Launching and Maintaining a Digital Communications and Marketing Strategy
Writer and communications strategist Claire Propsting gives advice on starting and maintaining a small business communications strategy in our four-part blog series
I talk to a lot of small business owners. They all came to entrepreneurship for different reasons. They each provide different services and products and have wildly varied brands. But inevitably, when it comes to marketing and communications, our conversation heads in the same direction. They all have the sneaking suspicion that they’re missing something. That they could take their business to the next level if they could use their digital presence more effectively.
If you’re in a similar situation, you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to cover four of the basics of creating or strengthening a communications strategy in the digital age.
First up: social media.
It’s hard to believe how far social media has come. Just a few years ago, my clients thought no one over the age of 25 would get brand information from social media. Now, it’s a cornerstone of every communications strategy, from the dinkiest startup to the most sophisticated luxury brands. To make it crystal clear just how imperative it is, 70% of consumers are more likely to use a local business if it has information available on a social media site and a whopping 85% of consumers expect businesses to be active on social media. But before you get started, consider the following tips.
- Make sure you’re ready for the leap
Social media is not just a hobby anymore. If you’re going to launch a social media presence for your business, be prepared to update content at least a few times a week. Having a languishing, stale social media presence is worse than not having one at all.
Don’t believe me? Think about a potential customer hearing about your company. She looks you up on Facebook to learn more, but she finds that you haven’t updated your page in months. She assumes she got the name wrong or that your company has closed down. Before she heads to Google to investigate further, she notices that Facebook has listed a few other businesses under “Similar Places Nearby.” She clicks on the first one, likes what she sees, and you’ve just lost a customer.
- Choose your channels wisely
There are so many different social media channels that it may seem hard to keep up. Unless there’s a reason for you to target a specialized platform, my advice is to focus on the Big Seven. If you’re starting from scratch, or if you can’t hire someone to monitor and post to all seven channels regularly, start with two and grow from there.
Facebook: If you can devote time to only one platform, make it Facebook. It is far and away the most utilized site for finding out about local businesses. Yes, the algorithm and newsfeed options seem to change on a monthly basis. Yes, your 16-year-old niece may have told you that Facebook isn’t cool anymore. But it is still the most popular social media channel by leaps and bounds and it would be foolish to ignore the 1.13 billion people who log in to Facebook every day.
LinkedIn: Depending on the type of business you run, LinkedIn may be an even more powerful tool than Facebook. Business-to-Business companies actually get more leads on LinkedIn over Facebook and 63% of B2B marketers consider it the most effective platform.
Twitter: I don’t know if it’s the hashtags, the @ tags, or the handful of people who show up in the headlines every year for offensive tweets, but Twitter is the platform that strikes fear into the hearts of many of my clients. If it makes you nervous, it’s OK to make Twitter part of a future phase of your company’s social media strategy.
Instagram: If you’re in the business of selling products, or if your target audience is under 35, your company should make Instagram a priority. In fact, 53% of all 18-29-year-olds are active on the channel. Brands that were virtually unknown, (Brandy Melville and Lorna Jane to name two) and even big national companies (ever heard of Coke and Staples?) are using Instagram to elevate their brands and target their customers in unique ways.
Pinterest: A lot of my clients forget about Pinterest, but consider this: it’s one of the least demanding platforms if you’re strapped for time. Other platforms require almost constant monitoring and fresh content several times a week. But on Pinterest, your posts live on and on, getting more eyeballs and more engagement the longer they’re up.
Snapchat: I won’t deny how fun Snapchat is, but I have yet to recommend Snapchat to a small business client. It’s time-consuming and your content is gone right after you create it. To top it off, Instagram unveiled Stories, which has the fun and functionality of Snapchat, but draws on your existing audience.
YouTube: Anyone can be their own TV producer these days. If video content is part of your marketing strategy (and it probably should be!), setting up a channel on YouTube can attract views and you can link your videos to all your other platforms as well.
- Get followers with authentic content
Now, let’s take a step back. Your brand is what sets you apart from your competitors. It’s how your customers feel when they hear about your company. The common question I ask when helping a client with content is: if your company were a person, what would he or she be like? Once you have the answer to that question, your social media strategy should be an extension of your brand. If you’re fun and quirky, convey that in your social presence. If you’re honest and knowledgeable, become a trusted resource of information for your followers.
