Social media build, in an infographic

Because why read when you can infographic?

So yesterday I talked about how small and mid-sized businesses can find social media frustrating, because it doesn’t deliver the immediate, or even straight-line-measurable, results that The Internet has supposedly promised in exchange for advertising.

My position is that social media isn’t much different than traditional media: While it can generate some short-term reactions that are more easily measured than, say, print ads, the only way it generates results is to allow it to build over time.

Here is an infographic, originally posted by Larry Kim of MobileMonkey, which does a nice job of showing how that build works in detail.

How social media builds results

 

I know you hate paying for social media and content marketing

The reluctant success of content and social

 

Here is an actual quote from an actual client two weeks ago:

“I pay you this money and I see you doing these things on Twitter and Facebook and my LinkedIn, and I don’t understand it. Like that article you put on there last week, which I didn’t think was interesting at all. But then I look at my web traffic and I see that it’s going up and it’s coming from your links. So I guess I’ll keep paying you. I still don’t understand it, though.”

I hear some version of this comment with some regularity: I work with a lot of small/mid-sized businesses, all of which have super-tight marketing budgets, and usually no in-house marketing department. So I’m generally working directly with a VP or President who knows their business really well, but doesn’t have a lot of experience with marketing.

The problem is the classic one: You can set up as many A/B tests as you want, track your clickthroughs til you’re blue in the face, and evangelize about engagement rates until someone invites you to a fake TEDx talk, but at the end of the day it’s still just as difficult as ever to draw a straight line from a single tweet to a single sale.

Remember print ads in magazines?

I’m old enough to remember the received wisdom that brands couldn’t expect a significant uptick in sales until they’d run a given single-page ad in a magazine for 3 months in a row.  (I say ‘received wisdom’, because all we had in those days were survey-based data and they were about as reliable as the cell reception in the back of the Metro grocery store at Yonge and Eglinton, which is to say, ‘not very’.)

It’s called ‘build’: The idea that if you provide a consistent message in a consistent format in a consistent channel for a significant amount of time, eventually consumers will take the action you want. And it worked.

Social media and content success is all about ‘build’

Social media and content marketing seems immediate: The tweets responding to some pop-culture moment and go viral, the blog posts commenting on this week’s hot-button topic, the comment sections that go nuts for 24 hours.

But sales success – because, ultimately, all this engagement and clicks and sharing and commenting is only effective insofar as it drives sales – still depends on build.

Which is why I liked this infographic.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever buy banner ads or do some targeted programmatic. But short-term bursts of ‘advertising’ just won’t get you the results that the build of long-term social media and content will.

Sarah Welstead content marketing

 

Why aren’t your employees driving your content creation?

Sarah Welstead content creation

 

I know what my clients think when I suggest that they have their employees write blog posts or whitepapers or post an industry-related opinion piece on their LinkedIn profile: “Yeah, right. If I could get these guys to string together 3 paragraphs without holding a gun to their heads, I wouldn’t need to be hiring you.”

Other times, I know they’re thinking – and they often say – something like, “Look, I need my guys focused on what they need to get done. I don’t need them wasting half the day trying to think up tweets or whatever.”

Most of your employees know more about your business than I ever will

I listen to what my clients tell me about their business, I do my own research, I tend to work with clients over long periods of time and – it has to be said – I’ve been around the block a few times, so I’m pretty good at grasping my clients’ business models and what they’re looking to achieve in the marketplace.

But I’ll always be an outsider: I don’t know what the business is like on a day-to-day basis; I’m rarely on the front line with clients; I don’t have to use the industry-standard-but-hopelessly-complex enterprise software that everyone hates – and I don’t get to hear the thousands of anecdotal stories from trade shows or client visits or competitors that even a junior manager is exposed to in their first year on the job.

So there are some insights I just won’t ever have – but it’s these insights that can drive great content across all kinds of channels.

(And make no mistake, a thoughtful-but-humorous piece on that terrible industry-standard software is going to be more interesting to your audience than another blog post about how you just made a new hire.)

