COVID-19 Business Webinar on Digital Engagement

With the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way we operate our businesses, now has never been a better time to re-evaluate your digital engagement strategy as more people move online.

The Victorian Chamber is delighted to present a COVID-19 Business Webinar on Digital Engagement, hosted by VCCI Chief Executive Paul Guerra alongside a dynamic panel with expertise and experience in succeeding in a digital environment.

Our guests, Ben Hall (Managing Director, Frankly), Carmel O’Keeffe (General Manager Digital Life, Museums Victoria) and Caroline Ralphsmith (Executive General Manager Customer Engagement, Victoria Racing Club) will explain practical steps towards building a strong digital strategy and presence, and discuss how they’ve modified their business operations to capitalise on some of the disruptions as a result of coronavirus.


This session was originally recorded on 1 July 2020.

This information was correct at the time of broadcast. This does not constitute formal legal advice. The Victorian Chamber accepts no liability for actions taken as a result of this broadcast.


Questions for Caroline Ralphsmith, VRC


Q. With the focus on delivering ‘At Home’ digital experiences and as VRC and Museums reopen, what happens with digital platforms they have developed? 

A. The digital platforms that have been created during this time have opened up new ways of engaging with customers and a broader audience. As attractions begin to open these digital platforms will still play role in these organisations in connecting and engaging those that cannot attend in person as well as creating desire to attend in future. We’ve seen this with a number of membership organisations that have digital memberships that connect people to the club/organisation and like-minded people on a digital platform. It also allows us to reach and engage new audiences to educate and connect them with what we do as an organisation – a critical role for public institutions such as the Museum. I expect that they will evolve as experiences that complement the in-person experience of theses attractions and lead to new audiences engaging across multiple channels.

Q. How is the VRC managing the uncertainty around upcoming events later in the year? Do you hope and plan to go ahead with the potential wasting hours of time to be told it can’t go ahead, or are you waiting and will then plan depending on legislation?

A. Racing at Flemington has been able to continue in the last few months albeit without spectators. The VRC has been working closely with the Victoria State Government and relevant authorities to ensure we work within health guidelines to keep our equine athletes safe.

The VRC has also been preparing for various potential scenarios where the Melbourne Cup Carnival can take place. We continue to consult with and take guidance from the Government and industry stakeholders to ensure we work within health guidelines in every possible scenario, while optimising participation in the Melbourne Cup Carnival in creative ways.

Q. How do you see transitioning patrons back to ticketed entrance post-covid from free online content?

A. We knew going into the content lead approach during the early days of COVID -19 that we would need to maintain our presence with always on content via VRC at HOME. Keeping our members and GA patrons connected and informed via digital channels has always been part of our strategy. By providing insight, entertaining through unique content and rewarding via off-course channels we can connect with and build our audience in the months prior to MCC2020. Much of this activity will be offer / experience lead with the specific purpose of driving desire to be on the track, amongst it all again. In the event of no crowds on course for the Melbourne Cup Carnival we will have primed our audience to enjoy all that is on offer via digital and broadcast channels. 

Q. Caroline, a friend of mine is a horse trainer. It was eye opening after everything was shutdown hearing him say he had to keep getting to work to train the horses and keep them active. How do we protect the jobs associated with horse racing in a digital environment, are you open to ideas for creating more revenue?

A. People are a key priority for us. During this time ensuring the safety of all people associated with racing, as well as the sustainability of industry jobs, is at the forefront of our minds. We’re proud that racing has proven its ability to continue safely under COVID-19 restrictions and we see a bright future for horse racing for many years to come.

In terms of the digital environment, we see it as an opportunity to tell the stories of the people that keep this industry going to much broader audiences beyond our members and racing enthusiasts. It’s also created opportunities to build platforms to connect and engage with our members throughout this period. Like any business we are open to revenue opportunities that align to our strategy. 

Q. To all the panel: Is there a product or skill that you have had to acquire to deliver the new products and programmes you have discussed today?

A. Our digital platform has been something that we have been working on to improve continuously and this has given us an opportunity to provide an additional experience for our members the last few months. Our team has a wide set of skills and we are able to continue to harness the collective knowledge and experience within the team to come up with new ways of working. This has been especially important as we continue to deliver our race days behind closed doors and also planning for Melbourne Cup Carnival in revised format. 

Questions for Ben Hall, Frankly


Q. What are the key steps (in order) to develop a digital strategy for a “non” digital business? 


  1. My first bit of advice prior to starting any digital strategy is to thoroughly review you competitor landscape. Understanding your competition will give you great strength. The best way to monitor their activity is to search the “keywords” that you think best fit your brand, review the ads that appear as well as the SEO ranking and most importantly click on the ads so you can monitor their re-targeting strategies and messaging, as well as reviewing their website / landing page.

  2. Next is to define your target market. Their demographics, interests, hobbies, buying behaviour, stage of life, location etc. Create personas if it helps. Also, understanding the size of your potential audience is vital. Any agency can review this for you. Is there 200,000 people p/month searching for my product or 2,000? Perspective is a great grounding tool. You can work your funnel strategy back from this.

  3. Assuming you don’t have a website yet, we need to start building one and this is where your rubber starts to hit the road. Many companies build beautiful looking websites but forget the purpose of the website i.e. leads or sales. Keep this in mind, as optimising your traffic to conversion is critical. You must also make sure your site has the correct SEO structures set up and full google analytical tracking. It’s crucial to understand what people do on your site so we can start building advertising messaging.

