Social Media Marketing Consultation & White Papers
Strategy and Tactics of Effective Online Branding
I have given small businesses, professionals, and nonprofits guidance — about both the opportunities and the limitations — in leveraging the vast reach of social media, including blogs, as well as maximizing the frequency of delivering high-quality, multimedia messages to targeted audiences.
Please also see my other works in online marketing.
Social Media Marketing Strategy in General (Selling by Not Selling)
Since communication is by definition a “two-way street,” there are two basic ways of interacting with the public at large via social media Web sites: You can put information out and/or you can get information in.
The value of the latter is in receiving feedback, direct from your potential market, often almost instantaneously. This is accomplished by such things as Facebook “Like” buttons or Twitter “Tweet” buttons, which not only let you know that a visitor enjoys your content but also allows the visitor to tell all their Facebook friends (who read their walls) or Twitter followers (who read their tweets) with one simple click — no wonder those social media companies have convinced countless webmasters (including yours truly) to include those buttons on their own Web sites (Please see down below, at the left). Taking things to the extreme is the “AddThis” button, the omnipresent orange plus sign, which allows a visitor to recommend a Web site to potentially hundreds of social bookmarking sites (The AddThis button also allows a visitor to bookmark a site in their own browser or to e-mail a link to the site to any of the contacts in their address book). Of course, the potential downside is that if a site does not strike a visitor’s fancy, they can quickly spread that negative word far and wide. The lesson is to maintain high-quality content in your Web site, blog posts, and everywhere else online.
And putting it all together — both the output and the input of information — is the ability of various social media sites to allow visitors to reply or comment to your posts or others’ (the essence of a blog). Nothing seems to generate more excitement and “buzz” among visitors than a substantive — sometimes passionate — exchange of views.
In marketing, either online or off, there are no “magic bullets” — no methods guaranteed to succeed (or fail, for that matter). That said, the two most important things you can do in social media marketing to maximize your chances for success are:
- Create fresh, new, valuable content, which will generate strong “word of mouth” advertising — “viral” marketing, in online parlance, and the best (most powerful and least expensive) messaging, in any medium.
- Maximize the frequency and reach of that content to the appropriate target market (and as mentioned, with social media that means two-way communication, optimally with comments, replies, replies to replies, etc., creating and sustaining exciting conversations and building personal relationships).
You should start by making any content you have previously created readily available to anyone online — including Google and other search engines — as in archives of your Web site, which should be made searchable (as with the free Google Site Search Engine). That content should also be refreshed regularly, as with monthly newsletters. Moreover, with posts on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, and posts in a blog, you can readily increase the frequency of your high-quality messaging (which can include links to relevant images and even audio and video, either that you produce or that presented throughout the Web).
The question then becomes how do you increase your frequently updated content’s effective reach, to your target market — ideally without even having to buy online advertising (such as Facebook Ads, individually targeted to those users with self-identified profile characteristics that match your target demographics). The ways to increase your effective reach vary with the social medium: Facebook, Twitter, and blogs each present unique opportunities and limitations.
But the bottom line is that social media is based on interpersonal relationships — up to and including trust, as for brands — which are built by conversing about common interests, sharing your content and that of others, and praising others’ work as well as (sometimes even more than) your own.
Ultimately, ironically, as one successful small business owner said, social media marketing is about “not selling.”
The Relative Importance of Various Social Media
Although the following remarks are based upon outdated studies — as omitting considerations of Pinterest or Google Plus+ — most of the underlying concepts remain valid (To see the most popular social networking sites today, visit eBizMBA.com).
According to a 2010 study by ExactTarget, “consumers don’t isolate their communications to email, Facebook or Twitter and expect brands to communicate consistently across the channels.” As far as the relative importance of each of those “channels,” the study found that 93% of online consumers subscribe to e-mail marketing messages, 38% are fans of brands on Facebook, and 5% follow brands on Twitter.
Likewise, in a 2009 to 2010 survey by Ipsos Marketing, 23 to 26 percent of respondents (consumers of packaged goods in 23 nations) said they were likely to visit a brand’s Web site in the next three months; 13 to 15 percent, a brand’s Facebook page; and 11 to 13 percent, a brand’s Twitter page. In general, to obtain information about a brand (or to get coupons etc.) about 74% say they go to a brand’s Web site; 34%, to a brand’s Facebook page; and 28%, to a brand’s Twitter page. But to share opinions or connect with other customers, 54 to 57 percent use the Facebook page, 48 to 50 percent use the brand Web site (even though many brands’ Web sites include blogs), and 35 to 38 percent use the Twitter page.
