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Why Blogs Are the Future for 2014 and How to Prepare Your Blog for the New Year

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blogs are the future

As the calendar inches ever closer toward the new year, there’s never been a better time to talk about blogging. Everywhere you go these days, someone’s saying something about how many blogs there are and how the blog world is over-saturated. Could these ideas actually be true? Are blogs over, or is 2014 a good time to start your own? What will 2014 hold for blogs—how will things change, and how will they stay the same? If you already blog, how can you prepare your blog for the next season?

To help answer those questions, let’s look at what the experts are saying about why blogs do matter—along with strategies for making the most of your blogging efforts.

Blogs Still Matter

Despite what you may have heard, blogs are not done yet. “The need for an online presence has never been stronger,” says Jayson DeMers at Search Engine Watch. “[But] the landscape has never been more competitive.” Whether you’re thinking about improving your business’s search results or looking to become an authority in a specific niche, blogs are powerful, especially when you know how to use them. Below, consider what experts are saying:

  • “Extremely Relevant.” In February 2013, Clayton Lainsbury wrote at the content marketing site Crowd Content Resources that “intelligent marketers still know that blogging is extremely relevant if you apply it properly in a social and mobile driven world.” His point is that the world is online—and blogging gives you a way to reach it.
  • “There’s No Better Way.” In an April 2013 blog post at Social Media Today entitled “Blogging is More Important Today than Ever Before,” author Nicole Beachum said, “There is not a better way to add relevant content to your website on a regular basis than to utilize a blog.” Citing reasons like search engine optimization and keeping up with the competition, Beachum goes so far as to say hiring a professional is a savvy step.
  • “Effective Marketing Strategy.” According to Content Marketing Institute’s 2014 Report for B2B content marketers, 62% of marketers still see blogging as an effective content strategy.
  • “A Public Record.” There are intangible benefits to blogging, which is something personal bloggers like Lisa Endlich understand well. For individuals as well as businesses, blogging offers a place to chronicle your story and connect with like minds.

How to Blog Strategically in 2014

Based on a Google Talk given in October at PubCon 2013, staying ahead in the blog world is simply a matter of knowing what to expect. With that in mind, here are some tips for making the most of your blogging efforts, at least in terms of search results, next year:

  • Focus on Quality: Search engine algorithms are always changing, but one bottom-line principle stays the same: High quality content works. Rather than worrying about how to trick the search giants, focus on publishing the highest quality content you can.
  • Benefit Your Reader: If you aren’t answering the #1 reader question of “Why should I care?” you’re sabotaging your own blogging efforts. Look at your blog right now—what does it offer? What do your readers gain? Why should they come back? Make those answers crystal clear in order to prepare your blog for the new year.
  • Blog Like You Talk: As voice searching grows in popularity, blogs that are written the way people talk may rank higher.
  • Niche = Authority: The more specific and focused your blog topic, the better your chances of becoming an authority in your field. Rather than blogging about food, for example, blog about gluten-free, dairy-free recipes. Rather than blogging about lifestyle, blog about being a stay-at-home dad of twins in New York City. Look for ways to specialize, and you become more valuable.
  • Make the Most of Social Media: Social profiles are not only good for building relationships, but also they help you increase online authority. Search engines look at social activity—how often your blog is mentioned, linked to, etc.—to determine ranks.
  • Know Your Goals: Gone are the days when all you hope for with a blog is a reader. Moving forward, bloggers will need to determine their exact goals (Conversions? Subscribers? New leads?) to quantify success.

Your Thoughts

Will you or your business be blogging in 2014? What changes are you making to prepare for the new year? What changes do you think are important?

Image credit: Bigstock (altered)

How Does Blogging Help You Boost Traffic and Generate Leads? [Infographic]

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Whether your company blogs or not, it’s important to not disregard its significance. Blogging has three proven ways to help boost your brand and market your business. They are proven to generate traffic, leads and help spearhead your social media marketing efforts. Blogging takes effort, but as this infographic shows, time spent implementing a blog strategy can pay dividends. They key is to remain consistent and blog often!

