Twitter celebrated its seventh birthday on 21 March and, with an estimated 1.2 billion Twitter accounts now registered, 200 million active users and 400 million tweets sent each day, it is more important than ever that businesses have stringent social media policies in place.
With the majority of businesses using social media regularly as a tool for self-promotion, interaction with clients and even recruitment, it is easy to forget that potentially millions could read the message you are composing.
The law of defamation concerns the publishing of statements that harm the reputation or character of someone resulting from the false statements or actions of another, and it is crucial to remember that the law treats the online world much as it does the real world.
In other words, every tweet is potentially a fresh publication for defamation purposes, and anyone who tweets a defamatory statement could be held liable for damages. Businesses must be aware because every tweet sent from a work-linked account could attract vicarious liability.
Unfortunately, it does not stop there and even comments on personal accounts might bring a business into disrepute if they can be linked back, which also demonstrates how vital it is for employers to have clear policies and training in place to deal with social media activity.
The misuse of social media has also led to numerous publicised dismissals. A report obtained through the Freedom of Information Act found that 11 civil servants at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been sacked for misusing Facebook or Twitter since January 2009, while a further 105 employees have faced disciplinary action.
A social media policy should ideally include detailed information on what staff should and shouldn’t say and do on social media, privacy settings that need to be enacted, how to react to requests for references and what to do if an adverse comment is published.
Because of the nature of social media, it is very difficult to abolish the use of it altogether and this may well be counterproductive anyhow because it offers an abundance of benefits.
However, it has to be used correctly and appropriately if these benefits are to be seen. Therefore, when employees are encouraged to use social media as part of their job, employers are advised to have a ‘best practice’ guide available. Appointing a ‘social media’ officer or champion as a point of contact for those in doubt is also highly advised.
Crucially, once a social media policy is drawn up it is important that it is not simply locked away in the store cupboard and out of employees’ sight. It must be easily accessible and well publicised to ensure that all staff members are fully aware of their responsibilities when it comes to using social media.
Even if your resources are limited and social media isn’t a primary tool for your business, the costs of not being in control of it within your company are too big to be ignored.
By Lee Calver of employment law specialists Workplace Law
As a business owner, you will know that to remain competitive within your market your business needs to grow. If you are not increasing your turnover and profits, you risk soon being overtaken by businesses that are.
Whether you prefer to remain a relatively small business or if you have the success of Richard Branson’s Virgin in mind, business growth will inevitably lead to hiring more staff. The importance of hiring top quality staff cannot be overestimated, because it can prove to be the difference between success, survival or failure.
Although many small businesses have never had or can no longer afford to have in-house HR departments, using external HR companies or HR software can provide a solution. However, if you decide to manage your HR matters, recruiting employees will be down to you, of course.
Along with more traditional recruitment strategies, today’s business owners are now turning to social media to hire top quality employees. If you are unsure how to do this, here are some tips.
LinkedIn was established specifically with recruitment in mind. It not only enables job seekers and employees to promote their skills, education and experience online, but also acts as a business network and provides a way for like-minded professionals to contact and connect with one another.
If you or your business does not already have a presence on LinkedIn it is a good idea to set one up. Along with enabling you to network with fellow business owners, potential and existing customers, it will enable you to search for potential employees. Think of it as online dating for the corporate world, where you and job candidates can connect online before making the commitment to meet in person.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Twitter and Facebook are just for teenagers or bored housewives. They are both very useful tools for promoting businesses and recruiting employees. Top quality employees want to work somewhere that offers more than just a great salary, they also want to work in supportive and enjoyable environments, too.
Facebook and Twitter provide a great chance to show your company’s personality to potential job candidates, who will likely be searching through your Facebook page and Tweets to find out more about your business. If your company has taken part in a charity event, held a team-building day or any other social events, promote it on your Facebook page, because it will show potential employees that your company can offer more than just a nine-to-five job.
On a practical level, Facebook and Twitter are ideal places to advertise jobs. If a vacancy becomes available, post it on Facebook with a link to how applicants can apply. Also Tweet about it and encourage staff to Retweet it on Twitter.
