Some things I learned about Early-Stage Startup Marketing
Over the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about (and applying) the best ways to market early-stage startups. Below is a synthesis of this thinking, packaged nicely into a few points. These insights reflect a wide range of responsibilities that fall under the marketing function, and cover both the strategic and tactical. They’re a product of my experience with consumer-facing tech products.
1. Get the nitty-gritties in order
Before getting started on any new project, marketing fundamentals need to be in set. These include having a clear definition of the company’s mission and vision, formulating customer pain points, understanding the target consumer and defining the key message. All of this information is captured in a few brief documents, and functions as a reference point for all future work. You can’t really do marketing without this key step. Different people will always have different answers to questions that define your company, which can ultimately lead to internal confusion and weakens your message to outside parties.
2. Focus your efforts on just a few things
There are a million things you can do to get the word out about your product. Unfortunately, you only have time for just a few. Rather than fighting this reality, focus your efforts on only 2-3 big initiatives at once, like PR, content, and 3rd-party distribution. Marketing activities require intense effort before they catch on. If your resources are spread too thin, nothing will work and you’ll end up scrapping initiatives that have a lot of potential.
3. Give each initiative enough time to succeed
Marketers often deal with the uncertainty of time. Something that you do today may give you results tomorrow…or a few months from now. This happens a lot with situations that rely on a third party with different schedules and motivations (e.g: PR outreach), as well as marketing activities that require a critical mass to drive growth (e.g: social media). Be patient with a program so it has a chance to succeed. I find that 1-2 months is usually a good benchmark of progress.
4. Create a master tracking dashboard
There are a lot of free (or cheap) analytics tools to track key performance metrics, including Google Analytics, Effective Measure, and Campaign Monitor. Each tool does something slightly different that contributes to your overall success, but none of them is the one-stop solution. It’s up to you to create a master-tracking dashboard (I do it in a Google Spreadsheet) that aggregates and standardizes information from all of these sources. It’ll help you see the big picture and understand why your company is (or isn’t) growing.
5. Ask only for one thing
In an early-stage startup, marketing is all about getting people to do things for you: getting users to try your site, getting the press to write about you, or getting partners to take a chance on a tie-up. The best way to do this is by asking them for one thing. If you give them options, they’ll come up with excuses or ignore your request. You should always think in a system of ones: one message, one call to action, one click.
6. Use your pitch to evaluate your product
Writing out your pitch forces you to articulate your startup’s key points of difference. This, in turn, helps to evaluate your product. As you list your company superlatives, identify which ones really stand out and cannot be claimed by competitors. If there aren’t any, this means that your message is weak and will probably be lost in the noise. Compiling this feedback early can help steer your development team toward the most exciting and most differentiating product features, rather than building cost-of-entry ones.
7. Always pair social media with great content
Many people think that social media is a must-have in your marketing mix. The reality is that on its own, social media activity takes a lot of time and has very little ROI. Pairing it with content, either original or curated, adds substance to your conversations. It gives you a point of view when sharing with the community, and incentivizes your audience to participate. If you can’t commit to some form of content production with your social media efforts, don’t expect great results.
8. Make email your best friend
You’ll spend a lot of time marketing your startup via email, including pitching the press, reaching out to potential partners or communicating with users. It’s in your best interest to make it your best friend. Assuming you’re on Gmail (why would you use anything else?), arm yourself with various add-ons that save time on repetitive tasks. A few of the ones I use: Rapportive (plugin) to generate social profiles, Boomerang (plugin) for message scheduling, “undo send” to prevent mistakes, “default reply all” to keep everyone in the loop, and “canned messages” for standardized pitches and replies.
9. Spend money when necessary
There is a common notion among early-stage startups that you shouldn’t pay any money for marketing. The reality is that some very effective forms of user acquisition are paid, and they’re well worth the cost. For example, you can jumpstart your community efforts by paying for Facebook likes, and once you reach a critical mass, the community will grow by itself. The key metric here is arbitrage: as long as the cost is less than the average revenue per user, you have a strong rationale to spend.
10. Add polish to everything you do
As a marketer, you’re ultimately responsible for the final product and the image it projects. If something doesn’t look right or work properly, you’re the one who has to explain it to users and outside parties. Make sure to pay attention to details and add polish to new product features or marketing initiatives before they are deployed. This means doing things like writing site copy, fixing grammar/formatting errors and creating professional About and Press pages. Most of these tasks don’t require a lot of time, but are the difference between a real, unified company and an amateur operation.
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The Modern Marketer : Part Artist, Part Scientist
Marketing has always been a blend of art and science (which is why I love it), but this is a good update in terms of the disciplines under those headings and the fact that they come together in the digital channel.
This Infographic, from SalesForce and Pardot, visualises the new Marketer as having two sides to their skillset as an ‘Artist’ and ‘Scientist’ – balancing creativity and analytical skills. This has always been true, but the Scientist is more to the fore today? For example, Social Media = (Artist) and Manage your digital Relationships + (Scientist).
Historically, there were Direct Marketers focused and skilled in the science and AB testing, and Brand Marketers focused and skilled in the big idea and creative.
