For my article in MediaPost this week I picked up on a theme I spoke about at last week’s SIPA conference – Signal-to-Noise ratio. We know that all our communications channels rely on strong content, so it’s no wonder that when we create one we like to push it out through all of them. This is one of those practices that fails the “what if everyone does this?” test (which is important because everyone does, and there are more everyones every day). I foresee the rise of channel specific content in the very near future. Read the article to learn why, and what you can do to prepare.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio, And The Rise Of Channel-Specific Content
by Mike May
published in MediaPost’s Email Insider, 5-30-12

“We have to let everyone know about this.”

That phrase is common in marketing departments of all sizes, across all verticals, around the world. What “this” is could be a limited-time promotion, the opening of a conference’s registration, the receipt of a prestigious award — you name it. Whatever your brand, there is frequently something pertaining to it that is important enough to share with as many people as possible.

Up until recently, the common rejoinder to that phrase was, “OK, let’s send an email.” Today it is not so simple. Not only do most of us not enjoy 100% open rates consistently; we also do not limit ourselves to an audience in a single channel. So “Let’s send an email” has evolved into “Let’s send an email, put it up on Facebook, tweet it, post it to LinkedIn, pin it and put it on our blog.”

That’s a lot of messages, in a lot of channels. And since we inevitably have audience duplication across channels, it is also a lot of redundance. You can call it “increased frequency” if you like, but before too long your subscribers and fans and followers are going to start referring to it simply as noise.

Play it forward, and the rise of channel-specific content is inevitable. People may like a brand enough to follow it in multiple channels, but repeating the same messages everywhere will prompt your audience to choose one channel over the others, robbing your brand of incremental points of engagement. Today, channel-specific content is a sound marketing practice as it shows respect for the way your audience uses the inbox, Facebook, Twitter and other channels. Soon, however, channel-specific content designed to increase the signal-to-noise ratio will be the cost of doing business for any brand that wants all its channels to be as vibrant, engaged and responsive as possible.

Here are some steps for shifting your communications from pan-channel broadcasting to channel-specific content:

Describe each channel – to your audience and to yourself. When you invite your audience to subscribe, fan or follow, let them know exactly what kind of (unique) content they can expect in each channel. For example, you may use your email list for a weekly newsletter, Twitter for customer service, and Facebook for promotions. Promoting them as such is a form of targeting, as your audience is signing up for the specific content you are providing in each. It also helps build anticipation. This is an easy exercise if you already have some channel-specific content in place. But if all your descriptions look the same, it is a cue that you may be generating too much redundancy in your messaging and need to work on a content strategy that engages your audience in different ways.

Use your email analytics brain (and tools) on social channels to find the best-performing content. You already know how to use email analytics to measure the effectiveness of messages in the inbox. Now, the same sorts of tools are available to measure click-rate, conversion and other engagement metrics for social messages. Using them allows you to see not just how much each channel contributes to your marketing objectives, but also to identify which messages take advantage of each channel’s unique attributes to really shine. This level of intelligence is going to be vital very soon, as marketers will begin limiting messages to the channels in which they work best, in order to make sure that every message contributes meaningfully to its channel’s engagement.

Develop key metrics on channel engagement, not just message effectiveness. Much of the duplication we see across channels now is the result of optimizing at the message level; we try to squeeze as many clicks as possible out of each message by pushing it anywhere we have an audience. Instead, I believe marketers are going to need to focus on optimizing each channel instead of each message. Develop and track a set of key metrics for each message that measures how much engagement you are driving in aggregate across the channel. For example, you might track “Likes per Post” on Facebook, or “Mentions/RTs per Follower per Month” on Twitter. As with email, it is important to balance the near-term needs of your marketing objectives with the long-term health of your marketing programs. Reducing the signal-to-noise ratio and keeping a close eye on how engaged your audiences are across channels will ensure that you can count on each channel to move your business forward this quarter — as well as three years from now.