Sometimes DIY Isn’t The Answer

As a small business owner, you’ve probably gotten used to doing it yourself no matter what “it” may be.  Whether that’s the part of your business that you’re passionate about — the thing that made you want to own your own business in the first place — or the accounting for your business, or the marketing for your business, or the technology for your business, or even the cleaning up the mess at the end of the day…you probably do it yourself, or at least you did for a long time way back at the beginning.  Whether it’s something that’s built into the DNA of most small business owners or simply a necessity from being forced to run as lean as possible, DIY is par for the course in the small business world.

But there are times when it’s not in your best interest.

blogging-428954_640While it’s always wise to understand every part of your business, there comes a point of diminishing returns when the specialized knowledge that your business really needs just isn’t worth the time or effort for you to develop it yourself.  Sure, given enough time and energy you could probably learn how to do it as well as the “real” professional, but who runs your business during the time it takes you to get there?  It’s demanding enough just to build and grow a business, but to do so while learning all of the new specialized skill sets necessary to make it successful is approaching the impossible.  For some, the knowledge in question is the accounting.  For others it might be the sales or marketing.  Technology is often something that isn’t a ready part of a small business owner’s skill set.  There’s a reason there are so many independent small businesses that provide precisely these skill sets!  Most small business owners eventually begin to outsource these more specialized pieces of their life’s work to specialized professionals — whether employees or not — because the cost of paying them is less than the cost of doing it themselves.  Blogging is one of those specialized pieces.

Yes, it’s true: in the year 2015, anyone can start a blog for free in just a few minutes.  You can even make it look pretty decent, too.  But, in today’s social media driven society where you have just a few seconds to connect with your blog’s visitors before they move on to the next thing, can you grab (and hold) their attention?  Can you keep them coming back day after day, week after week? Can you build a growing readership?  Much like working the drive through at McDonald’s, blogging sounds a lot easier to do than it really is.

For one thing, blogging is its own kind of writing.  It’s not high-minded or formal academic writing, but it’s not messy, sloppy, and nonsensical, either.  In the same way that even professional authors struggle to jump from novels to short stories to newspaper reporting, it takes a significant amount of time, effort, and experience to develop the right tone of voice and style for a blog.  This can be even more tricky when you factor in the exact subject matter and content of your own particular blog, but in order to have an authentic and consistent voice, that is exactly what needs to be done.  On top of that, the mechanics of the writing needs to be high quality.  It is not uncommon to find minor typos or grammatical errors even on websites of major companies, but the more of these a reader sees, the less credibility the blog carries with that reader…if they bother to come back at all.

But it’s not just about the writing skills.  If your readers leave comments or interact with your blog in any way, it becomes even more paramount that someone with experience is on the other side of the keyboard to curate and nurture those interactions in a positive way that not only builds your brand but also provides extra value to your readers.  We’ve talked before about how to do — or not to do — social media (here, here, here), and in many cases these disasters occur because of inexperience with the platform.  If you’re not sure you can manage the inevitable trolls — or if you don’t even know what a troll is — then you may want to think twice about doing your own blogging.

success-620300_640It’s becoming more and more important to enter the blogging and social media game on behalf of your small business, but it’s also critical to get it right.  If you outsource other specialized pieces of your operations, then it only makes sense to outsource your blogging, too.

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How to Share Your Content in Social Media Updates

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Your window of opportunity to garner the interest of the consumer is small. With attention spans shortening due to social media induced comprehension issues, that window has shrunk even further. What you say to the public has to grab them from the first phrase. And any excess wordage or concepts results in attention drift. Once that happens, you’ve lost them. They are already moving on to the next update in their feed.

Consumers don’t want their social media pages to be overburdened with posts they aren’t interested in. ‘What will interest consumers?’ is the question which every marketer has foremost in his mind. Not every post you make will produce a like or a share. But knowing what to say and how to say it has a direct correlative impact on whether or not consumers will find your posts interesting and worth sharing. Below is a short guide on how to share your content in social media posts.