It’s good for your business in a whole bunch of ways

I know many companies think that if they let employees spend 3 hours of company time working on a blog post or article, they’re just ‘losing’ that 3 hours – it’s a non-productive time-suck that doesn’t do anything for the bottom line.

But in fact an employee-bylined piece that’s well-distributed can deliver benefits in all kinds of ways:

  • It can reach new audiences, especially if the employee publicizes it across their own social networks
  • It can deliver a boost to SEO for similar reasons
  • When customers/competitors/potential employees see that there are lots of people in your organization with interesting stuff to say, they naturally assume your organization must be cutting edge/smart/market-leading
  • It can spur other employees to come up with their own insights to talk about – which not only means additional content, but an organizational culture where insights and inventiveness are valued
  • It might turn up some valuable insights hitherto unknown to senior leadership
  • Over time, it can contribute to a reputation for thought leadership that gets your organization on more shortlists for more business

Is it hard to quantify all this? Yes.

Will it happen overnight? No.

Will it happen if you stick to it? Absolutely.

They don’t actually have to write the stuff.
They just have to tell someone who can.

I know most people struggle with writing magazine articles or whitepapers or blog posts or even clever Instagram captions. (If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have a job.)  That doesn’t mean they don’t have great insights and information to share – it just has to get out of their head and into some kind of form that other people can see.

The solution? Allow and encourage employees to spend some time with – and be interviewed by – whoever is tasked with doing your content and social media.

No, allowing the social media/content person to corral several mid-level managers for an hour or two every once in a while is not a shameless squandering of resources. (Do I really have to say this?) And no, it won’t mean that your employees are suddenly so ‘distracted by marketing’ (I get that objection a lot, BTW) that they can’t return to their desks afterward.

Let the content person do the writing, while the employees take the credit. At worst, you’ll end up with better content. At best, you’ll help build your brand as an industry leader in all kinds of ways.

 

Want your marketing to work? Answer these questions first.

You know you need some marketing.  But where do you start?

For small-but-fast-growing companies in the B2B space – which is mostly where I work these days – marketing is often a leap of faith. You know you need some kind of marketing, because you have to ‘get the word out there’ and your website looks like it was designed in 1992. But how can you prevent that smooth-talking marketing consultant from leaving you with a dysfunctional (but so sexy!) website, empty pockets, and zero incremental revenue?

Well, despite what the Big Data guys will tell you, it’s always going to be tough to draw a straight line from $1 spent on marketing to $1 earned in sales.

But the best way to get the most out of your marketing investment – and avoid costly marketing mistakes – is to know as much as you can about your business and where you want it to go in the next couple of years. Saying “We want to sell more stuff!” and then hoping for a marketing strategy that will magically make that happen won’t work.

Here are the 11 questions you should ask before you spend any money on marketing.

The 11 answers you need if you expect your marketing to work

1.  What are your top 3 business goals for the next 12 months?

All marketing initiatives need to be tied to specific business goals – with specific revenue numbers.  There’s no point in increasing retail sales if what you really need is to increase sales via sales brokers.  Answering this question will also help you arrive at a realistic marketing budget.

2.  Where do you see the business in 3-5 years?

While the answers to #1 should be highly specific (“Increase revenue on X product by X%”), the answers to this should be more ‘visioning’, like “We’d like to be the leading provider of X in X area”).  However, it’s important to keep this realistic:  If you’re currently the #10 player in a saturated market, know that 3 years probably isn’t long enough to get to the #1 spot.

3.  What are your top 3 most pressing business issues?

Are you suffering from a lack of awareness?  Not being considered in the competitive solution set?  Not being able to communicate with customers?  Operational delays?  Confused employees?  Marketing and communications can help with all of these – and sometimes it’s more effective to spend marketing dollars training and educating employees than to build a fancier website.

4.  Which of your products/services is currently making you the most money right now?

The product/service with the best margin may be the best place to start spending marketing dollars, because you’ll get more bang for your buck.  Once you’ve tested the market, you can invest in other products/services.

5.  What are your top 3 barriers to sale/sales objections right now?

Are your salespeople having trouble getting meetings?  Are they having trouble closing them?  Are potential clients having a hard time finding you, or are they worried about your credibility in the marketplace?  Do you have a great sales team but a confusing message?  Before you start undertaking television advertising, it might be best to focus on sales materials or a more coherent brand identity.

