We have all had it haven’t we? We open our personal email inbox only to find our account has been targeted by some unscrupulous spammer to promote all manner of products and services from 'cheap viagra' to ‘red hot webcam action’. They are a constant annoyance but is there anything that small businesses can learn from the tactics they employ for their online campaigns?
One thing spammers do well is they provide an absolutely relentless feed of communication to their target email lists. These lists can often contain literally thousands of addresses and are accumulated by means of clever programs known as ‘spambots’ which automatically search for email addresses online. Simliar ‘botnet’ programs are used to distribute the emails to a massive list. In fact it was reported last year that most spam in the world comes from only six botnets!
While email providers such as Google Mail, Yahoo Mail and Hotmail do their best to filter out such messages, it is a constant war with the botnets who will work to find another way round the system. From a business perspective such a botnet program is low cost to run but reaches literally thousands of email addresses with messages in a relatively short space of time. Little or no regard is paid to fact that most of the recipients find the message completely irrelevant, obscene and annoying.
Something else spammers are also good at is creating compelling subject lines that lead you to open the email. However, they can be very deceptive and are often made to look like emails from legitimate businesses, the bank or personal contacts. Recently, I received an email from a ‘Milan Hofmeister’ with the subject line ‘Your Bank Details Have Been Compromised’. On opening the email I found that it was in fact promoting some sort of online shop where I could get two free bottles of wine.
This sort of deceptive mass email strategy is not advisable for businesses who would want to develop a good reputation online. A better approach would be an email campaign in the form of a targeted informative newsletter with a compelling yet relevant subject header. There should be an option for people to unsubscribe from the list at any point with immediate effect. It is also important to note that campaigns should stay within due diligence to prevent being blacklisted as spam.
There are many hurdles that businesses face in creating a consistent online strategy but it is important to be aware of the many different and often volatile factors. While it may sound obvious the strategy needs to effectively target the right people who would be potentially interested in your product to get the best results.
Businesses are now increasingly turning to blogging as part of their online strategy and one of the most common types of blog posts you see around is the 'Top tips' advice post. They can be a great way of engaging audiences and demonstrating knowledge in your specific business field.
With the multitude of ’Top tips’ advice around online it was only a matter of time before a post appeared about tips on how to write tips. So without further ado here it is:
Do Your Research – It is important that each tip is well researched and well written. If a Google search on your chosen topic area comes up with some conflicting information you might not end up looking very knowledgeable!
Don’t Repeat The Same Thing – Sounds obvious but sometimes people tend to repeat themselves in these sorts of posts and end not adding much value. Make sure each tip gives something new to the reader.
Have Punchy Clear Titles – People’s attention span on the net is very limited. If you don’t get their attention quickly and engage them then they will be off somewhere else very quickly.
If Possible Use An Illustration – ‘A picture paints a thousand words’ they say and it is true. An illustration of some kind can help convey your point and engage people to your post.
Proof Read Your Post – It sounds obvious but make sure you proof read your post and make sure grammar/ spelling is correct. There is nothing more off-putting than reading a post with loads of mistakes in it. ALSO WRITING IN CAPS LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING!
Be Original – There are some many ‘Top tips’ blog posts and articles out there so make sure the subject area you are choosing is an original one. If you are choosing a common subject area try and come from a different perspective.
Case studies are an important part of many company’s marketing activities. If you’re not providing your prospects with case studies to show your past successes, chances are your competitors are. So write some!
If you’re not a competent or confident writer find someone who is. There are plenty of freelance copywriters and journalists around that you can commission to write for you.
But whether you outsource or go down the DIY route, there are a few things worth remembering.
The job of the case study is to tell the story of how you have helped your customer overcome whatever business problem they have been battling with. Whether you’ve provided a CRM system that allows them to capture leads which can be followed up, or your emarketing expertise has generated a 70% boost to their pipeline, the important thing is how their business has benefitted.
You care passionately about what you do and how you do it. And so you should. But no one else will care as much – they want to know what’s in it for them. So show them.
If I'm writing about a client's customer I always stress to my client that their customer needs to be fully briefed about the process. Nothing is going to scupper your case study quite as effectively as the customer getting cold feet about being involved and that usually only happens if they don’t understand the process and/or what’s expected of them.
OK, that’s not strictly true – there is something that will derail it faster... an unhappy customer. Sadly I can recall several occasions when my scheduled phone interview with the customer turned into me doing a tea and sympathy routine while they ranted along the lines of “trust me, if I told you just how awful it’s been you wouldn’t want my comments to ever appear in writing.”