  4. Once we have the site up and running with all of the relevant metrics and an understanding of the target market, we can then start the digital strategy; what channel is best suited to our brand, maybe its only social as its targeted to tweens or search as it’s a main stream product.

  5. My final bit of advice is crawl, walk, run – use all the data available to you before launching into spending an enormous amount of money. Test your creative, test your messaging, test your website conversion first, make some small mistakes early as these tweaks will add enormous value in the long run.

Q. What are the best ways to get data apart from social media and running emailed surveys? How do you get above the noise when there is so much streaming online now more than ever?

A. Acquiring data these days is quite accessible if you want to pay for it. A few simple thoughts on how to acquire first party data and third-party data.

  1. First party data can be collected through Google, Bing, Gmail, Social media, email surveys, SMS, secondary landing pages or post purchase questions. Lead scoring CRM’s is another way to gather information.
  2. Third party data can be acquired through a host of data providers. Explain your audience, share your database with them securely and they will find you an audience. Lead generation companies can run multiple scoring campaigns for you. You can still buy records as well for direct mail, email campaigns.

Q. For Ben, what do you think should be our priorities when tweaking SEO?

A. SEO falls under 3 main categories - Technical SEO, On-page SEO & Off-page SEO. Below are ‘s SEO priorities for each category:

  1. Technical SEO:
    • Crawlability: Ensure search engines can go through all the important pages on the site, an XML sitemap needs to be in place and a robots.txt must disclose sitemap location (and does not block important pages).

  2. On-page SEO:
    • Meta Data: Ensure all important pages have unique meta data. Titles cover the most important keywords. Meta descriptions are oriented toward the users.
    • Navigation: Ensure the main navigation is easy to use and links to the most important clusters. The site contains broken internal links, links pointing to non-https versions, links pointing to redirects, broken redirects, etc., these need attention.

  3. Off-page SEO:
    • Amount of Linking Domains: Does the domain have as many linking domains (or more) than the competitors? This needs to be checked on a regular basis. There seems to be a drop in the number of referring domains since December 2019 and has started recovering May 2020 onwards. The aim here would be to recover fully from the previous drop and continue building backlinks to show further growth.

  4. Broken Links: The site contains broken backlinks from external sites. These backlinks need to be analysed and all relevant backlinks need to be redirected to their appropriate target pages.

Q. Podcasting and other mediums are great ways to get out there if in media or entertainment including training and webinar videos. Very powerful - what are your thoughts?

A. Agreed, I think more so than ever COVID-19 has forced us to rapidly adapt to webinars, online learning and the nature of not travelling in cars or public transport has seen a rise in podcasting. The most important consideration in all of this is if you are a small to medium business is how are you going to acquire your audience. 

Q. Question for Ben mostly, if clients prefer face-to-face (e.g. tutoring/coaching), how might you encourage them to shift to digital only?

A. Great question, I think the reality is some humans thrive off personal engagement and that’s not going to go away, I for one like face to face. In answer to your question about shifting - potentially offering discounts, value adds, additional resources if coached digitally. Make sure you have a great online portal so the client gets value. I would look at it another way, if I can run my training online then my reach goes from state based to nationally with no travel costs.

Q. Is this the death of the traditional marketing? If we hire do we seek a digital manager instead of a marketing coordinator?

A. It’s not the death of traditional, TV and Radio will be strong but print is in some trouble, most publishers will most likely give away free print with a digital buy these days.

Absolutely yes, any marketing co-ordinator should have majority of experience in digital in this day and age.

Q. Advice on developing omni-channel - what are the key channels for 2020? Insta, linked in, Facebook, twitter, web, google etc?

A. Without knowing the product this is a tough question to answer so I will respond with the channels I feel we would use in the next 12-18 months. Firstly, SEO is the main focus, if you are not on the first page you don’t exist and the numbers state that over 40% of people will click on the first two organic rankings, by the time you get to the bottom of page one there is not a lot of volume left. Google search is always going to strong as this an intent audience. Facebook is still strong with Insta catching up, especially with the use of video and instant experience ads. LinkedIn is slowing lowering their cost thresholds so worth exploring. YouTube & TikTok are growing at enormous rates so make sure you have a presence (if relevant to your target audience). Don’t forget about content like an Outbrain or Taboola, can get your messaging across as well as selling your product.

Q. What would be the 3 major challenges moving forward in the next 3, 6, 12 months especially for small businesses, and how do you suggest business owners prioritise to solve them?

A. Our first challenge is going to be very focussed with our audience targeting and positioning, COVID has seen an enormous influx of businesses into the digital space so saturation will become an issue. Pick your audience, don’t spread yourself too thin, speak to them with the tone and narrative that relates to them, this may take a few iterations, but you will get there.

Squeezing more out of less, we had already begun this process but make sure there is a capture point for data at every step of the customer journey, from top of funnel awareness building to post sale engagement. So lead nurture journeys, lead scoring, secondary questioning, referral programs, social media engagement campaigns, review campaigns etc etc.

Client expectations, there is now so many different ways to market your business that everyone wants to be across everything. Unless you have unlimited budgets and resources the challenge will be to stick to a few channels that you feel best add value to your product and master them. Being average at every channel will not get you anywhere in the long run.

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