It may seem strange to hear this now, but the internet is still relatively new.
Given how much we now depend on the internet and constant connectivity for everything from basic needs and conveniences to socialization and entertainment, it can feel like the internet has always been around, and that it will always be here.
But it really hasn’t been part of mainstream culture for very long at all, and in many different ways, we’re still grappling with how to use it effectively and responsibly to do all kinds of different things.
Public relations and marketing have definitely been sprinting to discover new ways in which online platforms can be used to promote brands and communicate with a customer base.
Specifically, we’d like to focus on digital strategy, which, according to a broad definition, is about planning out a brand’s online presence, especially via social media channels. It’s also just about making a brand look good online, even under difficult circumstances.
We’re going to look at the dos and don’ts of digital strategy with the help of an expert in the field, and we’ll even talk about how digital strategy and social media might advance in the near future.
Victoria Gates-Fleming: the advantages of being a ‘digital native’
Victoria Gates-Fleming has more than ten years of experience in digital strategy, and she continues to apply her expertise to many different sectors, including travel, healthcare, and technology.
Gates-Fleming is currently the Vice President of Digital Strategy and Creative Insights at Day One Agency in Los Angeles, California.
There’s no doubt that Gates-Fleming has earned her success, but she also commented on how helpful it is in her line of work to be what’s called a ‘digital native,’ which is someone who was exposed to online interactions, and online culture in general, at an early age.
“If you grew up on the internet, as I did, then adapting to social media and working in the industry comes very naturally. It’s the way we have always communicated.”
That firsthand knowledge of online platforms and systems is definitely advantageous, and online marketing is better off for it.
As we’re about to see, online marketing hasn’t always been especially elegant or effective.
Early social efforts
Today, online marketing via social media is an extremely viable option, and for just about every brand out there, it’s an essential part of communicating their brand identity.
But this hasn’t always been the case. In the early days of social media, before the term was widely used, it wasn’t even clear which members of each company should be working on it, as Gates-Fleming describes here.
“When brands first started using social media, no one was sure which team it should really sit with. Was it customer service? Should it be managed by the PR team or the marketing department? It took time for brands to really understand how social touched all these teams and what a truly integrated successful campaign could look like.”
If you’re over the age of 25, then you probably remember very early attempts at social media marketing. Major brands started to include their website in TV ads or on billboards, always including the ‘WWW’ prefix.
However, the websites and social media pages of these brands were rarely anything more than a basic info sheet.
Compare that to today, when brands aren’t just members of social media platforms but major players, getting involved in long Twitter conversations with users and other brands in very enthusiastic attempts to appear relatable and accessible.
Even outrage marketing, as executed by Nike during a campaign involving TV ads featuring Colin Kaepernick, has been made possible by social media platforms and the ongoing discourse of different brands and social issues that take place on those platforms.
In other words, marketing professionals have found new and interesting ways to make social media work for them and for brands.
What makes for a successful social media strategy?
So we know that social media marketing can be very successful if there’s a solid digital strategy behind it, and we know that every brand in existence wants to have a successful social media presence.
But how does it actually happen? What should brands do and what should they avoid to increase their chances of success?
Let’s start with what brands should try to avoid. Gates-Fleming summarizes many unsuccessful attempts at online marketing as moving forward without a significant plan in place and being impatient.
“I think any ‘quick wins’ always fail. For example, brands try to build followings too fast or launch a campaign while lacking insights or a strategy. Social media marketers need to take time to really understand their audience and what makes them tick. That’s when you’re going to see true, meaningful engagement, shares, and conversation.”
You might have seen this kind of overeager approach once or twice out in the field, most likely from a small brand or a very young startup hoping to make a big impact right away.
But social media users rarely respond positively to a brand just because that brand is confident. There’s also a danger of being seen as entitled or assuming success and likability without actually earning it.
It takes time to build a social media following, and that’s why brands that have been successful in this space have used professional marketing teams to achieve that success.
Speaking of brands that have found success on social media, we asked Gates-Fleming to mention one brand whose social presence she really admires. Here’s how she responded.
“When I think of legendary brands on social media, it’s hard not to think about Dollar Shave Club. They took an object as simple as a cheap razor and used social media to truly disrupt the market. Their viral video from 2012 and authentic approach to social media marketing ultimately led to Dollar Shave Club’s billion-dollar acquisition by Unilever four years later in 2016.”
When we spoke to Gates-Fleming, we were only vaguely familiar with this brand, but after a brief survey of their marketing and social media presence, it’s easy to see why they’ve set a gold standard in this area.
Especially before the acquisition, Dollar Shave Club had a social media presence that felt effortless and immediate.
Since the business was based on a subscription service, the packaging of each delivery could itself serve as an extension of their marketing efforts, with subscribers posting pics of the packaging on social media.
After a certain point, the company would even select several community posts to share through their main account.
They have also done a great job of starting conversations on social media, conversations of playful banter that can engage users well beyond their customer base.
Overall, Dollar Shave Club has set a significant standard for brands hoping to grow their social media followings.
Even so, there aren’t really hard and fast rules for how to be successful with your social media marketing. Each strategy needs to be carefully tailored to the brand in question.
Social media users are very good at detecting insincerity, and they’ll be quick to leave a brand behind.
We’ve spent much of this article talking in detail about how social media marketing and digital strategy have developed over the last ten years or so, but here at the end, we’d like to turn our attention to how these will continue to change in the years to come.
In particular, Gates-Fleming feels that existing social media platforms will develop to fit user desires, and that entirely new social media platforms will emerge to fill holes in the market.
“The next few years are going to be so interesting. We’ve become even more reliant on social media as a means of communication. The pandemic is disrupting everything and its impact on culture will be long lasting. In the months and years to come, platforms will continue to emerge as people find new ways to express themselves and connect. It’s human nature.”
TikTok is just one example of how new social media platforms can get big seemingly out of nowhere, when in reality, its success came from a widespread desire to consume and produce short-form video content to share with the internet.
As quarantine measures taper off over the course of the next year, if all goes well, it will be very interesting to see how both social media and social media users adapt to these changes.
Will social media resemble its pre-COVID atmosphere or has 2020 left some permanent effects on those hoping to socialize online?
While analysts can certainly speculate as to the developments we might see in the near future, no one really knows, and that’s exactly what makes this such an exciting time for online marketing professionals.
But that’s all for now. We’d like to thank Victoria Gates-Fleming for sharing her insights with us and teaching us about the state of online marketing and digital strategy.
You can learn more about Day One Agency by visiting their website.