6.  What are your 3 most lucrative target markets?

Small businesses always want to sell to ‘everyone’, but a limited marketing budget just won’t let you reach 22-year-old urban dwellers and 60-year-old senior executives. Identify the 3 target groups that buy the most, and sell to them first.

7.  Do you have a ‘brand story’?

Do you know what you sell, why it’s different or better, and how it will make the lives of your customers and clients better?  In my experience, most small-but-growing businesses do have a compelling story – they wouldn’t have made it this far if they didn’t – but it’s not being clearly and consistently articulated.  Sometimes this is where an outside marketing consultant can help the most.

8.  What are your current communications assets (website, infosheets, social media, etc.)?

‘Marketing’ really includes everything that your business uses to communicate with stakeholders: This includes the big stuff like the website or online advertising, but it also includes stuff like infosheets and promo items, RFP templates and graphics, conference materials and even reports and email footers – all of these things have a role to play in building your brand and communicating who you are to clients, employees and other stakeholders, and they all count as part of your overall marketing mix.

9.  What are your customers/employees/other stakeholders saying about the way you’re communicating with them right now?

Employees who are on the front lines, talking to your customers and each other every day, probably have a more accurate picture of your customers than you realize. Ask them what they’re hearing – and don’t dismiss the answers.

10.  What does business success look like?

Business success can be reducing the sales cycle, attracting investors, recruiting better talent – there are plenty of factors that contribute to the bottom line that go beyond “sell more stuff”.

11.  What does marketing success look like?

Marketing can’t be successful if you don’t know exactly what you want it to do for you – and again, “sell more stuff” isn’t specific enough. Do you want reduced customer acquisition spend, increased customer retention, more brand awareness, more cross-selling opportunities…? Marketing can help you with all of these, but only if you know what you want when you start.

Write it down.

I know you think you have better things to do. But I promise, if you take a couple of hours to codify (i.e. articulate, then write down) the answers to these 11 questions, your marketing efforts will be exponentially more successful than if you don’t.

 

The pragmatist’s guide to Twitter accounts [infographic]

Assessing Twitter accounts

Yeah, it’s been a hot minute.

Most of the time I feel like the Plato’s chair of that cobbler’s children thing: I churn out all kinds of content for other people, all day long, and yet my own blog sits here like a single 38-year-old straight woman who keeps having to go to bridal showers and remind herself that it’s better to be alone than to be with the wrong person.

It’s hard for me to keep telling clients that content and social media and consistency and ‘SEO blah blah blah is so important when I can’t get it together to write a blog post in 5 months. (Confidential to clients: Do as I say, not as I do.) So here is a post.

Some days, I feel like I live on Twitter.

These days, I manage a lot of social media accounts – about 90, all told, with about 30 of those being Twitter. I know Twitter gets a bad rap in some quarters, but I’ve always liked it. There are some fantastic writers (comedic and otherwise) who use it to great effect; it’s a good place to learn about breaking news; it can be an excellent way to stay on top of pop culture; and every so often you have a conversation with someone who’s both interesting and thought-provoking, and a whole other train of thought opens up to you. And it can be a great tool for businesses, brands and people to build awareness, word-of-mouth, thought leadership and networks.

(For writers, BTW, tweeting on behalf of others is a fantastic crash-course in mastering ‘voice’. Twitter only works when it seems authentic, so being able to accurately create or mimic the voice of your clients is crucial – and actually a lot of fun. For me, anyway.)

However, Twitter can also be a scary, soul-sucking morass of despair, especially when you fall down a Trump/#MAGA/anti-vaxxer/prepper rabbit hole or stumble into a thread of rabid Bill Cosby defenders.

Luckily, I’ve learned a few things in the past 8+ years that I’ve been tweeting for myself or on behalf of clients. And today, I will share them with you! In a handy infographic format that you will be sure to like and share!

This isn’t comprehensive, but it’ll help you avoid the worst of Twitter and learn to like it again.

Pragmatist's guide to Twitter accounts infographic