There Is More To Selling Than Social

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Or “How To Post Your Way To The Poorhouse”

Image by Cate Sevilla

On at least one occasion in the last few years I have been asked various forms of the questions, “how do I blog to be sure and get sales”, “what can I expect from my efforts on Twitter”, “how does this translate to food for my children”, and so on. The good news is I don’t know. The bad news is “they” don’t either. But in all hopefulness and by careful examination of the data we see it is possible and there are some guidelines to be followed which are more likely to lead to sales success than the poorhouse. I don’t like the poorhouse.

Being named a Reuter’s Top Ten Small Business Expert on Twitter is pretty cool. Translating that little puppy to a paycheck is work. In spite of what everyone may believe I don’t check my PayPal account daily and, surprise, see three or four thousand dollars that popped in there over-night just from me hosting Social Media Edge Radio and writing a few blog posts. In fact until I write some code or create some content the money flow direction is ebbing toward the negative. Chances are that’s not what you have in mind for yourself. You, like I, must sell some widgets or face the piper, er, spouse.

While the social media gurus who tout their wares and charge really small fees, snark, for their workshops and seminars may assure you their oil is the best for snakes you can bet most of their ROI is derived from the attendees. However, and let’s keep fairness in play, most attendees likely found out about the event through … social media. Hey, I do events. I get it. What you need to know, however, is not how to get people to attend your seminars and buy your books or your retweet campaigns, you have widgets for sale. Darned good ones, too! You need to sell those puppies and you need to sell a lot of them every week. You probably suffer from a food and shelter addiction – just guessing.

Listen, I can’t guarantee your success but I can give you a few pointers that I know work. How do I know? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and finally paid off the credit cards I used for the trip. The first thing you can do is forget everything you’ve done to this point because you are now going to create a new plan, implement a strategy and learn to measure your success. In fact this topic is so broad I’m only going to look at one element and that is your website – you know, the one you may or may not have purchased from me. We’re going to look at three crucial elements of your website and a 10,000 foot view of marketing it – with some information contrary to what you may have learned from others. Or not.

Every Business Needs A Website

Every business needs a website. Seems like I may have read that somewhere before but it’s worth repeating. Every business needs a website. In today’s connected environment it is almost hard to imagine that even in 2012 about 1/2 of all small businesses do not have a website. I challenge you to come up with a small business which should not have a website and a single valid reason why. Every business from puppy daycare to vacancy clean-outs and restaurants to small airports, from my perspective, really needs today’s calling card. They need it because today’s yellow directory is Google. With that said …

Three Things Every Small Business Website MUST Have

Every small business website must have a landing page with some way to contact the business. It can be the phone number, an email address or a form which allows the visitor to send a message to the site owner. I recommend the form for every site because it can be automated, used to build your list and allows some level of anonymity if the site owner really needs it.

Every small business website must have relevant content which is indexed by Google. This is how Google knows to look for you and this is where the great and furious SEO battles are waged. Even if you’re not doing battle someone at least needs to be able to find you with a long tail search. I have looked at websites in the past to give quotes on helping them perform well that didn’t even turn up in a Google search when you searched for the name and address of the business. Scary.

Every small business website must have visitor tracking and analytics. There are hundreds if not thousands to choose from and these have been around for years. I developed the first one back in the mid 1990’s called PageGuard™ but now there are so many I don’t think it’s possible to get a correct count. The main things you need to know are: Who clicked on what to visit your site. That’s it, that’s the main thing. It actually will give you the search results in the referring URL. While this information is the most valuable piece of information to have, because it tells you who visited and where they came from, there are other very important bits of information you can learn from tracking services like Google Analytics. While GA is free and powerful it’s not necessarily as accurate for my purposes as I like for most of my clients to be. Still it is far better than nothing.

Getting the Word Out

We’ve come pretty far from smoke signals, cross country runners and town criers. Still the word needs to get out. Coincidentally and fortunate for us the Internet offers several options for a great platform to share the news. I bet you can name at least one way great to get the word out – Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Craigslist, and the list goes on … and on. Some may be better for your needs that others but at least one should produce web traffic for you. That’s what you need – eyeballs.

My amazing uncle Ben Hale, Sr., told the story many times about how he was the number one Chevrolet salesman in his small, poor, West Virginia mining town because he went to where the people were. He went to the Five and Dime on Friday night and passed out business cards. Hello Facebook. Hello Twitter. Hello Craigslist, Backpage and Kijiji. You can do the same and in less time. Socializing on the Internet with a transactional intent does not take hours a day. It takes minutes. Once you have created your APE FUR you can trim your time way back.

