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Whether you’re a creative type, a business owner or an experienced marketer, the proliferation of social media recently can confuse, bemuse and excite in equal measure.
It’s no longer enough to send out monthly newsletters or email campaigns to talk to potential customers – now we’re supposed to actually engage with them, talk to them, and respond to them in real-time across social media platforms.
The worst thing? You can’t escape it.
Facebook has more than 400 million users, Twitter accounts have increased by nearly 1,382 per cent in the last 12-month period alone, while Technorati currently monitors more than 133 million blogs across the Internet. To survive online, social media involvement appears to be a must-have activity. Businesses are being told to go where their customers hang out.
There are, however, some basic considerations for effective social media engagement. Here’s my Top 11 Commandments for social media:
1. Thou shall not spam
Whatever you do, don’t spam your customers or target markets. They won’t appreciate a barrage of poorly-researched, irrelevant and inbox-clogging spam emails. Spamming inboxes – whether it’s company email addresses, Twitter accounts or Facebook will win zero brownie points and alienate you from any further contact. Once credibility is lost, it’s not coming back anytime soon, if ever.
Hyperlinking and acknowledging external sources on your blog makes common sense.
2. Thou shall not steal
Stealing links to stories, news items, funky new websites and wonderful products from another source and passing them off as your own is a huge social media no-no. For example, on Twitter the re-tweet or RT function is an essential part of Twitequette, while hyperlinking and acknowledging external sources on your blog makes common sense. It engages and links you with the world.
3. Thou shall not covet your competitor’s blog
One of the most unattractive and unprofessional social media rules to break is that of taking your competitor’s content, services, products and online offerings – and copying it. And there’s a lot of it about. After all, ideas and innovation do have a commercial value. Advice? Brainstorm and generate new products and services within your own creative team instead. It’s actually good fun, too!
If you sell directly to them via your social media channels, you’ll lose them. Instantly.
4. Thou shall not sell – anything, ever
The whole point of social media is to attract and engage an audience – hopefully a significant one – who will them promote your business on your behalf. Your audience are NOT there to sell to. They are there because they value your content, insights and advice. If you sell directly to them via your social media channels, you’ll lose them. Instantly. Play it smart – give, give, give. Never sell.
5. Thou shall not kill
Nothing is quite as bad in social media-land as an account which is established and then sits there. Dead. No content. Nothing contributed. Setting up a social media space, such as a Facebook fan page, Twitter feed, or company blog, and then not adding content to it regularly is a sure-fire way of killing your social media credibility in front of a global audience. Add content. Add value. Just add!
6. Thou shall not take the name of social media in vain
Remember that despite the fact social media can seem quite light-hearted, harmless and fun, your inputs on social media networks are on the web for time immemorial. So be careful what you post. Add value, contribute to the flow of conversation. Think carefully before you post anything, anywhere, anytime, which can be viewed as an attack or negative comment in your industry.
7. Thou shall not commit adultery
Social media adultery can be committed without thinking, but the effect and long-term damage is hard to recover from. Because many social media networks operate on an informality level which standard marketing does not recognise, the rules of engagement are still the same. Remain professional, polite and polished at all times. Remember your social media content is your legacy.
Make sure you cater for your audience’s requirements, needs and wants.
8. Thou shall honour thy audience
Simple really – without an audience, your social media inputs are little more than an exercise in commercial vanity. Without followers, readers, commentators and fans of your social media content, being there is effectively a waste of your marketing budget and time. Make sure you cater for your audience’s requirements, needs and wants. It is, unfortunately, all about them. Always.
9. Thou shall not forget the Sabbath Day
So, you think social media is a Monday to Friday exercise? Afraid not. In our 24/7, always-on, on-demand culture, social media plays an essential part of the online marketing mix, and your inputs need to cover the full seven days of the week. The good news is that you can pre-schedule posts, tweets and social media content using established tools to maintain an ever-present presence.
10. Thou shall not worship any false gods
What this means, essentially, is that just because an individual or company has oodles of followers or friends on a social media network, it doesn’t make them God. Challenge them, make them think, debate their content, get involved. This adds to your credibility and also hooks you into the audiences of the big players. Think of it as a subtle way of piggy-backing for exposure. Classic tactic.
11. Thou shall not forget Commandments 1-10
Simple really, this one: be mindful of Commandments 1-10.
For many entrepreneurs and small business owners, performance metrics can be a bit of detail that feels like it gets in the way. But without metrics there is no way of knowing whether performance can be improved, repeated or discarded.
For the first time, including the internet in your marketing mix, measurement is easy and doesn’t need lots of technical experience.
