Eight Secrets from a Serial Blogger

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Have you been thinking about blogging, but are concerned whether your writing skills will translate into effective online communications?

Increase your chances of success in getting your message to the right audience by avoiding the mistakes of others. This article offers eight simple suggestions its authors learned in the preverbal “school of hard knocks”.

Here they are:

1. Stick to a schedule. The correct blogging frequency is whatever connects with your audience. For some blogs that might be daily. For others, once a month is sufficient. The optimal blogging frequency is not critical. What is critical is to decide on a schedule, communicate it to your readers and stick to it! Avoid the temptation to over-commit. While most bloggers enjoy writing, it can be grueling.

2. Expand and enhance. Supplement your usual content by periodically sharing relevant quotes, articles and tips from others. You can also try using guest writers, treating your readers to different areas of expertise and points of view. A generous introduction to your guest author may result in them reciprocating on their blog, further expanding your following.

3. Keep posts short. Readers are looking for tidbits of actionable information, not detailed research. Keep posts short, preferably under 600 words. The average American reads less than 300 words per minute. Studies suggest 65% of visitors spend less than 2 minutes on a website. Therefore, an entry longer than 600 words will not be read in its entirety, if at all.

  • A better alternative to lengthy articles is to split them into multiple parts, posting them in consecutive entries. Begin each post with a review of what was discussed in the previous entry, and end with what to expect in your next post and when it will be shared.

4. Promote your blog. Add your blog’s web address to business cards, print media ads, letterheads, email signatures and so on. Adding a Quick Response Code to business cards and other medium is gaining popularity. A QR code allows Smartphone users to find your blog easily.

5. Use social media. Post summaries of blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Exercise care to comply with each platform’s unique character limitations.

  • Since you will always end with a hyperlink to your blog, use a free URL shortener like https://bitly.com/ if pressed for space.
  • Post blog entries on SlideShare or other article marketing sites by uploading a pdf file. The last paragraph should be a brief “About the author” with a hyperlink to your blog.
  • Blog posts can be featured in your monthly newsletter to customers and friends.

6. Support online sharing. Add plug-ins or widgets on your blog to promote article sharing through Facebook, Twitter and other social media vehicles you believe are likely to help capture your target market. Allow readers to bookmark your URL to their list of favorite sites with the click of a button.

7. Encourage feedback. Always thank readers who post comments. Be respectful of opinions and suggestions, even if you disagree with them. While it is perfectly appropriate to delete spam (an inevitable byproduct of successful blogging) or comments with inappropriate language, deleting reader comments simply because you disagree discourages feedback. Periodically end posts by asking readers for comments, suggestions and ideas for future articles.

8. Don’t give up too quickly. Some experts believe it takes about 100 posts before you begin to build a following. Most bloggers become discouraged and give up before reaching that milestone.

© 2013 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

You Can Count on a Guy in a White Hat

whitehatAs an entire generation who grew up watching Gun Smoke, The Lone Ranger and a long list of other television westerns knows, good guys always wore white hats!

One of the greatest Hollywood clichés of all times, it is deeply ingrained within each of us that you could count on a stranger in a white hat! They were sure to be honest, kind, generous, courageous, moral and chivalrous.

That leaves the other guys, the ones in the black hats. Just as good defines evil, they were the anti-hero of every storyline, the exact opposite of guys in white hats. A man in a black hat was surely dishonest, cruel, self-centered, cowardly, immoral and boorish. Good guys and bad guys were always on opposite sides of an issue. Fortunately, good always triumphed in the end.

So it is not surprising that when it came time to pick names for two broad categories of search engine optimization (SEO) practices, a baby boomer somewhere choose white hat and black hat to describe the opposite ends of a long spectrum of internet marketing techniques and philosophies.

The stakes are high in this modern day gunfight. Fair or not, a potential customer who has never heard of your company has no choice but to equate your search engine results and the quality of your content with the prominence of your company among your peers and the value of your products or services!

