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.

 

The twisted path of social media attribution

Sarah Welstead social media marketing

Sarah Welstead social media marketing

The other day, I happened to notice a Facebook post from a friend: “Taking a trip to Quebec this summer. Looking for recommendations about places to go/stay.”

I haven’t seen this friend in a while. Like, it’s probably been 20 years since we’ve actually seen each other in person even though we live in the same city, which sounds bad when I write it down like this, but [insert something about modern living, social media, and how the internet ruins relationships blah blah blah] – but he works in media, we share some music interests and I remembered us having some conversations about design and architecture back in the day.

So I immediately thought of this modern ‘cabin’ I’d seen in Quebec.

I should clarify that when I say “seen”, I mean “seen online” – I haven’t actually been there. But I do social media for a couple of real estate/architecture-adjacent clients who like to tweet and write about interior design, plus I often seem to fall down rabbit holes about tiny homes on YouTube. So in the past couple of months, one way or another, this cabin had popped up on my radar more than once, and I had spent a few minutes looking at pictures of the interior on more than one occasion.

The problem, of course, was that I couldn’t remember its name, or where I’d seen it. All I remembered was that it looked interesting and minimalist, was in Quebec, and that it was available for short-term rentals. It took me a few minutes on Google, but I tracked it down and then posted the link to my friend’s Facebook feed.

Three hours later, he’d booked the place for a week (around $2000).

Social media marketing success! But how do you track it?

This is the problem with social media: Based on the story I’ve related above, it’s easy to say that [social media = sales], and in this case we can even say [social media = $2000 in sales].

That sounds terrific! And we quantified it!

Except no one on the other end of this – i.e. the person running the social media or other marketing efforts for the Villa Boreale – has any way of knowing the role social media played in the sale they just made, or just how it worked.

They may ask my friend how he heard of their cabin. He’s going to say “from a friend”.  He’s not going to say: “From a friend via Facebook, who came across it on Twitter, and then tracked it down through some Instagram pictures.” So on the big marketing spreadsheet in the sky where they try to connect ‘marketing dollars spent’ to ‘revenue earned’, this is probably going to go down under ‘word of mouth’. Which is wrong. Mostly.

So what can we know about measuring social media marketing?

Since it often looks like this:

Sarah Welstead on the difficulty of measuring social media

(Yes, I know. If I were any good at diagramming this stuff I’d have a degree in semiotics.)

There’s nothing worse than someone who highlights a problem and then just sort of leaves it there without a solution, so here are my handy bits of advice for you regarding the measurement of your social media marketing efforts:

  • Accept that you’ll hardly ever be able to draw a straight line from $1 spent on social media to $5 in sales. But you know what? This is true for about 95% of marketing initiatives – social media shouldn’t be required to follow different rules
  • ‘Engagement’ isn’t always the holy grail. I didn’t like, fave, retweet or comment on any of the posts I saw about Villa Boreale – but that doesn’t mean they didn’t influence my behaviour
  • ‘Word of mouth’ is a big umbrella, under which social media relationships and real-life relationships have a whole ecosystem of their own. Stop trying to separate social media from everything else
  • It’s a longer game than you think. If I’d seen Villa Boreale just once, I might not have remembered it. By seeing it repeatedly, over a few months, it stayed top of mind. An effective social media strategy is long-term and consistent
  • Social media works best when it’s done on more than one channel. My diagram up there looks a little ridiculous, I know – but it’s also representative of the way people use social media. Hardly anyone uses just one social media channel, and everyone’s usage patterns are unique. You don’t have to be on every social media channel in the universe – but you should definitely be on more than one.

 

 

7 practical reasons your SMB should be on Twitter

Sarah Welstead Twitter for small business

Yes, Twitter is probably a good idea as part of your marketing strategy.

First, my Twitter bona fides: I have been managing Twitter accounts for clients (yes, for money) since 2009 and I have had my own Twitter account since 2010.  These days, I’m running 15-20 Twitter accounts for various clients at any given time, and most of those clients are small-to-mid-sized B2B businesses which run the gamut from professional services, IT and finance, to retail, hospitality and even building trades. I have about 6800 followers of my own; each of my clients has between 1000-9000 – and those followers are rated 95% real, not just spammy #teamfollowback types.

In other words, I’ve had to be serious about Twitter for quite a while now (6 years practically qualifies me as an eminence grise in social media terms) and I’ve had to do it for a lot of different types of businesses.

7 pragmatic reasons your small/midsized business should be on Twitter

If you follow me on social media or know me in real life, you’ve probably heard me say, dryly, that some days I’m convinced that 85% of all non-1Direction-related tweets are generated by me and about 11 other social media managers, diligently tweeting away at each other. (The other 15% are a combination of Chris Brown defenders, mommy bloggers, and whatever spambot operation that JabberDuck company got to promote them on Twitter.)

There is a lot of noise and nonsense on Twitter.

However.

Twitter won’t instantly generate a zillion sales for an SMB company, especially in the B2B space. But here’s what it can do as part of the marketing strategy for almost any SMB:

1. Help boost your SEO: Google (and other search engines) indexes Twitter. Because tweets are updated (ideally) daily, they look current to search engines, which means they give them a decent ranking score. What’s more, they increase the sheer volume of content attached to your URL or business name, which makes Google think your company is more relevant than companies mentioned less frequently.

 

2.  Helps keep your other social media channels looking current: By automatically feeding your tweets from Twitter to your Facebook page or LinkedIn profile or other social media, you can keep those channels looking up-to-date without actually having to create additional content.

 

3.  Keep your website from looking dormant:  Many SMBs don’t have the time, resources or inclination to update their website very often, so it can start to look a little cobwebby. Setting up an automatic feed from Twitter sends visitors the message that you’re very much an active, going concern.

 

4.  Raise your profile among your target market, vendors, supplies, competitive set and prospective employees:  Sure, people who aren’t on Twitter aren’t on Twitter. But I guarantee you that plenty of your stakeholders are paying attention, and a consistent Twitter account does drive awareness.  And don’t underestimate the role of people like me: I may be ‘just’ a ghost-tweeter, but my clients depend on me to identify the key players and trends in their space, and I notice who’s doing what.  Yes, it’s hard to measure ‘awareness’ and ‘profile’ – but they do matter and Twitter can make a difference.

 

5. Support your content strategy. How the heck are you going to promote your new blog post or media release if you haven’t built an audience on Twitter?  I promise that almost no one is just going to accidentally stumble on it by going to your website directly, and only 323 people like your Facebook page.  Twitter gives you access to an audience you just can’t get elsewhere without spending a lot of money.

 

6.  Improve the thought-leadership profile of your CEO (or equivalent): In my experience, most CEOs (or presidents, founders, etc.) of SMBs actively look for speaking engagements or opportunities to expand their sphere of influence by networking.  I can’t tell you how many small-business leaders I’ve seen get tapped for speaking engagements or keynote addresses because someone has noticed their Twitter/social media presence.

 

7.  It keeps you on top of your game: Twitter, for all its faults, has the advantage of immediacy. Finding articles or information to tweet about forces you to keep up with what’s going on in your industry, and following the right people means your Twitter feed gets filled up with hot topics that are relevant to you. Both of these things mean you’re better informed and better able to spot trends in your industry earlier than you would otherwise.

 

Yes, there are certain SMBs for whom Twitter doesn’t make sense – but in the past 6 years the only times I’ve recommended against Twitter for SMBs was for companies in the B2B space who sold a highly-specialized product/service with a very limited target market, whose resources would be better spent marketing directly to those targets on an individual basis.

Now, go find your Twitter password.