I’ve discovered a simple secret about social media: To achieve success, you need to think like a direct marketer.

Why?

Direct marketing is all about targeting specific individuals with information and offers relevant to their needs and making a call to action to generate response.

Marketers are using social media to connect with specific individuals who have a high level of interest in their products and services. The goal is to get those individuals to respond in the form of likes, follows, shares, posts, links, check-ins, entries, coupon redemptions and sales. That sounds a lot like direct marketing to me.

Here are five proven principles of effective direct marketing strategy that I think apply to the effective use of social media:

  1. Targeting. Sure, half the civilized world is on Facebook and millions are on Twitter and LinkedIn and other channels. But smart marketers don’t care about reaching billions or even millions of people. Like direct marketing, social media marketing is intended to deliver a targeted message to individuals who are most likely to be interested in a company’s value proposition. Social media makes it easy to find these individuals and to create content and promotions that help them find you.
  2. Teasing. Direct marketers use the carrier envelope, catalog cover or email subject line to tease the audience and get them to pay attention. Social media marketers do the same with Facebook copy and tweets. My most re-tweeted tweets happen when I tease my followers with a question or an interesting statement that makes them want to click on a link to know more. That’s exactly like writing direct mail teaser copy.
  3. Engaging. The most effective direct marketing campaigns use compelling content and a personal, you-oriented copy approach to keep readers engaged in the sales message to the point of asking for the order. Social media’s great value is the ability to have similar one-to-one engagement and conversations with individual followers.
  4. Inciting action. Like direct marketing, the best social media marketing campaigns have a call to action that gets followers to respond to a specific request. Look at posts by the most popular brand marketers on Facebook and you’ll see offers, discounts, bonuses, invitations, questions, contests, polls and quizzes, all designed, like a direct mail offer, to get a response.
  5. Testing and measuring. The beauty of direct marketing is the ability to test approaches and measure results. Social media is exactly the same in this regard, with even more measurability and more instant reaction. You’ll know within minutes if your followers or fans are interested in your post.

Direct marketers achieve success by targeting their marketing, focusing on the needs and interests of the prospect, using great content to engage the prospect in the message and making a compelling offer to generate a response. Applying these same proven principles to social media marketing is a smart marketing strategy.

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Jean M. Gianfagna is a marketing strategy expert and the founder and president of Gianfagna Strategic Marketing, which provides marketing strategy and creative services to leading business-to-business and consumer marketers. Read her blog for more marketing tips at http://www.gianfagnamarketing.com/blog.