activity and those which experienced an increase in student recruitment.
  2. ‘The level of HEI social media validation on Twitter and Facebook positively and significantly relates to student recruitment performance – for the second hypothesis, the connection would need to be made between success in recruitment and numbers of followers on Twitter or likes for HEIs’ Facebook pages and posts.
  3. The type of tweets, direct user interaction and website links will significantly moderate the relationship between social media followers and student recruitment performance – placing intrinsic value on type rather than amount of engagements, could be shown to be correct through analysis of whether potential students were finding answers to questions, using links supplied via social media and demonstrating satisfaction with their interactions.
  4. The level of social media use, direct user interactions, website links on Twitter and Facebook Talking About will be significantly different between Russell Group and non-Russell Group HEIs – a difference would have to be shown between the numbers of tweets and/or Facebook Talking About (FTA) relating to those HEIs in the Russell Group when compared to the non-Russell Group, as well as numbers of weblinks and levels of user engagement.

Methodology – Data in the form of Facebook likes, FTA and Twitter followers was manually collected and the Twitter archive of each of the 56 HEIs in the study was harvested using web scraping software. The number and type of each kind of interaction was analysed and the data distribution plotted to show any relevant trends; the information was then examined using structural equation modelling, confirming the consistency of the trends. In order to determine how these results impacted on the hypotheses, the researchers garnered information from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) showing the number of applications to each HEI per available place. Plotting the recruitment figures from UCAS against the analysis of the HEIs’ social media performance allowed any relationship between the two factors to be observed at distinct points in time and conclusions to be drawn. Figure 2 highlights the scraping process and platforms used in this research.

method

Figure 2: showing the scraping process and platforms used in the research

Findings – The study shows that high numbers of Twitter followers, Facebook likes and FTA are strong indicators of recruitment performance, with Twitter followers being the most relevant factor. While a greater number of tweets does not predict greater success in recruitment, the type and quality of Twitter interaction is important; as prospective students often engage with HEIs on social media to find answers to specific questions, a swift response is more likely to create a relationship between the HEI and the individual, thereby encouraging recruitment. The amount and type of weblinks posted on social media has no discernible effect on recruitment performance. Hypothesis 4 was only partially correct, as Russell Group universities were neither making a significantly different number of tweets to non-Russell Group universities nor experiencing a higher amount of FTA. Russell Group HEIs were, however, involved in a higher average number of interactions and posted more weblinks, almost exclusively to their own sites, unlike non-Russell Group universities. Figure 3 below summarises how social media can be used to achieve the highest level of UCAS demand.

social-media-funnel-process

Figure 3: the social media student recruitment funnel

Conclusion – By engaging with those prospective students who have endorsed the HEI via Facebook likes or by following it on Twitter and making those engagements fast and accurate, social media can become one of the most effective tools at a university’s disposal. Regardless of status, those HEIs that create a strong social media presence can improve their brand image and increase student recruitment.

Political Brands: Can Parties Be Distinguished by their Online Brand Personality?

This paper was in response to a call for greater exploratory research into brand personality in politics and a collaboration with Fiona Lettice and Chris Hanretty. The paper uses Aaker’s model of brand personality along with multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) to plot the relative personalities of five UK political parties.

Rutter, R.N., C. Hanretty, and F. Lettice, Political Brands: Can Parties Be Distinguished by Their Online Brand Personality? Journal of Political Marketing, 2015: p. 1-20.

Download PDF

 Introduction – The UK political structure has expanded from what was once a two-horse race into a complex multi-party system. This is evidenced by the election of a coalition government in 2010 and the seven-party representation in recent pre-election debates. There have been, however, some suggestions that the electorate have little choice due to the homogeneous nature of a number of the parties. This raises the question of whether there is sufficient differentiation between parties and their policies, leading to increased attention paid towards the ‘brand images’ of the main five parties: Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, the Green Party and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

faces

Online presence – Parties represent themselves through a variety of media, including television and radio, advertising hoardings, newspapers and personal appearances, such as hustings; all of these contribute to the overall impression that is formed. However, when people are looking for a summary of a party’s position on a particular issue, they are likely to turn to the internet, reading both online articles and the contents of the parties’ websites. It is from the five main party websites that this research was able to glean a large amount of analysable data, which could be used to analyse the brand personality each appeared to present.

Spatial politics: Brand characteristics – Although branding usually refers to a commercial product, the same principles have been applied to the presentation of political parties. The research utilised Aaker’s model of brand personality and five dimensions were analysed: competence, excitement, ruggedness, sincerity and sophistication. Using a system of categorising words and phrases that relate to these dimensions, known as Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, it was then possible to perform a statistical analysis of the frequency of key words and, consequently, determine the dominant characteristics of each party. The findings showed that: competence and sincerity were considered primary dimensions, and sophistication, ruggedness and excitement took a secondary role.

map

The brand ‘personalities’ of the parties – Using the method described, a clear picture emerged of the characteristics demonstrated through the online presentations of each party, as well as how strongly each characteristic was represented.