A study of December 2010 Google searches for B2B and B2C businesses found the top 3 search engine rankings got 60% of all click throughs, with the first position enjoying a click through rate (CTR) of 36.4%. Page one listings got 8 times more clicks than page 2. CTR differences by ranking were even more dramatic for key words with more than 1,000 searches per month.

What then are the distinguishing characteristics of these opposing marketing camps? They hinge on the answer to a single question. Does the marketer play by the largely unwritten and frequently changing rules of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo and Bing control over 95% of the market) or not?

Just like the old Code of the West, white hats follow the rules. They focus on engaging and informing readers rather than manipulating search engine algorisms. Their procedures include writing key word rich text (without meaningless repetition), link building and paid advertising using pay per click ad words.

Black hats still refuse to play by any rules. Their techniques include email spam, keyword stuffing, article spinning (posting substantially similar content in multiple locations) and using hidden text to trick search engines.

What are the rewards for playing by the rules of this 21st century Code of the Internet? White hat marketing can be expected to produce slower but longer lasting organic search rankings. Black hat techniques will likely eventually be penalized by search engines, reducing rankings or eliminating the listing from their database.

What color is your hat?

© 2013 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

“LIKE” IF YOU REMEMBER MYSPACE

MySpaceIs it just me, or has there been an explosion of people posting nostalgic photos on Facebook and asking you to click “Like” if you can remember a black and white picture of some fifties TV icon or a once popular consumer product from your youth? Time has a way of reducing our past to warm, fuzzy memories. Heck, show me a photo of a macho guy enjoying a cigarette on the back of a horse and I might even forget that three of the Marlboro Man actors died of lung cancer!

Digital media has done more than merely provide a medium to share the recollections of our youth. It has greatly diminished the time span during which products and services move from broad acceptance and popularity to distant memories. Allow me to offer two well-known examples.

Gutenberg’s 1440 invention of the printing press revolutionized communication. It made possible the sharing of ideas and information through the mass production of books. It took another 555 years, until 1995, for an upstart company named Amazon to start selling those same books using something that had been introduced just three years earlier. That something was the Internet.

It took another 12 years to popularize eReaders like their famous Kindle. Within four years, Amazon was selling three times as many eBooks as hard covers. Their success obviously does not include a plethora of competitors including the hugely successful Apple iPad. It seems almost certain the paper book will soon be a candidate for Facebook friends to ask you to “Like” if you can remember owning one.

Still, 600 years from invention to impending obsolescence is not a bad run! Now consider a more recent service life span.

MySpace was introduced in August 2003, six months before Facebook. Just two years later, it was the most visited social networking site on the planet. Rupert Murdock was so excited about its prospects that he paid $580 million for it in 2005. In 2006, it reached 100 million accounts, a level that required 1,600 employees to support.

Facebook over took it in April 2008.

In June 2011, Murdoch’s News Corporation sold MySpace for $35 million, a 94% loss on their six-year investment. With uncharacteristic understatement, Murdoch pronounced the purchase a “huge mistake”.

These examples illustrate three critically important points for all 21st century marketers.

  1. Communication trends change faster than businesses can anticipate. Most lack the resources to manage that change.
  2. Faced with a constantly expanding stream of free choices, your target audience no longer uses communications channels popular just a few years ago.
  3. Neither do your successful competitors.

The cost of failure is high. Even the most carefully designed marketing communiqué, be it a press release, an ad campaign, a newsletter, etc., will fail if it is not transmitted in the optimal channel.

The only way to avoid that mistake is to communicate a consistent message and single brand to over-lapping audiences across multiple channels. That is what successful digital media marketing is all about.

© 2013 by CFO America, LLC

Too Foolish To Fail

The big buzz on Wall Street is today’s planned IPO of Facebook. I hope it will reverse the recent downward trend (11 of the 12 last trading days were losers). Several months ago, a partner and I were discussing Mark Zuckerberg in the context of starting a new business. That discussion lead to a two-part post, which in honor of his IPO, I repeat in its entirety today.

My partner and I concluded that Mark’s phenomenal success with Facebook is the direct result of three “rookie” mistakes, none of which we would have made.