Use of Social media isn’t a fad – it continues to grow. Google+ has become the latest social media tool that combines LinkedIn with Facebook and enables users to create separate professional and personal networks in one place.
There are many business benefits to using social media and businesses have realised it is a perfect tool to enhance their recruitment efforts. The fact is, failing to use social media could put your business at a distinct disadvantage when seeking to hire top quality employees.
By editor and blogger Derin Clark writing on behalf of Octopus HR.
Lucy Cohen, co-owner of Mazuma (a national service specialising in providing monthly bookkeeping and accountancy services to small businesses and the self-employed), shares her advice on using social media for business.
1. 10 heads are better than one
“Ensure all staff have a vested interest in (or are aware of) your social media activities - making it part of regular business. You’ll be able to generate more content and ‘buy in’ from your staff when everyone is informed and involved.”
2. Be creative
“If you can’t be creative within the realm of digital media, where can you be creative? Use social media for fun yet professional communication with your audience/clients. Why not create an alternate personality for your business that your audience can speak to?”
3. Give what you get
“Use your social media channels for two-way communication. Some audiences, particularly younger people, prefer to communicate via this medium. Don’t be afraid to respond in the location where the conversation began.”
4. Be strategic
Have a strategy in place; know your objectives. You must know what you want your business to get out of your social media and online activities.”
5. Keep it open and honest
“There is always a risk that your online community will be exposed to negative comments about your organisation. Don’t ‘jump to delete’. Use criticisms as an opportunity to be open, transparent and honest with your audience.”
6. Get involved – whatever your business
Most, if not all, customers are engaging on these platforms online, they offer real potential to retain clients and meet new clients, whatever your business, get involved – or you may be left behind as technology advances.
Inspired by a post called Be Happy it’s Not Easy I read on Sarah Petty’s Joy marketing blog site, I wanted to share my thoughts with you about free marketing.
There is no shortage of experts who will tell you not to waste money on a website or smart brand identity – having you believe instead that social media will catapult your business to financial success alone. And there is probably no denying that somewhere out there, someone will have made their first million (probably selling info products) in spite of their “horror show” of a website. But they’re the exception, not the rule.
A powerful brand identity and website will attract the right sorts of client prepared to spend what you need to charge. It will differentiate you from your competitors and it will help you stay memorable. You can’t get that sort of design for free. To be honest, it doesn’t even come “cheap”. But the great news is, investing in marketing your business means your competitors can’t copy as easily as free marketing.
I’m not knocking free marketing. Social media is the lifeblood of my marketing activity – but only in conjunction with a range of activities. And it only works because I take myself seriously.
The problem of not being able to invest in your marketing because you’re not making any money is an age-old catch 22. I firmly believe that you need to invest in your business and get all of this right at the outset and the results will pay dividends. It’s all about being brave.
Ask yourself this: If I don’t believe enough in my business to invest in my brand identity and website, why should my clients?
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
“Things can happen all at once and little changes can make a huge difference” –
January was quite a month. In fact, it’s been my business’s (Manage My Website) busiest period since I started it two years ago.
The enquiries are coming in thick and fast – from the UK (where we’re based) and countries as far flung as the USA, Egypt and Holland. We’re working on websites for retailers, charities and even the NHS, plus we’re about to partner with MODA Commerce, one of the teams behind the Mary Portas website. My business is on the brink of exploding.
Some years ago I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. As Gladwell explains, tipping points are: "The levels at which momentum for change becomes unstoppable."
So what’s led my business to this key stage? Lots of little things, really. They may have seemed insignificant at the time, but together they’ve created what we have become today and our business has reached its very own tipping point.
Before starting my business, I hadn’t realised I could sell. But in my eyes, I’m not selling to potential clients, I’m just extremely passionate about what I do and that probably shines through.
