Friday, July 19, 2013

Incorporating Social Media into Your Workflow: Four Steps to Success

Can you imagine a world without social media?  These days everything is becoming integrated with social media - even your real world (in the store) shopping.  But how do you efficiently manage incorporating this into your daily routine?  On our blog at Bear Creek Web, we covered some basics:

For many small business owners, the first hurdle to overcome is finding the time to engage via social media. While there's no one-size-fits-all solution for the perfect social media workflow, that doesn't mean you can't develop a solution that's perfect for your business. Follow these four steps for a smooth start to your social media campaigns:

Step 1: Confirm Your Processes

In our first post we discussed the importance of coming up with a plan for your social media marketing campaigns. Now is the time to take another look at your plan to be sure you didn't forget any critical details. Be sure you have answers to these questions (at minimum):
  • Who will monitor social media conversations concerning your company?
  • What are the policies in place for what is acceptable for social media posts?
  • How will you handle misinformation or mistakes? (Tip: Mistakes are less important than how your company handles them. Prompt responses will leave a good impression.)
  • What are the policies in place for dealing with legitimate complaints?
  • What about compliments?
  • Whose responsibility will it be to compile the data from your social networks and report back on your goals?
To make it easier for everyone to be on the same page, set up a flowchart or some other visual depiction of how you will handle responses. This community management flowchart created by David Armano shows various process flows based on user sentiment in the conversation.  An organized strategy ensures both efficiency and a consistent response from the people handling social media engagement.
For acceptable social media use policies, you don't need to get complicated. A list of common sense guidelines, such as this social media policy from Best Buy, can work well to ensure that employees are informed about what is allowed, what isn't, and the consequences for breaching company policy.

Step 2: Integrate and Centralize

For Posting:
Even if you are starting with our recommendation of 2 or 3 social media channels, it can quickly become tedious having to log in and out of each one separately to make your posts. A social media management platform such as HootSuite or Viralheat can drastically cut down on the time you spend switching back and forth.
By adding your company's social media accounts to one platform, you get a more holistic view of how well you are engaging with your audience. Since many of these platforms also come with analytics, you can even pull together basic reports quickly and easily.
For Content:
If you intend to focus on content curation, you can apply the same concept to finding interesting articles and resources to share with your audience. You probably have various online resources and websites that you use to stay informed and current on topics relevant to your business.
Use a feed reader or press aggregator to pool all of these sites into one centralized location. Feed readers such as Google Reader will even allow you to search out new feeds based on your topics of interest, letting you uncover new sources you may not have realized existed.
Scanning a list of headlines and summaries for the most interesting articles takes much less time than surfing from website to website in search of engaging content. If your social media platform has posting capabilities integrated with your browser, publishing interesting links for your audience will take only a few clicks at most.
When it comes to content production, you can save time by thinking of ways to repurpose content you already have on hand. To be clear, repurposing does not mean serving up the same content again and again – that quickly gets boring and you will lose your audience.
Rather, you should think of different angles and ways to create new content around data and resources that you already have. For example, a company that specializes in skincare products could create a blog post about winter skincare. The same research that goes into this blog post could be used to extract salient data points for use in an infographic depicting the most common skin problems in winter. And the same research could be also be used to inform a podcast or video review about specific products designed to treat winter skin ailments.

Step 3: Incorporate Organically

Most people have a typical routine that they follow during the course of the business day. Add social media to your routine tasks such as checking email and responding to phone messages. By thinking of social media as a conversation and grouping it with tasks that are similar, you will be more productive.
When there are multiple people responsible for social media, try to create a flexible schedule that allows for staggered social media engagement. This ensures that someone is always monitoring online conversations around your brand, and that someone "owns" the social media channel throughout the day.
Employee contributions through official channels such as blog posts, whitepapers and eBooks can provide a boost to social engagement while still providing a measure of management control. The key to safely engaging this way is to be sure that all content is reviewed by management before it is posted publically.