Digital brings these two disciplines together. All online creative should be measured, likewise you cannot engage with algorithms alone. The ideal marketing team is probably more like a Venn diagram with three types of people - genuine creatives who can create engaging experiences and content, data scientists who can really understand the data & analytics tools, develop the hypotheses and measure the outcomes; and hybrids who understand that both art and science are essential and can ensure the right balance between the two.
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Connected to the Real World?
I received this image from a friend a while ago when we were both sitting in a very boring lecture where nobody seemed to pay attention to what was going on. And looking at the image distracted me even more and made me think: What went wrong there? Did the speaker even notice that? Attendees glued to their smartphone screens but not to his slides, and definitely not his presentation.
What was missing was the connection to the real world, between speaker, audience and what the value of the information could be in our daily lives. Establishing this connection is something that is more important for businesses in all industries than ever before.
If you are looking at your screen all day you might forget that your actual audience is human. They are out there and they do not want pixels but the solution to a real life problem.I seriously believe that knowing your audience and connecting with it emotionally means everything. Danny Brown commented in a thought-provoking blogpost that we are the “connection generation” - and he is damn right about that. Is the product you are building only a bunch of pixels?
Think about it.
You Can’t Win with Yesterday’s Ideas
If the “eject” button was hit and took you out of the game today, would your business be missed? Does your company turn heads, stop people in their tracks and create buzz? Are you unforgettably distinct? Or, would a competitor happily step into the breach and serve your customers seamlessly?
These questions underline the central topics in Kevin & Jackie Freiberg and Dain Dunston’s terrific manifesto “Innovate or parish! What’s your strategy?“ that I just came across. This is a great document that helps organizations implement innovation in their schemes. Approaching it step by step, using the Tata Nano as an example -with $2100 a game changer in the car industry-, the authors give a systematic “how to” to develop the capacity to see what others can’t see and turn those insights into innovations faster that our competitors do.
Surely, there are thousands of “How to” guides out there but this one is different. I was touched because it grasps me by the collar and it encourages me to actually do something. That’s the stuff I like to read.
Read the full document here.
The 4 leadership strategies that accelerate innovation:
1. Be comfortable being uncomfortable.
2. Have guts to live dangerously
3. Shake it up! Hire some CRAZIES.
4. Be hungry for change.
Three quotes to encourage you to read the whole piece:
“If you want to lead innovation and inspire a team of nanovators you must notice, lead and disrupt to make the world better.”
“Innovators aren’t necessarily futurists, but they do pay close attention to the early warning signs that precede major cultural, societal, and market shifts. They tune in to the ways that seemingly unrelated patterns are shaping our world.”
“You can’t win with yesterday’s ideas, so what are the big, converging trends that are headed your way?”
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The Wave of Influence
It started simply. The most basic example is Facebook, which surfaces the most relevant content and information from friends and contacts. Not too long ago, Twitter revamped its Discovery tab and ’Who to Follow’ recommendations in an attempt to serve more relevant stories and other links on its platform.
Lots of commerce sites include a social feature, letting shoppers know what friends have purchased or recommended. Other commerce sites have enlisted the help of celebrities and industry influencers to curate or even create collections of goods and promote them accordingly, a la Rachel Zoe on Piperlime, or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen on StyleMint.
Some applications and products even go a step past recommendation, straight to authoritative delivery. For example, Soundrop is an application from SoundCloud that uses Spotify, allowing users to build and play social playlists. And for people (like me) who spend a solid portion of the day listening to music while working, lists of well-curated music are an easy way to get an hours-long soundtrack. This means that by listening to a socially curated list, you might not even know what you’re listening to — just where you’re listening to it. It’s sort of like listening to a movie soundtrack. While soundtracks are curated by a professional, these playlists are curated by friends and connections you trust. They work so well, that occasionally when asked, “What music are you listening to?” the answer is now, “Where are you listening to music?”
The same applies to shopping and purchasing decisions. Birchbox will send you a monthly shipment of beauty product samples. Stitchfix sends clothes tailored to your style. Wittlebee sends clothes tailored to your toddler’s style. If there were a service that sent my clothing recommendations culled from my best friends’ Svpply and Pinterest feeds, I’d probably take it!
Social recommendations are becoming an increasingly important way of doing business. So much so, that successful companies, products, and apps are iterating on the idea, introducing consumers and audiences into an environment where they are guided by these recommendations — often without realizing it. It goes right past understanding your audience, straight to serving them in the most personalized way possible.
- Nadine Abou-Elias
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23. Thank You Beirut.
I turned 23 yesterday, and despite my happiness with where I am (literally and figuratively), I’ve been feeling strangely introspective, hence a return — or at least an attempted return — to content creation. After 23 years of life experience and 6 years of work experience, here’s progress I’m proud of:
There aren’t “things I wish I’d known when I was a teen.” I did a lot of stupid, risky things when I was younger: four a.m. solo walks home, working with people who didn’t appreciate my attitude (I always try to stay happy and positive - even when it bugs the crap out of people), dating idiots because they liked attention not me, borrowing money off ‘friends’ who would sooner take advantage of my weak moment instead of help me out. These weren’t mistakes, they were young experiences that helped me decide what’s appropriate, what’s not, and how I want to act and live as an adult.