Nobody can predict what’s around the corner, but I have a very good feeling about 2011. I hope I’ve inspired anyone thinking of branching out on their own that if you’re passionate about what you do, have the right skills and work incredibly hard, you’ll reach your own tipping point.
I run Splash Morocco, an adventure company and riad (small B&B) in Marrakech, Morocco. When a colleague told me Twitter was the future for web marketing I rolled my eyes, but I was prepared to hear him out. One year later, after giving it some time and effort, I'm forced to agree with him: Twitter rocks!
I use social media as a way of attracting clients, building contacts and providing free information to prospective travellers. The cost of using this medium? Absolutely nothing. The benefits? Several thousand pounds worth of bookings and all for the cost of some of my time each day.
I'm lucky that here in Marrakech, there aren't that many other businesses that are Tweeting on a regular basis, so slowly I'm developing into an authority on travel and information in the area. I use TweetDeck and have various search terms set up to allow me to filter through the myriad of information out there and capture the useful data I can directly respond to.
Tweets I love seeing are things like "Just booked my flights to Marrakech - anyone got any tips on things to do?" or "Looking for an adventure in Morocco". With these, I can send a speedy response speaking about the riad or the adventure activities and tours I offer. These vary from white water rafting, canyoning and quads to gentler sightseeing tours of the High Atlas Mountains.
Any business can use this as a method of not only sharing information about their products on the web, but also of directly interacting with their potential clients and even acting as a free information service, building trust and reputation amongst followers who otherwise may have never considered or found your business.
Follow @MarrakechAndy on Twitter
My jewellery-making business, Mama Jewels, is nearing the end of its first sixth month of trading, so I thought I’d share an update on our progress so far.
This week my youngest son had his first birthday and I had my first day off Twitter, Facebook and my laptop for as long as I can remember. It felt good to leave my iPhone in the drawer and go out for the day. He was three-months-old when I decided to start Mama Jewels and both my sons are very much part of the journey. I’m hoping to have them trained in jewellery-making very soon!
Very good things are happening all the time, but I am finding myself in a constant juggling act, having to work some very late nights and early mornings to keep up. Sales are increasing, but they’re still not at the levels I wanted at this stage. I keep hoping this will eventually improve.
Visits and online sales are rising steadily after the launch of our new website, which took three (very long) months to develop and even then it didn’t launch on the date planned or the revised date. If you’re planning to launch a new website, build in plenty of spare time, especially for setting up payment accounts, which took longer than I’d expected.
Mama Jewels is currently stocking in 11 online boutiques, which is steadily increasing as we follow up new leads each day. We also have three independent baby shops stocking our products offline. This number is still low, because my ability to make visits is very limited because of my childcare commitments. Over the next couple of weeks I’ve temporarily arranged some extra childcare so I can make more sales visits.
We’ve plenty of events planned coming up to Christmas, including home parties, markets and fairs in targeted areas. We’re starting to get approached by mum and toddler groups to exhibit directly, so word is getting out there, which is great.
I am currently working on improving my Ebay shop, too, which has proved very successful so far and I have approached a friend who is an expert on selling via Amazon.
Progress is good, with daily glimpses of new opportunities. Generally, consumers are feeling the pinch and they’re more cautious than ever. Hopefully, the upcoming season will give us that extra little boost and encourage shop owners to trial my products in a few more retail outlets before Christmas. We’ll see.
Amanda Waring, Mama Jewels
You can find out more about Amanda on the interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
Deadly is the Female is a Frome-based boutique and web shop specialising in fabulous quality faux vintage fashion from head to toe. Both in store and online, the shopping experience is designed to make their customers feel like old-time Hollywood starlets.
Claudia has been using social networking websites since opening her shop in November 2008.
“We started out with a MySpace page,” she remembers, “which was the site with which I was most familiar, but I soon realised many of our followers were more focused on Facebook. We now mainly use Facebook and Blogger with some Twitter on the side.
“We try to find a balance between updating regularly and bombarding people to the point of irritation. Generally, we post something on Facebook every day and on Twitter a couple of times a week.”