Leveraging Twitter to Grow a Lesser-Known Brand
- Twitter’s rules tend to stack the deck against brands that are not well known, but there are ways to grow a lesser-known brand.
- “Twitter is a communication platform that helps businesses stay connected to their customers.”
- “Twitter facilitates social networking, but it’s not a social networking website.”
- “[F]ollowing is a one-way action that means you want to receive information ... from someone,” whom you already know.
- Naturally, if you become someone’s follower, you hope they’ll follow you, too. But that, of course, is out of your control.
- “Twitter has ... a median age of 31 compared to ... 26 for Facebook.”
- “[W]omen make up a slightly larger Twitter demographic than men.”
- “5% of users accounted for 75% of all activity.”
- At the time of this writing (September 2010) Twitter is rolling out a significant redesign of their Web site, to make it more user-friendly, with more information available in each page, and more potentially commercial, as with more space for ads.
- “Think about Twitter as a place to build relationships” (and trust), with friendly, helpful, personal tweets.
- “Understand the real-time nature of Twitter” (i.e., enjoy quick feedback but also reply to messages in a timely fashion).
- “Measure the value of Twitter” (as by monitoring feedback or by offering Twitter-only promotions).
- Hashtags (like #biz) are one of the most powerful ways for an “unknown” to leverage the size of Twitter to their own advantage: By including a strategically chosen hashtag in your tweet — a #keyword that is commonly searched for — you can reach a potentially vast number of readers, in addition to your much more limited number of followers.
- Replies and other mentions (of other people’s @usernames in your tweets) are great ways to get a conversation started — even with someone who is not (yet) one of your followers — and to keep the conversation going!
- One of the most important things to do in Twitter or any other social medium is to get folks excited and engaged, to “spread the word” — about what you’ve said, who you are, and (in due course) what you do (sell).
- Don’t neglect people who have replied to your tweets or who have otherwise mentioned your @username in their tweets: Reply to them, letting them know you value their opinion and, if possible, building upon their remarks, to keep a conversation going.
- As with tweets, whenever you make a reply you increase your odds of becoming followed if you make a particularly insightful or otherwise valuable comment.
- Conversely, you increase your odds of becoming unfollowed, blocked, or even reported as a spammer if you try to shamelessly exploit your reply or other tweet with nothing but a self-serving promo.
- Retweeting other people’s tweets to your own followers is a great way to make friends, and gain followers, on Twitter.
- “[T]he culture of the [Twitter] service encourages people to spread news to friends in their own network,” as by retweeting.
- The New Twitter emphasizes Search more, to the benefit of well-known brands but also to those whose tweets have good content, as with popular keywords.
- Searching for “interesting and influential people” in any field may lead to profitable conversations, although it is entirely up to them whether or not to reply publicly to your replies to their tweets.
- Search can be used to “monitor” tweets in your business category (or about your competitors).
- If you are associated on a List with some respected tweeters, it might gain you some followers; however, there is little you can do to influence your listing by others, beyond what you normally do, in creating timely, substantial tweets.
- You can send Messages only to people who are already following you, not to others — as to ask them to become your followers.
- If some of your tweets appear in other people’s lists of favorites, that is great “word of mouth” advertising for all to see (not just your list or their list of followers)!
- Other tweeters whose tweets have been marked as favorites are good leads to follow.
- Lesser-known tweeters tend to get “lost in the crowd” of Trending Topics.
- Find People is good for contacting people whose names you already know.
- You’re not going to be found in any of the “Browse interests,” category-based indexes if you’re not one of the “big tweeters.”
- Your tweets will show up in the Search results for a well-known tweeter if you mention their @username; but again, you’ll get lost in the crowd.
- Getting followed by a well-known tweeter is like a celebrity endorsement, but rare.
- “Small businesses typically get more than half of their customers through word of mouth ... and Twitter is the digital manifestation of that.”
- After getting started on Twitter, “start using Twitter Search to listen for your name, your competitor’s names, words that relate to your space. (Listening always comes first.)”
- When you tweet, “answer the question, ‘What has your attention?’”
- “Ask questions. Twitter is GREAT for getting opinions.”
- “Follow interesting people ... [and] see who she follows, and follow her.”
- “Tweet about other people’s stuff.”