What’s life without the cringe-worthy memory of idiotically chugging a beer while dancing to indie rock at an unnamed Beirut bar? I shake my head every time I think about asking dates to order me my go-to cocktail: Malibu and Diet Coke with a cherry. But I wouldn’t be the same Nadine without my streaked past.
Risks are worth it. My spontaneity has served me well. Being spontaneous is scary, especially with a paltry bank account. I’ve already spent much of my 20s with checking account balances in the double-digits, yet somehow wasn’t afraid of taking massive risks. Had I held my breath with two months of living expenses saved, packed three suitcases, and gotten on a one-way flight back to Boston, I would never have met my loves nor found out that I will always be in serious love with my Lebanon and the people who make an effort to be in it.
People are weird, but you shouldn’t change them, and you shouldn’t change yourself to fit them. Friends and acquaintances do dumb things you wish they wouldn’t. You do things they wish you wouldn’t. I dated someone off-and-on for years who I so desperately wanted to be with. Seriously. He didn’t feel the same, and it turns out he was right. At the time, I would have changed myself completely if it meant a future together. I’m positive we would have broken up and never spoken again. Now, I don’t have to change a thing about me for us, and.. well, we’re wonderful.
Sincerity always works. Ironically, I learned how to be sincere in Beirut, a city slanderously noted for cutthroat career types and outspoken residents. I surrounded myself with sincere, honest people when I was young in the city and have the strong friendships to show for it. When making new friends after a country move, the people I most connected with are the ones that met true-honest-Nadine, including my beau — with whom I was most honest of all. My first (and only) real girlfriend at the American University of Beirut was one of the most genuine souls I’ve ever known, and our relationship thrived on this openness and trust. Now she’s in Fairfax, VA. And I can still say that she is my rock. My homegirl.
Speak up. Beirut taught me this one, with its social networks, confidence, and outspoken characters. A year ago I would never have written something so personal, let alone post and promote it. I like my voice, and I like sharing my thoughts. It makes me feel accountable on a different level. Self-promotion is ok, and it’s necessary. I need to be my own biggest fan and cheerleader, because if I’m not, no one will be.
It’s taken me a long time to really learn these things, and I’m proud of what I know. And of course, I surely have a long way to go.
How to Really Communicate in a Digital World
Communication is easy when everyone is constantly connected, and that’s how we live in today’s digital world. But, are we really communicating? With all the different media available, deciding how to communicate is just as important as what we say.
Knowing what to say and when to say it is not enough. It’s the Digital Days, so we must decide on HOW to communicate.
Consider the five levels of communication:
Level 1: Message into the Ether
Snail mail and email have a few things in common: They can be of any length, and they are not conversational. Emails and letters are sent out, and then new messages are composed and returned. Sometimes it takes days or weeks before a response arrives. Since emails and letters are not conversational (they lump all points together rather than go point, counterpoint, point, etc…), there is a HIGH LEVEL of misunderstanding with this medium of communication. As many of us know, little issues can escalate over email.
Level 2: Back-and-Forth Messaging
Whether it is via instant message or text, the next level of communication is conversational but still conducted remotely. As points go back and forth, there is a more casual exchange that is also more direct. Misunderstandings are less likely because each message is quick and each participant can detect if they were misunderstood by the reply. However, the bite-size quality of this form of messaging means it’s not well-suited to discussing complex matters.
Level 3: A Verbal Dialog
In a verbal exchange, participants get to voice their opinions and relay a whole new level of data through their inflection. Inflection reveals elements like frustration, annoyance, and stress that are harder to detect in written communication. One major drawback is that verbal discussions often require scheduling. But, as my colleagues can attest, when a customer is upset I believe it is best to just pick up the phone and discuss it!
Level 4: The In-Person Spontaneous Discussion
When something important comes up, you might decide to just drop by a colleague’s desk and start talking. Such spontaneous discussions are often more effective than messages and phone conversations. The benefits of visually seeing each other will add a whole new level of mutual understanding to the discussion. Of course, there are numerous detriments to this level of communication. The fact that others are likely in the vicinity makes it less intimate, and spontaneity doesn’t work for everyone.
Level 5: The In-Person Scheduled Discussion
Planning an in-person discussion allows both participants to think about the topic in advance. The communication that ensues is the most dynamic possible. Inflection and visual cues allow you to gather non-verbal intelligence to ensure clarity. Privacy ensures comfort. Of course, a scheduled discussion doesn’t necessarily mean that it is formal. I will often plan an important conversation to address a concern over breakfast or lunch. What makes this level of communication so sacred is the mutually agreed upon time set aside for direct discussion.
After understanding the five levels of communication, you can start to decide which level is most appropriate for particular situations. With so many options, it can be easy to choose the path of least resistance rather than focusing on your objective and which level of communication will help you achieve it.