  • Have great content. It doesn’t matter how much your update garners consumer attention and interest if the content you send them to is subpar. They’ll soon stop bothering to read your posts altogether, much less share them, if they’re disappointed on the follow through. What makes great content? The marketing rule is that it must teach, entertain, or inspire. If your post rambles, is a mere narrative about your day, or otherwise fails to teach, entertain, or inspire, consider writing or hiring experienced content writers who can start filling your website or blog with content worth reading.
  • What posts you share are important. Don’t take for granted the content you have that can remind consumers of your company’s existence. Share your about page, your testimonials page, your most clicked on posts (see what those are via analytics), and the posts that consumers found the most useful.
  • Keep posts short. Twitter length is a good rule of thumb. Consumers skim through their social media feed, which means they spend about two seconds reading a post before the decide whether it interests them.
  • Post updates with a link attached, but draw them in with your words. Don’t rely only on content you’re linking to. Even if the content is important, consumers need to have a reason to click on your link.
  •  Ask a question you think your target audience will agree with. Ego is an important part of the sales process because consumers have to feel good about the product they buy. If the audience can give a resounding Yes or No to your question, odds are, you will be getting more clicks.
  • Make a statement that will surprise your target audience. ‘Surprise statements’ cause curiosity, and curiosity equals clicks. Get familiar with presenting the unexpected, but don’t mislead the consumer as to the nature and slant of the subject matter.
  • Keep your updates clear and easy to understand. Pick a single point to emphasize rather than multiple points that leave your reader confused about why they should click on the link. Use the simplest word and the shortest sentences. Simple and clear beats out elaborate and confusing any day of the week.THAT MOMENTWhen your updates start
  • Use hashtags. Not all social media has ease of use with hashtags (Pinterest is a noticeable hashtag exception to the hashtag rule). Research which hashtags are the most used and visited hashtags in your industry. Add a minimum of two of hashtags to each update and make sure they are appropriate to your content.
  • Know your business. And not just your business. Check out the updates of competitors and peers with a high number of followers. Pay attention to which of their tweets are retweeted, which of their FB updates receive a high number of likes or shares. Figure out why. Are there good ideas you can implement there?
  • Share updates that link to content similar to your own. Part of having a social media page for your business is not just about linking to your own content, making announcements, or offering discounts, it’s proving to the consumer that your business page is worth perusing more in depth for other articles they might find relevant or of interest. And it helps to sell your brand by creating a mental association of your business with a specific industry as a whole.

Knowing what to share and how to share it can take some finesse and a good sales sense. If you don’t think you have those kinds of chops, stop by our page. We can help with that!

Social Media Marketing Strategies in 2015

Social MediaMarketingStrategies 2015

If there is anything we can count on in the digital world, it’s that it changes quickly. As the speed at which information is exchanged improves, consumer response to that information becomes faster and businesses want to be the first to know, and react in kind, to the consumer response.

Analytics are and will remain important for businesses. Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest all have rolled out analyzation tools for their users. The new information will allow businesses to pinpoint which aspects of social media are drawing interest, and which are falling flat. In order to use this information effectively, businesses will have to be flexible, willing to discard strategies that aren’t working and acquire new ones, sometimes implementing strategies that are novel and creative.

Businesses have to be aware, and not just aware, but engaged with the public profiles of their employees. As businesses learned from this past year, a business, and the public profiles of its employees, don’t have a private life on social media. Everyone markets. On a public profile, employees of a company are representatives held up to consumer expectations.  Consumers have the expectation that the companies they buy from reflect their own values. Which means employees have to be careful what they post on their public profiles and how they represent the brand.

Consumers are also wanting authenticity because it’s more relatable. As video and visuals become more common, there will be an upswing in the number of promotional videos that “sell” via real customer reviews, or through telling a great story. Consumers give greater points to a company that is doing more for the community than just making money off them.  They will want to see the human, personal side of a company because it gives the impression that it’s local and approachable, versus an immense and untouchable thing that happens to employee people. Companies will find their videos going viral if they can make the consumer’s heart melt, by promoting caring rather than persuading them to buy.

But attention spans among adults are starting to change. Studies have shown that we actually read differently after a constant exposure to social media.   Businesses concerned about consumers losing their ability to “read deeply” might focus on having quality posts of a longer length. But businesses who want to tap into the consumer trend of focusing on the most pertinent information in the shortest number of words, will use focus on implementing shorter posts and more of them. Microblogging, especially, will be useful for businesses interested in shorter, more frequent, posts.

