Digital marketing 101: How to be heard online

October 10, 2014, 4:49 PM UTC
Illustration: Getty Images

These days, for companies trying to get attention online, it’s about likes, tweets, and views. Audience is the new currency for measuring a brand’s value. But how do companies get people to sit up and listen to their marketing messages amid the din of social media, blog posts, and updates? And how do they overcome the public’s well-deserved cynicism about advertising, albeit gussied up for the digital age?

There’s big hurdles, of course. But for better or worse, it can be done.

Earlier this week, LinkedIn hosted a conference for marketers and people in public relations, about being heard online by using LinkedIn (of course) to promote their brand. There were a lot of marketing-speak tossed around and loopy ideas like blog posts that blend marketing with what the readers really want to read about like career advice or recipes. It was music to the ears of people whose job is its to brainwash the public. For those of you who are subjected to their wisdom, well, just think twice about what pops up in your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds.

Here are the takeaways:

1. There’s way too much content

Getting heard through all the chatter is tough in the digital age especially when a lot of the chatter is corporations trying to promote their own agenda. “People talk about being the victim of distracted driving,” former television host Katie Couric said, bemoaning how difficult it is to stay on top of all the content that’s out there. “I feel like a victim of distracted living. There’s just so much out there.” Amen. Some marketers love blogging to get their corporate message out and others shy away. The latter shouldn’t be forced to blog because they’ll just be adding to the babble. Bottom line: Don’t go on social unless you have something to say.

2. But joining the conversation generates traffic

Paradoxical right? But speaking up doesn’t have to involve writing long blog posts. Catherine Fisher, a spokeswoman at LinkedIn, pointed out that updating a status on a social network or sharing an interesting story can be just as effective. Showing up and publishing on multiple sites can generate an audience. Better yet, you don’t add to the clutter or invest a lot of energy writing blogs that few people will read anyway. You can just do something short and sweet. And, as frightening as it is to let go, it’s important to empower employees to share on social media. “Employees are incredible influencers,” said LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner. But wait! Doesn’t that violate rule one that there’s too much marketing babble out there already?

3. Good content is genuine

Good marketing messages are authentic. They don’t talk about a product or boast about the company selling it. They speak to people and their emotions. And that gets heard. Or so everyone said. “Good content always goes viral,” said Couric, who now hosts a digital news show for Yahoo. Bob Shaker, CTO of security software maker Symantec, explained the underpinnings of authenticity. He never writes about the product, and because of that, readers trust him (or so he says). “It’s about emotions,” he argued. “Creating content is about capturing people’s hearts.” Good to know. And of course, we won’t ask how authentic it is to capture people’s hearts on behalf of your corporation.