  • The Conservative Party demonstrated competence very strongly, through use of such words as ‘responsible’ and ‘guarantee’, particularly in relation to economics. The frequency of words such as ‘rigorous’ and ‘tough’, on the one hand and ‘charismatic’ and ‘distinguished’ on the other, show a balance between ruggedness and sophistication.
  • Labour showed a bias towards ruggedness and competence, although the latter was less clearly defined than the Conservative position. Their perceived level of ruggedness reflects a position more strongly espoused by the party after losing ground in the areas of sincerity and sophistication due to the electorate’s adverse reaction to decisions made by the Blair government.
  • Having strongly communicated excitement and sophistication during their 2010 election campaign, the Liberal Democrats have been reduced to demonstrating weak residues of competence and sophistication. They are now unable to convince the public of their sincerity after failing to keep some prominent pre-election promises.
  • Relative newcomers, UKIP, have the strongest brand differentiation of the five main parties, positioned in a unique space in comparison to the other four. They communicate a moderate air of excitement and, through their use of words including ‘realistic’ and ‘heartfelt’, a much stronger sense of sincerity.
  • Of the five parties that operate throughout the United Kingdom, only the Green Party is failing to distinguish itself sufficiently from the others. Its data set shares space with both the Conservative and Labour parties, although it is generally considered to be more closely related to Labour. Unsurprisingly, since its chief area of concern is the environment, the Green Party most strongly communicates ruggedness, but fails to do the same for sincerity or sophistication.

In summary, the study showed that the online brand personalities of four of the five main parties are clearly differentiated, with just the Green Party failing to achieve a unique position. With the results of the 2015 general election now a matter of record, it is entirely possible that those responsible for projecting the images of the parties will turn more heavily towards commercial branding practices.

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Bitcoin, Brands and Brand Positioning

Bitcoin started out as a fringe movement among crypto-anarchists in the open-source community, but has rapidly gained acceptance as a legitimate alternative to fiat money as it pertains to digital transactions. Accordingly, the volume and value of mined Bitcoin has seen exponential growth since this crypto-currency was first launched in 2009. As per available data, nearly 13.28 million Bitcoins have been mined so far [1]. Meanwhile, the value of a single Bitcoin has increased from £4.25 in July 2012 to a high of £753 in November 2013 – an increase of roughly 17600% [2].

Bitcoin was originally developed as a fast, safe and cost-effective currency for digital transactions. Consequently, its earlier adopters were tech-forward users in the open-source community. Despite its growing clout in the mainstream, Bitcoin’s most aggressive proponents remain largely entrenched in this community.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn that brand Bitcoin, as it exists today, has come to be associated with words like “underground”, “alternative”, and even “anarchic”. This lends it considerable weight as a branding tool for certain businesses. For others, the negative connotations of Bitcoin, along with its proliferation through underground marketplaces, can be largely detrimental to the business’ brand image. Adopting and accepting Bitcoin through online channels, therefore, is something a brand must consider carefully before making a decision.

Bitcoin as the “maverick”

virgin-bitcoin

There are some obvious business arguments in favour of using Bitcoin, namely, the low transaction costs associated with the currency, emphasis on privacy, storage of coins in digital wallets, and speed of transactions. This has made the currency especially useful for digital-only transactions (i.e. purchasing digital products) where user privacy is important. For example, the popular website Reddit, which emphasises anonymity, accepts Bitcoin as a transactional medium largely because of its privacy features (Reddit’s community is also tech-oriented, which helps in higher adoption). Since Bitcoin is also decentralised and unregulated, it has earned the image of being a “pro-internet freedom” currency.

Integrating Bitcoin gives a brand the added advantage of aligning itself with Bitcoin’s brand associations. As noted earlier, Bitcoin has come to be associated with the “alternative”. In some ways, this is not dissimilar to the debate between open-source and closed-source software in the 1990’s, when some brands adopted open-source solutions such as Linux to position themselves as the “mavericks” who care about “community” and “digital freedom”.

Consider the example of the popular domain registrar, Namecheap. Namecheap has consistently positioned itself as the alternative to the more mainstream registrars (chiefly, Enom.com and GoDaddy.com). To this effect, it has aligned itself with pro-internet movements such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal fight against the SOPA (“Stop Online Piracy Act”) in the United States in 2011 [3]. Namecheap later started accepting Bitcoin in 2013, noting in its release statement that the company considers itself the “pioneers in the space of innovation and online freedom” [4].

Bitcoin-Brands

In fact, the top websites that accept Bitcoins is almost entirely composed of brands that identify themselves as the “alternative” [5]. This includes Virgin Galaxy (space flights), OkCupid (the free alternative to Match.com), PirateBay.org (free, pirate alternative to file sharing), WordPress.com (free alternative to paid Content Management Systems), Reddit.com (alternative to Digg), Mega.com (alternative, restriction-free file sharing), and Overstock.com (online-only alternative retailer).