Blogging-IG-Blogworld

Struggle to Juggle: Three Marketing Kickstarters To Do Right Now

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Multi-tasking Business Woman

National Small Business Week celebrates its 50th anniversary this June on a high note:  According to the Small Business Administration, half of Americans own or work for a small business. While this is a glowing testament to America’s entrepreneurial spirit, one of the biggest conundrums small businesses still continually face is marketing: knowing they need promotion to grow and thrive but often lacking the time, money, and people to do the work. “Of all the classes we offer during San Francisco Small Business Week, marketing courses are the most popular,” said Jane Gong, a City coordinator of the nation’s largest such event.

So what can small businesses do lickety-split to get started, brush up, or recommit to a marketing program? Here are some ways to start or reboot your  efforts: After that, it’s up to you to make it a habit.

#1 Ask, Don’t Tell (When it Comes to Social Networks)

News flash to small business owners: social media is no longer a “trend” or “sexy”– it’s a reality of an integrated marketing plan. “Small business owners need to stop complaining about having little or no understanding of social media and no time to learn it,” said Brian Moran said in an article interview. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If you don’t have the time to do something right, when are you going to find the time to do it over?” Gong said, “When people are starting a business, the questions we get asked most about are social media. They think they need to be on social networks to increase their returns, but if you’re a mom and pop corner store, they are not sure it makes sense.”

Kickstarter: Go where your customers social-ize: Though it seems intuitive to get your target audience’s input to help drive marketing decisions, many businesses don’t, not because of lack of desire, but preoccupation with five hundred other tasks at hand. In the end though, the time you spend upfront getting feedback will prevent wasted time later. Though Facebook appears to be the most popular social network for small businesses, get the raw data from your  customers and prospects: survey in-person, by email, or quickly and free online . They’ll appreciate that you want their insight and the input will help shape your plans.

Once you establish your social media direction, get educated for free online. Also, check out what your competition is doing and get inspiration from the  brands you admire. Start small by offering something of value to get fans and followers, such as a Facebook-only deal, a discount for Twitter followers, or showcase customer photos on Pinterest. But start something and do it consistently as you build and fine-tune your social media program.

#2 Give Your Blog Nine Lives (or At Least Five)

Chances are if you’re reading this article, you already have a blog or want to: as most bloggers will attest to, it’s one of the easiest and straightforward ways to promote your business. Did you also know there are at least five things you can do to transform a stale blog to fresh content? The best place to start is to check your stats (or tags and categories) and determine the best performing ones. If you don’t have a blog yet, come up with a popular industry topic and use that as a starting point.

Going through the stats exercise for my own blog, I found a piece from a year ago about J.C. Penney’s rebranding disaster was my third top-read post of all time. Upon further research I found out why: On a Google search of “JC Penny Branding Disaster”, my blog comes up fourth, below PRDaily and Forbes and above Huffington Post. Even though the position could change, I got great SEO by writing about a popular topic when the story was blowing up in the media. Now, to use it for my own purposes…

Kickstarter: Repurpose. Repurpose. Repurpose. Did someone say repurpose? For the J.C. Penney blog, potential ideas are: 1) Update blog to reflect the recent booting of its CEO and apology ad and republicize on all social networks; 2) Use as partial content for quick blog countdown “The Five Worst Branding Disasters of All Time”; 3) Turn blog into online story and publicize; 4) Reformat with some quick visuals and create Slideshare and blast out to social networks. 5) If I were feeling particularly ambitious, I could create a short video that tells the story of what happened (a search revealed just one interview.) People are hungry for online information in different ways to learn about big events, industry trends, and practical tips–you can be the expert, go-to source no matter which they choose.

#3 Putting the Cure in Curation: the Multi-tasker Extraordinaire

Content curation for your business can be  a great marketing Swiss Army Knife, but it’s a lot of work. There are services that  do the legwork for free, collecting relevant content in your industry, monitoring your competition, and  even prepping a targeted customer newsletter. “I use the analogy that people really are looking for water,” said Scott Scanlon, CEO of You Brand, Inc. in a content curation video.” …ultimately they don’t want to drink out of a fire-hose–they want a glass of water. If you can be there providing that glass of water on a consistent basis you’ll begin to garner their trust.” Bonus: Content curation services enable topic discovery for your blog, web site, or email marketing campaign–the possibilities are endless.