Bigger companies will rely on an approach that incorporates both the digital tech and creative aspects of marketing. This means knowing a modicum of html speak will be of huge benefit to the social media marketing job-seeker. At the same time, smaller companies will discover that social media and blogging companies are catering to the DIYers by making their interfaces more user friendly.

Regardless, some argue that the age of the blog is starting to wane as companies discover other avenues of social interaction that work better for their business, and microblogging via tumblr and twitter take over. New social media outlets that are specific to certain subsets of people will begin to become more common. Purchase of ads tailored to these subsets of people will increase as consumers begin to make use of the hobby/interest-specific social media.

Hence, business owners will have social media managers who are given specific parameters of interaction – as much to ensure that there aren’t any social media faux pas which escalate into media debacles, as to ensure that the interactions are appropriate to the audience.

Immediacy continues to be an important aspect of digital commerce and, as such, will continue to force the direction of digital technology. As social media outlets attempt to shorten the distance between idea and action by experimenting with platforms that allow direct purchase of products, we’ll see the beginning of the end of third party distributors. Consumers will no longer have to go to a different website to purchase the product, but can purchase it right from their media outlet of choice.

This in turn will lead to a rise in ad sales on social media, as well as opportunities for individual bloggers to make more through affiliate links and acting as distributors of products endorsed on the blog. Because of this, authenticity will be even more important to the consumer who may not trust a blogger whose sole purpose in owning a blog is to make money off followers.

Overall, in 2015 we can expect to see a more tailored approach to the individual consumer. With every generation that passes the exchange of information has steadily grown swifter. The speed of that exchange has made a huge impact on the marketplace, both digital and otherwise. It will continue to do so and businesses will need to be prepared to take advantage of improved social media changes. Technology stops for no man.

Sources:

http://www.business2community.com/social-media/7-top-social-media-trends-will-impact-marketing-2015-01107054

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/social-media-in-2015-predictions-and-potential/

http://www.toprankblog.com/2014/05/digital-marketing-2015/

http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7608-2015-small-business-predictions.html

 

Do’s and Don’ts for a Happy Social (Media) Life

If you just started up a blog, twitter feed, or Facebook page for your small business, congratulations! We applaud the desire to broaden your customer base using this avenue of interaction. Are you a newbie to the social media world? Do you have a full calendar of posts or topics ready to go? Are they everything they 1should be? Do you have no idea even where to begin or what the protocols are to maintaining a social media page?

The advice below might seem like common sense, but being aware of these do’s and don’ts can make a big difference with likes, sharing, and customer approval of your page.

Don’t get too friendly. That doesn’t mean page managers need to be cold, or even cool, to visitors. It does mean they need to stay professional and impersonal. Scale back on TMI (Too Much Information). Remember that this isn’t a personal blog or twitter page, this is one of your business faces – quite possibly your most user friendly page, making you easily accessible to millions. Customers don’t want to know what you ate for breakfast, unless it pertains to your business.

Do have fun. People like positive, happy people. It comes through in a person’s writing voice, regardless of their intention. It’s especially important that whoever manages your social media page does so with a balanced perspective. Customers will be offended if a page manager takes a serious issue too lightly. They’ll also be turned off by a manager who regularly treats lighter issues like he’s Atlas holding up the world. A zest for life is beneficial to the success of your social media page because it acts like a people magnet. Think, ‘Young at heart.”

Don’t be antagonistic. Being snide, patronizing, or sarcastic toward those who comment is a sure way to narrow your customer base. As customers, we want to believe we are respected, and the first step in respect is a suspension of negativity. Even if you profoundly disagree with a customer, do so with respect and professionalism. If you really want to be safe, don’t limit this rule to engaging with commenters.

Do engage with commenters. If someone leaves comments on your page, even negative ones, be happy! They cared enough to respond, rather than just clicking out. If it’s a criticism, acknowledge their complaint, and tell them what is being done to deal with the issue, or why nothing is being done. Customers might disagree with a company’s reasons, but knowing them is the first step to transparency. And transparency creates a reputation of reliability. Whatever you do, don’t ignore visitors! Thank them every so often, perhaps even with a product discount.