When a business adopts Bitcoin, it is signalling to its users that it is a “maverick” that cares about issues such as internet-freedom, user privacy and being tech-forward. Brands that self-identify with these qualities would benefit the most from adopting Bitcoin – at least in the form that it exists today.

… Bitcoin as the “criminal”

website-seized

However, the privacy and anonymity of Bitcoin has also made it the favoured transaction medium in underground marketplaces known for trading illegal drugs and contraband. The volume of this trade is immense, although given the secretive nature of these marketplaces, the exact figure is hard to ascertain. By one estimate, roughly half of all Bitcoin transactions are to buy drugs online [6].

The large volume of these transactions, coupled with the recent closure of Silk Road [7] (the largest underground marketplace) and massive security breaches at popular exchanges like Mt. Gox [8] have affected Bitcoin’s image in the mainstream. Besides “alternative”, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that some have also started associating words like “illegal”, “scam” and “unsafe” with the currency (howsoever factually untrue it may be) [9]. Naturally, this association rubs off on brands who choose to adopt the currency. For mainstream brands that don’t have tech-forward audiences that understand Bitcoin, this may even backfire.

The keyword, thus, is “alternative”.

Given the current state of Bitcoin, every brand should make careful considerations before aligning itself with the currency. While on the one hand, it can amplify the “maverick” image of a brand that identifies itself as tech-forward, pro-internet freedom and “alternative”, it can also harm the image of a brand with customers who don’t fully understand Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies.

Further Reading

[1] https://blockchain.info/charts/total-bitcoins?timespan=1year&showDataPoints=false&daysAverageString=1&show_header=true&scale=0&address=

[2] http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/2013/11/29/bitcoin-hits-record-1242-as-it-nears-value-of-ounce-of-gold/

[3] http://venturebeat.com/2011/12/27/namecheap-offers-discount-for-domain-transfers/

[4] https://www.namecheap.com/support/payment/bitcoin.aspx

[5] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonmatonis/2013/05/24/top-10-bitcoin-merchant-sites/

[6] http://lsvp.com/2013/08/15/about-half-a-percent-of-bitcoin-transactions-are-to-buy-drugs/

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/silk-road-closed/

[8] http://www.wired.com/2014/03/bitcoin-exchange/

[9] http://www.debate.org/opinions/is-bitcoin-a-scam

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University Brands: The Importance of MOOCs

Whether we accept it or not, all of us are in the business of information these days. From the coffee shop to the fashion boutique to the largest of multinational brands, it cannot have escaped many people’s attention that both prominence and profile are the fundamental marketing objectives of our time. And, as the points of contact between the organisation and the consumer continue to proliferate horizontally, rather than hierarchically, it is the shared experience and the common interest which will always dominate the marketplace of this newly levelled playing field.

But how does our current information revolution relate to the spheres of higher education and to the brand identities that many institutions have carefully cultivated for themselves over the years? Will distance learning across the web ultimately prove itself to be an evolutionary leap in how we approach the sharing of knowledge and our understanding of how it is taught? And is the online model a financially viable one: that will generate not only sufficient revenues to sustain itself, but to also attract the leading institutes and the brightest students into participating? These are the key challenges facing the first generation of massive open online courses (“MOOCs”), as we see them today.

moocs-future

There is something of a strange irony when considering the length of time it has taken for the first massive open online courses to find their way into the public domain. Because the technology of the internet was originally developed with the specific purpose of allowing academic bodies to communicate and to share knowledge across the globe. It is a particularly harsh reality then that the vast majority of learning institutions have, until now, proven themselves as slow to adapt to, or to even recognise, the central role that the online world will play in the future of education.

From a technical standpoint, there is no reason why this should be the case. Both text documents and streaming media content are amongst the most basic of web content to manage. So the slow exploration of the digital realm by academia is more likely a result of factors beyond either the technical or the logistical. Instead, it should be assumed that the most frequently aired doubts raised about MOOCs by higher education institutions (“HEIs”) – those of financing, and a perceived undermining of reputations – have been the primary deterrents up until this point.

empty-lecture-theatre

In this regard, HEIs have positioned themselves alongside the corporate media, which has been equally slow in finding new ways to exploit the online environment as a method of securing global audiences. Both media and academia fear a loss of income that this may entail, but history has taught us that we cannot shout at the waves of change. Only this week, the writer and social commentator Will Self wrote of the “irrevocable severing” of media and information from an assured revenue stream. MOOCs are the way that institutions will remain active and responsive to the demands of an online, global marketplace for learning.