Kickstarter: Max out a free curation serviceScoop.it paper.liCurata, newcomer Swayy and other services specialize in online curation from thousands of online sources to slash time and effort. Take advantage  to get information compiled, organized, and leverage for your own purposes. If you use a curation service for customer newsletters, put your own brand stamp with commentary or tweaking a headline for your audience.

Too pressed for time to try any of these? Break down kickstarters into baby steps and do one part each week.

Image Credit: Bigstock

10 Reasons You Should Have a Company Blog

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Are blogs just for the big brands, or do they have benefits for you? Here’s a look at 10 reasons it makes sense for your company to be blogging!

1. SEO

Say you’re a new restaurant in town—by blogging regularly about community and about your cuisine, you increase the ways you can be picked up by search engines. What’s more, as you build valuable content, you build your authority in your industry and gradually rank higher and higher online.

Why This Matters: Higher search engine rankings mean more visitors, and more visitors mean more opportunities to promote your company and what you sell.

2. Authority

Building authority online is more than beneficial for search engine rankings; increased authority also increases your influence with users online. Creating regular content that demonstrates expertise in your industry builds your credibility in the minds of users.

Why This Matters: People are more likely to buy from brands they trust, so when you build your ability to be trusted, you build your opportunities to make sales.

3. Distinction

You want your audience to think you’re different from the other guys? Show them, by blogging. Regularly posting high-quality content that provides genuine value to readers establishes you as a unique player in your space. What’s more, your competitors might already be blogging, leaving you behind.

Why This Matters: Let’s start with what happens when customers don’t see your distinction—they confuse you with other companies, don’t know why to buy from you, and end up going with someone else. Communicating your brand to readers means showing them why to give their business to you instead of someone else.

4. Connection

The key to social media is connection, and that’s as true for blogging as it is for Facebook and Twitter. By blogging regularly, you provide one more way for readers to connect and communicate with you and your brand. They can share your content easily. They can stay up-to-date on your news.

Why This Matters: The more connected users are with your brand, the more loyal customers they become. Plus, when people are sharing your content, they’re essentially marketing for you.

5. Long-Term Results

Blogging is more than a one-time magazine ad or a two-week promotion—it’s the kind of consistent, helpful marketing that brings in new business for years to come. That’s because blogging pushes for what’s called organic growth, forged through natural relationships and increased audience trust.

Why This Matters: Long-term results mean greater sustainability. The longer you blog, the more valuable your site becomes, bringing in payoffs far into the future for quality work today.

6. Relevance

Today’s marketing world is increasingly about inbound marketing (marketing methods that attract customers to you and your content) rather than outbound marketing (marketing that goes out to where customers are and tries to sell to them).

Why This Matters: If today’s audiences respond better to blogs than to direct mailings, why waste your time? Instead of going to more trade shows hoping to make new sales, try blogging, which brings the customers to you.

7. Conversion

According to Forrester Research, before making their purchases today’s customers are doing more online research than ever before. Blogging influences customers—especially in terms of whether or not they’ll choose to buy.

Why This Matters: By amplifying information on your company and what you sell, your company blog could be a key factor in determining whether or not a customer chooses to purchase your product.

8. Improvement and Growth

The fact is, regularly blogging about your industry can do more than benefit your client base—it can benefit you. You might find that doing research on new topics teaches you a few things, even as you aim to teach your Web visitors. Maybe writing a post on “5 Ways to Boost Sales” helps you articulate the key areas on which you want to focus your business goals. Maybe interviewing one of your company execs reveals new ideas or strategies to implement. Whatever the case, blogging helps you stay up-to-date on your industry.

Why This Matters: Growing professionally is always a good thing, especially when it means improving the way you’re able to do business.

9. Convenient Setup

Starting a blog is not hard—in fact, the process is fairly simple to set up and manage. What’s more, whether you set it up yourself or hire the project out, it’s fairly inexpensive.

Why This Matters: If cost or lack of tech knowledge is an excuse keeping you from starting a blog, it shouldn’t be.

10. Customer Insight

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to tap into your customers and gain knowledge about what they like and respond to? There is, and it’s called blogging. A business blog allows customers to easily comment on your posts as well as to share your content—and simply by observing what your customers say and do, you’ll be able to learn a lot.

Why This Matters: One of the greatest keys to reaching your customers is knowing them. By observing them online and by engaging them in your content, you gain a powerful way to learn what they need.