Those mistakes were:

  1. He was not the first to arrive at the social networking party. Rather than come up with an original idea, he improved on other people’s ideas. That never works. Either get to the market first or stay home, right?
  2. He waited too long to “cash out.” He should have jumped at the first opportunity to raise some serious “beer money” like a normal college kid. If only he had, he would be a millionaire today!
  3. He failed to exercise basic common sense! Anyone smart enough to get into Harvard should know that a dream of launching a worldwide business to redefine a major facet of society is destined to break your heart. Homer Simpson said it best, “Trying is the first step toward failure!”

Let’s analyze each of his mistakes in more detail. It turns out there is historical precedence to support his seemingly illogical behavior in committing Mistake #1.

For example, historians credit German engineer Karl Benz with inventing the automobile. He patented the first gasoline engine powered vehicle in 1885. That was 11 years before a thirty-year-old “techie” at the Edison Illuminating Company began experimenting with his Ford Quadricycle.

Henry Ford’s primary contribution to the automotive industry was to apply “best practices” manufacturing processes including interchangeable parts and a moving assembly line. By combining cost saving efficiencies with a social philosophy that included paying factory workers $5 per day (double the going wage), he transformed the automobile from an expensive curio for the idle rich to an affordable source of transportation for the masses.

Ford put his vision into words. He said, “I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”

With the benefit of 115 years of hindsight, it is clear his value proposition actually created a market where none previously existed. He sold 15 million Model Ts over its nineteen-year production run.  At one point, half of the cars in the world were “Tin Lizzies.” True to his value statement, he was eventually able to reduce the selling price to $290, a 65% reduction from its introductory price.

O.K., Mark, I’ll concede your first mistake was not a mistake after all. Astute late comers can still profit by improving on an inventor’s ideas and capitalizing on missed opportunities.

What about waiting too long to cash out?

I am frequently surprised at the short-term vision baby boomers adopt in their business planning. I often encounter entrepreneurs who hope to build a successful business and “cash out” in five years or less.

This view is a distraction from your value proposition, the very reason you went into business in the first place. Think about it. Customers are at best indifferent to your retirement plans. Would you pick a new dentist if you knew she planned to sell her practice in two years?

It also introduces a bias that will slant business decisions in favor of maximizing short-term cash flows at the expense of building long-term value. For example, owners will forego investments in customer service and product design if payoffs extend beyond their timeline. This situation is analogous to watching a runner round the bases as you chase a fly ball. There are already plenty of opportunities to falter in business without unnecessary distractions. Do not take your eye off the ball!

It seems counterintuitive that a college student, given the opportunity to finance what would have been a carefree life style, would follow a business plan that extended beyond the next frat party. To his credit, now 27-year-old Mark Zuckerberg has resisted the temptation to monetize his 24% stake in Facebook for 7 years. Instead, he has continued to lead the company according to his vision.

It is hard to argue with his success. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs valued the private company at $50 billion. Mark kept his eye on the ball, even when faced with what would have been an irresistible temptation for us mere mortals. Cashing out four or five years ago would have cost him billions.

You were right, Zuck. My partner and I were….we were….well any way, you were right. Gloating is so not cool, Mark!

That brings me to his third mistake. Mark should have listened to the voices in his head that are quick to point out all the reasons why his grand plans would surely fail.

Abraham Lincoln once described a general who was unwilling to make decisions under pressure as “acting like a duck that had been hit on the head.” Fear of failure is a powerful motivator. It causes some of us to avoid decision making altogether.

Decision making is a cognitive process involving logic, reasoning and problem solving skills. Unfortunately, each of us enters that process with certain preconceived biases. We are often quick to listen to any voice that supports them. It is normal to exhibit a reluctance to move off those biases, even if faced with new facts, circumstances or opportunities. Therefore, the safe decision (i.e., to spend our career as a corporate wage slave rather than launch a new venture) is often the default decision.