In this regard, the success of MOOCs will be a self-realising one. The institutions which break new ground online will achieve a greater global prominence for their brand, and as their popularity inevitably grows with a broader uptake of courses, so too will it attract the previously sceptical competitors into the market. With this added degree of competition, the quality of the MOOCs on offer will, in turn, reach new heights, and so the prestige of offering a respected MOOC will feed back to the institution itself. As with any form of online social media, success is governed by participation.

mooc-word-cloud

This is not to suggest that institutions will immediately offer a full degree through the MOOC platform, but insight and background into the subject, which will capture the imagination and whet the appetites of new students. Indeed, there are many benefits from creating an identity for MOOCs which is distinct from on-campus learning. In the USA, for instance, Ivy League universities such as Stanford provide online students with a Statement of Accomplishment carrying the Stanford brand, but not certificates or course credits. Far from being a limitation of the MOOC system, it is just such an innovative approach that benefits every party, from the student, to the HEI, to the MOOC platform itself. A Statement of Accomplishment will be an invaluable addition to any student’s CV. To the institution, it will make their brand a prominent and highly recognised one and – most importantly of all – one that is increasingly in demand.

The first MOOCs are about to go live in the UK and, tellingly, the most notable participants are those institutions which are well known for championing innovation over tradition. The University of Southampton offers students from across the globe the opportunity to learn “How the Web is Changing the World”, whilst the University of East Anglia will investigate “The Secret Power of Brands” in partnership with brand agency Wolff Olins, cementing its reputation as a world leading institution for brand leadership studies. If any one course is emblematic of the entire MOOC experience, it is this.

university-brands-online-learning

So, can universities turn a lively, open and online learning experience into a viable and self-sustaining revenue stream: one which attracts the brightest and best students in high numbers? It is still early days in the MOOC life cycle, but anecdotal evidence from across the globe is positive. In Asia, where online learning is an established part of education, individual tutors are already earning substantial fortunes by making their courses available across the web for a small fee which is still a tiny fraction of the cost for on-campus education. At this preliminary stage, it would be damaging to promote the inclusion of paywalled course content for domestic MOOCs. But their popularity would suggest that the concept of online learning is attractive to the general public and that it is, indeed, a growth market.

We are still very much at the dawning of this social media age. Although there are lessons to be learned from the early pioneers of our new digital frontier, it would be naïve to presume that we have already seen the high water mark of this new approach to the sharing of information and marketing strategy. As the online environment evolves, every organisation – from the corporate to the academic – will need to respond and reposition itself to maximise the full potential of its own brand.

Further Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303759604579093400834738972.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-23069542

http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=2012080915084470

http://elitedaily.com/news/business/english-teacher-makes-4-million-per-year-in-south-korea-yes-you-read-that-correctly/

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/09/hatchet-job-mark-kermode-review

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University Funding Cuts: Brand Differentiation

At a time when budgets for primary research, teaching and educational infrastructure are being slashed, it might seem that branding should be a very low priority for higher education institutions. This is certainly true, if branding is viewed as an inevitably expensive and resource-intensive process. This does not, however, have to be the case. A rebranding exercise can give new life to a demoralised institution, helping to refocus staff and students onto their primary goals, and to externally project those goals into the wider world.

Of course, branding can certainly be done in the wrong way. Research suggests that undertaking commercial branding in the context of “not for profit” organisations can create a spirit of harmful rivalry within the sector in question. This can cause a marketing ‘arms race’, in which all institutions increase their spending on branding in order to produce often questionable and intangible benefits (Sargeant, 2009). This was often the case during the economic boom years, particularly within a higher education sector driven by the government target of 50% of young people achieving a university degree. The research above, however, suggests that instead of a traditional high-spend strategy, universities may be better served by leveraging their strengths of creativity and innovative thinking.

One recent example of a university doing just this is the University of California, which underwent a major rebranding exercise in the last quarter of 2012. Taking their starting point as the logo which has represented the university for over a century, the team working on the project aimed to create a modern and instantly recognisable identity for this disparate collection of higher education institutions from across the state. They recognised that, at a time of spending cuts and belt-tightening, it would not be appropriate to launch a traditional branding exercise. Instead, they have attempted to cut through the current image of the university with one new logo, supported by a range of low-cost marketing tools. The rebrand has ensured that discussion around the University of California has increased, and that residents of the state who had hitherto taken the institution for granted are being exposed to its values, its purpose, and its relevance to 21st century California.

In the era of digital communication and viral media, it should be easier than ever for non profit organisations to leverage their existing non-financial resources when looking at branding. There is no need to spend vast amounts of money on marketing if existing staff, students and other stakeholders are consulted about what makes the university attractive to them. Finding out the reasons for existing stakeholders having chosen the institution makes it possible to build on already existing strengths within the brand, whilst building loyalty to the institution and a sense of involvement within its academic and alumni community. It may also be advisable to ask students and staff from other institutions about the existing brand of the university, to better recognise its weaknesses.