Image Credit: Bigstock

Marcus Sheridan talks about Content Marketing

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One of my favorite people in the social media space right now is Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion. He’s reinvented his life–thanks to content marketing–and is an insightful blogger and enthusiastic podcaster.

In this exclusive NMX video interview, Marcus talks about the value of your business providing content, how to translate your social media efforts into sales, the value of listening and answering questions, how numbers can be deceiving, and growing your audience by introducing a different medium.

Want to learn more about using social media for your business? Join us at BusinessNext Social in Las Vegas this month.

Are You Letting the Wrong People Control Your Content?

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Community is absolutely necessary if you want to grow your content online, but I think some people allow too much community involvement. You might be letting the wrong people control too much. I was recently reading a post on Marketing Profs by Matthew Grant, and he threw out a very insightful quote about business:

“Everybody should have a voice, but not everybody should have a vote.” – Tom Fishburne

In the business world, this absolutely makes sense. The CEO of your company needs to be a leader, making the hard decisions and guiding the team. It’s important to build a team of employees you trust and to value their opinions, but ultimately, it’s up to you to have final say on everything. Everybody should have a voice, but not everybody should have a vote.

Why shouldn’t the same be true of your blog, podcast, or web series/videos? You can call yourself by whatever title strikes your fancy, but you’re the CEO. It’s time to take control of your content.

Listening to Your Community

Before I tell you why you shouldn’t do everything your community wants you to do, let me make it clear, that just like Tom and Matthew, I agree with the idea that everyone should have a voice. Your community members are comparable to your employees in this way – it makes sense to listen to what they have to say. Here’s why:

  • Community members can be extremely creative and can come up with awesome ideas for your blog.
  • You might believe your community feels one way when they, in fact, do not, and this can shape the kind of content you produce.
  • If one community member complains about something, it probably means there are others also having problems but not being vocal.
  • Sometimes you’re too close to your content to see problems.
  • Listen to your community – and interacting with them – is fun!

So yes, definitely listen to your community. Just be selective with the advice you take.

The Dangers of Crowdsourcing the Decision Making Process

Sometimes, it can be really cool to allow your community to make a decision for you. For example, some travel bloggers let everyone vote on where they’ll be traveling next. But most of the time, leaving an important content decision in the hands of your fans is a recipe for disaster. Why?

  • They might vote for something as a joke or because it is the worst decision. Remember the American Idol Vote for the Worst movement? It’s still going and apparently covers more than just AI at this point.
  • Your audience doesn’t care about your content. Well, they might, but not the way that you do. Their livelihood and futures aren’t tied to it the way yours are.
  • Community members will vote for the option that’s best for their needs, not for the needs of the entire community or your content in general.
  • People don’t always know what they need or want until you give it to them.
  • When people feel passionate about something, they try to persuade others to vote the same way, even if those community members might not care. If you open voting to everyone with a public poll, they might even get non-community members to vote.
  • If you open it up to voting and then don’t do what your community says, you’ll have a riot on your hands worse than if you never opened the decision at all.
  • Your community members are probably thinking about what’s best right now, not what will be best long term.
  • Your community members probably won’t think about the cost of a decision since they don’t have to pay for it.

The bottom line is that your content is your responsibility. What your community has to say does matter, but only to a point. Ultimately, you have to take control of the situation and make a final decision.

If you’re interested in learning more about both content and community management, check out our upcoming conference in Las Vegas. NMX 2013 is shaping up to have awesome education in both areas!

What Small Businesses Can Learn from the Hospitality Industry

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The world of social media, blogging and podcasting provides an unprecedented opportunity for brands to provide unique, personal experiences for customers past, present and future. The hospitality industry in particular has been able to take advantage of these opportunities to market in innovative ways.

The definition of hospitality is “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.” For a sector that is distinctly characterized by providing excellent customer service, the incorporation of social media to marketing and branding strategies is a perfect union.

Aside from day-to-day Twitter and Facebook posts, supplemental initiatives like Foursquare check-in perks, Pinterest promotions, Instagram presences and hotel blogs have allowed businesses to stay connected and build relationships with their consumers like never before. Many in the industry are finding unique means of implementing these tools in manners which are universally applicable to any type of business.