We get in trouble when we chose to communicate the easy way versus the right way. As our channels for communication expand, we must endeavor to be more thoughtful about how and when we communicate. In my research of admired leaders, I have found that communication judgment is an increasingly important factor of success. Knowing what can be done with “Level 2” communication versus what must be done “Level 5” is a sign of sound leadership instinct.
Facebook Marketing Bootcamp
I’m a happy critic of webinars, I’ve also been feeling kind of sluggish lately, so I’m forever ready to crib the Facebook Marketing Bootcamp.
Here’s a summary of all 6 Webinars. What I learned: Replicate the good, avoid the bad, stop saying “um” so much.
Guilty Pleasure: One of them was given by a Brit with a “LOVERLY” accent.
Focuses on “businesses are better” in a connected world, they have an opportunity to grow, expand and drive sales the more connected they are with their customers. Considering that 800 million people are connected through Facebook, one great way for businesses to connect is through the creation of an engaging page.
4 key steps for building a good page:
Build your page: Take the time to input essential information about who you are and what you do, add a profile photo and invite friends so that growth will occur organically from there.
Connect the virtual and the physical: Share updates and promotions, post business cards and flyers and provide loyalty offers that can be used at your business. This drives in-store traffic and increases sales.
Engage your fans: Ask questions, share industry news, and respond to comments.
Acquire new fans: Create Facebook ads and add social plug-ins (i.e. a button linking to your Facebook page or the “like” button)
Tips for businesses:
A page starts with identity: Define who you are, your mission and philosophy.
Keep posting best practices in mind: Keep it human, be timely and relevant, share exclusive content, encourage fan participation by being fun and engaging in posts. Reward your fans with special deals and offers and respond to comments, including negative ones. Facebook is a two-way conversation and if a negative comment is posted it is a great opportunity to remedy what went wrong and show others that you are taking action to fix the situation. You could provide a customer service email address and take the issue off Facebook, but don’t ignore or delete the post and certainly don’t respond to negativity with negativity
Expand your fan base: Encourage visitors to “like” your page and partner with other brands and organizations to reach new audiences.
Encourage physical check-ins: Getting fans to “check-in” creates additional awareness of your business and leads to growth.
Map out your topics: Create a posting or conversation calendar and plan out what topics to cover in your posts, use Facebook’s page insights to help you decide what types of posts are getting the best responses and at what time. So, at Seeqnce we like to share conversation/editorial calendars via Google docs so everyone has access to the document and can add or edit post ideas at their leisure.
Acquire offline collateral: Get “Like us on Facebook” signs, banners, cards, etc. that announce your online presence and drive customers to your page
Make a custom URL: duh
The power of the individual voice broadcasting to millions creates influence and identity on the Internet. Businesses have taken notice of this social behavior and are maximizing their marketing approach in two ways:
Broadcasting less and listening more. There is a conversation happening with their customers that creates strong connections and allows the customer be part of all they do.
Sharing their stories and building stronger brand connections through these stories at a much larger scale than ever before.
So how can businesses integrate this powerful Facebook strategy into their social marketing? Three new features have been released:
- Pages for Business. Customizable to better express brand identity and share who you are as an organization. The timeline can be used as a virtual showroom, a new story type called ‘Offers’ can be sent directly to the fan inbox, direct messages can be sent to the business.
- Reach Generator. The idea behind this new tool is to evolve from ads to stories. Reach Generator will allow a business to reach up to 75% more fans on a monthly basis. Fans will comment more and “like” more; talk not only to your fans, but also friends of fans. For example, Ben and Jerry’s reached 98% of their fans, doubled engagement, and increased ROI 3:1.
- Premium on Facebook. Start with a page post. Facebook does the rest, posting on the right hand side of the Facebook feed as well as the news feed on both desktop and mobile devices. The news feed is where marketing will appear like the rest of Facebook, and less like an ad. Premium on Facebook means more stories in front of more people in more places.
What you should be measuring to determine the value of your Facebook strategy: ‘The Number of People Talking About This’. Get your fan base to spread the word. As your fan base increases so can revenues. Connecting with more fans and building a stronger community will result in more customers.
The message of this event is that a Facebook strategy is only strong when leveraging all key features that build the brand story and celebrates individual fans and users on a daily basis. Just using the Ads feature, or having a Facebook fan page is not enough. All the levers need to be active and maintained to keep the conversation alive with your customers and build those connections with authentic, relevant content.
Businesses function better on Facebook when they are more connected. The Bootcamp walked viewers through the ins and outs of Facebook ads, a tool for businesses to connect to their audience.
Facebook has the scale of television, the precision of direct marketing and the power of connection to spread the word between Facebook friends.
There are four types of Facebook ads:
- Standard ads
- App ads
- Like ads
- Event ads
Before you begin and decide which types of ads to use, determine your goals for advertising on Facebook. Is it to drive sales? Is it to gain fans? With your goals in mind, you can follow these four steps for creating a successful ad:
1. Target your ad effectively: To target your ad effectively, there are several questions you can ask yourself to better understand you audience.
- Where is my audience located?
- What is my audience’s gender or age? Marital status?
- Where does my audience work?
- What are my audience’s likes and interests?