Consulting existing stakeholders is only the beginning of leveraging an institution’s existing strengths. In an era of innovative and virtually free online communication techniques, which are often spread through social media and viral marketing, a university’s staff, students and alumni can be significantly involved in promulgating the brand message on which they have been meaningfully consulted. If a rebranding exercise forms a coherent part of a comprehensive strategy which is understood by all stakeholders, a non profit organisation can leverage the kind of support which, in previous decades, would have cost large amounts of money to purchase from professionals.

Existing marketing strengths can include the location of the institution, which often plays a role in the branding of universities (see Chapelo, 2010). It has been found that certain cities, such as Manchester, are broadly considered to be desirable from a lifestyle perspective, whilst others, such as London, offer a cosmopolitan and international experience. The branding efforts of higher education institutions within those locations tend to work in synergy with the existing brands of the city, gaining strength and influence without any additional injection of money (see Walvis, 2003). The local and regional political institutions of such cities have access to significantly greater resources than most universities, and working with the grain of their marketing strategy makes a great deal of sense.

It is also open to academic institutions to reverse the pattern of the marketing ‘arms race’ which was identified above, and instead to work together to strengthen the brands of their particular academic specialisms. This can be done either through the centrally directed efforts of the institutions themselves, or at the initiative of particular academic departments and their natural inclination to work together on specific projects. Rather than promoting one institution over another, universities can advertise the prospect of cooperation and synergy with other institutions as a positive good. No university is an island unto itself, and the marketing efforts of such organisations should recognise this. Weaknesses in a brand can be offset through cooperation with other organisations.

It should now be evident that a branding approach which involves significant investment of financial resource is only one kind of marketing strategy which can be utilised by higher education institutions. Particularly in the current economic climate, it is almost certainly not the best approach for universities to be taking. Instead, such organisations should be seeking to leverage existing positive factors, both in terms of the creativity of their stakeholders, and the existing brand strengths of both their location and their academic specialisms.

References

Chapleo, C. (2010). What defines “successful” university brands?. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 23(2), 169-183.

Sargeant, A. (2009). Marketing management for nonprofit organizations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Email Marketing: Build or Buy an Email List?

Email marketing has become a staple in today’s marketing world, especially with internet-based businesses. It involves personal communication with customers through email. You craft newsletters, articles and sales pitches and send them to targeted recipients through email. This of course requires that you have a mailing list that contains the contact information of potential customers. There are many ways to do this: You can build one yourself or you can buy it from an email list-broker or another company. This article looks at the pros and cons of each to help you determine which way is best for you.

Advantages of buying an email list

  1. It’s quick. Assuming that you have found a well-built email list for your particular purposes, you need not spend any more time determining how to find your targeted customers and convince them to share their contacts with you.
  2. You benefit from experts. Again, presuming that you’ve done your homework on finding good providers, one advantage of buying a list is that you benefit from the expertise of a marketing expert. You don’t need to go through trial and error in order to find out which strategies work best to target your niche customers. Someone more qualified already did it for you.
  3. It is less labour intensive than building your own list.

Risks involved in buying an email list

  1. The biggest risk involves scams. It’s difficult to know whether the list you’re buying is a real one. Considering that email lists can be quite expensive, it’s possible to experience real substantial loss through having someone take advantage of you and sell you rubbish.
  2. You might get a list that is completely irrelevant to your business purposes. Imagine getting the list of a business that sells dating and relationship products when you’re targeting customers in the food industry. A total waste of time and money.
  3. Sometimes you can get a list that targets the right audience, but which has not been updated for quite sometime. You try sending emails to these people only to discover that most of the emails do not work.
  4. Buying a list comes with the risk of associating your business with some bad history. Perhaps the company you’re working with sends too much spam or otherwise mishandles its subscribers and you are unaware of it. You buy the list only to have the account closed soon after and ruin your reputation to your customers.
  5. If you send mail to customers who have not been acquainted with you, they are likely to treat it as spam. This means that your money and efforts will be wasted.

Possible Solutions?

You can avoid these potential problems by:

  1. Paying only for actual subscribers, rather than a whole list. Have an arrangement in which you provide an option to the subscribers of that list to sign up for your own list. Undertake to pay for only those subscribers who end up signing up for your list. This way, whatever you pay will be worth it.
  2. Use reputable companies and list brokers to avoid getting scammed or paying for worthless lists. This in itself requires quite some effort. To save time and effort, use the same companies that are trusted to provide direct mailing lists for your email lists as well.

Advantages of building an email list

  1. If you build your own list, you will be certain that only those customers who are interested in your product will sign up. Your emails will always go to people who already know you and are interested in your product.
  2. There is also no risk of a bad history because you’re building your own list from nothing.
  3. You control all your dealings with your customers and you can be certain about the status of your account and your reputation at any point in time.

Problems involved in building an email list

  1. Clearly, it takes time, effort, technique and expertise to find your targeted audience and to convince them to subscribe to your list.
  2. Lack of marketing expertise poses a real challenge for a person who is completely new to both technology and marketing strategies. It can take too many trials to get it right.
  3. If you decide to hire an expert, it can also be expensive to plan and implement marketing strategies that will get the relevant audience to sign up for your list.