Do she have any good social media tips? “I find it useful to follow other people with similar businesses and learn from them. This is easiest when they do things that are annoying. I hate getting slight variations of the same picture posted again and again, so don’t do that. Try to keep things fresh and don’t focus on selling all the time, a little bit of personal stuff is a good thing, too.”
Claudia recently started using Google Analytics, to find out more about site usage. “You wouldn’t ever guess some of the keywords that lead people to your site. Occasionally, we’ll run Facebook exclusive sales, too - which is a great way to see if people are paying attention.
“Social networking is a great way to connect directly with your customers. You can ask opinions or for help and advertise events. It’s also useful for keeping an eye on trends and gauging popular opinion, which even in a niche market has an impact.”
She says her favourite thing about Facebook is the variety of ways it can be used and how visible everything is. “You can make people feel involved by tagging them. Twitter is great for short, sharp information sharing. I feel less comfortable with Twitter, but I’m still learning.
“Social networking can be quite time-consuming but it’s worthwhile. The instant feedback and volume of information shared is like nothing else and it can help with making important day-to-day business decisions. I sometimes still feel a bit silly typing my thoughts out and sending them out into the unknown, but it’s worth it.”
And if Claudia could only use one social networking site? “It would be Facebook,” she replies. “It’s so easy to add attractive links to specific pages of the website as well as endless photos, videos and just about anything you can think of. You can have your own identity without the clutter of some MySpace pages and you can make people feel part of your brand. Using social media for business marketing takes time and practice to find out what works, but my advice is stick with it and stay positive,” she concludes.
Nicki started her online vintage boutique a year ago on the back of her career spent in fashion journalism, women’s magazines and websites. Having always loved clothing with a sense of history and fancy dress, she started sourcing unique and charismatic vintage items from the UK, America and Europe.
Nicki says: “The boutique is all about style-savvy women having fun experimenting with fashion, encouraging eco-friendly shopping and preserving a piece of the past in their own individual way.”
She’s been using social networking sites since she launched the business in August 2009. Mainly she uses Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Blogger, MySpace (not as regularly) and professional sites such as LinkedIn.
“I try to update Twitter daily – if not every other day – and Facebook, on average, once or twice a week. I used to blog every day, but time constraints now mean I can only manage once or twice a week. The MySpace page is pretty static, and I update Flickr every month or so with new stock images.
Does she have any tips for successful use of social media for business? “Keep at it!” she replies, “You have to do regular updates to maintain interest. Be creative – think outside the box. We only just started posting pictures of celebrity outfits and finding the vintage equivalent on our website. Also, link, link and link some more. Promote other people who promote you, tag photos, mention names and use content that will engage. You’ve also got to use social media channels differently. Facebook and Twitter are two very different tools, so try and use them both to their full potential.
To measure traffic, Nicki has Google Analytics installed on her boutique website so she can see who is coming from where. She adds: “Facebook emails me weekly stats on how many fans my page has and comments made; Blogger has a 'followers' tool and I get a lot of messages through Twitter and my website from people via social media.”
Social media has also enabled Nicki to more conveniently gather customer feedback on her products and website, which is crucial for an online shop that can’t interact with customers face to face. Her business profile has also been raised. She says: “Our recent video and feature for GLAMOUR magazine actually came from Twitter. I took the time to help a girl out with something for her university fashion course, and she was in the right place at the right time to recommend us directly to the magazine.”
Does she think social networking is worth the time she spends on it? “Yes I do. Social media is essential for modern marketing - especially when you’re primarily an Internet-based business such as ours. You rely solely on getting those clicks and getting your brand out there and social media is hands down the best way to achieve this. By listening to what customers and people online are saying about your business and your brand, you will only improve your service. My only regret is that I wish I had more time to dedicate to it, because it can be so time consuming - but so worth it!”
If she could only use one social networking site, which would it be? “A very tight contest, blogs second only to Facebook. As much success as Twitter has bought me, whatever you tweet feels so momentary. Also, you can’t represent who you really are and what you’re about in 140 characters and I like having more creative control over social media. Facebook allows this and also reaches out to a wider audience. Some of our fans are 16, while some are 60.