2. Design an engaging ad
- Use succinct and clear copy and a relevant and interesting photo. (We’ve discovered in ad campaigns we’ve set up for our own clients that photos with humans work better than those with logos.)
- Use questions to engage your audience and use action oriented copy to get results.
Set a budget and bid
- Set a budget for your ad, either a lifetime total or a daily total. Facebook will never spend more than your budget.
- Facebook charges for ads in an auction. Facebook will give you a recommended bid amount but ultimately, you have control over the price of each click or impression.
Analyze and optimize
- Create several different variations of ads and then check their effectiveness daily to see which are performing best. This could differ depending on the different copy, images, target or bid used. (The Facebook team like seals and puppies)
- Tweak your ads accordingly so that all of your ads perform well.
I’m a happy critic of webinars. Replicate the good, avoid the bad, stop saying “um” so much.
What are “sponsored stories?”
- Nadine’s definition: Sponsored stories = paying for fans’ comments and actions to be picked up from wall posts and run over in the right hand column of friends’ Facebook pages, in place of a common or garden variety advertisement.
- Facebook’s definition: (paraphrase) Sponsored stories are word of mouth marketing amplified to an unprecedented scale in the social context of trusted friends.
Why are sponsored stories valuable?
Facebook’s statistics on why the social context of a sponsored story matters to business owners and marketers:
People who see a sponsored story ad in the social context of a friend’s actions exhibit:
- A 1.6 lift in brand recall
- Double the increase in message awareness
- A 4x (quadruple!) lift in purchase intent
Therefore, brands who use sponsored stories experience a “direct and measurable performance lift.”
Facebook Ads v. Sponsored Stories
What’s the difference? Facebook Ads are for the general public; sponsored stories show up on friends’ pages only.
Six Sorts of Sponsored Stories
Here are the six kinds of stories that can be sponsored:
- Page Likes – Eric likes British Airways, and his “Like” generates a little story on the right hand side of your Facebook screen
- Page Post Likes – A similar story is generated when Eric comments on a page
- Check-in story – Eric checked in at Four Barrel Coffee for a single-varietal cupping, and a note about that appears on your page, leading you to dash out, catch the tube, mind the gap, and join Eric at Four Barrel.
- App Used – Eric played the Glory of Rome
- App Share – Eric recommends the Game of Life
- Domain – Eric thinks Red Cross is a great cause
Intrigued enough to consider sponsoring your brand’s stories? Facebook recommends:
- Run Sponsored Stories with Facebook Ads for best effect
- Choose the best story type for your goals
- Claim your physical “place” to enable check-in functionality
- Post regularly on your Facebook page to generate opportunities for Sponsored Stories
- For “Domain” sponsored stories, Add the “Like” and “Send” buttons to your website
- Track your performance in Ads Manager, then reallocate budget to best performing ads
1. Craft your ad creative
2. Segment and structure your campaign clearly
3. Evaluate your campaign performance with Reports and Page Insights
Craft your Ad Creative
- Questions drive engagement in title or body
- Keep the body copy short and clear
- Encourage users to act immediately
- Give clear call to action with verbs like Book today to drive urgency
Discounts & Free Offers
- Everyone likes a good deal, so highlight this in your ad text
- Promote Facebook Offers/Deals!
- If possible, use words like: free, discount, promotional, trial, complimentary
Space & Logos
- Use an image that speaks to the audience demographic
- Avoid use of logos unless your logo is well recognized
- Make the most of the full space available
- Simple, uncluttered images work best
Segment and Structure your Campaigns Clearly
- Create multiple ads using different creative within the same campaign in order to identify which creative you should use.
- Use a unique URL for each campaign in order to measure which demographic delivers the best performance.
- Pause campaigns not performing well so budget is going to the right place.
- Really important to refresh your creative regularly.
Evaluate your campaign performance with Reports and Page Insights
- Within your campaign report, you can see your target audience, reach, and social reach (number of people who saw your ad with their friends’ name attached).
- Look at peak times, evaluate ads’ performance, CTR of ad, cost-per-click for ad.
- Demographics report: you can see how your ad is performing with certain audiences (and potentially modify audience).
- To better understand page engagement
- Understand the performance of your Page including a new public number for People Talking about This”
- Learn which content resonates with your audience
- Optimize how you publish to your audience
- You can now see People Talking about This (number of people who have Liked, commented, shared info about our page).
Get the creative right
- compelling copy and images for each ad
- make sure the landing page is relevant
Segment your campaign
- By target audience, product and location
- Test 3-4 ads per campaign
- Try out different targeting options to understand best segments
Track your performance
- Run reports once per week
- Pause low performers and adjust budget
The networking site’s belief is that “business will be better in a connected world,” and they say they’re helping us all get there with a user count of approximately 800 million.
There are two types of integration: Social Plugins and Apps.
Social Plugins: A “lightweight method” that involves adding a few lines of HTML code to a website to make it immediately more engaging for users.
Most common types of Social Plugins include:
- Like Button- Immediately shares a story on the News Feed when someone “likes” your page.
- Send Button- Allows users to send specific content to a select group of friends.