Possible solutions?

  1. You can hire experts to help you create an effective email marketing strategy. The investment may prove well worth it in terms of saving time and effort.
  2. Research quick and effective strategies. There are many resources readily available on the internet. Educate yourself sufficiently before you undertake the project.
  3. Make use of software to make work easier.

Conclusion

If you are more interested in maintaining control of your list and do not mind the slower but safer process of gradually building up your own list, then this may be the option for you. The sense of accomplishment, peace of mind and the community you build, of customers who willingly sign up for your emails will be well worth it. However, if you are interested in a quicker process and prefer to buy a list, be sure to do your homework first. Find reputable companies and list brokers and stick to them for all your business once you find them. They certainly are not easy to come by. As in most marketing strategies, an integrated approach is always best. Both options are effective for their intended purposes if approached with due care and preparation.

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Social Media Concerns: How to Manage Dissatisfied Customers

The essence of social media is providing an avenue to connect with customers online. As a business owner, you will have the opportunity to present the features and benefits of the products that you are offering.

Your readers, in turn, will have the chance to review, purchase, or complain. At some point, you will experience a dissatisfied online customer who will complain about bad service or a broken promise.

It is your job to take this opportunity to convert an irate client to a satisfied and returning customer.

Here are some tips to consider:

Step One: Be Aware

You cannot address an issue that you do not know about. Listen to the concerns of your customers by allowing them to leave comments on your website. Keep watch of the activity on your Facebook page. Make sure to keep a regular check on Twitter hash tags or replies related to your business. Read forums and review sites that cater to the nature of your business. Knowing about the negative comments and feedback about your products and services in the soonest possible time will help avert a potentially disastrous outcome.

Step Two: Respond Immediately

Immediate action is required when dealing with customer complaints. The longer you take to make a statement, the harder it becomes to resolve the situation. On occasion, you will need intensive research and background checks before you can provide an acceptable explanation. In such situations, you can simply leave a message explaining the actions you need to take and a turn around time for a response.

Some offensive comments are not worth the response. If the criticism is made out of spite or bigotry, then it may be best to simply delete the post. Your other customers will ignore rude or discriminatory remarks especially if made without basis. Instead, you should focus on working on action items that are within your control.

Step Three: Connect With Your Customer

Avoid canned or scripted responses. Speak like an actual person and try to relate with how your customers must be feeling. Giving them a copy of your terms and conditions will only aggravate the situation. Acknowledge their concern and let them know that you understand what they are going through. Empathise with them and let them know that you will feel the same way if the situation happened to you. Reassure them and tell them that you will do everything in your power to resolve the situation.

Step Four: Make Things Right

A sincere apology may help appease an irate customer, but fixing the problem is the only way to win them over. Offer to make things right for the customer. Replace the broken product or give a refund for lost deliveries. You can also opt to provide discounts or freebies for future purchases. People make mistakes, but what is important is how we correct those errors.

Step Five: Do Not Get Emotional

As the business owner, you need to be the voice of reason. Customers are expected to complain, but business owners who get into an argument with their clients are seen in a bad light. Even if you know you are right, you need to be patient enough to clearly explain the logistics to the customer. Getting into a fight with them will not resolve the situation.

Step Six: Get Their Involvement

A negative comment is a great opportunity for learning and improvement. If a customer complains about a certain feature, ask him what changes need to be made to improve the product. Make them feel that their input is valuable. If you consider their suggestions, make sure to involve them during product testing or the product launch.

Step Seven: Make Sure the Discussion is Visible

It is tempting to keep the conversation offline, but providing solutions in plain sight will let the world know that you are serious about providing excellent service. You also make other people aware that you are constantly working on improving your products. If you provide a clear solution for a specific issue, there will be no need for other customers to send in similar complaints.

Unhappy customers will always be a part of your business. There will always be something to complain about. Dissatisfied customers tend to spread the word around so it is essential to change their mind about your company. Use the negative feedback to your advantage and turn a bad situation into a learning opportunity.

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Social Media Management – A Task for One Person?

Social media management is a hot topic amongst marketing managers and in general organisations typically have specialised departments dealing with specific tasks and concerns.

Human Resources handle people issues, the IT department handles system concerns, and Legal handles matters of the law. Social media concerns and tools usually fall under the jurisdiction of the Marketing department because they involve promotions and press releases.

Announcements and responses that come from a single source tend to be more streamlined and consistent to the core vision of the company.  But are companies that rely on a single person or department missing out on the full potential of social media?

Having a single person or department dedicated solely to social media functions may have its advantages, but a bigger group of people can certainly produce a more impressive output. You can either have a single person or group do 100% of the social media tasks, or have the majority of your employees spend 5% of their time attending to these tasks. In theory, having dozens or even hundreds of employees representing the company in social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook will result to a wider audience reach.

