By George Guildford

By now, you're more than likely following a whole bunch of your favourite brands on Facebook and Twitter. What started as something new and fresh, enabling companies to do something unique and connect with consumers in a whole new way, has now quickly become the norm. In fact, it's actually done a full circle, with those brands not on Facebook now seen as ‘missing out’. Of course, marketing and PR efforts will always go to where the audience gathers; be it offline or online, Facebook or Twitter - and as it so happens, there are now more than 800 million users on Facebook, so it makes sense that it has become essential to build visibility there. As a result, well created Facebook brand pages are now everywhere; complete with branded tabs, product images, promo videos, and even a handful of fan competitions thrown in for good measure. The question is, with so much PR and marketing noise on Facebook now, what can brands do to stand out? How can social media and marketing agencies make social media work as part of their overall campaigns?

The answer, it seems, is in adopting an integrated approach. One that doesn't view PR, marketing, social media and in-store experience as separate activities, but rather as one combined approach made up of separate parts, each one complementing the other. In light of this, below are three key ways that brands can start to move towards a more integrated approach.

1. Utilise real-time smartphone technologies... such as QR codes, location-based services apps, and more recently Near Field Communications technologies such as the new Google Wallet app. With sales of smartphones continuing to grow at such a rapid rate, more and more retail brands are starting to explore the opportunities that mobile technologies are presenting as part of the in-store consumer journey. One of the main reasons for this is that smartphones present the perfect means of bridging the gap between the online social media space and the physical world - providing the perfect way to both draw consumers in-store, as well as engage with consumers online. More importantly, mobile technologies have also become a platform upon which retailers can provide a much more interactive and richer in-store experience. From the effective use of QR codes to enable consumers to create real-world Facebook ‘Likes’, to engaging loyalty-based promotions via Foursquare rewarding customers for in-store check-ins and interactions - the possibilities for retailers to utilise smartphone technologies are huge.

2. Combine social and traditional channels to enhance the launch of new promotions... by separating the campaign narrative across two or three different mediums, brands are not only able to extend their reach to multiple audiences, but are also able to add notable depth to the overall consumer journey. In the past, a print or billboard ad was viewed as a fairly one-dimensional medium. However, we have now seen an increasing number of campaigns take a new approach to the use of such space; integrating QR codes as part of their ads, extending the consumer journey into the social or digital space and creating consumer interactions where they previously would not have been. The result of which is the transformation of a previously one-way message into a platform for rich consumer-brand engagement. Already it is possible for consumers to scan a print ad to launch a movie trailer, read reviews, access behind-the-scenes interviews and purchase tickets at their nearest movie theatre. Even television commercials are becoming the perfect platform for creating social media interactions, with a number of recent commercials introducing a narrative concept and encouraging viewers to head over to Facebook to continue the story.

3. Do not underestimate the importance of a call-to-action... whether it is on a Facebook post, part of an in-store window display or the key message at the end of a 30-second television commercial, the importance of including a call-to-action to bring everything together and create engagement has and always will be paramount. Moreover, ensuring engagement is rewarding, relevant and beneficial to the consumer is also incredibly important in order to obtain the desired outcome.

Creating a seamless integration between social media, traditional marketing and PR and in-store experience not only enhances the overall effect of a campaign, it also extends reach, sparks engagement and creates multiple conversations around a brand or product. Of course, there are still brands that continue to view social media as a stand-alone channel, or even an add-on to other traditional approaches. However, it is in viewing social media, traditional marketing and in-store experiences in this way that brands will continue to miss the mark. With more and more changes announced last week by Facebook at the f8 conference, the focus on Facebook it seems is now shifting ever-closer towards brands needing becoming part of users' everyday lives in order to maintain visibility. The approach of simply posting marketing messages or product information and hoping that this will be picked up in user news feeds will soon be a thing of the past. The introduction of the new Facebook Timeline suggests a shift towards a much more meaningful, long-term and lifestyle-orientated connection between consumers and brands. Something which takes a lot more than a well designed landing tab and a handful of competitions.

About The Author

George Guildford is an Account Manager at digital PR agency Punch Communications, utilising over 6 years marketing, PR and social media experience. In his spare time, George is also the founder and editor of the Beachtapes music blog and label.