“Facebook is more recognised channel, whereas many people I know still don't understand Twitter. Facebook is the easiest site to get people engaged because your updates land in their own personal feed, keeping your presence known, without being intrusive. You can combine links, photos, feedback and status updates plus receive comments all in one place - which is why I think it’s best.”
Without a doubt, contributing to a blog requires commitment and time if it is to produce effective results. However, making use of blogs is an easy, fast, inexpensive and effective publishing tool to spread the word about a new business, generate customers and increase prospects.
Blogs are corporate tools that allow businesses to communicate with the public to provide information about products and services being provided. To be effective as an advertising tool, the blog should be linked to the company website and provide relevant web content about the company’s products to attract prospective customers. To grow a blog, it should be updated consistently in order to include new and ongoing entries. Investing in blog advertising is a rewarding endeavour but it needs to be sustained in the long term.
Blogs provide the following four key benefits when promoting a business:
Content marketing is a method of promotion designed to attract customers by providing valuable content about the business, products and services that it offers. Rather than being a brazen and overt marketing strategy, content marketing takes the form of publishing content that delivers information through important articles, press releases and news feeds. This approach treats established and potential customers as intelligent individuals. Content marketing provides accurate, honest and relevant information that consumers need to know before purchasing products and services. There is no better place for content marketing than on a blog.
Selecting and streamlining news feeds from credible industry news sources and linking them to blogs will keep interested readers returning to blog pages on a regular basis. It also prompts viewers to return to the blog for news updates which secures repeat viewers and potential customers. It is best to integrate a credible news feed with other non-competitive website links which subtly promote and advertise the business. Adding neutral, industry relevant, and credible news feeds and web content allows the business to present itself as a knowledgeable and accurate source of information in its respective market.
Setting up a blog on Wordpress, Gizmodo, and Compendium is a free alternative to having actual web presence. Blogs can be linked to other social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, to attract potential clients. Blogs provide an effective way for small businesses to share their expertise and offer press releases in a larger market to bigger audiences. They are user-friendly tools especially for business owners who know little about HTML.
Setting up blogs with opportunities to moderate and answer questions and comments from clients presents a human face of an enterprise and allows a business to speak directly with clients and address their concerns. No company can expect to be an industry leader without an authentic and ongoing interaction with its customers.
Blogs are search engine magnets, directing not only curious bloggers to business landing pages, but also regular and targeted traffic from Google searches. Search engines crawl content and keyword rich blog sites, bringing the blog (and business landing page) closer to the top of page ranks.
When composing blogs, be sure to make your contact information clear and make navigation easy to help convert views to sales.
Dani Higginson, Purecontent
I have heard time and again that a business like mine needs a face. Well, the worrying thing is...whose face would it be? I guess it would have to be mine!
Now that I’m breaking even and orders are steadily increasing, I need to look at how I can promote the message that I want to shout about: about how amazing Mexican food is. I don’t want to preach about it, I just want to share recipes, mouth-watering ideas for creating food and drink to impress your friends, and a bit of the history and the nutritional properties.
And there is some absolutely fantastic news for the cuisine: UNESCO, the branch of the United Nations that is best known for its list of World Heritage Sites, has just awarded the Mexican cuisine the very prestigious status of “intangible cultural patrimony” along with Chinese cuisine. The French cuisine has been turned down twice.
The superior methods and ingredients used to prepare traditional food such as Mole sauce tamales and salsas are a sharp contrast with the processed cheese and sour cream-covered nachos and cardboard-like hard-shell tacos that many people outside the country typically confuse as Mexican food. I would love to inspire foodies to try a variety of new recipes and ingredients.
Not being such an internet whiz, I will need lots of advice to use the internet era to inspire the foodies who want to try new things. Your suggestions will be welcome.