Step 4: Be Flexible

Social media moves quickly, so flexibility is essential to maximize your engagement. Timely responses to questions, prompt posting of new and interesting content, and linking to new and potentially viral content may require that you step outside of your set scheduling from time to time. Don't be afraid to do this if the information or conversation is relevant and timely.
It is just as important to keep in mind that you are speaking with real people. Politeness can go a long way to building fans:
  • Thank people for their questions and set a timeline for resolution.
  • Ensure prompt customer service and tech support follow-up for legitimate complaints.
  • Let your followers know when you need to end the conversation for the moment.
You don't need to be too detailed. It can be as simple as posting: "Thanks for all the great questions. I'm going to take this back to the team and get you some answers in the next week."  Letting people know that they've been heard, and then following up as promised will help you to gain a loyal following.
Our next social media marketing post will focus on building your audience, and how to ensure that the interactions you have through your social media channels put your company in the best light possible.
Do you still have questions about social media marketing integration? Our team of experts is always ready to assist. Get in touch with us, and we'll help you to create a workable plan to reach your social media marketing goals. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Grow Your Social Media Audience: Building Successful Brand Interaction

How do you run a successful Social Media campaign, or even, build an interactive community for your business?  Social Media can be time consuming and a dead end, but it can also be a great way to manage your brand online.  In a post from our blog at Bear Creek Web Design, we go into some basics to help you delve deeper into the world of Social Media:


There are two types of social media users that you need to attract in order to see the biggest gains in ROI for your company's social media efforts: social influencers and potential customers. Social influencers are just that – people with large followings or fan bases that can influence how other users perceive a brand. Combine these with people who are a good fit for what your company sells, and who are interested in what you have to offer, and you have the basis for a social media audience with a solid ROI.
Ideally, you also want to gain brand advocates among your social influencers. Brand advocates are the "super fans" of social media, spreading positive messages about your company's products and services to their online audiences.
However, even those followers who aren't brand advocates can be worth more than the typical customer. American Express conducted a study last year on social media and customer service and found that customers who use social media are willing to spend 21% more on companies that provide great service. Customers who don't engage through social media are only likely to spend 13% more on average.
These same customers will tell nearly three times as many people about their positive experiences – 42 on average versus only 15 for those who are not socially engaged.
With that in mind, we've come up with the following 5 tips to help you grow your social media audience:

Always Listen First

Think of starting out on social media the same way you think about going to conferences or other public gatherings. Rather than talking to everyone around with no context, take the time to listen to the conversations going on within your target audience and find a place where your company will fit well.
In particular, pay attention to complaints and questions – especially if they pertain to you or your competition. Complaints are a goldmine of information that can tell you not only about what customers don't like, but about what they need and expect.
For example, if you notice a lot of customers venting about slow customer service or poor response times, you know that in order to create a great experience you need to be faster and more responsive than the competition.
Likewise, pay attention when people are asking questions about how a particular product or service works, and take note when there is not a lot of available information. Put together a guide on your website to answer those questions and you've taken an important step towards becoming a trusted resource that social influencers can refer others to when they need answers. 

Establish Trust

Effective listening makes it much easier to build trust in your target audience. Start interacting by offering ideas, answers, and questions of your own once you have a feel for the community.
If you decide to engage by soliciting feedback from customers and potential customers, be prepared to respond to any valid criticism in a positive, proactive way.
Trust is built gradually in online communities. You can help the process along by always being transparent in your communications. Follow-up and follow-through are particularly important. Always get back to people within timeframes promised, even if the conversation has moved to a private channel such as email. Always deliver on your promises and provide clear reasons for any delays or setbacks.
You can be sure that your followers and potential customers will be watching to see how you interact with current customers as they decide whether or not to engage with your brand. Give them a reason to trust you with their business.

Take Advantage of Tagging

Here's a brief, but important tip: Use tags to help you get found by people who are interested in what you have to say. This can be anything from hashtags on Twitter to the keyword tags on your blog posts. By consistently and thoughtfully tagging your posts, you can help your company grow an audience of interested users.
That being said, don't overuse tags on third-party social media as it can be perceived as spamming. Choose only a few relevant tags to include on those social media sites that support the practice.
For blog posts, you may want to include more tags to help users find related posts that will increase engagement. How many will vary based on the topics you cover, but choosing 3-5 relevant keywords will help boost visibility, especially if website visitors are able to search for posts via tags.

