Stating the obvious, budget is no small issue when you run a small business…. According to this quarterly study by Merchant Circle among 4,942 SMBs nationwide, most have $2,500 or less to spend on marketing and don’t plan to increase these expenditures next year.
Most small businesses have now realized exactly that. According to this article from Mashable, everybody’s doing it.
* About half of marketers these days spend at least 6 hours each week using social media. And according to this author, that’s not even nearly enough.
* Specifically among SMBs, almost 2 in 3 post 8+ times per week on social networking sites; and about 1 in 4 post 1-7 times per week. That means only 14% post less than once per week.
As you might suspect, Twitter and Facebook are the most common sites used. But there’s also LinkedIn, Flickr, Tumblr, and many more. Click here for some success stories on how a few small businesses used social media in lieu of traditional advertising to get their personality and message out and propel loyalty and sales.
Each week, I spend 10 – 15 hours accessing social networking sites for my business. How about you?
Google’s algorithm for responding to searches is like the 21st century version of the recipe for Coca-Cola. Everyone is on a need-to-know basis and very few (outside of Google) do.
In all seriousness, according to this recent article in Computer World, Google uses 200 factors including age of site and outside links to respond to searches and made 500 (!) changes to their algorithm last year alone. Very recent changes in their latest “Panda” update are said to go beyond the straightforward and include more qualitative metrics like quality, credibility, and perceived trust. And in this go-around, some companies do not fare nearly as well.
Lately, there have been some very high-profile scandals involving companies trying to upgrade their prominence on search engines to ensure their pages get listed higher (leading to those all-important achievements like increased traffic, brand recognition and ultimately sales).
So everyone now offers tips on how to improve your company’s position
* From the general: “design a good site”, “write compelling content,” “have a great message,” “make it easy to view and browse,” “increase traffic.”
* To the more specific: “focus on key words,” “have high-quality links to your site,” “show video,” “be included in relevant online directories.”
Some advice is worthwhile; some is out-dated; and some is and always has been irrelevant.
But the bottom line is that someone inside every company – even a small and mid-size business – needs to think about search engine optimization. Eventually optimized companies will be at a clear advantage because there is a benefit placed on having history. So you need to think about it now and often.
Who in your company is in charge of search engine optimization? And what do you/they do to improve your placement? Keep in mind “nothing” is no longer an option.
Blogs are no longer a fad. And here is my evidence:
* Fact #1: Wikipedia and Dictionary.com both have entries under the word “blog”.
* Fact #2: Being a “blogger” is a genuine, if not yet well-understood, profession. As of yesterday, Monster had 294 open “blogger” positions.
For those of you unfamiliar, a blog is an online journal, often interactive, sometimes personal, and rarely dry or formal. And as a small or mid-sized business, it’s important to have a blog for the same reasons it’s important to use social networking sites. It’s a quick and effective way to get your point across to a captured and engaged audience. It’s the now not-so-new-anymore tool to communicate with your customers and prospects.
Click here for a list of some of the best social media blogs of 2011.
See that, blogs, even for us techies, are informative and fun. Have you started one?
[Personal side bar: I know we are all busy and it took me a while too to jump on the blog bandwagon. Who has the time?! But now that I have, I love it! This blog has presented me with a new audience and effective way to offer my POV to clients. I have become a big proponent so if you need guidance, I will gladly offer my support on the best way to move forward.]
What small business has the money for postage these days? And even if you do, might there be a better use?
Today, according to much of what I have read, we Americans prefer our news right now and green. Using myself as an example…
- As a working mother, any mail that doesn’t hint “bill” rarely gets opened before it hits the recycling bin …. and last year, I opted out of receiving any unsolicited mail through the DMA.
- As a small business owner, I am slightly more likely to scan the headlines of my mail just in case there might be something that benefits my work or my clients, but in the end, most of the letters, brochures and invitations I receive still wind up in the same place – the T.R.A.S.H.
So here’s a marketing idea for small businesses…. Have you tried Digg? Started back in 2004, it’s like 21st century direct mail.
- It’s free – No postage means big savings to reach a new (and hopefully large) audience.
- It’s simple – Submit a story or article and then create a link to “Digg it”.
- It’s fast – One press of a button and your article reaches the social network of anyone who Diggs it.
- It’s fun – You can (and should) create content on issues that matter to you, light-hearted or deep, but not necessarily about your product.
- It’s environmentally friendly – No mail means no paper.
- Readers vote on each story and the favorite stories show up on top, so it’s essentially a news popularity contest. And popularity (occasionally) trumps quality.
- There is still a question mark on how much loyalty it engenders. Readers who click on the link don’t necessarily return to your site or your brand. So you may be spending time to reach many casual, but not committed, consumers.
But that said …. according to the WorldWatch Institute, more than 41.5 billion pieces of mail advertisements were produced and distributed in the U.S in 2005. Do you think those companies got a return on their investment?
Last week’s Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about e-commerce on social networking sites. Still in its infancy, it’s hard to know if we have hit on something real yet but some very established firms are trying it like GNC, Westin hotels, and J.C. Penney.
Some of the facts that struck me from the article are that:
- · “Online purchases grew 28% in the first quarter, while in-store purchases grew only 4% during the same time period” intimating that capitalizing on e-commerce in some capacity is imperative!
- · “Americans spent 22 minutes and 10 seconds on Facebook in April, more than twice the amount of time they spent on the Web’s top 500 retail sites combined” intimating that social networking sites may be your best route.
I can’t remember the last time I stepped foot in a mall (except to go to the Apple Store), so to my mind this seems like the natural next wave for shopping but some open questions still remain like:
- · How purposeful and specific are consumers with their activities on the Web? Will consumers be comfortable shopping where they socialize and in some sense live?
The right answer to both questions about comfort and practicality is probably “it depends” on your audience, on your products, on your long-term strategic plan.
But given the amount of demographic information included on these social networking sites, it may make sense as a great research tool if nothing else. What’s your take?
Quick! … in 140 characters or less, tell us what’s special about your company, why you go to work every morning, what inspired you today? Hard to do, yes. But becoming essential, also yes.
And that’s Twitter for you.
What once seemed like a passing fad, Twitter instead just celebrated its 5th anniversary in March and today hosts 200 million users and 1 billion tweets per week worldwide. Most celebrities and politicians have a Twitter handle to promote their goings-on; and now even for small and medium-sized businesses, it’s tough to ignore as a potential marketing and PR tool.
Twitter offers the ability to:
* Have a dialogue with an engaged, captured audience
* Communicate a message exactly the way you want in short and sweet sound bites
* Gauge the pulse of your consumers in real-time and react quickly if necessary
* Be light-hearted and show some personality rather than just communicating in dry marketing-speak.
But here a few tips that we have learned along the way.
The What: Listen to what your customers are talking about and focus on issues that are important to your audience. While it is important to tie tweets to your company’s business objectives, you don’t want to be evidently self-serving or solely direct folks to your product, brand or website.
The Who: Ensure your tweets are managed by dedicated employees who understand your message, your brand and your audience. PR and social media firms like ours can be instrumental with execution, but it works well when the voice emanates from someone knowledgeable and trustworthy inside your firm.
The When: Tweet early and often. The Twitter-verse doesn’t like to wait. So the beauty of Twitter can also be the curse. You can and need to react to events in real-time because news becomes old very quickly.
The How: If you are new to Twitter, click here for a favorite step-by-step guide on how to get started.
And, our best advice is to just try it! This new social media world will forgive and even forget, but the expectation is to get out there, even if you make some mistakes along the way.