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Nichole Kelly spent the bulk of her career as a brand-side marketer before becoming the CEO of Social Media Explorer, a top-40 social-media blog, and SME Digital, the marketing agency offshoot that works in concert with the blog to help clients implement ideas presented within the free content. She's worked with companies as diverse as LexisNexis Group and Wells Fargo & Co., helping them create actionable social-media plans and derive measurable results from those campaigns. Kelly is also the author of "How to Measure Social Media" and is currently writing her second book "Becoming Unfuckwithable."
Marketing, Measurement & Millennials
Author, CEO, and EXHIBITORLIVE faculty member Nichole Kelly talks about what the future holds for marketers, and her shifting perspective on how brands should be using social media. By Claire Walling
Social-media marketing is changing fast. But it's not just the platforms that are dying and being reinvented or replaced almost daily. The methods of measuring engagement and conversion are continuously moving and maturing as well. Furthermore, the demographics of the audience behind these tweets, posts, and pins are constantly evolving, too, from college-aged hipsters to retirees. Still, the golden ring of social-media marketing, so to speak, is the mysterious breed known as Millennials, aka Generation Y.

But before you begin marketing to Millennials, it's important to understand they're not children, nor are they a homogenous demographic that plays to the commonly held stereotypes. Rather, they're filling more and more seats in the C suite as Baby Boomer executives deploy their golden parachutes and head for Florida. And this demographic switch will drastically change how social-media marketers operate, according to Nichole Kelly, the author of "How to Measure Social Media" and the CEO of SME Digital. Here, Kelly explains how to create a stronger correlation between sales and social media, how the landscape of posts and tweets is changing, and how Millennials' rise to power in the workforce is fueling that seismic shift.

EXHIBITOR Magazine: Marketers seem to understand the mechanics of developing social-media campaigns, yet they still struggle to connect all that pinning and posting to real business results. Is there a shortcut to quantifying social media that they're missing?
Nichole Kelly: Effective social-media measurement comes down to one thing: using tagging infrastructure to track the links that you're sharing on social media. When you post a link, you can tag it in Google Analytics. That allows you to track where that lead clicks on your company's website, input that data into your customer relationship management system, and ultimately attribute any sales that are made to your social-media efforts. That's the key – yet that's also the thing that most marketers neglect.
EM: That's fascinating and seems like it would solve a lot of problems that marketers face. Can you explain the process in more detail?
NK: Most social-media posts include a link to another site with more information – this is especially true on Twitter, where the 140-character limit forces marketers to be short and sweet. Most link-shortening platforms (e.g., those included with social-media management tools such as Hootsuite, and freestanding services such as Bit.ly) offer robust data on how many people clicked on the link, and when they did so. But then the data stops. With this method, there's no way track what visitors do once they are on your website.

By using my link-tagging method, you can follow what a particular user does from the moment he or she clicks on a link that you tweeted until he or she makes a purchase. It only requires a few clicks to tag a link in Google Analytics, and you don't have to be fluent in code to do it. Basically, you're including a hidden query string that will follow a user as they click around your website. You'll end up with reams of data about your customers' online behaviors, and more importantly, you'll be able to track which sales ultimately started from a social-media post.

EM: Aside from measurement, what do you believe is the most significant obstacle facing marketers when it comes to social media?
NK: The Millennial generation now accounts for the largest percentage of the workforce; they took over Generation X last year. The shift is pretty simply defined and has been on the horizon for more than a decade, but I don't think that marketers fully understand the ramifications.

Millennials don't subscribe to any of the societal expectations or social conditioning that all of the prior generations have grown up with and have come to accept as their reality. What I'm finding is that this generation doesn't respond to traditional marketing tactics at all – and in some cases, using these methods actually deters Millennials from a relationship with the brand. That's old news, but because of this generation's rising population in the workplace, I predict that the efficacy of traditional marketing tactics will plummet, and marketers, by and large, aren't prepared to rapidly change their time-tested strategies.

EM: How do you think Millennials will impact the marketing landscape?
NK: Marketing is going to change dramatically in the next 10 years because this generation's belief structure is so different from that of Baby Boomers or Generation Xers. As Millennials rise into decision-making positions, I believe that we'll see a significant change in how marketing is done. There are myriad factors backing this theory: Marketers are increasingly encountering ad blockers, seeing prospects opt out of email campaigns, and witnessing the rise in popularity of Do Not Call lists. Essentially, our audience is telling us that they don't want to receive our messages.