Here is the most important part about social selling. Be consistent, be regular and be honest. Respond to questions and requests quickly and make sure you follow illegitimi non carborundum. If you make ripples your may ruffle a feather or two – just be polite, firm and consistent and you’ll be fine. Consistency means staying on topic or on topics of interest to your buyers. If you sell deer repellent and start talking about pink tutus you’ll probably mess up your signal. Badly. If you talk about football and fishing along with a little gardening you’re going to be okay. The idea is to engage, entertain and impress. Check your signal to noise ratio within what you say and make sure you’re on topic or topic relevant.

Facebook has two faces: your personal page where you can talk about the donuts you had for supper and your business page where you are all about business. You cannot, by Facebook and community standards, create a personal page for your business. If you do just plan on losing it when Facebook shuts you down. They make it simple and free to create a Facebook business page. In fact it’s so simple I’ll do it for you for a fee in just a matter of a couple of days.

LinkedIn really isn’t the place to sell. It is the place to connect, however, and you can pursue your sales after your connection. LinkedIn is also a great place to find qualified contractors such as web developers, list sellers and PR firms. Don’t worry about uprgrading your account just create one and start connecting to the people you most would want to meet at a community cookout.

Twitter is fast, small and spam crammed. When you get in the Twitter pool you need your big girl pants on because you only have 140 characters and professionals h8 abrvi8shns. Twitter is about engaging with others who have common interests. It’s not a place to monologue it’s THE place to dialogue. Some of the best relationships I have today are a result of connections made and nurtured on Twitter.

You know, that’s a lot of stuff and I’m far beyond my normal word limit. There is much to learn and if you’re not yet connected to me let’s connect.

5 tips to deal with inherited branding

I wish my parents had known more about SEO when they named me.

ken cook

Embrace the name!

Sometimes when we in the digital branding and marketing sphere take on a new employer or client we face a few “name” challenges. We really cannot do much about it because the company is already born and we’re late to the game. I understand. I mean my name is Ken Cook for Pete’s sake. Google me by name and you’ll have to dig way down to find me. On Google, in fact, I am currently 9th and 11th in raw search results and those are my Twitter and G+ accounts respectively! I feel as if I have no respect. But alas, it is my fault.

Say you inherit the reigns for SEO and social evangelism at a company already named. Say that company has been around for a while and they “just don’t get it” about the importance of a well designed and scientifically engineered name space. It happens. It happened to me – a few times. Remember your training, stick to the basics and don’t make any big, sweeping changes. Here are five bullets I use to win the name shoot-out:

Embrace the name – even if the company has a very unusual sounding or what you would consider negatively branded name. Like say, Toothpaste by Toilet or Plane of Death Airlines. While I’m not saying they should not immediately change names and carve their own eyes out with a broken toothpick that’s not our jobs as lowly brand engineers. Embrace the name as though it were your baby.

Keep with protocol – all marketers know there are times when marketing protocol collides with executive management desires. One thing I always keep in mind is if I and my current employer split up I still have to work with me and I do not want a bad name following me around. Trust me, I have work that I do not and will not refer too. One has to do with some Austrian crystals. So regardless of how badly your upper mucks want you to spam the planet – resist.

Buy space if you have to – and let’s face it, if the name of your company is Butt Cake you’re going to need a little help so share some wealth with your favorite ad agency. Or, if you are a DIYer get in there and buy some space – within reason of course.

Count small victories – I once had a client with a really badly chosen name for what they did. I can’t say it here but I was developing online custom apparel catalogs for some Fortune 1000 companies and the supplier had a particular name that was probably okay for Web2.0 but this was in 1997 and … well, it was one of those where you felt like you always had to explain what the company did. If it had been called Custom Corporate Apparel no problem. It wasn’t. So I counted small victories. Every time they acquired a new client that meant I got a new client, too. I had written all of the code for the eCommerce solution and even inventory control, fulfillment and every step in between. That meant every time they got a new client I put a new set of backlinks out there. I never got them to change their name but I finally got them to number one on Google!

Work for synonimity – you mean that’s not a word? How about synonymousness? Work to make your company’s name synonymous with the product or service. I know Mary Bell’s Nut Wax probably doesn’t sound like the best furniture polish name when you’re competing with Endust but look for creative ways to make your name the leader.

SoLoMo – the convergence of Social, Local and Mobile

 

mobile-local-social

SoLoMo - Social Local Mobile

Like every other piece of buzz, or most other buzz at least, SoLoMo is not the end all. You will still be able to market other ways but for the local business: the chiropractor, the real estate agent, the auto repair center, and other services offering services within a relatively narrow diameter – SoLoMo is now.  Much like the yellow directories of yesterday SoLoMo focuses on local market areas with a higher transactional focus.

