So Many Social Networks, But Which to Use?

One of the foremost complaints I hear from small business owners who know they should start shifting their marketing focus to social networking (social media sites that allow networking between users), is that they don’t know which one to use.

And frankly I understand their point. Should they use Facebook or Twitter? LinkedIn or Google+?

The list of potential social networking sites actually goes on and on.

And even if they do spend all the time it takes to really learn how to use one of these tools correctly, some are scared it’ll be out of fashion before too long (most of them are still stinging from the MySpace.com demise).

This is common for small business owners and a primary reason (along with lack of money or time), that some decide not to enter the social networking waters.

Here’s the good news: you don’t need to be present on every single new social network that pops up. While no doubt that it’s ideal to try to cover all the bases, and there are definite advantages to being present on all networks, typically only large companies with huge budgets can manage this.

So, for small businesses in Las Cruces that want to start exploring social network marketing the trick is to figure out what your customers use most and what your goals and objectives are. Here’s a quick run down of the most popular tools out there and a bit of information about using them.

Facebook: The largest and most popular social network in the world, closing in on 900 million global users, half of which are logged in at any given time. It’s almost a sure thing that your customers are on here, yet that doesn’t mean it’s the best one for you to use. If you want to create personal engagement and a loyal base of customers, then setting up a page (not a profile) on Facebook is a good idea, but it’s not a good tool for broadcasting (read, advertising).

Twitter: If you want to develop a nationwide brand, or at least create brand recognition outside of our area, Twitter is perhaps the best tool for doing this. While allowing you to broadcast a little more explicitly than Facebook, Twitter is also the best for directing potential or current customers to online information (like your website for a sale, for example).

LinkedIn: This social network is best used by professionals who depend on making connections—locally or beyond—for their business. People in sales, the financial or insurance industries use this quite often to reach others for marketing opportunities and recruiting.

Google +: Google + is the newest social network on the block, but don’t let that scare you away. Google has promised it will have over 500 million users by the end of the year, and frankly, I believe them. Their genius is in connecting this social network with the power of their search engine, so that results from a search includes the information from Google +. In other words, local businesses would do well to create a business profile to ensure they stay competitive at the top of local search engine results.

There are also numerous very specialized social networks you could join. Take a site called, Ravelry.com, for example. This is a social network exclusively for the knitting and crocheting crowd. Talk about niche!

Or maybe your business specializes in craft beer or brewing supplies? Then you can join Untappd.com.

Despite their very narrow appeal each still has user bases of well over one million. If I was giving advice to small businesses in these fields I’d insist they join and become active participants.

Do a little bit of research to make sure your customers are on these, and then join and observe for a while to see how other businesses use them. In the end, marketing through social networks could be the boost your business is looking for.

Create Online Videos to Expand Your Digital Marketing

Have you ever thought about adding videos to your digital marketing arsenal? If not, you should. Here’s why.

Youtube alone gets approximately 450 million visitors every month (according to website ranking company, Alexa). Every minute, over 48 hours of video content is uploaded to Youtube. And, every day, over 3 billion videos are watched.

Impressed yet? Well here’s something that’s even more important to small businesses trying to compete with similar businesses on the web: Youtube is the second most used search engine in the world (trailing only Google).

What’s more, Google often indexes videos ahead of other content, so videos will often appear towards the very top of the first page of search results (a place many businesses pay lots of money to be located).

Viewers can also interact with videos (at least on sites like Youtube), allowing them to provide feedback and giving the small business owner the opportunity to engage a brand new prospect through comments.

Videos are also easily shared. They can be disseminated through other social networking sites, like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, expanding the number of potential views and reaching even more people.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is the value it adds to your brand by giving online shoppers or potential in-town customers a way of seeing another side of both you and your business. This is extremely important in today’s climate, simply because competition has become global (no matter how small or niche you think your business is), and there’s actually very little that separates one business from others in the same category.

Creating videos helps you stand out and showcase your business. It gives potential customers the opportunity to learn about you, and it creates a relationship between those customers and yourself—especially if you give them “behind the scenes” type of videos.

And this actually leads to what is one of the two main stumbling blocks for many owners who often remark that they have no idea what they would make a video about.

Simply put, make videos about anything that gives your customers a sense of who you are and how you do what you do. You can upload a video that simply introduces your employees. You could make a video that shows customers how to complete a task with one of your products. You can make a video that demonstrates how to make one of the most popular dishes on the menu.

Anything really. Well, maybe not really. Please don’t make commercials. I guarantee nobody will watch them (unless they’re really funny: think the Old Spice Guy commercials).

The second stumbling block is the myth that these videos must have high production values, making them expensive to shoot, edit and produce, and probably requiring an outside agency to do it.