- Comments- Shares findings from external websites with friends on Facebook. ()
- Like Box- Allows users to “like” your Facebook page from your website.
- Login and Registration Buttons- Allow people to login/register to your website.
Apps: More of a “heavyweight” approach that involves further integration and development, but also delivers more personalized messages. Apps are a great way to spread the word about your business using all distribution channels, and can live on page tabs, your website, or even mobile devices.
How Social Media Affects Website Search Rankings
If you run a website, you know how important search engine rankings can be. Getting your site on the first page of Google can bring in widespread awareness of your cause/product/service, or an influx of new customers.
There’s more to a high Google ranking than just optimizing your website for certain keywords. Social media can both really help or really hurt your your ranking, according to TastyPlacement, who have done a little testing to see how much Google+, Facebook, and Twitter actually affect search results.
In a nutshell, TastyPlacement created six websites based in six US cities. They let them be for ten months, and then began testing various social networks for each site, focusing on the following for five of the websites:
- Twitter followers
- Tweets and retweets
- Facebook shares and likes
- Followers to the site’s Google+ business page
- Google +1 votes to the homepage
(The sixth site was left as-is for a control test.)
They promoted these websites using the particular social network chosen for one month, and then measured how each site’s search engine ranking changed for a set of keywords.
So how did social media influence the search results?
Overall, the websites’ search rankings changed by between a fall of 1.22 to a rise of 14.63. So, social media does affect search results.
Google’s own properties yielded the best results by far (let the conspiracy theories roll through…)
The website that was linked to a Google+ business page saw a full 14.63 rise in its search position, while the website that had a Google+ +1 button rose 9.44.
And these stellar results, sadly, did not translate to Twitter. Targeting tweets and retweets only got the website a 2.88 rise in Google’s search results, and procuring 1,000 additional Twitter followers actually caused another site’s position to fall by 1.22. (Didn’t Google try to buy Twitter a while ago? May more conspiracy theories roll through..)
The Difference Between Strategy, Goals, & Tactics
Social media is not a strategy. It is not a goal. It is a series of tactics.
I’m not one for semantics, when it comes to your social media the difference between these three terms are important.
If you are a small business or a startup trying to venture out into the social media world, you can easily be led to think that you should neglect traditional marketing, customer support, PR, and just replace them with social media.
"We need to put everything on Facebook and Tweeter, that way we won’t need to send out newsletters!"
If that statement makes sense to you, or is even remotely attractive, HALT. Don’t even think about taking that direction. Go get your marketing plan, and consider where social media tools will support or extend your existing marketing strategy. (Social media can enhance more than just marketing, but that’s a good place to start)
These are the actual Merriam-Webster definitions:
Strategy : the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war
Goal : the end toward which effort is directed
Tactic : a device for accomplishing an end
Don’t get so hung up on these terms that you become paralyzed. All you need to do is have a clear, written plan to help you accomplish your corporate goals. You’ll use a variety of marketing strategies, one of which is social media.
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7 Digital Strategies of Top-Performing Companies
Growing a multimillion-dollar corporation during a recession is no small feat and it’s no accident. Companies that are swimming against the economic tide are doing things differently than those that are treading the water, or worse, drowning. These are numbers from a PwC: Accelerate report.
So, what exactly separates the best from the rest? In a world of tech-empowered consumers and employees, companies that are bucking the economic trend exhibit key behaviors that allow them to exploit technology and weave it into their businesses - the company’s Digital IQ.
PwC surveyed 489 companies across industries with annual revenues of more than $500 million to find out what successful companies are doing that the others aren’t. Following is how the ‘top performers’—companies that grew by 5% or more last year—are making the grade.
1) Integrate Technology into Strategic Planning: Naturally, creating a strategic plan is the first step in implementing any sort of large-scale corporate effort. However, the effectiveness of this strategy is what counts. 89% of top performers feel confident about their strategy versus 63% of the pack.
Top performing companies are also more likely to integrate IT into their strategic planning process. Of the companies that are excelling, 86% said that their CEO is an ‘active champion’ in the use of information technology to achieve corporate strategy. That number drops to 56% for the remaining respondents.
Moreover, the crème of the crop is more likely to have a CIO who not only reports directly to the CEO, but has strong relationships with other C-suite executives. In growing/winning companies, the CIO is seen as a ‘business champion’.
2) Set and Share a Single, Multi-year Roadmap for the Overall Business Strategy: In the mobilization stage, executives create a blueprint for breathing life into the strategy. Too many companies bypass this critical step. Not the best companies.
77% of top performers have a single, multi-year roadmap. That number sinks to 54% among average performers. Furthermore, sharing that strategy throughout the company is also critical to success. 76% of top performers say that their strategy is well communicated throughout the company. Only 44% of the rest make that claim.
Additionally, 78% of top performing companies say that their business and IT leaders share an understanding of the strategy. Only 49% of the other survey respondents feel that everyone is on the same page.
3) Look Beyond Delivering IT Projects on Time and on Budget Setting: a strategy leads to IT projects that are delivered on time and on budget so it’s no surprise that superior corporations are meeting their goals more often than the others.