Here are five easy performance metrics for measuring marketing activity:
Use vanity URLs
These can be short URLs used for specific reasons. You can buy short domain names for campaigns or add a short code after your normal name. For example, www.HaveMoreClients.co.uk goes to the Facebook fan page of Have More Clients.
Alternatively, there are the subscription based shortener URL services where you can assign a URL and the service tracks the number of clicks and where they came from. There are several services – budurl.com, cli.gs and bit.ly, for example.
Web and email analytics
Google offers free web analytics where you can monitor every page, as well as campaigns. There are other companies offering paid-for analytics and you would be best to review the different offerings.
Also, by using a good email marketing system, you will know who clicks on links and where they go. This information gives your sales team, whether that’s you or your marketing VA/assistant, something very specific to contact that person about.
Sign up for Google Alerts and add in the keywords you wish to have information on. It's a good idea to include your company name and the names of key staff members so you can be contacted if something is going awry. Of course, then you need to take action – head in the sand is not the appropriate action.
Subscriptions to your blog feed, newsletter and downloads
If you have a blog, then linking the feed to Feedburner.com will mean people can subscribe to the blog and receive posts as they are published without ever going to the site.
Having subscriptions is just the start of the story; it's monitoring what happens to these people as a result of your activity that is important. This is linked to web analytics: for example, by tracking the behaviour of people and making appropriate adjustments, your headings improve, the content improves and the calls to action have more action straight to the bottom line!
This may seem a bit old fashioned and off the wall against the hi-tech solutions, but the simplest methods can still be very effective. You can add a question to all the engagement points asking where they heard about you. This gives you feedback on which channel is working for you and which needs attention!
Adding a survey to encourage responses is helpful not only for the information gained, but it is an opportunity for your client and prospect list to engage – moving them from the passive to the active.
Once you have the measurements, set aside time to respond to this information and make changes to your marketing campaigns. Re-evaluate what is and isn’t working and improve. These techniques work whether you are tracking your social media, online activities or offline, too.
There’s an important, and often overlooked, correlation between the strength of your brand strategy and the effectiveness of your marketing activity. In other words, people who have defined their niche in the market and communicate that consistently find it much more cost effective to market their businesses than those that don’t.
Have you defined your niche yet? It’s pretty simple. You look at what you’re good at, what you want to be known for and what your clients love about you. Then you look at what your competitors are doing, and what they’re known for or good at. Ideally, there will be a nice slot for you somewhere that you can occupy: your niche.
Let me give you an example. A client of ours makes widgets. Those widgets are beautifully designed and expertly made in the UK. She’s utterly detail focused and so that’s the niche she’s chosen to occupy: high quality and great design. Over the past couple of years she’s found that a lot of competitors have sprung up around her, many of which are outright copying her designs. A fair few have copied her marketing design, too – her website, brochures, etc. And because she’s been on maternity leave, she’s understandably let the communication slide. She’s slipped into a nasty situation where they’re all jostling in the same marketplace for the same clients. It’s easy to get cross and upset about this, but ultimately she’s got to “own” her space and that should fend them off. They’re not all offering the same product, hers are higher quality and she leads the field in design, so by making sure she communicates where her niche is, she can quickly and cost effectively get things back on track.
So how do you go about owning your niche in the market?
Once you’re happy that you are really occupying a “niche” (because there’s no point in directly competing with your competitors) then you need to keep that niche at the centre of everything you do. By that I mean sitting down, and actually mapping out what you’re going to do to communicate your brand position. That could be that you create “engaging brand identities and powerful marketing campaigns that help people grow their businesses”; it might be that you’re the “UK’s leading colour consultancy” or that you’re a “gardener with knowledge”.
Once you’ve defined this, map out what marketing activity you’re going to undertake to communicate this. This is such a powerful thing to do because not only will you save money (ie, you won’t be tempted by that last minute “deal” in the local newspaper to take a full page advert), you’ll also find that your marketing is a whole lot more effective because your target market will be attracted to what you do; and they’ll “get” it much faster because throughout the year you’ve been talking to them consistently. So how do you do this?
Well you find activities that will support this, and you also make sure that at every opportunity you’re reinforcing and re-communicating your brand strategy. In other words, you stay focused. Many small businesses make life difficult for themselves because they fail to carve themselves out a niche, and once they’ve got that, they rarely communicate that niche via their marketing activity.
I’m going to visit a potential client this afternoon who owns a children’s shop. This is an enormously competitive marketplace to be in: you’re competing with the multi-million pound marketing budgets of the likes of JoJo Maman Bebe, Gap and Monsoon. You can compete on a smaller scale, but you’ve got to be focused.