That’s simply not the case. People judge online videos by the quality of their message, not necessarily the quality of their production. People can forgive low-quality audio and the lack of flashiness if they are given worthwhile content that either educates or entertains them (or both).

Videos can be made with a small camcorder costing less than $150.00. Editing software isn’t even required either now that sites like Youtube have integrated editing features into their services, allow users to upload videos and then edit them directly on the site.

While it may not seem worthwhile, this type of social media marketing can be as effective as traditional methods (or even more so). The types of videos I recommend here create top-of-mind awareness for your brand, they initiate a bond or relationship between potential customers and your business, and they do all of that for very low prices and for a very long time.

Is your business mobile?

A glance over the website analytics of New Mexico Tech for the past two years demonstrates a growing internet trend: more and more people are viewing websites with their mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc.). In 2011 over 4% of our web traffic (representing over 30,000 visits) came from mobile devices. This is in comparison to 2010, when only 1.5% of visits were mobile.

We aren’t alone in this trend, either. According to a study by Cisco Systems the growth rate of mobile internet devices was 159% in 2010 and 149% in 2009. The stats aren’t in yet for 2011, but if NMT’s analytics are any indication the growth rate will prove to be much higher.

Forecasts of the future are even more striking. According to a study by Morgan Stanley, mobile devices will overtake the PC for internet viewing by 2015. In other words, 3 out of every 5 people will view a business’ website on their smart phone, tablet or other mobile device instead of their desktop computer.

What’s more, the study projects mobile e-commerce will overtake desktop-based e-commerce before 2015. In certain markets—like media downloads (e-books, video, music and games)—this may well happen in 2012 or 2013.

The upshot of this is that your web presence needs to serve mobile web traffic. Mobile sites must be faster to download, they must be simple with few graphics and easily read on the small screens of mobile devices (the screen of the iPad is only about 9 X 7” after all).

Remember that you only have a brief instance—within 1-2 seconds—to grab the attention of an internet user and draw them into your site. If in that instant they judge your site as taking too long to download, too complicated to use, or not what they were looking for, they will quickly vanish into the virtual netherworld, shopping at a competitor’s website instead.

So my question for the small business owners of Las Cruces is this: how mobile is your web presence? Are you prepared for this trend?

If not, you need to be. Your website will soon grow very, very outdated unless you can compensate for the coming swell of mobile-based internet traffic. Here are some aspects to consider when planning your mobile presence on the web:

Speed is the key! Design a mobile site to be quickly downloaded by making images and graphics linked options instead of part of the design.

Touch-screen interfaced require big links. Make sure that links on your site are easy to see and click. Even better, make menu items large buttons instead of simply linked words.

Make the mobile site fully functional. In other words, ensure that your mobile site has every function and piece of information—or at least the option to access it—that your standard site does.

Give people the option. While most mobile web surfers are viewing via their wireless carrier’s service, some are viewing via wireless internet networks with faster speeds, so give them the option to view your standard website as well.

Cut down on the clutter—even more. I’m a proponent of minimalism on the web—the less the better on most websites. But mobile sites must be bare-bones and provide only the most necessary and basic information (while still providing ways to get to the detailed stuff if the user wants it).

The growing trend of mobile web traffic is a good sign for businesses that have already positioned themselves online—users will be ready to virtually shop anytime and anywhere. Web traffic will most certainly increase, and with it the opportunity to grow and increase revenue.

Consider adding blogs to your online presence

Five years ago, if you said you had a blog people probably thought you wore tight fitting pants, had a hipster haircut and lived with your parents. You probably wrote about your life, your perceptions about art or music, and you generally treated the blog as your personal journal (as in when we used to write on paper type of journal), only you allowed anyone in the world to read it.

And in truth, much of that might have been accurate. In many ways, though, blogs have changed (though, sadly, the negative perception has not). For small businesses in the Las Cruces area, a blog could be the most powerful tool in their digital marketing arsenal.

If you’re not familiar with blogs (short for weblogs), they are brief articles that relay a small amount of content about a particular subject, which are published on a personal or business website, or special blog website.

And they are very popular. In fact, the number of blogs has exploded over the past five years. One producer of a popular blogging platform—Wordpress—reported that its software is used on over 66 million sites around the world. What’s more, Wordpress is only one of dozens of platforms.

For businesses and brands, what’s even more important is the amount of reach these blogs and their articles get. In the same article, Wordpress also reported that the blogs powered by its platform are read by over 321 million visitors every month.

Blogs let businesses and brands reach consumers in a completely new and relevant way. They are mechanisms to teach consumers about a brand, product or service, and they can show consumers a different side of the business than they would normally see.

