Internet Marketing for Small Business-Part 1

Businesses have long used the Internet as a one-way communication channel to inform and educate customers about their products, prices, locations and hours. One-way communication is no longer sufficient, even for small businesses.

Here are some ideas to expand the traditional and limited marketing role of the Internet for your business without exceeding your budget limitations.

To increase sales and improve service, businesses should offer interactive capabilities for customers to place orders, make inquiries, request bids, and download product catalogs and service manuals. Many businesses now use the Internet to allow patients and clients to book or change their own appointments. It can be a very useful tool to help reduce lost revenue by sending an email or text message to confirm scheduled appointments. Online customer access need not be a cost prohibitive luxury viable only for “big box” retailers and national catalog companies. Multiple studies confirm it is a necessity for many types of small businesses. For example:

  • In an October 18, 2010 article titled A Cheery Holiday Forecast, Thad Rueter of the Internet Retailer reported on the results of a survey by The National Retail Federation. The survey found 44% of consumers ages 18 and above planned to shop online during the 2010 Christmas season. Of consumers who earned at least $50,000, 55% would shop online. Perhaps more telling of emerging trends, 27% of U.S. consumers who own a smartphone were expected to use it to research and buy products.
  • An article titled 8 Ways Fullservice Operators Can Build Sales was published by the National Restaurant Association in their 2010 Restaurant Industry Outlook Forecast. It reported that 41% of consumers sur¬≠veyed said they choose new restaurants because of e-mail promotions. Close to 30% said they would likely opt to receive e-mail notification of daily specials. Another 56% visit restaurant websites, 54% view restaurant menus, 54% use the Internet to learn about restaurants they have not patronized while 25% have made reservations online.

If your business uses or is considering using gift cards, look at Panera Bread and McAlister’s Deli websites. Both offer the ability to sell, recharge and check card balances online, a real customer convenience. Providing printable coupons online is an even easier customer benefit you can offer.

On Friday, I will discuss email marketing and surveys as a marketing tool for your business.

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 7

I conclude this seven-part discussion of social media marketing today with just a few closing thoughts. First, having gone through the effort to develop content, create a social media marketing program and build a following, do not fail to promote Twitter, Facebook etc. on outgoing email signatures, business cards, letterhead, websites, and promotional materials.

Every media platform should be used to promote all the others. For example, you should occasionally send a tweet inviting followers to “Like” your Facebook Fan page, and use Facebook and Twitter to announce new posts on your blog.

Provide a direct link to your blog and social media platforms whenever possible. For example, my outgoing email signature ends with, “Please click on the links below to read our blog or to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.”

This series presented many new challenges for the already overworked small businessperson. Let me end with one more. Future Vision Web Services made this observation: “Most of today’s market leaders are those companies who had the foresight to recognize the changing landscape in today’s modern business world. The new business battleground has been very cruel to those companies that have fallen behind the curve.”

Do not allow the rapidly evolving landscape of social media marketing keep you from realizing the full potential of your business.

See you again on Wednesday.

Word-of-Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 6

Even if you use outside assistance to design and develop your social media platforms, generating fresh content remains your responsibility. Quite simply, no one knows more about your business than you do. Demonstrate that fact by sharing the body of material you accumulated in becoming a recognized expert. However, resist the temptation to share it all at once. Building a following in cyberspace is a marathon, not a sprint. As with blogging, develop a consistent conversational style and reporting pattern.

Here are a few pointers to get the most social media mileage out of your content and maximize its effectiveness:

  • If you have a document with multiple bullet points, break each into a separate post.
  • End each post by briefly telling readers what to expect in your next entry, and when it will be published.
  • Most content can be reformatted and repurposed as appropriate. For example, press releases and articles can be posted on Facebook and other sites as well as your blog. A 1,200-word article can provide a lot of content at 140 characters per tweet. Facebook status update fields have a 420-character limit. LinkedIn has a 700-character limit. Other social networks each have similar limits. With a little practice, you will probably find, as I did, that communicating your message within those limits is usually quite easy to accomplish.
  • You can supplement your original content with relevant quotes and articles written by others, or simply pass along helpful advice and suggestions you come across in your daily business. Numerous websites provide extensive quotes on every business subject. One example is www.brainyquote.com.
  • Timely material can be re-circulated or retweeted periodically.
  • Unless supporting a particular point of view is a deliberate part of your branding and marketing strategy, avoid expressing religious and political opinions or supporting controversial agendas that might alienate potential customers.
  • Have several people proofread and review your content. Check your pride of authorship at the door. Do not be afraid to use someone who will look you in the eye and tell you if you have “an ugly baby.” My son’s unbridled desire to correct his father makes him an extremely effective proofreader. Another friend’s frank comments often bruise my ego. I typically stew about them for a day, and then incorporate most of his suggestions.
  • No one cares about trivial matters like what you ate for dinner unless of course you are a food critic or Kim Kardashian. Maintain an air of business decorum and professionalism in your social media platforms.
  • There are numerous social networking tools available free online to help you monitor and simultaneously update multiple sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Those tools currently include Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Ping.fm. Most also provide upgraded versions for a fee. It is a truism of any free-market system that whenever a product or service becomes an undifferentiated commodity, those offering it can only compete on price. It is inevitable in the fast-paced world of social media that as soon as someone develops a new Internet-based service, someone else will figure out how to make money by offering it free. Therefore, periodically ask your social media active friends and network contacts whether they are aware of any new tools.
  • Finally, the ultimate purpose of social media marketing is to build business relationships. All relationships require two-way communication. Do not get so consumed in posting content that you neglect to respond to direct messages or DMs. Try to establish a dedicated time every day to answer your DMs.

I will conclude this series about social media marketing on Monday with some final thoughts. Enjoy your weekend.

