Campaign sites get boost from social media

Sites built to support marketing campaigns not rendered passé with dominance of social media, which can enhance social integration and interaction of targeted content hosted on these sites, experts say.

The proliferation of social media does not signal the end but will serve to enhance Web sites built specifically for campaign purposes in companies' digital marketing strategies today. These sites provide focused content and context, and social networks play a key role in building customer buzz and chatter, experts point out.

Vary Yong, director of Singapore-based Web development company iFoundries, said supplementary Web sites designed specifically for marketing or promotional campaigns, for instance, microsites for events, sweepstake, game or questionnaires, were seeing fewer requests from enterprise clients compared to other services such as custom Web applications.

The cost savings from setting up marketing campaigns on free social media platforms are enticing to businesses, Yong told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail. It may also be easier for marketers to administer or moderate a Facebook profile page compared to a campaign site, he added.

However, the rise and rate of Facebook, Twitter and other social media being adopted by businesses do not necessarily mean that campaign-specific sites, which are predecessors of online marketing, are no longer effective or relevant in digital marketing strategies today, he pointed out.

Campaign-focused sites are "flexible" enough to be integrated with new technologies such as social media to increase its effectiveness and relevance. Furthermore, creating a campaign purely on third-party social media platforms alone means a company may not be able to pursue or deliver the creative direction or user experience to differentiate itself from competitors, Yong noted.

With direct integration with social media, a campaign-led Web site is a useful online platform that allows a company to deliver the right kind of experience or branding to its target audience, and at the same time, engage consumers and advocate its product, service or message to its own social network. Ultimately, it will make the campaign viral more easily, said Yong.

Social media can make campaign-driven microsites more valuable, concurred Scott Brinker, president and CTO of Ion Interactive, a Florida, U.S.-based company that provides landing-page management software.

Evolution to Web 2.0 interactivity
Brinker said: "A microsite, by definition, is narrowly focused on a particular topic or idea, and can motivate more distribution in social circles than generic Web sites. Social media thrives on great content, and a good microsite can be a terrific vehicle for creative content."

He added that campaign sites today are "very different" from what they were a decade ago. Previously, they were almost solely about branding and often offered elaborate, Flash-based Web experiences that were time-consuming and expensive to produce. They were rarely oriented around "conversion", for example, of product queries to actual sales, he said.

He explained that campaign sites today are more about delivering compelling, meaningful content to the company's audience, and used as a "vehicle to drive conversions to specific calls-to-action", he said, adding that content are now delivered in HTML, not Flash.

John Ng, director of Singapore digital marketing agency Mezmedia, agreed that campaign sites have evolved "from just a pointless fancy Flash animation to something more interactive", giving users more options to participate in the conversation--which is what Web 2.0 is about.

These sites are far from dead and also provide the widest reach, from the desktop to the smartphone, because "not everybody is on Facebook or Twitter", Ng added in an e-mail.

Japanese imaging product giant, Canon, creates microsites mainly for sharing and brand-building campaign purposes, according to Lee Eu Jin, senior manager for corporate communications, Canon Singapore. Such sites are also used to introduce new product lines, educate customers on existing offerings or promote partnerships with other brands.

Lee said social media has changed the dynamics of microsite creation "in a big way", adding that some of Canon's campaign sites are linked with social features to "deepen the engagement with consumers". These include Facebook communities, forums and other user-generated content, he said in an e-mail.

Campaign sites have evolved from being simply a source of information to become duplex communication platforms, he pointed out. "It is no longer a one-way top-down channel with the brand 'telling' the customer [what it wants to say, but] a two-way interaction between the customer and the brand," he said.

Get brand mileage
Asked if campaign-focused sites remain a top marketing priority amid the popularity of social media, Lee said digital marketing tools, generally, are more relevant than ever, given the increasing amount of time consumers today spend online.

Whether a supplementary site or social media should take priority depends largely on the campaign objectives and target audience, he explained, adding that how the audience consumes and exchanges information as well as the campaign's shelf-life and cost of production should also be evaluated.

The key here is to tailor the company's digital strategy to meet business objectives and deliver the best experience to users, rather than view one digital marketing tool as more important than another, Lee said.

He added that Canon keeps campaign-focused microsites that have fixed or scheduled durations operating online, even after the event has concluded, because they offer consumers information and reference about the product while it remains available in the market.

Ng from Mezmedia noted that the "short-term" shelf-life of campaign sites should not be translated as short-lived effectiveness or relevancy. Rather, it is more important that businesses get "mileage" out of such sites, be it in terms of obtaining user e-mail addresses, sales or Facebook traffic.

iFoundries' Yong, too, emphasized that companies be clear about their campaign objectives and decide if and how a microsite can help achieve these goals.

While a premium-looking campaign-site can entice consumers to read more and, ultimately, trial or purchase a product incrementally, if the campaign requires only human buzz and conversations around it, it may not matter if the overall experience is delivered through a creatively-designed site or not, he concluded.