Here are some of the advantages of having multiple social media outlets:

1. More people create more noise.

Having multiple employees sending out positive Tweets or writing blogs about the company says a lot about employee satisfaction and improves the branding of the company. The message also reaches a wider audience.

2. Employees will keep up with technology and will be adept on using social media tools.

It is essential to train the employees on the proper usage of social media tools for this system to work. They need to know how to properly represent the company, and how to increase the number of followers or subscribers. This training will not only be beneficial for work but is also applicable to personal endeavors.

3. Different employees have different strengths and interests.

They will produce blogs, Tweets, or Facebook updates that relate to them personally but are relevant to the nature of your business. Your company will benefit from this because of the diversity of content that will be available online. You will reach a wider and more diverse market. Interest in your products or services will also increase. Employees can also experiment with these tools and can potentially come up with an innovative approach to promotions.

4. The feedback system will also improve when you have a large number of people checking the web vigilantly.

It is possible to report important updates and news flashes that can affect operations in the soonest possible time. You can also detect customer complaints easily and address them immediately. Generally, about 60 to 80 percent of customer complaints made via social media channels are ignored because of lack of manpower.

This results to customer dissatisfaction and a missed opportunity for improvement.

5. Employees will be empowered. Social media exposure is a huge responsibility. Your employees will feel valued and trusted.

In order for a business model like this to work, it is essential to invest in social media training and corporate awareness. The employees need to be adept with how to utilise the tools to further the interest of the business.

They need to understand that social media will be an essential part of their daily tasks. They also need to realise that they will become the front liners of the business. They will be representing the company and any post that they make will be a reflection of the company’s mission and vision.

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How Do Universities Use Social Media?

Social media is often criticised as being a source of distraction in an educational environment. Networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter keep students from paying attention in lectures or engaging in productive seminar activities. These sites are often used to communicate with friends and are rarely associated with learning. Innovative educational institutions however, have begun to appreciate the value that social media can bring to education. These sites, after all, are the best channels to reach out to students and grab their immediate attention. Realistically, a Facebook post would have a bigger chance of being read, compared to words written on internal intranets; students respond better to methodologies that are more relevant to modern life.

Here are some ways through which social media can be used by universities:

Social Media as a Tool for Lectures

Believe it or not, social media is a great way for lectures to improve on their discipline. It is an excellent way to research trends and topics that can be used for lecture plans and seminar activities. Social media sites are overflowing with fresh ideas and trends that can easily be used and applied to lectures and discussions, for example in a marketing lecture it would be appropriate to have the latest marketing practice to back-up theory. The Internet also has a wealth of information in the form of educational blogs and websites. Teachers can also use these sites to connect with colleagues from other locations.

Social media is incredibly effective, in terms of reaching out to students. Teachers can use sites like Twitter to send out blasts about topics and activities that will be discussed in future sessions. Course assignments, unit outlines and assessments can also be made available online. Lecturers can even post information, trivia, or snippets that are related to the courses they are teaching. All it takes is the creation of an account that students can follow or subscribe to.

Some universities have already gone as far as creating their own social media platforms. These platforms allow teachers to upload assignments, lecture materials, and learning paraphernalia with ease and sophistication. They can also freely communicate with their students to update them on topics that have not been covered during class. Customised learning sites are also highly preferable because of the level of security that they offer the students. Filters for unacceptable words and language can be set up, and access to mature sites may be blocked. These sites can even be set up in such a way that teachers and students can access their files anywhere online connectivity is available.

Social Media Benefits for Parents

Social media can be an effective tool to reach out and communicate with parents. Universities in the United States often sponsor extra-curricular events and activities that promote student development. Posting these events online is a great way of informing and inviting parents to provide support and encouragement. Sites like Twitter and Facebook may be used as “broadcast accounts” to disseminate information. These sites are easy to maintain, easy to use, and free of charge.

Parent feedback is also a critical aspect of education. Parents need an avenue wherein they can express their opinions regarding certain policies or decisions. It can also be great to hear constructive criticism or recognition for outstanding activities and events. Not all parents may have the time to write formally and it is often more convenient for them to express their sentiments via transparent, online posts.

Student Participation via Social Media

Students are more receptive with teaching approaches that involve technology or mobile devices. They are more interested in using learning tools that come in the form of mobile phone applications or games. Universities can capitalise on this type of technology by using social media tools.

The Facebook Groups service is an example of an online tool that can be used for education. Professors can serve as administrators for the page and require their students to join as members. Here they can communicate and assign tasks, exchange files, participate in polls, or watch educational videos. Notification settings can be made in such a way that members are made aware every time a new post is made. An added incentive for the students would be the fact that they will have access to their colleagues’ Facebook accounts, obviously if their privacy settings allow and once they are approved as friends. Pinterest is also gaining ground in terms of popularity. With this service, students get to share web links or photos that are relevant to certain topics and subjects.