 

Breaking it down

Social is the first of the trinity of flavors. For our purposes, new media/online marketing, social begins online and ends in personal space. Sites like MeetUp and the horribly abused Facebook Events make it easy to plan and coordinate live events. (Yes, I know there are others – feel free to spam your own in the comments section.)

Local is relative. For a car dealer local may mean a 50 mile radius while for a chiropractor or cafe local is a 5 mile radius. This was an early challenge to marketers online and I addressed it as best I could back in 1998 when I wrote on iCobb, “in the future many websites will use IP numbers to determine an approximate location and deliver information more relevant to the visitor”. At the time most sites would have the user input a geographic location then poll the database based on user input. Now it’s blind on most sites.

Mobile is growing and will likely be the standard for the foreseeable future. As wireless bandwidths get faster and mobile devices take the place of laptops and desktops more and more users will make their first search and connection with others online. Apps like Color.com, a currently sparsely populated application, will make geolocal engagement a natural part of life.

Putting it all together

Often the reaction from small and medium businesses alike is, “how are we supposed to keep up and master all of these marketing challenges?” It really is not that difficult. In fact in today’s online world there are many solutions to provide everything you need to get started a a reasonable cost or simply an investment of time.

Business owners, more than anything else, need protection from scammers and inadequately experienced providers who will do little more than stir the waters and leave half-done things that would have been better never started. Keep this in mind: your brand is at stake. Having a half-assed social media presence, a blog you never write on or respond to comments on, a Twitter account you never check or a Foursquare special that expires 4 months ago is almost as bad as having a “Food’s great but the service sucks” sign on the front door of your restaurant.

Want more knowledge? Subscribe to the feed or just join up to be notified when new information is published. There are some great guest bloggers on the way and you can always listen to Social Media Edge, the podcast I started in 2008, for some of the brightest minds in new media marketing.

Real time influence means live transactional reward

Twenty years ago when you applied for a business phone it took about a week for the yellow directory sales pitches to start. They would drop in, phone, send cards and letters, rinse and repeat. My very first purchase of a yellow directory ad just about made me regurge but I knew I had to have it back in 1980. In fact without a yellow directory listing back then if you depended on people who did not drive by your storefront, I was in the entertainment electronics retail business, you may as well put on a monkey suit and stand on the street corner … selling rocks.

The cost of my first add, a half-page, was $3700 for a year. It reached roughly 180,000 people in 112,000 homes if I remember right. It worked. Most of my business back then came from the yellow directory with my second amount from storefront advertising.

The yellow directory was, for all practical purposes, the top search engine of the day. It produced a significant amount of revenue for shops like mine, plumbers, lawyers, auto-repair, tailors, doctors, squirrel catchers, and many more.  There was, however, a major catch: once that ad was printed and distributed it was set for the next 12 months. If you were specific about discounts or hours or special product offerings you better still be able to deliver.

Enter the digital age and live engagement

The ratio of use of yellow directory to purchase was in some cases staggering. Clients did not, generally, surf the yellow directory. Only when a real solution was needed do one look for the book and take a walk with their fingers. This point of need rendered a higher rate of return per “impression” than we generally see online today.

However …

Beginning with early websites around 1995 it was quickly discovered one could combine traditional advertisement with dynamic content. One of my early clients, Mel Abramavitz, owned a yellow directory which catered to upper middle class residents in our area. Together we brainstormed and I created the first real-time, customer editable yellow directory in our area. Though most of his customers, the retailers and service providers who advertised in his book, rarely made changes it was available to them. Some of the early adopters did entice people to visit the website and see the daily or weekly schedule.

Fast forward another 10 years

With the advent of real-time conversation on the Internet, outside of AOL’s chat rooms and IRC’s groups, companies and organizations now have the opportunity to do something we once could only do on the phone or face to face: listen, respond and transact.

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and others gives the organization with transactional intent the opportunity to listen – to tap in to trending changes in the market at large or even on a macro level. Negative perceptions can be corrected, positive influence can turn into capitalization, product concerns can be addressed, and even product or service offerings can be manipulated in the stream to maximize provider influence in a most dynamic market generation.

So get on

If you are a small business or large business and you are not functioning to full capacity as a market influence in real-time it is not too late to begin. Source a leader with proven experience in marketing and branding in the digital age to lead your organization into the future and give them room to err and correct for in a dynamic environment it is the rigid that breaks and the flexible with recovers quickly.