The Rise of Visual Content

Pinterest is extremely suitable for travel marketing since there are so many (independent and collaborative) components people consider when planning a vacation.

While many brands are still sorting out the tracking implications of Pinterest and how best to execute promotions there, a few have already emerged with authentic and captivating administration. Aqua Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii asked fans to “Pin Hawaii” – create a bucket list on Pinterest of their ideal Hawaiian vacation.

The process involved having users share at least one of Aqua’s pins (thereby sharing the brand name, along with the link to their website); using the #PinHawaii hashtag (spreading the word of the contest); and submitting their boards to a sign-up page (allowing for more accurate tracking).

Pin Hawaii was successful because it accomplished many things.

  • It got people fantasizing about a Hawaii vacation.
  • It got people spreading the word voluntarily.
  • It got people exploring the website (or partner sites).
  • It got people thinking outside the box.

These are qualities that any company can embrace with the right project, and a little fine tuning to each’s needs.

The Range of Written Content

Blogging is a great way to educate consumers about your brand, and many hotels do a fantastic job of utilizing this multi-layered platform.

First, more broad blogs on overall categories are a great way to provide an umbrella of information about a particular niche.

Hotel Chatter does this for hotels. Their goal is to cover everything related to hotels and lodging around the world, including hotel deals and reviews, which celebrities are staying where, hotel industry news, tips for booking online, the hotels you should stay away from, the hotels you should book, and more.

The site is supplemented by regularly updated Twitter and Facebook pages, allowing followers (over 120K on Twitter and 12K on Facebook) to be consistently updated with the latest information.

To curate content and keep everything as fresh as possible, Hotel Chatter encourages visitors to become members and submit their own stories. This allows not only for a substantial variety of material, but also for users to have a first-hand experience with the brand.

Second, many individual hotels themselves maintain blogs. Hotel blogs can serve many purposes, from being a forum for guest feedback, to being an online concierge, to boosting search engine optimization. They can also provide inside information about happenings in the area or on site, and really allow each property to showcase their distinct personality.

The Hollywood Hotel sets the bar high. Aligning with the hotel’s overall image, their blog does an excellent job providing visitors inside information. The right sidebar contains a calendar and tag cloud, making it easy for future travelers to search for specific items if they so desire, along with a variety of content – everything from upcoming events, to videos, to photos and general weekend happenings.

One thing that is also worth noting is that the blog itself contains very little actual promotion for the property. While the top contains the regular options presented on the website (accommodations, dining, etc.), the blog itself is not situated as a sales tool or advertising piece, making it more naturally alluring to visitors (who are used to be inundated with advertisements on a regular basis).

This is brilliant because not only does it show support for the community and other businesses, but it also depicts WHY the area is worth visiting, and therefore, why a visit to Hollywood Hotel would be worthwhile. When you can attract business without actually having to hard sell, it’s a win/win for all involved.

The Application of Audible Content

With the fast-paced advancing of technology, it’s vital for hotels to stay ahead of the curve in any and all ways possible. Some have even begun tying in podcasting to the online experience.

The Dearborn Inn, a Marriott hotel in Dearborn, MI, provides a podcast allowing listeners to take a tour of the celebrated hotel, learn about its unique history and the people who influenced it. The host, Alan Osborne, reveals the chronicles of the hotel from his 20 years of knowledge. How cool is this? Rather than sift through photos of the hotel, which all hotel websites provide, users can listen in to a passionate insider and hear intimidate details of the environment.

Small businesses could utilize podcasts in the same way. While we are an extremely visual culture and we are used to reading information online on a regular basis, it’s a refreshing shift to be able to ignite an additional sense and listen to someone’s first-hand experience.

These are just a few of the ways the hospitality industry is thinking outside the box when it comes to new media initiatives. What others have caught your attention?

Photo Credit: Bigstock

The One Topic Your Business Blog Needs to Cover

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When you log online to make a buying decision, what information do you want most?

You perhaps are interested in a product’s features or the scope of a company’s services. Reviews might be important to you, and some people like to do in-depth research about their options. You may like to compare products/services, and you probably want to know disadvantages, not just good points.

Marcus Sheridan at BlogWorld New York If you have a small business, you can be covering all of these topics on your blog. But what one piece of information are most businesses avoiding but should be talking about regularly?

