Persuading ostriches to operate in the digital age

Sinead McLaughlin
Sinead McLaughlin

Before the age of the internet, marketing was different. Yes, word of mouth recommendation was important, but marketing tended to focus on where advertisements were placed. Today, life is different.

Advertising is still important – which is a relief for the ‘Derry Journal’. But so, too, is what happens on the internet. This is reflected in the fast and constant growth in advertising spend on the web.

But just as important is the use of social media – your own website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and what your customers are saying about you online, perhaps in a forum that you have never even heard of.

Today, every effective marketing strategy concentrates at least as much on the use of social media as it does on traditional advertising approaches. But often established organisations have difficulty in adjusting to the modern operating environment. Many businesses – and this can apply particularly to retailers, but also to many manufacturers – take the ostrich position when it comes to the internet.

“If we don’t see what is happening around us, then we can continue in our own happy way,” say the ostriches. (These ostriches, by the way, can be found in the voluntary and public sectors, not just amongst some businesses.) The ostriches, of course, are wrong.

Consumers increasingly plan their purchases online, even if they are not making their purchases online. They may seek online reviews and recommendations, they may plan their activities, they will look online at maps to work out the most convenient places to go shopping, to stay in a hotel, or to eat.

A good website can promote the business or other organisation, as can effective use of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. But that is not the limit of the social media spectrum. Every organisation must ask itself – and check – what past customers and service users are saying about it online. Strong criticisms on a review website can destroy a business’s reputation.

Even the biggest companies can get things wrong. Ulster Bank has not only had its IT problems, but consumer advice websites are now telling the bank’s customers what to do about it. Southwest Airlines – one of the largest in the United States – this month made a great offer of discount fares to its loyal customers via Facebook, but ruined the effect because its systems then imposed multiple, unintended, charges on those same customers.

It is easy for small firms, but also large businesses, voluntary bodies and even public sector agencies to fall behind in the fast moving online environment. Social media is not going away - rather it is growing and organisations need to engage and respond to it in the right way. That is why the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce is active in supporting both members and non-members to learn how to operate effectively in the digital environment.

As part of Derry’s Culture Tech, the Chamber is hosting an event for local organisations to be given the best possible advice on how to ensure they fully adapt to the continuing digital revolution. Workshops will take place examining, digital marketing – ‘the big picture’ – online advertising, search engine optimisation, the use of social media, online PR, e-commerce, email marketing and web design for non-designers.

Some of Northern Ireland’s leading digital marketing practitioners will be addressing the conference, giving practical advice, leading expert workshops, networking sessions, product demonstrations and ‘fast fix’ clinics. The task that the Chamber of Commerce has taken on is to help the whole city benefit from digital technologies, to help retailers to protect and expand their operations and to support the service and manufacturing sectors to exploit the opportunities that are out there online.

Derry has established a strong reputation for the development of tiger enterprises in the digital sector. But at our CultureTech workshop, both tigers and ostriches will be equally warmly received.

The Chamber of Commerce Culture Tech event takes place on Wednesday, August 29 from 9.30am to 5pm at The Playhouse. Details can be obtained from Christina at the Chamber of Commerce on 028 71 26279 or