67% of top performers say that their initiatives were delivered on time. In stark contrast, only 38% of the rest of respondents hit the mark. Coming in at or below budget proves to be more difficult for both groups, but nonetheless, 54% of top performers did so compared to 35% of the larger group.
However, many organizations downplay the trade-offs in cutting scope and therefore potential business value in favor of bringing a project in under cost and time targets. Almost 100% of top performers say that they frequently or always deliver their planned scope versus only 35% for all surveyed.
4) Invest in Mobile Workforces: Top performers spend more on empowering their workforces with mobile devices than the rest. 44% of the high performers will invest between $250,000 and $1 million and 33% will invest more than $1 million. For the remainder of respondents, those numbers are 37% and 27%, respectively.
5) Interact with Customers Using Mobile Technology: Only 44% of the pack interacts with customers via mobile devices “quite or very significantly.” That number jumps to 66% among the top performers. And, top performers are putting their money with their mouths are: 50% of them plan to invest more than $1million in mobile solutions for customers in 2012. That number plummets to 29% for the rest of the group.
6) Reap the Rewards of Social Media: Both the best and the rest are investing in social media at almost the same rates, but the top performers claim to see more of a benefit from their efforts than their lower-performing counterparts. 41% of top performers say they are benefiting from their investments in social media compared to 24% of the others. To gain a greater edge, 40% of the top performers expect to increase their use of social media. Only 26% of the rest of respondents plan to spend more in this area. In fact, 36% of the top of the heap plan to invest $1 million in social media for internal communications in 2012.
7) Invest in Cloud Computing: Top performers are investing more aggressively in cloud computing than the pack. 52% of top performers will spend more than $1 million on public cloud applications. Only 34% of the remaining survey respondents plan to spend that much. For private cloud investments, the gap is even wider: 58% of top performers will invest more than $1 million, compared with 39% for the rest.
Overall, top-performers link strategy to specific programs and actions while mobilizing the organization around that strategy. Everyone knows what role they should be playing and what success looks like. Top performers also don’t shy away from opportunities to innovate. The role that the CIO plays is to drive superior execution and innovation.
Startups: You Don’t Always Need to Hire a Social Media Expert
I’ve been under heat lately for refusing to work with some startups, so I think this deserves a blog post.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: social networking has completely changed how brands interact with people. Media is not only consumed by the masses, but is produced by them as well. This isn’t something you haven’t heard before, but it’s important to always keep it in mind.
I’m not going to talk about why startups should utilize social media and all that other basic stuff; I could write a book about that, but that would be silly, because a) I don’t have time to write a book, and b) other people have written them.
Instead, I’ll focus more on the bottom line aspect of finding out what their purposes and agendas for using social media are, which is a prerequisite before even thinking of hiring a “social media expert.” (This is starting to sound like I’m trashing my own profession, but keep reading.)
Above all else, the startup’s product or service should always be the number one priority. If you’re going to market a bad product that hides behind a smokescreen of flowery words and flashy ads, it might sell for a while until people start to experience how crappy it is. One thing to keep in mind is that other startups are using social media as well, so if you screw your shot, chances are people will just move on and talk about the next big thing (UnThink, ring any bells?)
Since I’ve chosen social media marketing as a career, let me be the first to tell you: there is no such thing as a ‘social media expert’. If you’re looking to hire someone to help you with a social or digital marketing strategy, walk away from the self-proclaimed ‘experts’, which is a blog post to come. That being said, the goal for startups is simple: making money. Twitter followers, Facebook likes – they’re all well and good, but unless you’re able to convert them into cash in the end, they’re pretty pointless. They are simply opportunities to connect and engage with people – a medium to get a message across.
All efforts to interact with customers and get that message across boils down to delivering an experience that will make them want to use your product, and have your brand name on top of their minds as something that provides a benefit, so startups really need to be focusing on their product before they take Twitter followers as a means to measure their success.
Here’s my take on startups and hiring social media ‘experts:’
- Focus on your product/service: Get your product and experience right, first and foremost. If you invest in marketing before what you have to offer the market is nailed, you’ll just accelerate your failure as more people find out that you suck. Again, smokescreen of pretty, flashy words aren’t going to save you. Make your product/service awesome, and you’re social media will reflect that eventually.
- Get your sh*t together: One of biggest challenges is hiring the right team and keeping the right team, startups are hard, and people will come and go quickly. I know that getting your message out there is definitely a big concern for all startups, and that’s why going to a social media person seems like the best of ideas at first, but the only right message would be one that lets the brand look unified and has it buttoned-up. You can’t communicate it if you’re not exactly that internally.
- Democratize your social media: At the startup stage, social media can’t and shouldn’t be100% of one person’s job; it should be 1% of 100 peoples’ jobs . Split and share responsibility for social media channels throughout your team; you’ll discover that your smallest efforts will yield big results that way. Especially if that “Get your sh*t together” point has been secured.
- Hire someone social-media savvy, but not just for social media: If you do decide that you need someone to work solely on the social media, make it part of a more general role – communications, marketing, etc… Don’t stuff the square block into the round peg. As a startup, you’re going to need everyone to lend a hand in everything else going on.