How long a case study needs to be is a moot point. I used to manage the UK case study programme for Microsoft's Business Solutions division. The typical case study length was 1,800 words. Sadly for some stories that was a bit of a stretch.
However, in recent months I have been writing shorter case studies for another client - around 500 words.
Keeping your word count down is a great way to make you focus on what matters in your story, whereas prescribing 1,800 words as the minimum can lead you to pad something out when the fact is some customer stories may be great but they don't always have the legs for a long write-up. If you have strict rules on word length you end up ignoring some potential stories.
By combining longer & shorter case studies with brief testimonials and customer win stories, you can end up with an impressive body of customer evidence.
You could even add video to your portfolio of customer evidence too. It can have a much bigger impact than the written word, but there’s no getting away from the marked difference in cost. One video case study could cost you the same as 100 written ones – maybe more. In which case you might want to be sure you're going to use it effectively before you sign off on the budget.
What have I learned from spending the thick end of a decade in PR? Well, I’ve learned many things. And one of them is that PR doesn’t work.
Never mind my own experiences and opinion, I’ve heard it said so many times it must be true.
I’ll try to explain.
I spent about three years as a supplier of PR services to Microsoft UK, in particular developing and managing PR-related services that were made available to Microsoft’s network of Gold and Certified partners. These partners came in all shapes and sizes – some were very well versed in PR and marketing, others hadn’t a clue. Plenty had an ad hoc approach to this sort of thing and it was from this group that I learned that PR doesn’t work.
If you’ll forgive me for generalising a little, I can give you a taste of what I heard – usually it went something like this...
“PR..? Yeah, we tried that once a few years ago. It didn’t work.”
And that’s the thing with PR – if you only try it once, or if you don’t invest any focus in it, it probably won’t work.
PR requires commitment – a consistent series of messages pushed out to your target press. I’ve worked with companies who have successfully used PR to out-gun much larger competitors when it came to public perception, proving that hard work and knowing your onions can beat deep pockets time and again.
For a lot of smaller businesses the target press is often the local press or the trade press in your market sector.
You can push out your messages with press releases, letters to the letters page (where better after all..?), photo opportunities, and a host of other things.
But whatever you do don’t just decide to punt out a press release about your new office premises and expect the cry of “hold the front page” to echo throughout the land. Read the press you’re targeting, see what kind of stories they run and try to emulate them. Better still, see if you can identify which individual journalists write about the sort of things you want to say and contact them directly when you have something interesting to tell them.
Finally, remember that one of the differences between PR and advertising is that you shouldn’t expect the press to write word-for-word what you tell them, nor will they show you what they’ve written in advance of publishing it – don’t ask, you’ll only cause offence! Journalists are not an extension of your marketing team and editorial is not the same thing as advertising. It is independent, free from fear or favour (supposedly) and that’s why it can be such a valuable and effective way of publicising what you do.
This is my first time writing for the Marketing Donut, and truth be told, I was more than a little anxious as I approached this task. It’s not that I’m a stranger to writing, after all I was a journalist for something like 10 years before PR got its hooks into me in 2001. No, it wasn’t that.
The thing that weighed on my mind was the suggestion that I should write about the new rules of engagement for PR in this brave new 2.0 world. That’s a bigger topic than it might at first seem and many people have expounded opinions on it.
This isn’t the time or place to go into an exploration of how PR works – or has worked traditionally – nor am I entirely comfortable with dividing PR into old and new, using Twitter, blogging and Facebook as the yardstick for such distinctions. But it serves a purpose as far as this exercise is concerned.
Perhaps the greatest point of difference between the old and the new in PR terms is the way in which you communicate your message. It is still the case that media relations forms a hugely important part of PR – identify the journalists you need to win over and then work on giving them the materials they need to produce stories that present you in a favourable light.
While this is still important there’s now a lot more to it all. Blogs and forums in particular have become avenues for dialogue with audiences, as well as platforms from which your critics can berate you in public. Your customers, partners, and competitors will talk to you and about you online and will swap ideas and anecdotes about you. If you’re savvy you’ll join in.
To the novice, this is daunting stuff. And I have it on good authority that it causes sleepless nights to the heads of marketing at some of the world’s biggest brands.
Turning all of this to your advantage is not as hard as it might seem. Use your own blog to interact with others, set up an online forum, use Twitter to see what topics are of interest to the people you want to influence, track your competitors’ social media presence and see what you can learn from it.
In fact, learning from others’ experiences is one of the greatest and most immediate benefits of getting on the social media train – after all there are so many people out there willing (nay, desperate) to share their opinions with you.