Be Genuine & Unique

Your customers come to you because your company offers something unique when compared to the competition. Keep true to your brand in your social media messaging, whether that is upscale and professional, quirky and fun, or anything in between.
A consistent company voice across all marketing channels – blog posts, tweets, Facebook and Google+ posts, etc. – will help you to gain more followers, and to come across as more genuine than the competition.
Another way to look at being genuine is to treat your followers and fans like "real people". Say thank you for positive feedback and mentions. Apologize and offer assistance when customers aren't happy. Offer feedback and suggestions for improving their experience with your products and services, and always be ready to go the extra mile to resolve issues before they become major incidents.
Being genuine in your social media interactions will do more than grow your brand, it will grow your business – 83% of social media users walk away from bad service.

Always Provide Value

It's important to realize that some people will follow your brand across multiple social media platforms. You can easily lose followers if you are careless about the way you post.
Don't mass-publish the same information on every platform. Keep your content fresh and your posts insightful and relevant.  However, this doesn't mean that you can't include posts on the same topic across multiple social media channels.
For example, you might announce a surprise sale through your Facebook page and via your newsletter. As the sale is winding down, you might tweet a reminder to your followers that they only have 24 hours left to take advantage.  Although all of these posts are promoting the same sale, your followers and fans will still gain value from each one. If you keep in mind the idea of providing value with each post, you'll be well on your way to establishing your company as one worth following in the social media sphere.
We'll wrap up our social media marketing series with a post to help you understand social media attribution and what you should track to determine the ROI of your social media campaigns.
If you still have questions about social media marketing, we're always happy to assist. Contact our team of social media marketing experts, and we'll help you to create a workable plan to reach your goals. 

< Back to Blog

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Take the Step from Passive to Active Thought Leadership

On our blog, the most recent post from last week deals with thought leadership in the digital marketing world.  What makes a thought leader in online marketing?  Read more here:

It’s one of the golden rules of online marketing: Establish yourself as a thought leader in your niche. With so much content being produced on a daily basis, it’s inevitable that a few essential “best practices” tend to get repurposed and repackaged over and over.
How then, do you establish yourself as a leader in your field, when most of the so-called “experts” are saying the same things across every online platform? The answer lies in becoming active in your thought leadership approach. Specifically, it’s the ability to demonstrate your expertise in a way that is unique, accurate, and quotable by others in the field.
With that in mind, here are our top four recommendations for becoming an active thought leader and a “doer” within your field.

Conduct Research & Share Reports

Everyone loves to quote statistics, and those numbers have to come from somewhere. If you have a sizable number of clients, web traffic, or other actionable data, you can put it to good use by crafting insightful reports.
Even if you don’t have data on hand, you can put together a questionnaire that will allow you to gather data that is relevant to your niche. Remember, the best reports:
  • Help to solve problems
  • Provide actionable insight
  • Are easy to understand and digest
  • Are easily sharable
  • Provide data that is relevant

Analyze Trends

If you don’t have a large audience to poll or a statistically significant amount of data to rely on, you can still generate very effective and insightful reports by analyzing trends. Think of this as a “meta” report – you examine data from multiple credible sources, combine it with your own expertise and draw relevant conclusions for your audience.
The same rules apply when analyzing trends – you want to provide analysis that provides actionable insight and is readily sharable/quotable by others in your niche.
Additionally, you want to make certain you cite all of your sources and back up your conclusions with the data you’ve used. In this way, you ensure that your analysis is considered highly credible and valuable to others in your field.

Share Original Tips and Tricks for Success

Your personal expertise is the foundation your brand is built upon. Capitalize on that by sharing what you’ve learned with others. While it doesn’t pay to share all of the innermost secrets that make your business a success, providing tips and tricks unique to your industry is a sure way to be noticed as an innovator in your field.
If you want the best response, you have to move past the typical “best practices” that most other companies share. Instead provide anecdotes of your own experiences and things that have worked for you, personally. This brings us to our final tip…

Be Engaged & Share Success Stories

One thing that thought leaders have in common is that they are more than the “company”. Thought leaders have a distinct personality and are always ready to share the passion for what they do with others. They tell stories and they engage with their audience on a meaningful level.
When talking about your success, stay away from the bland generalities and move into specifics. Talk about the time you helped a client figure out a complicated problem, and you demonstrate that you understand your niche and that you care about the success of your customers – two very important traits of leadership in any field.
What are some of your best success stories? Let us know in the comments about how you’re becoming a thought leader and we’ll pick some of the best stories to share in future posts and newsletters.
< Back to Blog

Friday, July 5, 2013

5 Steps to a Winning Online Marketing Plan

Recently on the Bear Creek Web Blog, we wrote a post on best practices for online marketing.  While there are many approaches to take, we outline 5 steps for success.  Here's the original piece from the blog:

The most successful approach to online marketing is one that starts with the customer. Here is our five-step strategy for creating a winning online marketing plan that will bring in more leads and sales.

