All posts by Inna Piven

Marketing Educator/Learning Designer/Digital Marketing Professional. Passionate about every aspect of education. Teach marketing courses at the University of Auckland.

Top social media marketing skills for small business

Hi friends and followers. The research on NZ small business social media marketing training needs that I co-authored last year has been published by the International Journal of Advanced Science and Technology.

Image by Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay

In short, we found out that email marketing, marketing automation and video marketing are top social media marketing skills currently recognised and required by SMEs. Interestingly, research participants often pointed out the problematic nature of existing training in relation to video content production. It came as no surprise that many SMEs we interviewed tend to outsource video marketing as there is a lack of training available.

Overall, the following training priorities have emerged: 1) understanding customers’ needs/preferences and behaviour online; 2) designing social media-friendly customer services that are relevant to target markets; 3) designing effective strategies via marketing automation; 4) creating targeted content for video marketing. Plus, networking and ongoing support after trainings were perceived as value adding services that should be included in training offerings.

Image by GradeOne from Pixabay

The list of top social media marketing skills may be different next year, but today it’s in line with some future skills predictions. This definitely provides some food for thought.

Why adopting new communication channels isn’t enough

We’re so excited to use new communication channels in business which is understandable. We try to be ahead of the game with chatbots, emails, social media and content marking, search and display ads – you name it. We’re so excited to introduce a new digital service which we hope will be a game changer and put us on the map. Sure, but sometime it seems like we forget WHY we develop a new service or product, or launch a new communication channel.

The fact is we can adapt multiple communication channels, but for our customers there is still just one – our customer service regardless online or offline. I believe the biggest challenge is not about advancing our digital communications, but how to make our messages coming from our channel mix consistent and relevant to customers. So, before we decide to introduce our nicely-designed chatbot or new app, let’s think about our customers first.

Would your chatbot help to solve their problems as soon as they occur? Would your website 24/7 help-line be able to answer your clients’ questions without redirecting them to other channels or departments? Would your app help customers get required information in a one-step process? We don’t want to overwhelm our customers with unnecessary and often useless information, do we? So let’s get back to basics and think how we can help them to get from Point A to Point B before reaching for any fancy new technologies.

Yours in lifelong learning

* I borrowed this signature from Sakhile, my Digital Analytics Course Success Manager at Massachusetts Institute of Technology 🙂

Digital humans as influencers?

Do you follow digital humans on Instagram? According to StopPress, “a new wave of influencers is already here”. Last week I had a conversation with my colleagues about how AI will shape the future of marketing. While agreeing with many predictions, I was not sure about why we used the future tense in the discussion as AI is already shaking things up. I’m waiting for the day Instagram digital influencers replace current brand ambassadors, so that instead of hiring Julia Roberts for Lancôme, just custom build a virtual one based off the looks, personality, and slang promulgated by social media users to drive engagement. For example, @lilmiquela (a “change-seeking robot” with 1.8m followers) and her digital human friend, @burmudaisbae.

digital humans on instagram
Image from @lilmiquela , Instagram , 2020

These are perfect examples of where I see branding going. Obviously, there are plenty of possibilities associated with AI that can massively change a PR or branding strategy – but there are also many questions around digital humans moving from the sphere of pure entertainment to becoming poster-children for political and social movements…Let me know your thoughts.

The lost opportunities

As it’s almost the end of 2019, I’ve decided to have a look at the most notable events in branding and marketing and create my personal top three list for 1) the lost opportunities and 2) best exploited opportunities.

Today let us cheer for the lost opportunities. First place goes to Smirnoff Vodka, who erected a billboard poking fun at the technical issues of Lime e-scooters. The cheeky billboard appeared in central Auckland just the next day after the scooters were temporarily banned by Auckland city council. It was a quick, well-thought out and planned reaction that, unfortunately, was not exploited any further. I was patiently waiting for a sequel on social media – but this did not happen. All Smirnoff Vodka managed to get is average coverage in the local media. The company fell short of using IMCs.