You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
Being a mum can be challenging, being a business woman can be challenging too. Trying to do both at once can be mind-boggling. I fight shy of the term mumpreneur, but if it suits you, then that's what I am. I run my small business from home and I am also full-time mum to two pre-schoolers.
I always swore I wouldn't and couldn't run a business, house and family at once and I was right, something had to give and sadly that was housework! If inspiration strikes but you think circumstances prevent you from acting on it, then ignore your head and go with your heart. Running your own business is a rewarding, fun, busy add-on to family life and just the challenge my poor nappy-brain needed. So a few tips if you fancy joining me on a self-employed mum adventure:
Good luck to you and I'd love to hear all about your experiences.
When starting a business it is difficult to put aside an amount for marketing and it’s hard to justify how much should be spent.
When I started my business Rentabuggy.co.uk in 2008 I spent a couple of thousand pounds on marketing within the first six months but was surprised to find that I didn’t get many results from it. Here are my top five tips for advertising on a low budget.
Laura Morris, Rentabuggy.co.uk
I do love the support and compliments I get from my fellow mums. I am regularly asked: “How do you fit it all in – not just one child, but a baby and then your business?”.
There is no real secret to it. But this is how I manage:
1) Firstly motivation – without motivation, there is no way you will fit it all in. If you are motivated, then things do become much easier. This is what motivates me:
2) There is, of course, time management:
3) Set realistic expectations/adapt to the time you have:
I was recently asked if I ever sleep – you know what – I do! I sleep more than my peers, almost eight to nine hours a night (with interruptions from the baby, of course) and I do read too – probably one book a week. So the tips above do work. Honest.
The key is probably to find something you love and the rest will follow naturally.
Margarita Woodley, Red Ted Art
Small Business 2.0 was held on Saturday 23 January. Now in its second year, it’s an event dedicated to helping small businesses profit from the web. Emma Jones went along and picked up some useful nuggets.
Business at the weekend
One of the reasons I like the Small Business 2.0 event is that it’s held on Saturday. Not only does this mean it’s accessible to 5 to 9ers (those holding down a day job and building the business at nights and weekends) it also means there’s a relaxed feeling about the place as attendees listen, learn, and meet new people in an informal setting.
These ingredients came together well on Saturday and were the recipe for an interesting and enjoyable day. Here are a few things I picked up:
(eBay report that even though sellers participating in eBay for charity give 10 per cent of the sales price to charity, their products are 20 per cent more likely to sell, at a better price. This resulted in $50 million being raised for charity in 2009).
Altogether, there was a great vibe and positive signs that 2010 will be another exciting year for anyone starting and growing an online business.
Emma Jones is the founder of Enterprise Nation and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’. Her next book ‘Working 5 to 9 – how to start a business in your spare time’ will be published in May 2010.
Start up business owners absolutely can’t ignore the opportunities that are available online to market their small business. As great an opportunity as there is, it’s also a pretty daunting task for a new business – especially if you’re not an expert in getting attention on the web. The good news is, keeping it simple is one of the best ways you can ensure that your website is ticking all of the boxes and serving the purpose it needs to for potential customers or business partners.
Stefan Tornquist, Research Director of Marketing Sherpa, talks about improving your search rankings organically through relevant website content. As a small business owner, how easy do you find it to write copy and articles for your business? Is it something you can do yourself, or do you prefer to outsource this job?
For many of us new to social networking and closer to being within Gen X than Gen Y, it takes considerable time to learn the rules and etiquette of social media. And to be honest, many of those rules are only just developing now. As Penny Power explains in this video, we really can learn a lot from the younger generation about being open, random and supportive on social networks, rather than broadcasting our wants and needs to friends online.
Have you taken time to learn from young people around you? They might be able to help you fast track your business.
On social networks, it’s tempting to try and grow your network rapidly by accepting any friend requests that come your way and building a network of strangers. As Louis Gray explains, when thinking about business networking; revenue is only going to come from a small selection of your online community. For that reason, building a network of highly engaged people with whom you have a genuine connection can prove to be a great way to unlock business opportunities.