And don’t forget: once you have your social media pages up and running, link to them in your email signature, website, and email marketing. Put the icons on your business cards and let clients know on all your marketing material that you’re on social. You’ll have a solid audience in no time.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle…and re-post
You do have to devote some time every week (or preferably every day!) to your social media presence, but it doesn’t have to be the gargantuan effort that some people think it is.
Chances are, even your biggest fans won’t follow you on all your channels and check your website religiously. By reposting your content for different audiences, you can reach even more people. Take a typical blog post: you can post it as an article on Facebook, add some thoughtful commentary on LinkedIn, tweet the link, and pull out some stats as an infographic for Instagram and Pinterest. This will drive people to your blog and website, where they can get more information about your company, leading to more customers and more revenue.
Let’s Get Digital: Content Marketing for Small Business
Writer and communications strategist Claire Propsting gives advice on small business communications strategy in our four-part blog series.
Depending on who you ask, “content marketing” is either a dying fad or a new name for what great marketers have been doing for decades. In case you’re still blurry on the details of content marketing, I’ll clarify: content marketing is distributing relevant content that gets your audience to engage. It can take many forms, from videos and blog posts to articles and infographics, but if you do it right, it elevates how people see your brand and increases business.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a Pulitzer-worthy writer or videographer to create great content; you just have to know your product and, more importantly, your audience. In short: marketing used to be about telling people how great you are; content marketing is about getting your customers and potential customers to say it themselves.
Your Brand is your Audience
A lot of marketing consultants will tell you to think about your brand as a person, and that your brand voice should align with that personality. I agree that that’s a great way to think about your brand when trying to hone your voice, but my advice is to start one step back and give your audience a personality.
You should break down your audience by demographics if you can: How old is your typical customer? What’s the ratio of men to women? And what’s their annual household income?
Once you answer these basics, dig a little deeper. Think about your typical customers again, but try to get into their heads. What state of mind are they in when they turn to your business? What are their goals? What information do they need to make a decision? Taking the time to thoughtfully answer these questions will give you a valuable list of messages and will help you channel your precious marketing dollars where you can make the most impact.
The Nitty Gritty
Once upon a time, small business marketing consisted of getting a logo printed on some pens, running a few newspaper ads and calling it a day. Here’s the truth: traditional marketing for both B2B and B2C businesses has been losing effectiveness for years.
With that said, even though times have changed, you still have to get your message out there.
Video is one of the most powerful ways to start content marketing. It’s visual, it’s instant and it works: four times as many people would rather watch a video about a product than read a description and 70% of marketers say that videos lead to more conversations and create more leads than any other type of content. Platforms like Facebook Live, Periscope, and Instagram Stories now make it easier than ever to channel your inner Spielberg. Casual, in-the-moment video content is having major influence right now, so it’s the perfect time to start creating videos for your company.
Your company blog is another ideal place to incorporate your content marketing efforts. Just by virtue of having a blog, you’ll increase your SEO rating. If you use it as a platform to get your ideas and other engaging content out to the world, all the better.
Whatever medium you use, make sure to utilize your social media channels and email newsletters to distribute your content and drive traffic back to your blog and website.
*Article originally written for My Content Co.
Why you should skip the traditional PR agency
Writer and communications strategistgives advice on small business communications strategy in Part 3 of our four-part blog series.
and can get your message pretty far, but there will come a point when you’ll need the press to take your brand, product or ideas to the masses. If you think that means hiring a traditional PR agency for a pricey retainer, my advice is simple: skip it.
As a former journalist who has also worked in PR, I can tell you first-hand that hiring a fancy agency isn’t worth it when you’re just starting out. Reporters are hungry for fresh content to fill the void created by the 24/7 news cycle. And since you started your company from scratch, who could possibly tell your story better than you?
That’s not to say that you should forego all help with writing and strategy, but if you can talk about your company and your products in an authentic, passionate way, you’ll naturally be the best media rep your company could have. Luckily, there are a number of low-cost or free tools that you can use to get your company in the headlines.
Your Own Media Savvy
This one is free but invaluable. Having a knack for knowing what a reporter would find interesting, and telling the story in a concise, compelling way, is what PR is all about. Before you call every reporter in town, consider if you’re sharing actual news or a story that people will want to read. A new product launch, charity event, a partnership with another organization, or even a human interest story can all fall under the banner of news if you pitch it right; a sales pitch about your company is not going to fly. You can also put yourself forward as an expert and source.