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Don’t engage in flame wars. Sometimes a commenter might leave an inflammatory comment on your page. It sits there loaded and waiting for just the right spark to blow up your page. Leaving it on your page can cause a commenting thread that goes crazy. But that could result in more shares, and more shares are always good. On the other hand, leaving it without responding to it could make it seem like your company waffles on the issue. If you do engage, be careful. Be professional.

Do pick your battles. If you really care about an issue, showing that you are willing to take a stand can gain you the admiration of the public. Whatever the issues are, make sure posts are representative of what the company stands for. Saving face is never fun for anyone. Defending your position on things that matter to you will help define your company. But that doesn’t mean be defensive. So when you do feel like you need to assert your opinion on something controversial, do so with as much reason, and as little undue emotion, as possible. Customers don’t want vanilla, they do want respect and professionalism.          

Don’t clutter with inconsequential posts. This can be a hard rule to follow for a person new to the social media world. Where is the customer’s “I don’t care” line? Similar to the “TMI Rule,” not posting inconsequential things means staying away from trite commentary, information disconnected from your product, or useless information. If we are fans of your rental equipment page, we don’t want to be seeing shares on ISIS (unless terrorism is somehow affecting your business). Whatever the post is, if it doesn’t seem relevant to your business, make sure you show the connection, or risk leaving your customers scratching their heads.

Do pick one of the big marketing three with each post: amuse, inform, or inspire. Our society is notorious for being short on time. Hence the tweet (aka, the mini blog). We want things fast, yesterday, and if time consuming, as streamlined and to the point as possible. Keeping your posts to one of the three above (inspiring, amusing, or informing) ensures your social media posts are pertinent to the reader. If they are going to like your page, it is because they have discovered some sort of utility involved – be that of education, enjoyment, or hope. Give them a reason to engage with you, to share your posts and your page, and to come back for more.

Medium: Blogging Platform for Writers and Editors

We talk a lot about blogging and content creation on this blog as it is important to share your stories through conversational marketing and maintain fresh content on your site to assist with your search rankings. There are several types of blogging platforms – WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, to name a few – but in this blog post I want to spend some time introducing you to Medium.

If you haven’t heard of Medium.com, you aren’t alone. Although the platform, Medium, launched in October 2012, it is still a new platform. Medium is a blogging platform developed by the co-founder of Blogger and Twitter, Evan Williams. Blogging began as a tool for writers to share their thoughts, then with the wave of social networks, like Twitter and Instagram, short social images and messages became popular for sharing. Medium aims to meld both of these ideas and mix writers together with a social aspect.

A place for both amateur and professional writers, Medium organizes the writing within collections and user recommendations. Medium boasts a gorgeous online editor tool and online reading format that is clean and modern. Take a look at one of the posts to see how the story scrolls down the page. It’s a connected and collaborative platform that even tells you the average length of time each article will take to read!

Collaborative Editing

What also sets Medium apart from other blogging platforms is that there are opportunities to ask other writers for edits before and after each work is published. While the author is always in charge of what is seen publicly, readers and other writers can offer feedback and ideas using notes. Created for both positive and negative feedback, as well as general commentary, notes can help writers with their work – either through spelling or through insight into a different perspective.

Content Promotion

Writing is a learning process and Medium places a strong focus on the words on the page, not with how popular you are outside of your work.

Williams writes, “We think great ideas can come from anywhere and should compete on their own merits. On Medium, you can contribute often or just once in a blue moon, without the commitment of a blog… Through a combination of algorithmic and editorial curation, posts on Medium get spread around based on interest and engagement. Some get hundreds of thousands of readers — and not because they were written by famous people. Medium is not about who you are or whom you know, but about what you have to say.”

Get Involved

Medium isn’t a standalone blog that requires you to post every day or every week. You can write on it if you want, but you can also read articles, leave notes for authors, and recommend the works you like. The homepage is a great place to start to find links to editor’s picks of interesting content, as well as what is trending at the moment. Are you intrigued? Did you set up an account yet? I’d love to see what you’ve written – share it below and I’ll take a look!