- The exception goes to online startups: Companies based online by their nature are going to focus on social media, it’s just part of the online as a whole. But the online startups are the ones that should focus on this last take the most:
- Be weary of flashy smiles: If you DO decide to outsource your social media efforts, CHOSE WHO YOU WORK WITH WISELY. To stress that point, it’s in capital letters, bold, and has been underlined. Hire someone who gets how social media fits into a broader approach and will help you strategize your digital efforts accordingly. Don’t outsource to people who tell you a Facebook page will solve all your problems and rake in the bacon for you, because this results in failure of social media campaigns for the all companies, not just startups.
To be clear: I am NOT trashing what I do for a living; I’m a social and digital media strategist, and the above are issues that should be considered for any social media strategy. I’m not trying to be discouraging to startups, either.
I’m 100% for the current shift towards social innovation, and chose a career based on this shift and the crazy idea that I wanted to be involved in the startup world.
The problem is, 99% of social media people won’t tell startups that social media is really focused on the importance of people and how their product/service works for them. My role is to develop and execute strategies on how to build and maintain online relationships and cultures -recognizing and appreciating your online peeps. I always encourage startups to answer questions like: What is our culture? How are we rewarding? How are we communicating to people that we value them? What are the little things we do in between and how do we let them know they are the most important thing and are the biggest assets? If startups can’t answer that yet, then I just can’t take over their social media for them. Maybe if I’m honest, they’ll find me when they really do need me.
Here is a great infographic from queaar.com showing the growth of QR codes. They seem to be a pretty hot topic right now but, until QR code reader apps are added as standard with every mobile, there is still a huge debate around if they accessible enough?
Here are a few highlights from this infographic:
QR code uptake has increased 4589% from early 2010 to early 2011
56% of QR codes appear on product packaging
The majority of users expect to receive a coupon or deal from scanning a QR code
11 out of 50 Fortune companies are incorporating QR codes into their marketing strategy
68% of QR codes are scanned via an iPhone
(higher resolution here)
Does Social Media Marketing Success Demand Talent Over Technology?
Guys, I’m tired. I’ve been writing social media news releases day and night, and getting social media channels ready for ‘official releases,’ and it’s just been really tiring. The worst part is, people keep asking “Can’t you just let some new website or application do this for you?”
No. No I can’t. Nor can any [good] social media marketer.
Although these websites and applications may make my job much simpler, they simply don’t take away the work: writing/collecting compelling content and personalized channels. The SM marketer does that work. A blog, for example, is just a platform and structure. 90% of a social marketer’s time should be spent writing amazing content. Content is king.
So that brings me back to the original question: does social media marketing success demand talent, or does it demand technology?
I’m pretty sure humanity trumps technology.
Too many people in this space get stuck behind the technology barrier (been there. HTML for Dummies would have kept me stuck there, too, if I had bothered to open that book).
They spend all their budgets on building the perfect web application, the best Facebook App, and on graphic design and architecture, leaving very little if anything on the best writers and the best marketers. Don’t get stuck in that trap.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to downplay the importance of technology, but companies are neglecting to hire and train people based on their ability to write and their ability to connect and engage people; focusing on if they can create a twitter tab for the Facebook page is not that important. Hiring people who care more about personal and human relationships, rather than the technical coding and ‘whatchymacallits’ won’t guarantee a successful campaign. And on that note, having a twitter channel doesn’t make you an influencer, nor does being able to set up a blog put you in Technorati’s Top 100. I have 200 followers on twitter, but at least I know they are listening, and if just one person reads this blog post and learns from it, I’m happy.
At the end of the day, all these web applications are top-notch, but they just make it easier — almost effortless — to do your job as a social marketer, to be honest I wouldn’t mind marrying a programmer right now. But they do not do your job for you and they often make many people in the industry lazier, more careless, and less concise. They tend to be enablers, enabling bad grammar, poor spelling, and just good enough editing. People should always write as though going to press and being printed on paper instead of just assuming you can always edit it later. Yes, I Mean U GuYs who tYpe LyK Dis in a stealth-marketing attempt to sway the young into buying something they absolutely do not need (it’s ok to show a little sassiness in my own blog, isn’t it?)
Your social media presence, digital PR strategy, and social media marketing campaigns are only as good as your writers, marketers, PR professionals, community managers, designers, and creatives (the artisans) and not on the technologies (which are the tools). When I was being taught Mass Media and Communication atAUB, I was reminded every day that all the things I was learning in class, even though it would possibly become out-dated and old school the next day in this technologically fast-paced world, are still relevant because human nature is human nature and people are people (I majored in Sociology, by the way) and technological platforms are ephemeral and fleeting.
Learn the tools, try to figure out how to work through them, or marry an expert in that field if you want to constantly be obsessed (hint, hint), but it’s definitely more efficient to leave the obsession behind and leave the spotlight on what matters the most - people.
The picture, by the way, was an infographic that the Ideaz Factory designer and I made, but I had to hide a lot of the text. It’s still relevant though,so I hope it helps you understand what I’m trying to say (you can see a higher-resolution version here)