Samuel Clemmons once said, “It’s not what you don’t know that will get you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

To his credit, Mark Zuckerberg did not let what he did not know about launching a business get in the way of his success. His vision was inspiring; his execution was courageous.

In the final analysis, my partner and I could take a lesson from him. So can you!

You proved all of your distracters wrong! Good luck in your IPO Mark.

 © 2012 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

Keep It Simple, Sweetie!

One of the pitfalls of marketing is to “over-think” your strategy. With over-thinking comes the risk of over-spending, a quandary sure to draw my attention.

One of today’s suggestions is so simple and inexpensive you may have overlooked it, even though you have seen it used hundreds of times.

Put a bowl or attractive container next to your cash registers and invite departing customers and guests to drop their business card in for a chance to win a free meal, store gift card or something else of value. This suggestion can be very effective in adding names to your mailing list. It obviously works only in situations where customers visit your physical location.

A modern-day variation of this time-tested marketing tool is to allow participants to post their contest entry on your Facebook Fan page. This addresses the situation of not having a business where customers visit your facilities. The catch is that to post on your wall, they must first “Like” your page.

Contests can also be used to encourage customers to return to claim prizes. Create a sense of excitement. Promote them in your email campaigns, blogs, social media, etc. by announcing winners, next month’s prizes, and so on. A slight variation of this simple marketing strategy is to select winners from customers who complete evaluation or survey forms.

Above all, conduct your contest with flair and elegance, or do not do it at all.

Too Foolish To Fail – Part 2

On Friday, I began a two-part post on Mark Zuckerberg’s three mistakes in starting Facebook. Mistake # 1 was not coming up with an original idea, but merely improving on other people’s ideas. It turns out that was not a mistake after all.

Today, I will analyze his other mistakes, namely:

2. He waited too long to “cash out.” He should have jumped at the first opportunity to raise some serious “beer money” like a normal college kid. If only he had, he would be a millionaire today!

3. He failed to exercise basic common sense! Anyone smart enough to get into Harvard should know that a dream of launching a worldwide business to redefine a major facet of society is destined to break your heart. Homer Simpson said it best, “Trying is the first step toward failure!”

Let’s analyze these missteps.

I am frequently surprised at the short-term vision baby boomers adopt in their business planning. I often encounter entrepreneurs who hope to build a successful business and “cash out” in five years or less.

This view is a distraction from your value proposition, the very reason you went into business in the first place. Think about it. Customers are at best indifferent to your retirement plans. Would you pick a new dentist if you knew she planned to sell her practice in two years?

It also introduces a bias that will slant business decisions in favor of maximizing short-term cash flows at the expense of building long-term value. For example, owners will forego investments in customer service and product design if payoffs extend beyond their timeline. This situation is analogous to watching a runner round the bases as you chase a fly ball. There are already plenty of opportunities to falter in business without unnecessary distractions. Do not take your eye off the ball!

It seems counterintuitive that a college student, given the opportunity to finance what would have been a carefree life style, would follow a business plan that extended beyond the next frat party. To his credit, now 27-year-old Mark Zuckerberg has resisted the temptation to monetize his 24% stake in Facebook for 7 years. Instead, he has continued to lead the company according to his vision.

It is hard to argue with his success. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs valued the private company at $50 billion. Mark kept his eye on the ball, even when faced with what would have been an irresistible temptation for us mere mortals. Cashing out four or five years ago would have cost him billions.

You were right, Zuck. My partner and I were….we were….well any way, you were right. Gloating is so not cool, Mark!

That brings me to his third mistake. Mark should have listened to the voices in his head that are quick to point out all the reasons why his grand plans would surely fail.

Abraham Lincoln once described a general who was unwilling to make decisions under pressure as “acting like a duck that had been hit on the head.” Fear of failure is a powerful motivator. It causes some of us to avoid decision making altogether.

Decision making is a cognitive process involving logic, reasoning and problem solving skills. Unfortunately, each of us enters that process with certain preconceived biases. We are often quick to listen to any voice that supports them. It is normal to exhibit a reluctance to move off those biases, even if faced with new facts, circumstances or opportunities. Therefore, the safe decision (i.e., to spend our career as a corporate wage slave rather than launch a new venture) is often the default decision.