What I see happening is a totally different way of marketing that is no longer focused on pushing products. That's how we market today. I predict a shift toward true community building where marketers strive to listen to their audience instead of just pushing their product on them.

EM: Do you have any suggestions for how exhibit and event marketers can more effectively use social media to build relationships?
NK: I was asked a very similar question when I last spoke at EXHIBITORLIVE, and I gave some generic tips about what would and wouldn't work on social media in an event context – but I've learned a lot since then. Where I sit now, it's not really about looking at each event as an isolated experience and trying to create a social-media presence solely related to that event. That's how movie studios do it: They build an audience for a movie, and then as soon as that movie is out of market, they throw that audience away and don't leverage it for any future marketing.

But not everyone in that industry is dead set on one-off marketing. For instance, look at Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., which realized that there's a substantial degree of overlap between the audiences for its various films. And while it knows that these people may be fans of a specific genre and not Warner Bros. films as a whole, the studio has been able to effectively leverage those relationships with social-media followers time and time again, instead of starting from scratch for each movie.

The same applies to marketing events via social media. I wouldn't put my time and energy into building an audience just for a specific event; instead, I'd try to build an audience around a specific cause. Brainstorm what your audience is passionate about – perhaps it's a charity or a particular social issue that somehow relates to your industry. If you can formulate a social-media campaign around that, rather than specific events that your audience may or may not care about or be able to attend, it will be much more salient, and your event promotions can ride on the coattails of the success you'll derive from a people-centered campaign.

I would also put the brands much further in the background and put the people who are behind these brands front and center in communications. Talking to another human being, albeit through digital means, opens the door for building relationships with your audience before the event. They want to see that the voices behind companies' presence on social media are real people, not just robots with Twitter accounts. It's a completely different, more personal approach than just constantly tweeting at attendees to come visit your booth.

What's more, the potential payoffs are huge. When it's time for an event or a trade show, you can refer back to the Rolodex of people that you've had one-on-one conversations with via social media. Because you have an existing relationship, it's natural to say, "Come visit my booth and let's meet in person." And by and large, those people will come to your booth to hear more about you and your product. An exhibitor who takes that kind of personalized approach will be viewed much more positively by attendees than one who tweets his or her company's booth number into cyberspace ad nauseum.
EM: How does this new approach differ from traditional social-media marketing advice?
NK: I realize that this emphasis on listening sounds a lot like what we said at the beginning of social media – that it's all about community. But what marketers were doing during the early days of social media wasn't true community building. They were "playing nice" with customers and prospects, and then turning around and peddling their products or services to those communities that they had just built. That type of behavior doesn't just make the audience members feel like they fell for a bait and switch; it also instantly changes the tone and type of conversations that will take place via that social-media channel.

Experts talked about singing Kumbaya and not measuring and all of that kind of stuff, but at the end of the day, it was still members of Generation X that were building these communities. So naturally, the traditional marketing tactics that they're used to and had grown up with came into play. No matter how you slice it, social media will never be an effective direct-marketing channel; "Buy now!" messages aren't going to work. And while Gen Xers tolerated being sold to on social media to some extent, Millennials will not. Listening to customers and helping them solve their problems is crucial, and that's what will move Millennials to buy.

EM: Do you have any last bits of advice for exhibit and event marketers?
NK: Ultimately, businesses need to know what it is that they want to achieve through social media. They can't be everything to everyone. Likewise, marketers can't dive into social media looking to generate leads and build a community focused around understanding their audience. Those two things don't perform well together, and it creates a feeling of insincerity and trickery that can negatively affect the kind of engagement you get.

We can convolute things all different kinds of ways, but I'm the kind of girl that likes simplicity. By defining an objective, I immediately know what kind of tactics I need to implement to support that objective. The mechanics behind social media are really very simple. The trick is clearly defining your goals and then picking the right tactics that will support those goals. E

Learning Lab
Want to learn more about Nichole Kelly's step-by-step strategy for measuring social media in business-oriented terms? "How to Measure Social Media" tells marketers how to add tagging infrastructure to the back end of the links they post, and how they can use those features to create a direct correlation between social media and sales. Kelly is also teaching two different sessions at EXHIBITORLIVE, the annual conference and exposition for exhibit and event marketers. In her session entitled "What You're Missing in Social Media Measurement," she will detail her proven methods to connect social-media metrics to return-on-investment data, and in "Increase Marketing ROI with Lean Rapid Prototyping," she'll teach marketers shortcuts for creating a model to test new marketing strategies. To learn more about EXHIBITORLIVE and register for the aforementioned sessions, visit www.ExhibitorLive.com.

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