Combining social media with location services and mobile phones represents the next generation of online marketing, according to speakers at the Search Marketing Expo in Seattle on Tuesday.
Combining the three tools is simply an evolution of how they are being used individually, said Mac Ling, director of mobile at digital marketing company iCrossing. "We're just now starting to see, as with the Internet, a new medium, a new way of talking to customers. That's happening now because of this beautiful little device in our hands," he said, referring to a mobile phone.
Jennifer Grappone, a partner with Gravity Search Marketing, offered an example of a small company using social media for marketing. Cool Haus, which operates ice cream trucks in a few cities, uses what she called "geotargeted flattery."
Cool Haus knows a few days in advance where it will park its truck in Los Angeles. It looks for a "social influencer," or someone with a big presence in social networks, who lives near where the truck will be located. It then offers that person a coupon for its ice cream and asks them to tell their audience that the truck will be in the neighborhood.
Several ways to combine social and location-based tools are seen from Foursquare, which offers a host of promotions for merchants to use with people who "check in" to Foursquare, including coupons and loyalty programs.
Small business are in the best position to experiment with these methods to see what works, said Michael Martin, senior SEO strategist for Covario.
"A large retailer may struggle to do a simple test because it's complex for them to [train] retail staff on how to handle a redemption," he said. A smaller business can simply tell its 10 cashiers that a customer may walk in and ask to redeem a coupon on their mobile phone.
Businesses should keep an eye out for new types of services that are continually emerging in mobile and location-aware contexts, said Nicola Smith, vice president of business development for Performics. For instance, she's been seeing services that let users "check in" to conversations about brands or products, rather than physical locations. "We're seeing this phenomena evolve and expand to other places beyond location-specific check-ins," she said.
With so many new services emerging, it can be hard for companies to keep up with what's available. "You need to look at services that will help aggregate them," Smith said. For instance, Local Response is a service that aggregates check-ins across different services.
One way that companies might combine social with local in the future is by offering targeted coupons to individuals who are part of a group, Ling said. For example, a person who just completed a running race might post a message to other runners suggesting they meet in a restaurant. A company could see that message and respond by offering a coupon to anyone from the race who comes to its restaurant.
That scenario could represent the evolution of group messaging, beyond how current services like Yahoo Groups are used, for example, he said.
All the speakers on a panel here agreed that the first step to integrating social, local and mobile is to have a mobile-optimized Web site. Nearly 80 percent of the top advertising brands don't have a Web site optimized for mobile phones, Ling said. "That is absolutely tactic number one," he said.
The speakers also encouraged companies to experiment. "If you look at this as a massive [undertaking], it's going to be. But, especially if you're a small company, just try it," Martin said.