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When we talk about the business use of social media, we tend to make a few distinctions. The first is that some social marketing channels are better for talking to consumers (Twitter and Facebook) and that others are better for networking with businesses (LinkedIn, Ecademy).
Then we talk about engagement (having conversations, basically) and broadcasting (pushing out a message). Social media types generally view broadcasting as a no-no. But there’s a place for it. YouTube straddles the divide between the two - it’s a broadcast that encourages interaction via comments, shares and simply embedding the video in your own site. YouTube is great and video works really well as a promotional tool. But we’re very aware that not so many small businesses have the confidence, the time or the technical skills to make a video.
So what other options are there? There’s podcasting, but the same caveats apply. This week I’ve been taking a look at something that does pretty much the same as YouTube, but using software that many business owners will already be familiar with. If you’ve ever used PowerPoint to create a sales presentation, you can use SlideShare to broadcast it to the world. SlideShare is basically the YouTube of PowerPoint. You create a presentation, download it and share the link. Other people can view it, comment on it, embed it in their own site.
Presentations may not necessarily be as immediate as videos, but think about it: how much more convenient is this than emailing a great big file to lots of people over and over? And what about the opportunity to pick up ‘floating’ prospects who just happen to be browsing in a related topic area?
So what can you use it for? Well, most people seem to use it to talk about the service they provide (there are a lot of consultants touting their expertise), particularly in social media; some people are using it to preview longer publications; some people are using it to present statistics or arguments; yet others are using SlideShare as a basic product catalogue. Personally, I think simple step-by-step guides work well and can be helpful to businesses selling products that require a degree of technical skill (being a cyclist, I rather like this one on fitting a bike tyre).
Much like YouTube, the quality of presentations is variable and they range from the trivial to the profound. But it’s fun looking at things and you might just find a useful outlet here for your own business. If you do, the same rules apply as for a presentation to an audience: be clear, be simple, illustrate your point well and don’t use loads of text, like these guys.
Anyway, the reason I was looking at SlideShare is because I’ve been reviewing some content produced by one of our sponsors, business software company SAGE. I’ve been looking specifically for material that is of use to small business owners - ie, not pushing product, but sharing knowledge. Frankly, this is something not many FTSE 100 businesses do, but Sage are a bit more savvy with their social media use than a lot of other big firms. I came across this SlideShare presentation - I like the way it intersperses the more general observations with specific tips about using social media in your business. Equally smart is that when you think of Sage, you don’t think social media - but that’s how oblique modern marketing is.
I’d be keen to hear what you think about SlideShare and whether we should produce a guide to using it effectively. I’d also like to know what type of content you like to read generally - maybe you subscribe to an e-newsletter, read a blog or always click the links from a particular business Twitter account? Post your thoughts or a link to your favourite content and we’ll make sure we look at what’s interesting to you and your business.
Packing your site with valuable content is the best way to showcase your operation – and case studies are the kings of valuable content. Demonstrating how you add value, case studies bring your website to life, and will always be clicked on by prospective buyers.
There’s an art to creating good ones – here are my tips for writing case studies that sell.
Set aside proper time to interview the client at a time that suits them. Set the agenda. Have your questions ready. Record the conversation so you have time to listen properly without scribbling like a maniac. Give the client time to say other things that might not be on your agenda. Keep asking “why?”. This can be a hugely valuable process, and you can learn a lot about what it’s like to work with you.
If the idea of this makes you uncomfortable, ask someone else to conduct the interview for you. People often find it easier to talk to a third party, so this approach has other advantages too.
Case studies are the heavy-weight proof of your expertise, but don’t treat them too reverentially. You want people to read them. So apply the usual rules of smart business writing and grab attention with a headline — don’t say “Monetizing the Web Operations of AN Company: A Case Study” — say “Profits doubled in three months — here’s how”.
Your case study is your chance to show precisely how you add value, so explain it in lovely plain language.
In the real world, projects can be fairly rambling affairs. The parameters change, people change roles, life happens. The project had a bit of a hiccup in the third month when Jane from HR went on maternity leave… But for the purposes of the case study, keep to the brief. Your aim is to show how you moved your client from A to B. Show your focus.
Use your client’s words. Speech lifts a piece of writing and makes it much lighter to read. More importantly, it adds real credibility. It’s show not tell. An advantage of getting someone else to write your case studies is it makes that harvesting of this kind of valuable information much easier. Tell me again, how great am I?
As well as using speech, use bullet points to highlight your points. Keep the busy web reader in mind and make it really easy for people to read.