Once we’ve worked out what her niche is, we need to communicate that in everything she does. She already has a plan to run a competition (fantastic idea!) but she’s got to be clear on what the style of the shop is and who her target market are. She needs to make sure that when the winners’ photo shoot happens it’s done in a location that supports her brand strategy and that will appeal to her ideal client. And all the design of the entry forms and adverts needs to look instantly engaging and attractive to her audience. Once she has these photos, she needs to use them in a way that backs up her niche and makes the most of them – and that’s just one piece of marketing that she needs to think about!
“Owning” your niche is hard work. It takes focus, determination and, frankly, some investment of your time, if not your money and someone else’s time, up front. But it WILL pay off. You’ll find that you spend less time and money in the long term on marketing that doesn’t work; and you’ll also find that your marketing is much, much more effective for it.
According to this excellent blog from Deb Wenger, traditional media may be unwittingly killing itself in the race to compete with social media platforms.
The shocking truth would appear to be this:
The mainstream media simply cannot compete with social media – on any level.
And that includes News sourcing and issuing. Bloggers rarely even, it seems, use the traditional journalistic avenues to find their blog content. Bloggers have a different News agenda to the Press. And their online audiences are organically increasing, too.
The message from Wenger’s blog is painfully clear.
The only way for the traditional media providers to survive is to adapt, collaborate and embrace social media as an intrinsic part of its modus operandi.
Anything less will inevitably see audiences finding their news elsewhere, online - and usually for free.
If I were involved in traditional media management, Wenger’s blog post would both fascinate and horrify me at the same time.
One of my heroes is Murray Raphel, a brilliant, inspiring speaker and a most excellent marketer.
If you see any of his books, buy them. They're all good, practical, down-to-earth stuff bereft of meaningless jargon.
This is hardly surprising because his family ran (and for all I know still runs) a retail business in New Jersey. That's a bit like direct marketing. You know the next day if something has worked.
Murray once said something I have never forgotten: “Search the world and steal the best".
I do this all the time. And I advocate it for two reasons.
So wherever I go I look out for ideas I can steal and transfer — particularly America, where customers have the most money and the most highly-paid people trying to take it off them.
I see many examples in all sorts of places. Some have been transferred; some haven't. And I am just amazed at how poorly multi-nationals exploit this potential synergy.
One instructive case was a few years ago when I was running (or at least failing to screw up) the O & M direct Amex account. One of my main objectives was to move good ideas around the world.
We were selling an accident insurance policy with a pack that was doing OK in the UK (sounds like a song title, doesn't it?) and they had another doing as well in the US. Both were typical long-copy sells.
Then I saw some copy in our Singapore agency. A client had the idea of just letting people have the policy for a month at no charge, then they could decide to keep it or stop it.
The mailing looked like crap — and pulled like crazy. (Moral: good ideas matter more than fancy execution).
We tried it in Hong Kong. It worked there. Then in Spain. It worked there too. Then in London — and so on.
It was always hard work getting local markets to accept ideas from elsewhere because of the not-invented-here syndrome, but it made a lot more sense than starting from scratch.
The golden rule to bear in mind was laid down by Confucius: "Men's natures are alike; it is their habits that divide them".
If there is no cultural reason why something won't work, try it. Don't change it except where absolutely necessary.
Drayton Bird is a renowned direct marketing teacher, speaker and author. Find out more about him on his profile.
I currently find myself in the fantastic city of Chennai, India. Sadly it’s a strictly business trip. I’ve flown in for six days to spend time with the SellerDeck team and hire a new team member. Hiring outside the familiar waters of the UK has been a very interesting process. Sometimes it’s a little frustrating, but it’s been a masterclass in managing a distributed team.
So, while it is fresh in my mind here are my top three tips for managing a diverse, dispersed and multi-cultural team:
1. Communication is key
Of course it depends on the roles and responsibilities within your organisation, but having everyone well-versed in a common language is the essential requirement for any team. However it’s also important to remember that you may not be talking to someone in their native dialect. So take care on phrasing, be patient and understanding.
2. Encourage questions
If someone hasn’t understood something you have communicated, it’s easy to put your head in the sand. Some cultures find it embarrassing to ask questions, especially to supervisors. So my tip is to actively encourage queries and questions as much as possible. Also, put yourself into situations where you have to be the one asking the questions - it’s empowering for the others involved.
3. Boots on the ground
Nothing beats getting together. If you are willing to employ people in far-off lands you need to be ready to get on a plane and visit. The Internet has given us hundreds of different ways to communicate, from Skype to Twitter, but nothing compares with talking face-to-face. You learn more about a team and its dynamics over a five-minute coffee break than you would ever do over the phone or by email.