It’s easy to judge someone’s social media “usefulness” on their number of friends or followers, or assume that low numbers equates to a small and relatively useless network. But it might be sensible to start slowly and focus on quality. What do you think?
So you're starting a business? There's plenty to think about, and you'll be spinning lots of plates all at once. But one thing you should really have lined up is a smart social strategy. What does that mean? Hear what Louis Gray had to say on a recent trip to London...
Penny Power, founder of Ecademy.com, explains why anyone starting up a new business should be active on social networks.
Our clients, and most people we've met and talks and events recently, have asked the same question: Is social media appropriate for business-to-business marketing? Unequivocally, the answer is YES. In the last year, 40% of Clear Thought's revenue can be tracked back to a social media source, and 100% has been enhanced or aided by it in some way. In the last six weeks alone, here are some things that Clear Thinkers have achieved through social media:
From a new business perspective, social media has critical impact in the first three stages of the sales funnel. That is, Awareness, Interest and Evaluation. From a social media perspective, you need to do the following: To generate awareness: 'Be There' find out where your prospects hang out online and have a presence there. To convert awareness in the interest: 'Be Relevant ' provide information that is useful or controversial to pull people into your content. To make it through evaluation: 'Be Proven' provide case study and testimonials at every turn online, ideally with other people talking on your behalf. To really make the most of the channel, it makes sense to get some expert support - particularly in measuring and enhancing your activity. But, here are some really simple things to get you started. 10 FREE things you can do to generate awareness online:
10 FREE things you can do to generate interest online:
10 (nearly) FREE ways to prove your credentials online:
Note: In this blog, we're focusing specifically on lead generation. It is worth noting (and blogging in the future) that social media can be powerfully used in market research, recruitment, lead nurturing and much more. You might also be interested in:
The growth in the use of the Internet in recent years has led to a huge shift in marketing activities to the online space. This article explains some of the key things for you to focus on to help you market effectively online. Secure that domain name early. The natural starting point is the creation of a website. Once you start your business it is important to secure the domain name in the markets you intend to compete in. We at Palo Alto Software, Inc and Palo Alto Software Ltd have lots of domain names ranging from PaloAlto.com (global), PaloAlto.co.uk (U.K.), and PaloAlto.ie (Ireland). These help ensure that prospective customers can find us easily by typing our name directly into a Web browser.
There are numerous ways you can build a website, from doing it yourself using available software tools, to hiring website specialists. Regardless of the method chosen you need to be completely clear on the main purpose of the website. Is it to sell products or to generate leads? Once the primary purpose is clear, you can then decide on the layout, alongside the look and feel.
Ensure your website is optimised
Given the hundreds of thousands of websites out there, it is worth reviewing a number to get a feel for the type of design and user interface you would like. Finally, when it comes to a website it needs to be ‘search-engine friendly’. This means that searches initiated from the likes of Google (using repetitive software, called ‘bots’) can find your site, scan it and identify the keywords associated with the website. Many firms offer Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services which are designed to help you achieve high rankings on the search engines, such as Yahoo! and Google. Most of the techniques they employ are widely known so you could choose to do it yourself. However, be aware: anyone promising top place listings on Google should be treated with caution. There are techniques (so-called black hat techniques) which can be used to game the system – however, Google has been known to punish sites known to be using such techniques, as BMW® found, to its cost, when Google delisted them in 2006.
As it takes time for a new website to get indexed by the search engines, it is likely that traffic will be low at the start. New sites tend not to feature in organic search returns for some time, but there are ways to drive traffic to your site using some of the methods described below.
Use Web analytics to improve your site
Once you have set up the domain name and site, you will want to understand how many users you are attracting, where they are coming from and how they are behaving on your site. Google Analytics is the most popular tool to manage this. It is available free from Google, easy to implement and even easier to use. If you want to see where people are going on your site, tools such as Crazy Egg® will help you improve the design of your site by showing you where people are clicking and where they are not.
Once the basics are in place it is now a case of creating awareness of the existence of your site and generating traffic to the site.