Marcus Sheridan talked about this one topic during his session at BlogWorld New York (see picture at right). David Brook talked about this on his Partners in EXCELLENCE blog. Others have touched on this, as well.

To talk about this topic, I want to examine three whys:

  1. Why people care
  2. Why businesses avoid blogging about it
  3. Why you can outshine your competitors if you blog about it

Why Everyone Cares about Price

That’s right – price is what most small business avoid listing online, even though everyone cares about it. Rich or poor, people want to know the money they need to get your product or services.

For consumers on a budget, price can be important in two ways: first, they might have to rule out options they can’t afford. Second, they might want to know price so they can save up for the purchase.

Even well-off consumers who don’t have budget restrictions care about price, though. Everyone wants to ensure they are getting a good value, that the price they are paying is justified.

Why Most Businesses Avoid Mentions of Price

Price is scary. As a freelancer, I have had to quote prices, and it’s frightening to avoid saying (or typing) a number. A lot of what-ifs go through my head:

  • What if consumers think my price is too high?
  • What if consumers think my price is too low and, thus, my services aren’t as good as my competitors?
  • What if competitors see that price and quote slightly lower to outbid me?
  • What if I undervalue my own abilities and the consumer would have been willing to pay higher?
  • What if I want to change prices in the future, but have already quoted this lower price?

All of those what ifs can be applied to any small business, not just freelancing. What if homeowners think my lawn service price is too high? What if would-be patrons think my prices are so low that I can’t possibly give a good haircut? What if competitors see my day care’s prices and price themselves just a little lower as a response? What if I’m missing out on profits because my restaurant’s prices are too low and hungry customers would have gladly paid more? What if people get mad when I raise my bakery’s cupcake prices?

Price is scary and that’s why most business owners avoid it, even though consumers really want to know.

To this fear, these what ifs, I have this to say: so what?

There will always be people who think your prices are too low or too high, and if competitors really want to know your prices, all they have to do is call and ask. What matters is that you are charging what your products or services are worth.

Why You’ll Kill Your Competitors if You Talk about Price

Just like competitors can call (or email) to ask about your price, so can consumers. So why is it important to put this information on your websites, and more specifically, on your blog?

People are lazy.

It’s that simple. People want a product or service, but calling around to find information is hard work. They’ll compare prices and value online, but picking up the phone takes an additional step. Sometimes, they’re willing to take this additional step – but only if you give them some ballpark information first.

Think about it. Let’s say you are in a strange city on vacation and you’re craving pizza. So you Google it and find three places near you that will deliver to your hotel. Two do not list their prices. The third says large pizzas cost $10. Are you going to take the time to call all three places, or are you going to simply hire from the $10 place, since that seems reasonable?

Many people will just go with the $10 option. It’s easier.

This works on a larger scale as well, for businesses selling more than just pizza. If you’re willing to list your prices, people will simply use your business – or at least consider you a top contender – because your competitors do not talk about price.

I suggest you take it a step farther by blogging about price often. Cover all the what ifs:

  • What makes your product or service worth a slightly higher price?
  • How do you keep quality high and prices low?
  • Why is your price justified even if competitors charge a lower amount?
  • What higher-priced packages do you offer for customers who want to spend more?
  • Why are you raising prices?

Talking about your prices – and talking about them often – gives customers the chance to learn as much about you as possible. This allows them to make informed decisions, and since you’re the one helping them make these decisions, they’ll be more likely to choose you over your competitors.

So, the bottom line? Don’t avoid listing some numbers, or at least giving people a general idea of what they can expect today. Don’t let the what ifs and fears keep you from talking about this topic!

Want Bigger Sales? Try “Connected” Employees

Author:

Many large companies have rigid policies prohibiting employees from any business-related social media activity. If that’s your practice, I recommend you reconsider.

My business is helping smaller B2B companies accelerate their growth by learning to sell bigger deals to bigger customers. Most of our clients have some kind of a complex sale, such as a software solution, a technology, a marketing plan or a training program, for a few examples. When they are selling into a large company, they find that many people are involved in the decision of what to buy and from whom or whether to buy or do it themselves in house.

One or two people will make the final decision but many more will influence that decision. Whoever ultimately decides will not choose a solution or a service provider that is not widely accepted among other internal influencers. The price of change is too high; the price of internal conflict is too painful.

