On failure – When best laid plans fall short

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I’ve recently had the distinct misfortune of working on a social media campaign that failed. As a social media marketer by trade, at first I took the failure of this project very personally. No-one wants to fail, especially not at something in which you are a professional. Looking past the disappointment, I see within the failure of the campaign the opportunity to learn. These are the lessons I learned:

1. Don’t rely on Social Media Ads to make your campaign work

The advent of Facebook Zero made me rethink my approach to social media. I stopped believing in the power of social sharing, community and the connective layer social media provides and saw it only as another ad serving network. Instead of trying to create top quality content that adds value to users by being entertaining, educational or informative, I thought it would be equally as effective when just using the targeting options available and serving content to your ad network.

I was wrong. Just because the likes of Twitter and Facebook  have ad models and promotional content interwoven into the standard feeds does not mean that this is all you need to make a campaign a success. That’s missing the entire point of social media. Social media’s inherent sharing and communication capabilities make it far more powerful than any normal ad network or space – online or IRL (in real life). The sharing features makes it possible to share these piece far and wide at the click of the button. Your Billboard space is also your audience’s watercooler, and it’s amazing if you can insert yourself into the conversation there.

2. The precision targeting offered by Lists in Twitter is amazing

Twitter has  amazing targeting options and the various Twitter Cards are great. The more you know about, and the closer you can define your target audience the higher your chances of success. Beyond the ability to precision target your audience, the wealth of data available on your target audience is huge. Data Science has become a hot topic, and the convergence of social media and data science disciplines within digital marketing opens up a whole new world of possibility.

3. Having a Real World element or activation is incredibly important

Real world events are great for providing that initial boost needed to jump start a campaign. As digital tools and initiates improve (through technologies such as Oculus Rift and iBeacons) we will get closer to providing rich, emotive experiences online, but at this time nothing beats a real world experience to establish an initial emotional bond with your audience and leave a lasting impression.

4. Use influencers, but brief and equip them properly

You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for the use of a top level influencer like DJ Fresh. You can gain results by empowering smaller and lesser known individuals to share your message. Going for a moderately connected influencer base would mean that you need to work with more in order to reach significant scale, but it provides the opportunity for more authentic exchanges and the possibility of converting these influencers into true ambassadors. (In fact, as influencer marketing is becoming a business within social media, perhaps we are looking at the whole discipline wrong – but that’s a subject for another time)

The important thing to remember about working with influencers though is this: You must brief them properly. Getting influencers to retweet your content or talk about you online is sort of pointless if they focus all their effort into 5 minutes each day, letting forth a burst of campaign tweets right after each other instead of staggering it throughout the day. Equally pointless is them tweeting away without using the hashtag. There’s a wide range of things that go wrong, and it’s your job to make sure these guys and girls are briefed, educated, confident and – importantly – excited or positive.

5. Partner with a strong traditional media partner where possible

TV, Print and Radio are not dead. Far from it. These mediums are alive and well, and according to some studies even gaining ground again. Many people still watch TV, listen to radio or buy the odd magazine. TV is especially prevalent in higher LSM groups, and radio in the lower. Streaming , downloading services and podcast are also worth consideration, but those are for a whole other blogpost.

6. Be sure to have any ATL element of your campaign include digital calls to action

Spending all that money on your above the line campaign elements – TV, Radio, Billboards, Magazines whatever! – without providing a prompt to allow people to continue engaging with your campaign or idea is a huge missed opportunity. Hashtags, URLs or Twitter handles. Anything that’s easy to remember and will help interested parties connect the dots or follow the breadcrumbs to the digital side of the campaign. Digital is so powerful because it is always on and provides a low cost way of continually engaging the prospect.

7. Don’t underestimate the power and need for solid creative and content.

Creative can still make or break a campaign. We should not allow the shiny new tools, wealth of data or ease of access blind us to the importance and prominence of eye-catching content and well written copy. You can precision target your audience at the right time and on the right device or platform, but the creative still needs to be engaging.

8. Don’t forget the people in your creative

Creative posts with real people that don’t scream ‘Stock photo!’  consistently outperform other types of content. Using photos of your audience and reflecting their content back is a sure fire hit. Including real people, who are really connected to the brand or campaign adds credibility and makes it easier for your prospects to connect to your message and give a damn. That’s what social media is really all about on the experiential level.

9. Be Agile

In the agency game, we are often caught up in selling products instead of adding value. It’s good business practice to define processes and standardize service or product offerings to allow for scalability and growth, but as the digital marketing industry (and your client’s business) is every changing and evolving we need to stay nimble and be willing to adjust our output mid-campaign in order to be successful. Often new information can come to light or new opportunities pop up during the campaign that can enable an agile marketer to outperform expectations.

10. Timing is everything

Don’t assume you know how and when your audience will engage with you online. Test, Test and Test, delivery times and messaging.

11. Be realistic

About time, about deliverables, about results. Always under promise and over deliver.

Most of all we shouldn’t be afraid of failure as each failure is a learning opportunity. But that doesn’t mean we should rush toward it. Careful planning and thorough research that delivers insight remains key to a successful campaign.

*Author’s note: This piece was originally written in November 2014 but never published. The lessons learned and shared in this article still apply today. I considered the campaign a failure due to coming short on our targets and internal ambitions, yet it went on to win the Gold award for Integrated Marketing campaign at the W3 Awards in 2015. This goes to show that we are always our own toughest critics. It was a team effort, and without an excellent team the ultimate success would not have been possible.

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