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 4

Last week, I introduced the topic of social media marketing as a low-cost, effective marketing tool for your business. Like everything else in business, success in social media marketing requires that you prepare a plan.

Develop a social media plan that includes target dates and milestones. It should incorporate several platforms with a consistent message and theme or look. Each platform should be linked to your website or blog. Fred Campos, a social media expert and founder of FunCitySocialMedia likes to compare social media marketing to a three-legged stool. Following his analogy, I ultimately selected Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as my three legs. Again, visit www.alexa.com to find the best matches for your target market.

I also have two websites, one of which is the WordPress blog that I mentioned earlier. The other is a “landing pad” that presents a three-minute video and invites viewers to join my mailing list to receive a free publication that explains my services and business approach.

My social media platforms always carry a summary of blog postings. To the extent possible, Twitter, Facebook and both websites have a similar look as to color scheme, graphics and narrative theme. While LinkedIn is far more limiting in its graphic design options, it does allow your logo and picture. And it is hard to argue with free!

Your followers can greatly magnify the distribution of anything you post by making it available to their contacts. They do that on Facebook by simply clicking the “Like” button. On LinkedIn, they recommend you. On Twitter, they “re-tweet” your comments. Whatever it is called, encourage your following to share your content for maximum exposure.

YouTube is the most popular search engine, and now exceeds 2 billion downloads per day. I confess that I have yet to add YouTube to my social media-marketing arsenal. On Wednesday, I will discuss this exciting social media platform.

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 3

This week, we are discussing social media marketing as a cost-effective marketing option for small businesses. Let’s pickup where we left off on Wednesday.

Evaluate social media marketing as a platform to build brand awareness and share content with your customers and target market. Use it as a vehicle to provide your customers with a voice. Encourage feedback. Social media marketing is all about consistent communication in channels selected by your markets. Avoid the trap of thinking it is about technology. Moreover, remember that ultimately you are connecting with individuals, not faceless companies and organizations. Consider these points:

  • Individuals all have birthdays, families, homes, hobbies and other personal characteristics and interests that they will occasionally mention online. Apply what Dale Carnegie said about making friends by being interested in other people rather than by trying to get people interested in you. Remember the personal stuff.
  • It is very likely that you will eventually attract hundreds and even thousands of followers on your social media platforms. It will not be possible (or even advisable) to attempt to develop relationships with all of your connections, especially since many will be in distant areas that effectively disqualify them as realistic prospects. However, for those online connections that are realistic customer prospects, cultivating an offline relationship greatly increases the prospect of a sale.
  • Try to exhibit a conversational style, but keep in mind that your conversations will be online and therefore accessible to virtually the entire planet.

Having decided to move forward with social media, the first crossroad you will come to in your analysis and evaluation of social media is whether to do everything yourself or hire experts. Make an informed decision. There are plenty of free or low cost resources available to you. Begin with an Internet search or by spending a few dollars on one of those 1,618 books and videos. Talk to your social media savvy friends and associates, perhaps starting with your “screenage” children. Having done my research, I decided that while I could muddle through the maze myself, the time saved and professionalism gained by hiring a consultant was worth the small investment. I should also mention that I met my social media consultants at a free seminar they sponsored. Look at what competitors and others in your area are doing. Make a list of what you like and dislike about each. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In this situation, it may also be the cheapest.

We will continue with this subject next week. Until then, have a great weekend.

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 2

On Monday, I introduced the topic of social media marketing as a low-cost, effective marketing tool for your business. Social media platforms currently include about 20 widely recognized platforms including Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube.

Whatever platforms are chosen, they provide incoming or backlinks to your website and blog. This improves search engine results since the number of backlinks is an indication of the popularity and importance of a website.

Businesses use social media marketing to increase brand awareness and promote products and services. Businesses also receive feedback from customers and potential markets. Perhaps the best analogy I have heard was a comparison to a large, porous funnel. The various platforms cast a wide net to gather many followers into the funnel. As you continue to provide valuable and interesting content and develop relationships, some of those followers will eventually progress through the narrowing funnel to become customers and sources of referrals. Others will fall away.

Because these social media websites are available free to everyone with Internet access, they present inexpensive and powerful platforms for small businesses to get market feedback and conduct targeted marketing campaigns on a local, regional, national or even global basis.

How popular is social media marketing? I got a sense of the interest it generates when I searched Amazon for the phrase “Facebook marketing” and got 452 results. I got 1,618 hits when I searched “social media marketing.” Products included a cornucopia of books and videos ranging up to $1,200 and included 137 hits of “For Dummies” books alone.

Perhaps the real surprise is why there were not more results. According to Goldman Sachs, Facebook has over 600 million active users (defined as those who log on at least three times a week). Perhaps buoyed by the 2010 movie The Social Network, that is a 20% increase in six months. Those users include President Obama and Queen Elizabeth. According to LinkedIn’s Press Center, they have 100 million users speaking one of six languages in more than 200 countries. They add a new user every second. In September 2010, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams said Twitter is averaging 90 million tweets per day. They are gaining 370,000 new accounts daily, with 16% of them starting the service on mobile devices. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Social media marketing is simply too large to ignore, especially if your target market is under the age of 40, affluent and highly educated. It demands attention because of its size, growth trends and cost efficiency when compared to alternative marketing channels.

Today’s suggestion should be obvious¬†by now. Evaluate social media marketing as a platform to build brand awareness and share content with your customers and target market. Use it as a vehicle to provide your customers with a voice. Encourage feedback. Social media marketing is all about consistent communication in channels selected by your markets. Avoid the trap of thinking it is about technology. Moreover, remember that ultimately you are connecting with individuals, not faceless companies and organizations.

On Friday, I will offer some specific tips to help you successfully implement that suggestion.

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