Second place belongs to Fly Buys, who mistakenly sold a $2000 Apple iPhone 11 at $140. Fly Buys said it would refund all customers who snapped up the bargain…Clearly consumer-brand relationships totally slipped their mind. Looking at responses, they definitely should have honoured the deal instead of offering a refund. The company fell short of consumer relationships.

In third place is Starbucks’ unwittingly anachronistic coffee cup on “Game of Thrones”. Even though experts say Starbucks has earned millions in free publicity because the social media community wouldn’t stop talking about it, the company, surprisingly, didn’t take full advantage of the event. Their response was very quiet, and hardly noticeable. I would have expected Starbucks to play a better role in the “after show” party. The company fell short of UGC, ambush marketing, and cross-promotion.

Image by The Verge

Seems like these companies have been taking pointers from Abe Weissman (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), who said: “Just because there is a door does not mean you use it.” What’s your list? What’s your take on it?

Some after-thoughts on NZIE symposium

Thank you to all who had the time to attend my keynote guest speaker presentation at the #NZIE annual Business, Management and Leadership Symposium last month. After presenting my ongoing project on relationships between businesses and consumers on social media, the discussion turned to whether businesses know their consumers enough to offer meaningful and memorable experiences both online and offline. The short answer is no. So, here are some after-thoughts following my discussion with the audience.

Business, Management and Leadership Symposium at NZIE, 2019

Quite obviously, consumption practices take on new meanings in the digital age  – without being broadcast/shared/communicated on social media, they are pointless. Last year my clients called a whale watching tour off simply because they forgot to charge their cameras. I’m not surprised, I teach consumer behavior in my marketing classes 🙂 What I try to say is that if a business does not offer their consumers an opportunity to create and share their content/experiences with others (yes, it’s about user-generated content and consumers’ self-expression, academically speaking) then it’s probably wasting time on social media. The key is to learn what makes consumers engage with a brand. I’m sure that there are numerous personal as well as professional reasons.

The impact of Instagram content on Russian millennials’ holiday decisions

The travel industry provides a clear example of changes in consumer behaviour driven by social media. Millions of ordinary users take an active part in determining what they would like to see, like, follow, receive, consume and communicate with. Even though a range of social media marketing tactics and strategies has been developed for the travel industry over the years, they cannot guarantee that actual users will be responsive to sales funnels designed by travel companies. There is a need for a deeper understanding of the travel consumer journey on social media.

The results of the study by Tamara Zyrianova I have been involved in as an academic supervisor, has shown that Russian millennial travelers tend to follow travel bloggers on Instagram rather than travel companies. Bloggers have been chosen as the preferred source of information about future travel plans. Travel bloggers’ posts are perceived to be more personal and equal to friends’ recommendations.

Research has identified two primary motives for travel content consumption on Instagram: 1) desire for travel inspirations and 2) getting genuine information about travel destinations based on other consumers’ experiences. It is important to mention that Russian millennial travelers view Instagram as a departure point for trip planning. The data analysis has shown that research participants use Instagram as a search tool: not only do they look for places to visit, but also “where to eat and to shop”.

However, Russian millennial travelers do not solely rely on Instagram, they browse travel websites and other social media platforms to get maximum information about places of interest before they make a final decision. Interestingly enough, research participants pointed out that it is a very rare case when they remember Instagram accounts where inspiring travel contents were found, excluding, of course, their favorite bloggers. This is one of the challenges travel companies are being confronted with.

Hopefully, research findings will encourage travel companies to reconsider their current social media marketing approaches and change perceptions about their social media audience. For guest speaking and workshops please contact me directly.

End of term thoughts


There is no single formula for a good class or term. Every class is different and requires different strategies, activities, amount and types of attention, etc. What you aim for as a teacher is to create a learning environment in which students’ achievements are limited only by the extent of their personal ambitions and goals.

Today was the last class of my marketing course. 10 weeks of intensive learning are done and dusted. I felt touched when my students presented me with a gift – hand-made cards with the sweetest and kindest words (some were in Russian!). This is why many of us stay in academia regardless of the never-ending marking, sleepless nights, extra tutorials, and research supervision 🙂

Cover image by congerdesign from Pixabay

What do we know about brand communities on social media?