And if done right, they also increase the likelihood of being placed near the top of search results—the Holy Grail of online marketing.

If you’re not sure about it, feel a bit like queasy or are worried that you or your business will appear juvenile or unprofessional, be comforted in knowing that some of the largest companies on the planet have blogging campaigns, like IBM, Intel, Boeing, and Dell.

Not sure what to blog about? Here are some ideas to get you started.

Give your customers an inside look at your business. If you’re a restaurant maybe you can give them the scoop on how you pick and choose produce for your dishes. If you’re a retail store maybe you can tell them about your latest buying trip or trends you are seeing.

Give your customers helpful information. People are always looking for ways to save money or do something faster or better. As the owner or agent of a business, brand, product or service you are the expert in your niche. Help consumers by offering your insight into cost or time-saving methods in that niche.

Address the business itself. Blog about your business: things that are coming up, or plans that you have for expanding. What new inventory or product lines might you be adding and who would especially benefit from what you’re offering?

Review products you are carrying. Take the products or services you are selling and actually demonstrate them for consumers. Show them how something works (or doesn’t) and help them make a decision about purchasing that item.

If you begin blogging, don’t make the mistake of stopping suddenly after a short time because you think it’s not working. Keep at it. It takes time to build traffic online and it’ll take months, perhaps even a year, before you begin seeing real results.

Google and other search engines like fresh—meaning new or original—content delivered often (at least once a week). So keep that in mind as a benchmark, and happy blogging!

How Is the ROI of Social Media Marketing Measured?

The speed with which companies have been moving to market through social media platforms and social networking sites has come at break-neck speeds over the past couple of years. Large organizations, like Coca Cola and Nike have doubled down on their spending budgets just this past year, and are expected to increase it once again for 2012. With all the paid experts at their disposal, clearly they know something about current and future trends in marketing.

Small business owners, I believe, genuinely want to do the same. I think most feel they need to begin marketing via social media and try by dipping their toe in the water (so to speak) in the form of a page on Facebook or a Twitter account. But then what? How do they know whether or not their initiative is working?

Unfortunately, most are used to the way traditional marketing campaigns are run: a commercial (or print ad) is created and broadcast about a specific service, topic, product or initiative, and then customers respond in some manner. Social media is different. Very different.

And so when small business owners don’t see the crowds come storming in after they half-heartedly post for a few months, they neglect their Facebook and Twitter accounts altogether, ruining any chance they might have had of actually using them effectively.

The truth is the Return on Investment (ROI) of social media marketing depends on understanding what social media can and cannot do, and then setting your own expectations accordingly.

For example, social media is NOT a sales conversion platform (here I mean the continued platforms, such as Facebook pages, not Facebook ads). In other words, they really are not best used to drive customers to buy a product or service.

Social media is likewise NOT a “campaign” driven mechanism. Unlike television advertising where a business can market a single thing, event or service for a short amount of time, social media initiatives are long-term and generate success over time.

Social media IS a relationship builder. Why bother building relationships, you ask? Well, for starters through social media you can create a huge pool of the most valuable thing a business can have: regulars! These are repeat customers that return to you time and again instead of going to a competitor. Not only that, they bring their friends and family with them and refer people to you every chance they get. This is done purely through relationships, nothing else.

Social media CAN create brand awareness. By keeping your name in front of people who follow or like your brand, you keep yourself at the forefront of their mind. They might not buy from you today, but every time they read a post or a message, they are mentally creating a bridge to your product or service. And when they, or someone they know, needs that product or service, you are at the top of the list for getting their business.

There are of course many, many more considerations, but these four differences are a good start. After knowing this, you need to define your goals: what is it you want to do? What will indicate a successful social media marketing program for your business?

One quick and dirty indicator is the number of followers and likes you accumulate on these various channels. However, I’ve found this to be an artificial and somewhat shallow metric. After all, what good are 90,000 fans when none of them bother to read your posts or eventually buy from you? In this case, it would be better to have 2000 fans that hang on your every word.

A good indicator I have been using is the number of interactions I receive from status updates or tweets. If a brand I manage sends out a status update, and within minutes we receive a huge number of comments or likes, it tells me I’m in line with what my customers want and are expecting. As long as they are responding, I continue to be invited to (virtually) socialize with them and my name stays in front of them. To me, that’s a win.

You’ll have to invent your own metric of course, and many will find what works for others will not work for them. However, the key is to understand what you are trying to accomplish before you jump into social media marketing in the first place. Then you’ll be able to honestly measure an ROI.

Word One Consulting
575-496-6807
clint @ wordoneconsulting.com
2263 S. Main
Las Cruces, NM 88005