Make it clear and unambiguous. How your help raised the bottom line. It’s the most important bit. Don’t let your case study dribble away at the end. End on a high.
Put your case studies up at the front of your website. Too often companies stack them at the back of their site, like dusty old volumes on the top shelf of a library. Make them grabby and appealing and stick them in the waiting room. Think glossy mag not the Encylopedia Brittanica.
One or two clients have reported to me recently that some of their competitors are achieving good rankings on Google using sites with keyword-rich domains, like “motoring-widgets.com”. URLs like this have been favoured for some time by Bing, and by its predecessor MSN. But more recently they also seem to be delivering good results on Google for some keywords, though by no means for all.
As a result, there seems to be a bit of a rush to buy up and populate such domains. Which is perfectly understandable given the pressure to achieve high rankings on Google, and the benefits of doing so. However, I predict that this latest Google gold rush will end in tears, and much time and effort will be wasted for a little short-term gain.
In the past, site owners have used all sorts of tricks to get sites to the top of Google without actually providing the quality content that Google craves. And Google has been equally proactive in blocking them. The meta keywords tag used to be very popular, until spammers started using it to cheat the search results. Today, Google completely ignores it. The search engine also acted to reduce the effect of so-called Google bombing – driving sites to the top of a search with numerous keyword-rich links. Domain spam is a trick of the same order, and it can be only a matter of time before the big G acts against it.
My daughter and son-in-law recently spent a few days in Naples. They were amazed by the sheer number of illegal street traders operating in the city. They all seemed to have spotters watching out for passing police, and as soon as the police appeared, the traders melted into the side streets.
Spammers are online traders of the same order — always having to move on when the search police turn up and change the game. These people invest huge efforts in a quick sell which works for a few months, after which all their investment goes down the pan, and they have to start again. No doubt some people enjoy this kind of life, living by their wits and constantly trying something new. But if you want to build an online business that delivers a dependable living, then invest in developing a site that has bona fide, worthwhile content, and relationships that lead to good quality links from good quality and reliable sites.
Have you ever tried to bid for a public sector contract? If you have, I’ll bet you’ve never had to wade through so much red tape and jump through so many hoops in your entire life.
If you haven’t, you’re not alone. Nearly three-quarters of small firms rarely or never bid for public service contracts.
Just five to ten per cent of public sector business is awarded to small and medium-sized businesses - despite the fact that small businesses account for close to half the UK’s turnover. And that public sector business is worth billions.
But there’s good news for small firms this week.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to help more small businesses bid for and win public sector contracts. His aim is to see 25 per cent of all government contracts being awarded to small and medium-sized firms.
It has to be said that there is some confusion over whether he means 25 per cent of the value of all contracts or 25 per cent of the number of contracts. But who’s quibbling — the difference is only a few billion quid.
Still, it’s a step in the right direction.
So how’s he going to do it?
He’s pledging to break up large contracts into smaller chunks. And where that’s not possible, he’ll encourage large suppliers to increase opportunities for small firms in the supply chain.
Forgive my cynicism but I can’t see larger suppliers giving up a slice of the pie.
However, let’s focus on the positives. With this announcement comes the launch of a new online tool — Contracts Finder — that will show all central Government tender opportunities.
Best news of all is that the Government has removed the need for bidders to fill in a PQQ (pre-qualification questionnaire) for smaller contracts. In addition, David Cameron is promising much less red tape and more transparency.
Will it work? Let’s hope so. It could be a brilliant boost for small firms. And, with the Government promising to publish figures on the amount of contracts going to smaller businesses, we’ll be able to measure their success.
In the meantime, tell us about your experience bidding for public sector contracts and watch this space.
Rachel Miller, editor, Marketing Donut
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1. There seem to be two stereotypes of “entrepreneur” co-existing in the world (yet they are treated as one homogenous group):
a) The “blameless poor me SMEs” — always using the word “they” to describe the reasons for their difficulties. Not that “I” am ever the problem.
b) The innovative and inspiring “can do” entrepreneurs.
2. There are two sorts of business book readers, seminar attendees and students of business:
a) The junkies, addicted to finding out more (and getting ready to do it next month);
b) The doers – who get on and do it.
3. There are two sorts of business support out there:
a) The talkers — they talk a good talk and charge by the hour;
b) The results-obsessed — they have an impressive track record and charge by results.
4. There are two sorts of marketing copy:
a) The endless, effusive, “147-places booked, 11 days to go…” that never leave you alone;
b) The one that knows that empty vessels make most noise and are content to let the right people come to them.