In Harvard Business Review, Henry Mintzberg advised, “If you want to understand the difference between a network and a community, ask your Facebook friends to help paint your house”. The idea of community has a long history in sociological and marketing research. Regardless of context, we apply this term where there is a specific type of bond between people, including consumption communities such as beloved Harley-Davidson and Star Trek.

Digital Marketing Convention at NZIE

But what do we know about brand communities on social media? This is a question I decided to discuss with NZIE digital marketing students during our termly convention. I’ve been researching social media since 2010, focusing on the nature of consumer-brand relationships. I was happy to share with students the results of my ongoing project – the model of brand values on social media that illustrates the importance of functional, emotional, self-oriented, social, and relational brand experiences.

Interestingly enough, I did not feel stressed when I presented my research at the First European Conference on Social Media in Brighton, but it seems to be a different story when you share your research with your students. I hope that some students who attended the convention will take full advantage of social media in building communities, others will get inspired to go beyond their study program and one day conduct a research on social media.

NZIE Digital Marketing Students

Images by Naida Rasch

What did you study in high school?

While preparing an application for PhD, I came across my high school academic records. My memories of military classes are still very vivid – we were taught how to survive nuclear war. And before you ask – yes, we had exams. One of the assignments was to assemble a Kalashnikov; I was awarded “A”. In other words, I was able to complete the task within 25 sec Lol

Anyway, it seems like I’m very well equipped for any sort of situations. What did you study in high school?

High School Academic Records

New Year New Studies

Ok, it is almost 2019 and it’s a great time to reflect on the year that has passed.

As a marketer I like Key Performance Indicators. My marketing students know about this and they also know that I like specifics 🙂 So, let’s be specific. It has been a very interesting and big year. Books published – 1, new jobs – 1 (I’ve returned to teaching!), research proposals – 1, family businesses – still 2 (new one is being planned & I still need to learn how to prioritise and delegate work), overseas trips – 1, (Singapore, I’m yours forever), family weekends and holidays – 1, catch-ups with friends – 2 (I made it!!), morning walks with my Jack Russell Moscow – 365, best student feedback – “I want to be her friend forever”.

A long time ago I realised that I can’t make a choice between running a business and teaching. After a few attempts to focus on either business or teaching, I gave up and decided to get the best of the both worlds. It really helps to stay current when it comes to teaching as well as to grow my business (simply because the beauty of being a teacher is never-ending learning).

This year after a long break I returned to teaching. I’m still in the process of getting to know my new colleagues, a new culture (every institution is different), and my new students. The new term starts just in a couple of weeks so I have something to share based on my experiences as a student (and I still am, doing my DPP ) and as a teacher:

1. From time to time you may think that skills you gained and knowledge you learned in the past will never have a use or have anything to do with your career plans. This is far from the truth. At the Far Eastern State Humanitarian University I studied Medieval Literature, History of Religion, Political Science and even Dramatic Reading. Like anybody else I often questioned the content of my programs, but surprise, surprise… later on I recognised the value of ALL of the subjects I studied. It’s not just about advancing your general knowledge – that I’m sure will pay off at any given point in your career – but more importantly, it’s about advancing understanding of the complexities of connections between different disciplines/concepts/theories, etc. This skill is very rare nowadays, trust me!

2. From time to time the concepts you learn can be repetitive. For example, in all marketing papers (even in social media marketing) you will apply, again and again, the marketing mix, servicescape model, marketing research, etc. And this is fine because, 1) you have a chance to master your skills, 2) challenge existing approaches and come up with something new, and 3) experiment with traditional concepts in a new domain (online).

3. Make the most of your study experiences. I always tell my students to create a portfolio of what they have done and studied in class (presentations, group and individual projects, etc). By the end of your studies you will be able to show a company you would like to work for your capabilities and knowledge, and have the evidence to support it. LinkedIn and industry-related networks are great places to share your portfolio.

That’s all for now. I wish you the best of luck for 2019! Happy New Year guys. The photos were taken during the end-of-study Christmas party at NZIE by Leonardo Falasca. I hope they will make you smile!