Media savvy also covers who you’re pitching. You may have a business worthy of the likes of the New York Times or Vogue, but chances are, you’ll be a lot better off focusing on the target publications that will get you more customers. For small businesses, that’s often the local paper, community magazines, local business journals and local radio and TV. Don’t discount trade magazines either; even if your customers don’t read the magazines cover to cover, you can post the articles to your website and social media accounts to shake up your typical content and promote your company without paying for ads.
, or Help a Reporter Out, is a great resource for anyone trying to get some press. When you sign up for this free tool, you get three emails a day with a list of requests from reporters around the country. If you see a request that matches your business or expertise, follow the contact link and get connected directly to the reporter writing the article.
Do you have a story that is truly worthy of a press release? I mean a genuinely BIG story? Consider putting out a press release on PR Web. They have different price tiers that send your release to different audiences (not surprisingly, the more you pay, the more elite the audience). If you only reserve this option for major company news, it can easily be part of a typical marketing budget.
I know it’s hard to believe, but reporters are people, just like you and me. And like us, they spend time on social media. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are all great places to not only post your content but to connect with reporters. You should set up Google Alerts to notify you when you or your company are mentioned online, allowing you to forego the digital clipping services offered by most PR juggernauts.
Finally, I’ll leave you with one more reason to be your own media relations firm. When you hire a PR professional, you’re paying for their connections to reporters. If you stop paying, those connections go away. If you rep yourself, you’re the one with the relationships. And building relationships is what running a small business is all about.
In my last post in the series, get tips on incorporating SEO into your digital presence.
5 Simple SEO Tips for Small Businesses
Writer and communications strategist Claire Propsting gives advice on small business communications strategy in the last installment of our four-part blog series.
Once you have your social media and content marketing up and running, not to mention a user-friendly, eye-catching website, you should start thinking more about getting the most from your digital presence.
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, takes advantage of the algorithm rules that search engines (like Google) use to move your business toward the top of the search results, making it more likely that people will click on your site. For small or startup companies, when every click counts, SEO is crucial. So in support of the nearly 30 million small businesses in the United States, I’ve put together a short list of the simplest SEO tips small and startup companies can start implementing today.
- Start a blog
Having fresh content on your website is important for SEO, and a blog is a great way to make sure you’re updating your website consistently. And if you post useful, interesting stuff, in line with your content marketing strategy, it’s more likely that other websites and blogs will link back to your site, increasing your traffic and moving you up in search results. Blog posts are the content gifts that keep on giving: you can post them to all your social media channels and include them in your client newsletters as well, so you get the most from the time you spend.
- Be readable and fun
The internet is a fickle place. You need to have readable, relevant content on your website to get people to click. Make sure your content is grammatically correct and flows well. And remember: your website is not an academic paper. Don’t be afraid of using a more casual voice and writing style. Break up your text with headings and be brief, but not too brief — pages with around 1500 total words tend to have the best rankings.
- Tinker with your keywords
There are people who make a living studying and predicting the most searched words and phrases on the internet. You don’t have to go to extremes, but since you’re an expert in your own business, you probably already have a good idea of what a customer or potential customer would search to find a business like yours. Try to incorporate those words and terms into your headlines and sub-headings. Be careful: trying to cram too many keywords into every piece of content will make your writing look like the work of an SEO robot, so it’s better to stay true to your brand voice above all else.
- Put a call to action in your content
Make sure your content has a next step for your readers. That might be to get in touch with you, book an appointment, or like you on Facebook, but make sure your customers have a measurable call to action. Then you can use your web analytics and social media metrics to see how well your call to action is resonating with your audience.
- Link Smart
A good rule of thumb is to have half the links in your articles direct to outside websites and the other half to sites within your own domain. That might be your homepage, your blog or another page on your website. Linking to outside content makes it more likely that other sites will link back to you, increasing your traffic and optimizing your search engine results, while linking within your own domain drives traffic to your site and helps with your site architecture. But make sure your external links are organic and that you’re not violating search engine policy (check out some of Google’s rules here).
And there you have it. Five ways to make the most of your digital presence through SEO. This marks the end of my four-part guest post series on digital marketing for small businesses. It’s been real! If you keep working at it, your digital marketing and communications strategy could become one of your company’s most valuable assets.