- “When you DO talk about your stuff, make it useful. Give advice, blog posts, pictures, etc.”
- “Share the human side of your company.”
- “Don’t toot your own horn too much.”
- “Commenting on others’ tweets, and retweeting what others have posted is a great way to build community.”
- Tweeting is “about building trust as well as relationships”; and ironically, yet substantially, “that comes from not selling.”
Leveraging Blogs to Grow a Lesser-Known Brand
The following are excerpts from the introduction to a proposed report.
Introduction: Using Blogs — Your Own and Others’ — to Extend Your Reach
As I mentioned in my report Social Media Marketing Strategy in General (above), the key to increasing your visibility and achieving success online is to leverage the vast reach of social media: The frequency of your blogging or posting in social media sites is free and within your control (You don’t, say, have to buy column-inches in periodicals or avails in radio or television programs) and the quality of your content — in terms of its appeal to your target market — is also within your control.
In terms of blogging, how do you increase your reach? That is, you can write the best blog post ever written on a subject (whatever subject is the focus of your business or other concern); but if no one knows it’s online — if there are zero visitors to your blog — then it’s like the tree that falls in a forest: Does it really make a sound? More to the point, does anyone really care, other than you? They should, if your material is worth reading (and even during “down times” you always need to keep your confidence up to keep the quality of your writing up); so it is in the best interest not only of yourself but also of your target market to get your blog, your writing, you and your company known — and your value appreciated — among the hundred million or more blogs in the “blogosphere.”
The conventional way of extending your reach is to purchase text ads or display (including multimedia) advertising online. That is the strategy behind Google AdWords or Facebook Ads, each bringing your target market to you in its own way. AdWords catches people in a more fleeting way, showing your ads alongside someone’s search of the moment, for related content; whereas Facebook Ads reach potential customers or clients in a presumably more profound way, showing your ads to those whose self-described characteristics (those they are willing to share) match your target demographics. ...
If bringing your target market to you, via ads, is the more conventional way of marketing online — mirroring traditional, offline advertising — then bringing your content to your target market is the more novel approach, yet precisely the strategy that lesser-known brands, organizations, and individuals need to execute in order to become better known online.
Tactically, if you want more people to visit your infrequently visited blog, in order to grow your lesser-known brand, then the best advice is to:
- First, “prime” your blog with some substantial original content, and any replies you can get, to establish your seriousness of purpose and expertise in the subject matter.
- Next, find other blogs that discuss the same or related topics and that bring in similar or (preferably but more difficult to orchestrate) larger numbers of your target market.
- Then — carefully and respectfully — put yourself “in their spotlight,” through your writing, allowing you and your brand to become known and respected by a (much) wider audience.
In terms of blogging, that first and foremost means posting comments and replies to posts on better-known blogs ... with links back to your own blog or Web site, where your purely promotional material resides. Let me be clear: I emphasized “carefully and respectfully” when talking about putting yourself in someone else’s “spotlight,” above, because the last thing you want to do is come off as purely self-promoting in someone else’s better-known blog; the popularity they enjoy is undoubtedly the result of a long, hard slog and countless blog posts — and maybe even considerable advertising expense — so they will undoubtedly resent its being exploited by somebody else. ...
The bottom line is if you want your target market to find you, you need to reach out and find them, and let them see for themselves how valuable you and your content/brand are; that can in effect “funnel” potential customers or clients back to your own Web site or blog, where you can then “seal the deal.” Never forget, though, that in your comments and posts in other people’s blogs, your best bet is to follow the best marketing advice for Twitter tweets (above): Be informational and conversational but, ironically, “don’t sell”!
Overall, the recommendations this report will make for the best practices in growing a blog, and thus a brand, will be remarkably similar to the advice consultants give for the “search engine optimization” of any Web site (SEO, per se, will be considered in some detail elsewhere in this report):
- Create excellent content, rich in keywords, key to your particular subject, naturally presented within context (i.e., without “keyword stuffing”) — to increase your blog’s ranking in search results for those keywords and to hold readers’ attention and gain their respect once they’ve found you.
- Increase the number of incoming links to your site from other respected sites (i.e., not “link farms”) — to increase your chance of being found by readers directly, while visiting those popular sites, and indirectly, because Google and other search engines put a high priority in their rankings not only on keywords but also on the quantity and quality of inbound hyperlinks (which they associate with “authority”) — which naturally leads to ...
- Build relationships online! After all, this is social media marketing.