5. Maybe there are two people in the world:
a) Those that don’t get it
b) Those that do.
Results talk… and bulls**t walks!
Google has made two big announcements recently that could have a huge impact for online businesses. An algorithm change could promote better customer service with the rumoured possibility that positive customer ratings may result in a more favourable search page ranking on Google.
The second announcement is a new partnership with Twitter to display the social networking site’s paid advertisements within Google’s own search results. Here’s what these changes could mean for you.
As with all things Google-related, the search engine kingpin is being decidedly ambiguous on the subject and although they have publicly stated that positive merchant ratings could be taken into consideration when deciding on rankings, they have yet to actually admit they are definitely using ratings as a ranking factor.
But Google does appear to be closely monitoring customer ratings and feedback and there is a high likelihood that the Google algorithm has been updated to include merchant rating when populating SERPs.
One online store publicly revealed that they had previously been manipulating customer feedback to improve search engine rankings. Basically, the website owner fuelled negative customer response and it is alleged that the sudden tirade of comments and feedback led to the website gaining greater online exposure and an increase in its search engine rankings.
The new algorithm may have changed that that. Whether these tactics did improve the retailer’s ranking is debatable. But Google took notice and admitted to an algorithm alteration. Now the website in question appears to have slipped down the rankings since the algorithm change.
Google has suggested that they were concerned about beneficial ranking results from negative feedback and that any recent algorithm alterations were intended to provide a better customer experience. However, there is some speculation that Google is now monitoring positive merchant ratings as well using various sources such as: actual website feedback, consumer websites, and Google Checkout.
This is a positive move if true. If the Google algorithm now includes a feature that monitors and rewards websites receiving beneficial consumer feedback it is great news for any online business providing quality service. If a reputable online business can see an improvement in their search engine rankings due to positive consumer feedback, this will provide a real incentive for businesses to increase their level of consumer service and satisfaction.
Social networking behemoth Twitter has finally bowed under pressure to monetise the site. It has been on the cards for a while now and Twitter has responded and decided to fill its cash coffers by means of paid advertising.
Promoted tweets are similar to Google Adwords. Promoted tweets will appear at the top of Twitter searches and already some major companies have signed up to appear on Twitters search pages. There is also an opportunity to purchase slots in Twitter’s Trending Tweets feature. At the moment, this new feature is being trialled in the US (it was rolled out in April last year) and has already attracted some major players. The plan is to offer this monetised feature to the UK soon (possibly early this year but no actual date has been confirmed).
Twitter comments already feature regularly within Google’s search engine pages. The recent emphasis on providing relevant, up-to-date, real-time content within search results has led to a massive increase in the amount of blog, forum, and social media posts featuring in top positions in SERPs.
Google has realised the potential of Twitter’s Promoted Tweets monetisation and both market leaders have joined forced to create an advertising golden team. Google will now feature Promoted Tweets from Twitter search results on its own search result pages. The format will be very similar to how it already displays its own Adwords listings, except the Promoted Tweets will be clearly labelled as Ads by Twitter.
The two companies will share the revenue earned form these paid promotions.
Any business with an effective online presence campaign should already be using the power of Twitter for marketing and consumer interaction. Many businesses are running successful Adwords campaigns and have seen the success they can achieve. Now, not only can a business generate extra interest from Twitter users, any Promoted Tweets they have in place stand a great chance of appearing on the first page of Google for their specific keyword(s). It is almost a two for one offer.
Twitter has already had talks with many interested companies working the UK market and some of the more prominent businesses showing real interest include: Sky, Vodaphone, Sony, O2, Ladbrokes, LoveFilm, and Capital One.
Google introduces new features at fairly regular intervals and keeping on top of these changes can be crucial to maintaining a positive online presence for businesses. These new developments could be very important for many businesses looking to increase their target audience and online visibility.
Any online merchant should count customer satisfaction as their number one goal. But with the possibility that Google is monitoring and potentially using these consumer ratings to determine search page rank, positive customer opinion is now more important than ever.
Using social media as an influential marketing tool is nothing new, but while Facebook and other social networking giants already provide a platform for paid advertising, Twitter has never offered this prime opportunity. But with Promoted Tweets they have finally offered marketers a much-welcomed advertising platform and it should be available to UK business very soon. With the news that Promoted Tweets will also be featured in Google search results, it is a very exciting prospect indeed.
Daniel Offer is a partner in the Facebook messaging application Chit Chat for Facebook