The other influencers will make their recommendation based on their confidence in the capability and likeability of the people from your company with whom they would be interacting. So, they want to get to know these people. They want to check out the credentials of members of your project management team or your trainers or your customer service staff or your IT department or your graphic designers or whomever. They want to know their peers in your company.

Now here’s where social media comes in: they will look for your employees on LinkedIn and on Facebook and possibly on Twitter or JigSaw and they will check to see which employees contribute to your company’s blog or Facebook page or LinkedIn discussions. They will want to see a profile, work history, where people went to school, what kind of credentials they have. Especially on LinkedIn, they will explore whether your employees have received recommendations from past or current customers, supervisors, or co-workers. They will be interested to learn whether your employees are thought leaders; for example, do they comment on relevant industry blog posts, do they ask and/or answer questions on LinkedIn, and do they participate in special interest groups online. They’ll look to see how your employees are connected, to them and to others. They may ask to connect with members of your team.

If your employees are invisible online, or if their only presence is a personal presence, you will be at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to other competitors whose employees are visible and active online.

Of course you need policies and procedures, mostly guided by common sense. If you have a marketing team, someone there can draft policies and provide some training. If you’re smaller than that, find a blogger or a savvy GenY employee to take a lead. To start in a small, safe way, encourage your employees to create a LinkedIn profile. Teach them what a good one looks like, and help them get a professional headshot photo. Ask them to request recommendations. Show them how LinkedIn works, how to find groups, and how to participate appropriately. Make your expectations clear, and be explicit about how much time during business hours would be acceptable for professional social media activity. Even a limit of 10 minutes a day on LinkedIn will enable them to become well-connected (and LinkedIn won’t require a daily check-in).

The more your team “connects” with others, the more powerful your company will become in business development opportunities-more sales, bigger deals.

Image Source: SXC

How to Get Left Behind-B2B Sales and Social Media Predictions

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To be successful in B2B sales today AND tomorrow, you need to actively build your social media presence. I assume since you are reading this blog that you already know that, or at least you are interested in knowing more. But it frightens me how many small to midsize companies behave like ostriches when it comes to a serious evaluation of their social media strategy.

Here are five serious ways that you will be left behind:

  1. Thought Leadership. You are not actively engaged in developing a point of view about your industry on behalf of your company. You and/or your employees are not publishing articles and white papers, or participating in online discussions, or asking and answering questions in the leading social media sites for your industry and/or your state and locale. Therefore you will not become known as an industry leader and will increasingly be perceived as irrelevant.
  2. Website. It’s a marketing piece all about you. It is not interactive, inviting visitors to participate in any way. It doesn’t offer any links to unbiased information or free white papers or eBooks or any little way to promote extra value. It just sits there, doing nothing for you. Therefore, you are by definition losing ground to competitors who are upgrading their interactivity.
  3. LinkedIn. You have a minimal presence or none at all. Only one or two of your employees are engaged here. There is a lack of personal photos, complete profiles, and connections to other professionals. You are not members of relevant industry groups. If groups don’t exist, you haven’t taken leadership to create them and invite others. Therefore, interested prospects will not find you, nor will you find them.
  4. Google Alerts. You have not set “Google alerts” (they are free) to help you monitor what is being said about you personally, your company, your industry, and your key executives on the Internet. You do not have any system to monitor the flow of industry information and where you may, or may not, fit into it. Therefore you have no basis for an improved marketing strategy.
  5. Opt-In e-mail List. You are not actively building your list of friends, current customers, and prospects, so you have no reliable and inexpensive way to reach them with news, special offers, or simply thanks for their business. Therefore you run the risk that your competitors have a much better list and the capacity to reach your customers and prospects regularly.

You may not need a Facebook page. You may not need a Twitter account. Those channels depend highly on the nature of your business and where your audience is engaging online. But even if you think today that your market is offline, I challenge you to think again and to investigate or ask your youngest, newest employee to investigate on your behalf.

Today’s communication channels will change, as did the mail, telegraph, telephone, cell phone, etc. They will continue to evolve. But the basic premise that you need to be connected will not change. If you’re not sufficiently connected, the steps you take today will pay you back many times over!

Do you have a connectivity story or comment to share? We would love to hear from you.

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