Samuel Clemmons once said, “It’s not what you don’t know that will get you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

To his credit, Mark Zuckerberg did not let what he did not know about launching a business get in the way of his success. His vision was inspiring; his execution was courageous.

In the final analysis, my partner and I could take a lesson from him. So can you!

 © 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

It’s Nice to be Lucky

Someone recently asked why I prefer consulting to corporate positions. The truth is I am not sure I do. However, the question got me thinking. That got me writing, so here I go.

A number of years ago, family circumstances forced me to leave the corporate arena, where I had established a 25-year record of success. Consulting offered the only viable opportunity to feed my family.

Back then, the World Wide Web as we called it was still in its infancy. Only large companies had websites. E-commerce was virtually nonexistent. Facebook would not be introduced for another four years. My personal computer provided email access. However, many people still lacked an email address, especially at home. I cannot recall whether I could attach documents. I suspect not. Cell phones typically cost hundreds of dollars per month, largely due to a now antiquated practice of assessing “roaming charges” for long distance calls. Blogging? That sounded more like something my Rottweiler does after she eats grass than a mass communications tool.

I did not have a marketing clue, let alone a marketing plan!

What I did have was a telephone. It attached to the wall with a long wire. You may remember the device, having seen one in your grandmother’s house or perhaps a museum. It could serve as a fax, but only if the recipient also had one. Although it sometimes seemed to weigh 500 pounds, I was occasionally able to muster the strength to use it.

The third phone call I made landed a million dollar client. It also launched what became a 15-person consulting firm. You can choose to characterize the call as pure dumb luck, divine intervention or anything in between. I will find no fault with whatever label you assign. The bottom line is consulting supported a comfortable life style for several years, while allowing me to address challenging family issues.

A decade later, circumstances beyond my control again forced me into consulting. Since then, I have defined my value proposition (I had no idea what that was 12 years ago) by offering cost effect advice to small and medium sized businesses. My advice is usually very specific, lengthy and often somewhat technical.

Today I will depart from my recent path. Instead, I will present two brief and decidedly nontechnical suggestions. I share both from very personal experience.

1. Mr. Tom Lewis, an online marketing consultant from “across the pond” put the whole concept of small business marketing in a rather interesting and concise perspective. He said, “All these new media buzzwords like social networking and technology like LinkedIn are just new ways of complementing (some would say avoiding) personal contact. Get out there and get your face known! Pick up the phone and call some potential clients. Speak at some networking events. Knock on some doors.”

As Mr. Lewis’ quote insinuates, there is a significant difference between merely communicating and actually connecting with customers and prospects. I can instantly communicate with thousands of people with the click of a few buttons. Yet even with the myriad of now common “high tech” options, the only better way of really connecting with someone other than the lowly telephone is in person. Unfortunately, that option is often unavailable.

My first suggestion is therefore quite simple. Include some “low-tech” tactics in your marketing plan. Pick up the phone and start dialing. Your next large client may be waiting at the other end! Mine was.

2. As of July 2011, 13.9 million Americans (9.1% of the civilian workforce) were unemployed. Over 6 million people are deemed long-term unemployed, Washington-speak for out of a job over six months and desperate. Motivated by a lack of alternative employment opportunities, large numbers eventually migrate into their own business or consulting, as I did. Unfortunately, many are fundamentally unprepared for the operational and emotional challenges that line the road to successful self-employed. Nevertheless, they are more in need of a simple word of encouragement than business advice.

I end with a quote by Thomas Edison. He said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” That is as true in today’s difficult economy as it was in 1879 when Edison perfected the light bulb after experimenting with over 10,000 different filaments.

That leads me to the shortest and most basic suggestion I have ever dared offer. Hang in there!

Until next time, I wish you good fortune in all your business endeavors. Let me know if I can be of assistance.

