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If you’ve made any New Year resolutions heading into 2012, let’s hope there were a few serious ones.

Everyone in the marine industry is hoping 2012 will be a year of improved industry health and growth. Those businesses that will be at the forefront of any growth are those that have solid media/communications strategies to ensure their messages are out there and being.

We all say we must do more with our websites, or with social media, or shoot some video, or send a newsletter… well, let’s do that this year and get back in touch with all of our stakeholders.

Following are our predicted top trends in new and existing online media/communications activities for 2012. You may like to consider putting some effort into a few of these channels within your own business…

Video – more than three minutes of fame
Although it seems like it’s been around forever, did you know YouTube is just over six years old? It’s now the third largest search engine on the internet. Over three billion videos are watched on YouTube every day.

A high-quality video can enhance your brand values, demonstrate your professionalism, drive new traffic, inform your potential customers and promote engagement.
Further, with Google now able to index videos, they have become extremely important to your search engine ranking.

You don’t need to ‘go viral’ or have millions of views – no piano-playing cat or kids face-planting in the yard required – but you do need quality viewers that care about your content.

Video is a way to ‘feed’ your viewers the precise information you want to deliver in a very digestible way – from how-to tutorials to product insights or interviews.

Video is also beneficial in increasing the ‘sticky’ factor of your website. This refers to the average time people spend on your site as a unique browser and something search engines specifically look for when indexing.

Video embedded on your website should be instrumental in driving traffic to it – and keeping it there. More than that, good quality video content can be used by other people and shared on blogs, Facebook pages and other social media feeds to expand the reach of your brand.

With an increase in mobile browsing, video is going to keep growing as an essential communications tool.

QR codes – from page to pocket
The use of QR codes in Australia steadily increased last year and we expect this trend to continue during 2012.

To re-cap (following our QR code article in Marine Business,Aug-Sep 2011), a QR code is a two-dimensional code, similar to a bar code, that can be scanned by a ‘QR code reader’ and links the user directly to a website, video, image or text.

A number of free applications are available for smartphones which turn any such device into a QR code reader. Upon seeing a QR code, the consumer simply scans the code – and the phone does the rest. It could take them directly to a website, a video of the product, a newsletter subscription portal or even download your contact details straight into the person’s phone… whatever the code has been directed to do.

Google+ – no flash in the pan
You’ve probably heard of Google+ – the latest social media platform to come out of the internet giant.

Google+ has had a growth rate much faster than that of Facebook or Twitter. More importantly, where Facebook and Twitter try to get people on their websites, many millions of people arealready on Google’s sites: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Reader and YouTube to name just a few.

Google+ was initially designed for personal social media networking. It launched its business pages in early November last year, allowing brands to create their own presence.

There are some clear reasons why companies are heading over to set-up their brand pages. Google is a favoured brand online. It’s also the largest and most important search engine. In this light, you’re unlikely to be criticised for thinking that having content on Google+ will improve your brand’s Google ranking. Could this be the perfect combination of social media and SEO?

This new social media tool is also designed to improve your customer/network/community segmentation using “Circles”. You can choose to target specific groups with your content.

Are you mobile? (There's a tablet for that...)
The biggest trend is arguably the increase in mobile engagement.

The ubiquity of mobile smartphones, and now tablets, means brands must have a mobile presence. Mobile visitation (people visiting website via a mobile device) grew by over 200 per cent worldwide in 2011.

Think about where you go with your smartphone or tablet (and if you don’t have one, it’s likely you will soon – smartphones are set to overtake standard mobile phones as the most sold mobile devices in 2012). The tablet, in particular, is blurring the line between in-home and out-and-about internet browsing.

People are taking their tablets shopping, using them for navigation or finding fish, for reading books and magazines, for note-taking, making video-phonecalls, playing games, watching (and making) videos, playing music – the list goes on. They’re online virtually all the time.

Considering the trend topics we’ve already covered above, you’ll notice a correlation between all of them and mobile devices – videos are easily consumed on mobile devices, social networks are used heavily via mobile devices, QR codes are scanned with mobile devices. You’ll also see a distinct compatibility between mobile and the other trends discussed below

Out with the old… not quite!
The trends we’ve identified are in how these existing tools are now being used to greatest effect, and/or how they have become integral to tactical marketing.

“Social media strategy”, for example, is losing its stand-alone characteristic. Social media has become one more element of an overall communications strategy, much the same as direct marketing or advertising.

The social media tools at the top of the pile are still Facebook and Twitter. Over the past couple of years there has been a great deal of noise about the acquisition of more fans and followers being a sign of positive social media results. This year, however, is when many companies will finally realise that quality of fans and followers is more important than quantity.
In the same way a newsletter or magazine might sell the merits of its reach or number of subscribers, does that mean it’s truly targeted? Probably not. With well-managed social media you can really target stakeholders and, more importantly, really listen to what they’re saying and engage in the conversation.

Email - tried and trusted
It’s easy to be dazzled by buzz topics and feel you have to get involved in the latest fad to appear current. But don’t forget the channels that still have the biggest reach.

Email is still the world’s primary form of communication. Well-delivered messages to targeted databases have better reach, higher engagement and generate greater loyalty than any current social media platform. In 2012 we could well see a resurgence in this tried and trusted method of talking to who you already know.

E-newsletters are proven communications tools – and they’re inexpensive. There are a few rules and regulations involved to avoid spamming your database and to ensure your distribution list is legal (for example, harvesting email addresses from the web is illegal and so is opting-in people without permission).

Blogging - have your say
Like many other social media tools, blogs have been steadily increasing over the past few years.

A business blog is one of the best tools you have to improve your search engine optimisation, position your company as an industry leader and create leads.

To blog successfully, you must have a clear reason behind why you’re writing (for example, to improve SEO, increase leads or engage in a community). Equally, the content must be high quality and engaging.

Content is critical. A reader may have come across your blog via a keyword search. Why should they stay, read more or share your content? You need to engage them with a positive call-to-action and useful content that adds value.

The big hold-up with blogs is that it’s easy to think you don’t have time to write one. Rather than thinking of it as a time-consuming exercise, think of it as a free marketing communications tool that’s working for you 24/7, 365 days a year.

Important investment
Trends aside, your media/communications strategy needs to be one of balance. It’s vital to have a spread of exposure in targeted areas – both print and online – to ensure your brand is visible and leads are generated.

What’s covered here are interesting trends in online media we think will be important for the coming year. They are additional elements to consider for your marketing communications toolbox, but don’t panic if you can’t get to all of them. Do the ones that matter well, rather than do all of them badly.

These elements require time – and the best companies find the time. Choosing to be market oriented, these companies thrive because of it.
Avoid thinking of it as a cost. Think of it as an investment.

Social Media in a nutshell

• Over three billion videos are watched on YouTube every day.
 
• Google+ just passed the 65 million-user mark.
 
• Social networking accounted for nearly one in every five minutes spent online globally in October 2011 (and Facebook accounted for one in every seven minutes spent online around the world, and three in every four social networking minutes). (ComScore)
 
• People aged 55 and older represent the fastest-growing age segment in global social networking usage (although the 15-24 segment still remains the most engaged). (ComScore)
 
• Customers exposed to videos are 437 per cent more likely to engage your brand. (nationalpositions.com)

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