“But I don’t know what to blog about!” How to stop worrying and start writing for your business

The end of any year, we hope, involves clearing out the clutter and mistakes of the previous year, and part of those mistakes for any small business may have involved neglecting (maybe if I ignore it, it’ll go away) blogging for your business.  As part of the initial consultation with any small business owner (we work with all sizes of business but many of our clients have between 2-25 employees) the question always is posed: “What are you going to write about?”  This is partly because the owner or principal feels that there isn’t any “interesting” content to share with the public.  But this just isn’t true.  Every business has stories to share about the industry, its customers, its practices, and its passions, just to name a few starting points.

The Industry

People may be aware that your industry exists, but do they know how it works?  Can you tell some “inside baseball” stories in an interesting fashion?  Ask your colleagues for thoughts on sharing things you take for granted.  One of our clients helps plan special events and one thing we didn’t really think about before working with them was how long an initial phone call might take.  Share how someone gets started in your business (are there certifications?) or how many players (wide open or pretty niche?) or even how you got started.  All of these can be compelling stories to share.

Your Customers

You can always change the names to protect the guilty (or the innocent!) but telling stories about customers is not only cathartic from a business perspective, but it’s also helpful from a reviewing perspective for your staff and colleagues.  Walking through a very positive customer interaction not only reinforces good feelings about your brand, but it sets a point of reference to strive for.  Walking through a challenging customer situation, if done well, showcases your customer service skills.

Your Practices

So you have a donut shop and all donuts are the same, aren’t they?  Or are they?  Whatever your donut/widget, what’s your differentiator?  Marty Neumeier, in his landmark book Zag, refers to this as being the only _____ that _____.  What makes you different?  That’s what is going to draw a consumer that is increasingly tech-savvy and reliant on fellow customer reviews.

Your Passions

We know that you aren’t robots and don’t just think about your business 24/7.  Well that’s not true – plenty of us often do – but the point is that you should always take some time to share something that isn’t directly related to your business.  Proud of your town’s historic roots?  Tell us about them!  Fascinated by scuba diving?  Share your reflections from your latest vacation.  Has one of your colleagues recently had a major positive life change?  Inquiring minds want to know!

We hope this brief brainstorming exercise has gotten you excited about beginning to blog – because, let’s face it, your competitors are already doing it.  So are you going to let it continue to stay on your “to-do” list?  Or are you going to make the New Year truly new, by promoting your business in one of the most genuine and relevant ways: by writing about it.  If you feel overwhelmed or need help – we are just an email away.

The Who, What, and When of Content Marketing

Let’s face it. Content marketing is a challenge. There never seems to be enough time and really, what exactly is content marketing?

According to Content Marketing Institute, “content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action… The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.”

Without content, marketing is close to impossible as quality content is key to successful marketing tactics. Without content, what do you share on social media? Without content, how do search engines consistently find your site? Without content, how do you address consumer issues? Content marketing is the way to bring those quality customers to your website and build your brand presence, generating loyal consumers.

This all sounds wonderful, but put into practice, is a lot harder to implement. Below I’ll share 3 challenges facing content marketing and a few ways to address those challenges:

1.     Who is going to write this content?

Depending on the size of your business, you may have someone in the marketing position that can fill this role and be in charge of leading content creation. However, many employees in small businesses are already busy enough and don’t have the time to allocate to an additional responsibility. Take a look at the subject matter experts in your company and see if they can assist in this process – providing quotes, doing a quick interview – or take a look to see if the content could be outsourced to help create enough quality material.

2.     What is this content going to be about?

To know this, take some time to understand your buyer personas. Buyer persona is a fancy way of saying your customer and prospective customer base. For example, if you run a print shop, you may have several buyer personas including brides to be who need wedding invitations to executives who need large scale printing for corporate events. Provide information that will help these personas and you will show yourself as a subject matter expert who they can trust and go to for more information.

3.     When is this content going to be published?

This is a very common challenge when it comes to content marketing – everyone has their own schedules and determining who is to curate content and what the content will be about is time consuming. Without the right resources, content marketing can seem exhausting. Overcome this challenge by creating a content marketing editorial and production calendar. At WordWorks, we use one to direct this blog, as well as other client scheduling. That way we know who is working on what and when the drafts and final products are due.

Now that I’ve shared a few challenges facing content marketing, I’d love to hear if you share these same challenges and what other challenges you face (and ways you’ve found to overcome these challenges!)