Thursday, 23 June 2011

Master Marketer - Interview with Digital Marketing Expert Firas Al-Khaffaf

Firas is an experienced Digital and Social Media Marketer who is passionate about helping people succeed in the new media world. He started off his first steps as a web developer, leading the way in search marketing, moving into e-learning instructional design and then exploring ways to build on open source and web 2.0 technology.

Firas has been involved in e-learning and training development since 2003, developing different types of e-learning modules built to give the end user a fun and engaging learning experience. Ranging from simple e-learning with voiceover to interactive rich media video e-learning content.

During his time of being involved with the several web, e-learning and video productions, he’s also been involved in launching successful digital campaigns for various organizations in both the public and private sector which includes UK universities and awarding bodies like Chartered Management Institute, CAM Foundation and Manchester Metropolitan University Business School. This has lead him to broaden his digital marketing expertise and is now looking to share the experiences and insights so feel free to connect with him on Linkedin and follow him on Twitter.

Question 1: We hear a great deal about Social Media Marketing today. How well are companies focussing too much on these specific tools, and what advice could you give to maximise Marketing Communications overall?

As Social Media Marketing is growing more and more popular, we see more companies introducing this as part of their overall business operation. However, there are many companies that are still hesitating. There are various reasons why this is happening. Some will think that it’s not important for their business. Other businesses are afraid if they open the social media channel, they wouldn’t know how to deal with negative comments.

My advice is to embrace social media marketing. The market place is changing and the Internet is becoming more social. The consumers have expectations; they are now allowed to speak freely online about what they think and express their opinions openly.

At this rate, if businesses don’t adapt to fit social media in their business operation, they will have to eventually.

A client of mine approached me asking for my advice on using Twitter. They said, “Should we start using Twitter to promote our products? I had a look on Twitter and someone has said something negative about our products already. What if we receive more negative comments if we decide to open this channel?”

I responded by saying that there are always going to be people that will say something negative so don’t let that put you off. Also, the negative tweet was perhaps a cry for attention as no one had responded to the individual using the regular communication channels. Perhaps this was a last resort of expressing their opinion. 

Now that you’ve seen that someone has expressed their opinion negatively, it is your job to turn that negative comment into a positive comment. You’d be surprised when you respond to these people how things can change. Once you win them over, they’ll be speaking about you online in a positive manner. 

That’s the power of social media!

Beware that there are some that would just argue for the sake of it. Whatever happens, don’t get yourself into an argument via social media; it can get messy and out of control. Nothing beats picking up the phone and just resolving the issue there and then.

I would recommend getting yourself trained up on Social Media using The Social Media Training Pack on

Question 2: In-bound and Out-bound there is a huge amount of ‘noise’ on Digital Channels. What can Marketers do to cut-through the clutter, in both directions?

We live in an age where there is information being thrown at us from everywhere. Sometimes It’s just information overload and we need to know what’s important and what’s not.

In terms of inbound through the digital channels, marketers need to know and decide which methods work for them more effectively for their business and their customers. For instance, one market may find themselves on Facebook more than Linkedin, so it is a good idea to reach out to that market via Facebook. There is no point setting up several profiles/pages on different social networking sites across the Internet for the sake of it, “just because everyone else is doing it”.

What eventually happens is that it becomes too overwhelming to maintain and respond to everyone, which leads to unhappy people left hanging with no responses to their queries/complaints. All they see is that you’ve provided a way for them to communicate with you, but then you don’t respond to them. It’s like never checking your email inbox.

Inbound is much more effective than outbound, but that does not mean you should rule out outbound completely. For instance, email marketing and webinars are very effective. Being able to reach out to an online audience is more powerful now than ever before because people are hungry for knowledge and finding solutions to their problems.

So it comes down to recognising what is important and what isn’t. Don’t try and do everything because that’s when the huge amount of ‘noise’ develops.

Question 3: Should Digital Marketing be treated as a separate and specialist area within the marketing function (like SEO) or is it better treated as something with which all marketers should be involved?

As the years go by, digital is becoming more integrated in our lives. Soon digital and traditional marketing will merge. For instance, people these days expect you to have a website, blog or Facebook page. They want to find out more about you before they meet you. A website, blog or Facebook page is like an online shop window for your business. This is digital marketing, but is also becoming part of the overall marketing function.

However specialist areas, such as SEO, will always somewhat remain separate, as the processes involved in SEO require time and resources. Not only that, but also extensive expertise is required. Getting websites to rank number one in search engines for competitive keywords is something that
requires a vast understanding of using various SEO tools as well as techniques.

Question 4: How do you see Mobile Marketing developing over the next few years?

Mobile Marketing keeps evolving year after year. Mobiles are becoming as sophisticated as computers.

I remember a time when there was no Internet access on mobile phones. Then came WAP and now we’ve got mobile phones that load webpages exactly like they would appear on your laptop, or games like PlayStation and Xbox.

People have access to their mobile phones more than they do to their laptops. This means you can target them with all sorts of mobile marketing from SMS messages to app notifications. Also to bear in mind, SMS is a powerful form of marketing. There is a higher open rate in SMS messages compared to emails. This in itself has a lot of potential.

My advice is to get involved now. Everything is heading towards digital. People are online and they are easy to find with social sites and search engines. In fact, it’s never been this easy to market your products/services as you can market to the whole world with a few clicks.
Another form of marketing is to have in-app advertising. This means you can promote your products/services within other people’s apps or within your own apps that you give away for free. You can even incorporate videos in your advertising on mobile phones.

Question 5: What advice would you give Marketers who want to improve their performance and job prospects in the field of Digital Marketing?

The Internet is filled with information, which can get you started in the digital field. First you need to know what you want to specialise in within digital marketing e.g. social media, SEO, PPC and so on. Try not to do everything; though do grasp an understanding of what each aspect is.

To those who find the idea of digital marketing daunting, it’s not really that daunting. In fact, you will find similar methods of traditional marketing, which are applied in digital marketing. For instance the principals of marketing communication does not differ much between digital and traditional marketing. This means you can take similar methods and rules and apply them. Over time you will learn certain online ethics, which may vary from offline. However this comes with experience and with time, but shouldn’t be something to hinder you from getting started.

Also, if marketers want to climb higher in their career ladder, I would recommend getting a qualification in digital marketing, such as the diploma in digital marketing for instance. With this qualification, you will be recognised and respected throughout the industry.

There is no better time than now to embrace digital marketing so simply just dive in and get started.

Useful links and resources:

Firas Al-Khaffaf’s Website/Blog:

Follow Firas on Twitter:

Become Friends with Firas on Facebook:

Connect as a Friend with Firas on Linkedin:

Firas Recommends The Social Media Training Pack:

Recommended Digital Marketing Blog:

Download Your Own Social Media Map:

Thank you Firas!

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