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A reason to change your strategy?

Event technology expert Miguel Neves explores the question if companies should shift from marketing emails to social media in the post GDPR world.

rom May 2018 onwards the General Data Protection Regulation and the ePrivacy Regulation will be in place. This important dual update of EU online regulation, commonly referred to as GDPR, is being implemented to protect consumers. There is a feeling that consumer data is being abused by advertisers and these regulations are designed to give consumers more control of their data and privacy. Major disruption in the advertising sector is expected, but what does this mean for event professionals?

Email marketing continues to be an effective marketing tool , however in many situations those being emailed do not know why they receive them. They never asked to receive marketing emails.

Businesses build their email marketing lists from a variety of sources including purchased email lists, online research, LinkedIn connections, business cards or any other company email exchanges. Once GDPR is in place it will no longer be legal to send promotional emails to anyone regardless of how their email was acquired, that is unless they specifically opt-in to receiving this kind of communication.

To mitigate this and make sure businesses can continue to use email marketing it is a good idea to get an explicit opt-in from each user before May 2018. It is unlikely that everyone will chose to opt-in which will decrease the size of the mailing list. Inversely, those who opt-in are likely to be more receptive to the email marketing.

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From May 2018, businesses will need recipients' consent (opt-in) for e-mail marketing.

With so much change coming to email marketing is it time to invest in social media marketing instead? Let’s explore. The last few years have seen an unprecedented increase in spend on social media ads. This is perhaps because they are simple to set up, the targeting options are almost endless and their effectiveness can be measured. With social media ads businesses can easily, and at a relatively low cost, reach people outside their client base or email list. However, success is not guaranteed, and it relies heavily on the target audience being active on social media and open to engaging with ads. This makes social media ads prevalent in the B2C world but less so in the case in B2B.

Still, it is worth considering for any business. Social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or XING are not entirely unaffected by GDPR. They will, at the very least, be updating their user terms and conditions to more explicitly state how they store and process user data.

Organic social media, which does not involve paid promotion, is not affect by GDPR. When users follow a business on social media they are giving explicit permission in the form of a public opt-in to have posts from that business on their feeds. While email marketing and organic social media are not interchangeable, growing an engaged social media following for a business can be an important asset. The bad news is as Facebook and other social media channels have become more focussed on social media ads the organic reach, the ratio of followers who see each business’s post in their feeds, is at an all-time low. To maximise the reach of each post there are options to boost posts to followers, the simplest form of social media ads. There are also options to promote posts to users based on other pages that they follow or interests that they have voluntarily added to their profile. Both these options are largely GDPR compliant and will continue to be offered.

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Advanced targeting is also an option with social media advertising.

Other areas of social media are not GDPR compliant and will change significantly. For example, it will no longer be possible to extract user data from social media, so extracting email addresses from LinkedIn will no longer be an option. In the case of social media ads there will likely be big changes to the advanced targeting options which are currently popular with advertisers. These options are powered by technology that tracks users across different websites and devices and uploading user data. These powerful options are hidden and users have little control over how they are targeted. Under GDPR users will have to give permission for their data to be used in this way and there is very little incentive for users to do so. While advanced targeting will continue to be an option with social media ads it is likely that the way it works and what is offered to business will change significantly.

So, is social media the answer?
Social media, whether paid or organic, can be a valuable marketing option for most businesses. While most people’s use of social media is private, the events sector deals primarily with communication, and there is arguably an emotional decision making factor that keeps social media relevant. Using social media to support an online business profile is vital, even if final procurement decisions are unlikely to be based on social media activity.

Upcoming GDPR enforced changes in the advanced targeting options for social media ads may restrict their effectiveness. While social media ads will continue to be the focus we may see organic social media increase in relevance as businesses give greater value to their social media followers.

A carefully devised social media strategy that involves a mix of organic content and social media ads is ideal, especially when it is part of a larger coordinated marketing strategy. Just as with email marketing, it is important to reward social media followers with content that they value. In addition, social media allows for a wide variety of options to publically communicate with followers and other users, a very powerful opportunity for engagement when carefully managed. Ultimately social media is not a direct replacement for email marketing, nor should it be. Communicating on social media compliments email marketing very well and it is surely an option worth investing in for all business in the events industry. MIGUEL NEVES