 

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

SLIDESHARE, HOW DO I LOVE THEE? (PART 2)

On Monday, I began the first of a three-part article. It confesses my undying love for SlideShare, a free online slide hosting service. Part 1 discussed the first three of ten important things you should know about SlideShare, its demographics and norms. Today, Part 2 will explain how to embed YouTube videos and how to access SlideShare remotely.

Here are today’s suggestions.

4. SlideShare allows you to embed YouTube videos into slide presentations. Simply click the “Edit / Delete” button for the appropriate PowerPoint file on your “My Uploads” page. Next, click the “Insert YouTube Videos” tab at the top of the screen. Then paste the URL and select where in the slide sequence the video will appear.  Finally, click the “Insert and Publish” button. You are finished! Repeat the process to insert additional videos into the presentation. If you change your mind, videos are removable. Although I have not experimented with the option, you can also add sound by inserting an MP3 file. Video and sound cannot be inserted into pdf documents.

5. SlideShare is accessible by mobile devices at http://m.slideshare.com. This allows travelers to search, view and download presentations and documents. Bookmark the site for faster access.

6. Item #5 illustrates another endearing characteristic. By uploading Word documents as pdf files, I am using SlideShare as an article marketing service like EzineArticles. Although larger, EzineArticles has some complex rules about including URLs. I have failed their submission approval process on several occasions. The same is true of GoArticles.com. I have never encountered this issue with SlideShare. Furthermore, Twelve Things I Learned about SlideShare has received over 3,700 views on SlideShare compared to eight on EzineArticles and three on GoArticles during comparable timeframes. SlideShare’s marketing tag line should be, “No restrictions, just results!”

7. While I have not seen any definitive statistics, most seem to indicate the average time a viewer spends on an Internet page is only two to three minutes. That has significant implications to the amount of content presented. The average American adult reads between 250 and 300 words per minute. SlideShare viewers average seven to eight minutes per visit. That suggests that users are more likely to read longer files in their entirety.

8. Keyword tags help people quickly find information that interests them. SlideShare searches are keyword driven. They allow you to enter up to 20 tags per file. The top tags in 2010 were forecast, market, statistics, business, trends, industry, research, SWOT (an anachronism for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats), report, company profiles, social media and marketing. Type and spell check your 20 tags in Word. Then paste them into SlideShare when you upload your file.

Saving the best for last, on Friday I will reveal the secret of the “60 minute Twitter boost.”

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

SLIDESHARE, HOW DO I LOVE THEE?

I recently discovered SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. It was love at first sight! I wrote an article and a series of blogs (or love letters if you prefer the romance theme) titled Twelve Things I Learned about SlideShare.

SlideShare returned my affections! They featured the article on their home page, quickly gathering over 3,500 views. The article is at http://slidesha.re/kxG4So and on CFO America’s blog beginning at http://bit.ly/jcE8tu.

Like any true romance, my love for SlideShare has only grown stronger since we first met. Therefore, I decided to write a second article on new ways I have learned to use this powerful tool to increase your Internet footprint.

Today, I will share the first three of ten important things you should know about SlideShare. They address SlideShare’s demographics and norms. Wednesday will explain how to embed YouTube videos and how to access SlideShare remotely. Saving the best for last, on Friday I will reveal the secret of the “60 minute Twitter boost.”

Now, let me count the ways (last time, I promise).

  1. SlideShare has over 100 million page views per month. It has 10,000 new uploads every day. They are one of the top 200 websites in the world. According to web traffic monitor Alexa, users offer some attractive demographics. When compared to the general Internet population, 25 to 34 year olds and people with graduate degrees are over-represented. Their users are also disproportionately childless, Hispanic and visit the site while at work. Approximately 63% live in North and South America, 21% in Europe and 14% in Asia.
  2. SlideShare is primarily for PowerPoint presentations and pdf documents. The average presentation is 7.9 megabytes in size. The average document is 1.5 megabytes. With the exception of PowerPoint presentations saved as pdf documents, my files are all 300 kilobytes or less. They uploaded in seconds. While I have shared a 58 megabyte PowerPoint presentation, it took forever. I now save and upload PowerPoint files as pdf documents.
  3. SlideShare reports that the median number of slides is between 10 and 30 per presentation. Over 75% of presentations are 30 slides or less. Only 8% exceed 50 slides. There are some apparent cultural differences in this area. English based presentations average only 19 slides, Spanish 21. The Japanese lead the pack with 42 slides. Presentations average 24 words per slide and 19 images per file. The most popular fonts are Helvetica, Arial and Times New Roman.