Social media can aid long distance learning. With simple uploads and profile modifications, learners from across the globe will have access to reading materials and videos without being physically present in school. This is perfect for students who are revising at home, or for external individuals to the universities looking for high quality learning materials. The iTunes University application, for example, provides a wide range of lectures and online courses from some of the best universities in the world. Communication between schools located in different parts of the world is also made easier through social media, for instance Universities that have a main campus and a location in London. International students also have an easier time keeping in touch with friends and family, while still gaining the full learning experience from their University.

Conclusion

Social media tools are easy to incorporate into existing curricula because most of the students already have existing online accounts. It does not take long for students and faculty members to learn how to use services and requires few resources and little training time when compared to other communication media. Some educational institutions may continue to resist this kind of development because of the possibility of abuse. However, this concern can easily be addressed by providing students and faculty members a strict list of guidelines that they need to follow at all times.

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Using Instagram to Promote Your Brand

Instagram is a photo sharing application for iOS and Android devices.

In recent months, it has been catapulted to success not only because of the ease and convenience that it offers to photo-loving individuals, but also because the social media giant Facebook purchased it for 23 million shares (originally worth $1,000,000,000, now said to be $753,000,000). It has more than 80 million users making it one of the fastest growing social networking sites in the world. The sheer volume of Instagram fanatics should be enough indication that this social media site has the potential to be a gold mine for brands and companies that wish to engage in free advertisement and promotion.

Here are some suggestions on how an organisation can use Instagram to improve brand recognition and boost revenue:

1. Introduction of Products and Services

As a photo app, Instagram is a great tool that can be used to showcase your company’s products and services. A picture paints a thousand words and a great photo of your company’s newest product can spark the interest of potential buyers. The service can also be used to display print ads that would cost a small fortune, if published in magazines or billboards. If you have 100,000 followers, then each post made is tantamount to a free reminder to consumers, to support your brand.

To gain more followers, you need to be very selective with the photos that you upload. Choose photos that provide value to your customers and use shots that will spark interest in your brand and company. Maintain a high standard of quality, upload only the best shots. You can also check out what other popular users are uploading to get inspiration and ideas on what you should post.

Bear in mind that too many photos about the same product can cause people to become less interested in your site, resulting in brand and product fatigue.

2. Reach a Wider Audience with the Hashtag

Posting photos may be an excellent marketing strategy, but its reach is limited by the number of users following your account. Even the biggest brands only have about 500,000 followers, which is a small chunk of the total Instagram population. The hashtag (#) is a great tool that will allow you to expand your reach even to people who are not following you. By adding hashtags to specific keywords, your photo will become searchable and available to 80 million users worldwide. You will potentially get additional views from users who are not yet familiar with your brand and who may be interested in purchasing your products.

Using popular hashtags can help you ride the wave of current online trends. People who are searching about specific trends will likely come across your photos. However, don’t get carried away, make sure that you only use tags that are relevant to what you are posting.

3. Search for Potential Customers or Influential Users

The search function of Instagram can also be used to reach out to potential customers or users with an influential following. Search using specific keywords, resulting in photos that match your exact needs. For instance, you can try searching for photos with the hashtag “#cuisine” or “#michelinstar” if you are a restaurant. You can then leave comments on relevant photos to persuade consumers (and their followers) to try out your restaurant.

You can also increase fan numbers by following and complimenting other Instagram users. Make sure to be selective in who you follow, and avoid accounts that could adversely affect your reputation. Be discreet and avoid making it too obvious that you are out to make a rapid increase in following.

4. Promotion of Events and Activities

Instagram is also a great way of engaging people to participate in events and activities. A product launch, for instance, can be made even bigger when guests are encouraged to take “behind the scenes” photos to supplement the official photographs and video streams. The event will not only reach a wider audience, but it will also be personalised and give different perspectives.

Having a photo wall with your logo on, is also a great way of ensuring that your brand will find its way to online photo albums, profile pictures, or social networking posts.

Geotagging your photos is also a good way to promote your event or shop. Consumers browsing through your photos may be interested to know where to find your shop or office. Having the location readily available saves them the trouble of having to search online.

Instagram also displays photos taken from the same location and will show potential customers how much fun existing customers are having with your brand.

5. Customer Engagement and Campaigns

Another great way to use this tool is to elicit the participation of the masses to engage in activities that will promote the brand. Like other social media sites, Instagram is a great avenue for contests and campaigns. You can ask your followers to use hashtags that would promote brand recognition. For example, a coffee shop could host a contest for photos that showcase the best places to enjoy a cup of coffee. An energy drink manufacturer, on the other hand, can start a contest for the photo that best represents life and activity. Once the entries are posted, you can then choose the best shots and feature them on your own website.

Instagram was originally created so that users may capture great images, manipulate them to become great photos using built-in filters, syndicate using other social media sites like Facebook and interact with other users through hashtags and comments. The site has evolved into something much more than that and today brands can use it as a highly effective mode of free advertisement and promotion.

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