Get traffic to your site on day one
The quickest way to get traffic to a website is signing up for Google AdWords’ Pay-per-click (PPC) service. In the U.K. the vast majority of Web searches are via Google so this is the best one to focus on. This service lets you create adverts that appear when people search for certain keywords. You then pay according to each click you receive (hence the name ‘Pay-per click’). The main attraction with this option is that it is a highly targeted form of advertising, and you only pay when the prospect clicks on your advert and lands on your website.
Create unique landing pages
You need to decide where you want to bring the prospect when they click. Dropping users onto a homepage can be confusing, so you need to create a number of landing pages that are highly relevant to both the search term and the AdWord copy. For example, if a user searches for ‘marketing plan’ and the advertising copy is for Marketing Plan Pro® then the landing page needs to feature Marketing Plan Pro prominently. The beauty of running Analytics in the background is that you can measure conversions so you can identify which combinations of advert copy and landing pages are the most successful. After that it’s a case of testing, testing and more testing. A/B testing is a popular method where 50% of the audience is randomly assigned to see page A, and 50% to see page B. Whichever page results in the most conversions ‘wins’ and that then becomes the new default page.
Get websites to link to you
One well-known component of the Google algorithm that decides on the attractiveness of your website (which then correlates to a higher search ranking) is the number of back links to your site. The more sites that link to your website, the better, particularly if the linking site is an academic or government-owned site. Each link is considered a ‘vote’ and votes from impartial sites such as academic ones are deemed to carry more weight.
Seek a presence on high-traffic sites
It may be possible for you to feature on larger portal sites by offering to support them with either new or fresh content or special offers. Steer clear of anyone offering you a tenancy agreement, e.g. you pay £1,000 per month to feature on a third-party website. These offers mean you bear all the risk and they rarely, if ever, deliver any meaningful traffic. Similarly, spending money on banners and buttons is not in vogue like it used to be – for good reason. PPC marketing is where your budget should be going – not on risky placements on websites.
Blogging is not all it’s cut out to be
A number of companies set up blogs to enable them to communicate with interested parties and customers on a more informal basis. Blogs are simply basic websites which contain a list of posts or news stories by an author, typically about a specialist topic. While they are easy to set up and maintain, they do place a demand on the blog owner or blogger to constantly update them. If you do not think you have the time to post news stories daily it is probably best to avoid the temptation of creating a blog. Other, less demanding forms of social media include placing comments on forums and participating in news groups.
The above activities should give you a flavour of some of the types of marketing activities you can undertake online. Others, such as issuing online press releases and creating newsletters, can also help you drive traffic to your websites. From there it’s a case of ensuring the design and offer are compelling enough to entice the user to buy from you, assuming that is the primary purpose of your website.
I specialise in helping self employed people pay less tax and avoid fines - our clients are mainly one person businesses, usually working from home. As such, I am always looking at ways of increasing their profits for a low cost - we have had several start up businesses recently where they are particularly looking for low costs in their first year as they build up the business. The traditional way of doing things when you started a small business was to maybe print some flyers and distribute them, or to take out an advert in the local press or printed listing directory. Vanessa Warwick started an excellent discussion on the propertytribes forum, regarding Social Networking for business, which very much applies to every small business owner. I recently ran a talk on 'Social Media for Business' at the Epsom BNI group, where I am the chapter director, and was surprised by the number of people who hadn't considered the business return that is possible from social networking. This got me to posing the question: How many accountants offer advice on Social Networking to increase their client's profits? Following feedback from the talk I gave to Epsom BNI, in addition to continuing to promote ecademy and twitter for business to our clients, I have decided to offer a simple introduction to Social Networking for Business as part of the service I offer to small business owners, helping them to increase their profits. Social Networking is ideally placed for the type of clients we specialise in, the small self employed business, as there are low costs and great potential benefits for the business. A good example of what is possible is another propertytribes member, Sally Asling, who has in fact generated £6,000 of income via twitter in 3 months.