Wednesday’s blog will present some actionable tips and suggestions. I look forward to our further discussions. In the meantime, please continue to post your questions and comments.

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

Do you really need to be on Facebook?

A friend recently asked me why a small business needs a social media presence. The first question is whether a small business needs a social media presence. The short answer is: it depends! More specifically, it depends on your marketing objectives and target audience. Let’s discuss both.

The ultimate purpose of a marketing initiative is to influence consumer behavior in ways that accomplish your business goals. What exactly do you want to accomplish? Define your goals by listing the results you hope to accomplish. Desired results may include multiple objectives, including:

  • Business production
  • Brand awareness
  • Reduce marketing costs
  • Consumer education
  • Lead generation
  • Establish expertise
  • Specific promotions

New business production is often difficult to achieve using any strategy. I have spoken with many professionals who do not view social media as a source of new customers. That mirrors my experience. To be fair, I have not found the traditional web a meaningful source new business either. I believe that having a website is now a prerequisite for credibility. I suspect it is often true of Facebook and other social media sites as well. On the other hand, I know insurance agents, tax specialists and social media vendors who generate significant business through social media.

Again, business production is only one of many marketing goals. I recently spoke with an account executive at a major brokerage. He wants to increase his Internet footprint. His assumption is that the odds of a prospect becoming a client are proportional to the number of hits when they search his name. The broker wanted to know how many hits “CFO America” generates. The answer was 7.7 million. While nine of the first 10 were my company, many were not. However, if only 1% is, it far exceeds several regional and national competitors. That exposure results from an extensive social media effort. It is also consistent with an April 2010 survey by Michael Stelzner of SocialMediaExaminer.com. He found 85% of participants reported social media generated exposure for their business.

Two other marketing goals supported by social media are search engine results and cost reduction. I spent $10,000 developing a traditional website. I was promised a “top 3” ranking for the phrase “fractional CFO.” While it accomplished its goal, I am still waiting for the phone to ring! Very few people search that phrase, largely because they do not know what it means.

Could I have used social media to boost search rankings and save money? The Stelzner survey found 54% of participants thought social media marketing improved their search rankings. It also found 48% experienced marketing expense reductions. I am now using blogging, Facebook, Twitter and other sites to educate the small business community on what a fractional CFO is and how it can benefit them. Since I cannot afford a national print media campaign, this is the only way I know of to accomplish my goal.

The second area to explore in evaluating the need for a social media presence is your target market. The question to ask is where potential customers turn (Internet, newspaper, Yellow Pages, etc.) to learn about your products or services, and businesses that offer them. The answer is largely dependent on customer demographics like age, education, income level, gender and so on. The statistics are easily summarized. If your marketing “sweet spot” lies in young, educated, and/or high-income consumers, you need social media. Using Facebook’s active U.S. users as a proxy for all of social media, 80% are under age 45, 66% have at least some college education, and 67% have incomes over $50,000. U.S. active Facebook users (like many social media sites) exhibit a bias in favor of women. However, on a worldwide basis, Facebook has slightly more men than women. Visit www.alexa.com to find matches for your target market.

Does your business need a social media presence?

That is a key marketing question, one you must ultimately decide on your own. I hope you will base your decision on an objective analysis of your marketing goals and target audience. I now end by confessing the obvious. I love social media marketing! I am excited about the possibilities it offers small and medium-sized businesses to communicate their message across a wide spectrum of prospects. Having said that, it is difficult to conceive of goals and audience demographics that are not supported by social media marketing. It is impossible to conceive of a more cost-effective strategy.

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