Step 1: Identify Personas

Every marketing plan has to have a focus. If you want to market your products and services successfully, you need to understand the pain points of your typical customer. While you may have hundreds or even thousands of customers, effective messaging must be focused on a single individual for maximum impact.
Building out one or more specific personas allows you to balance the concerns of authentic messaging that appeals to a large group, while still speaking directly to your consumers based on their individual needs. Go beyond demographics and think about:
  • How your product/service fits within a typical workflow
  • Major pain points your product/service addresses
  • Secondary/Tertiary benefits specific to each persona
  • How your UVP directly benefits each persona
Creating distinctive personas is an essential part of any online marketing plan, and we will be delving more into this topic with later posts.

Step 2: Evaluate Customer Needs

As you build out your personas, you will likely develop a list of challenges that each persona faces and how these challenges can be solved by your product or service. At this stage, it's important to realize that your intended customers have any number of options to solve these challenges.
It's not enough to explain how your product can help; you must also explain why they should choose you over the competition.
To do this, create a hierarchy of problems. Which challenges are the most pressing? Which problems are most likely to drive your individual personas to take action?
For each problem, build out a statement that encompasses not only your solution, but why your solution is the best option for that persona. Take for example a cleaning product targeting new mothers. There are many challenges a new mother may face with regards to this product:
  • Concerns about product safety
  • Concerns about allergies in infants
  • Concerns about how long it takes to clean
As you work on your messaging for your new mom personas, you want to address these concerns, while also placing your product as the optimal solution. For example, you might mention that your product is the only environmentally safe cleanser that is 100% hypoallergenic and works in less than five minutes.

Step 3: Action Tie-Ins

There are many moving parts to any online messaging strategy, and while the ultimate goal is to gain a sale, there are many other "mini" conversions along the way. As you plan your marketing strategy for each section of the conversion funnel, plan deliberate action tie-ins that move your prospects down the path to a sale.
Each piece of marketing collateral you create should provide your target audience with next steps to take. Base your call to action on the area of the conversion funnel that the marketing piece targets. For example:
  • Discovery/Research Phase – CTAs should focus on building trust, getting users to sign up for newsletter and social media updates, etc.
  • Evaluation Phase – CTAs should focus on differentiating your product/service from the competition, including case studies, whitepapers, webinars and live demonstrations
  • Closing/Sales Phase – CTAs should focus on initiating a sales contact if the lead has been qualified
  • Follow-up/Customer Nurturing – CTAs here should focus on gaining relevant feedback, and addressing any customers or concerns. Surveys can be useful, but follow-up emails can also be used to solicit feedback.

Step 4: Timing and Reach

After you have created your messaging, the next challenge is finding your target audience at the right times during the sales cycle. This can be accomplished in many ways:
  • Email newsletters
  • PPC & Retargeting
  • Social Media
  • Mobile Marketing
  • Webinars and Online Conventions
No single approach will work in all cases. You will need to consider where your audience "lives" online and come up with ways to reach them in the places they most often frequent. This may mean PPC advertising, or sponsored blog posts on various websites. It may also mean conducting demonstrations at online conventions and webinars.
Your outreach will most likely be a mix of various efforts, including:
  • Blog posts
  • Social media posts
  • Newsletters
  • Brochures, whitepapers and other marketing collateral
  • Prospecting emails and calls

Step 5: Execution and Evaluation

Putting your marketing plan into action will require both time and resources. As people respond to your messaging, you will likely find that marketing based on certain personas has better results than others in terms of leads, conversions and sales.
This is the time to make adjustments to your messaging strategy based on what your target audience is telling you. Areas where there are high conversions should be allotted a greater share of the marketing budget. Areas that do not perform well should be evaluated to determine if the problem is the messaging, the design, or some other factor.
Incorporating elements of campaigns that were successful in the past may boost these underperforming areas. In general, it's best to test to improve engagement before you eliminate underperforming areas of the marketing plan. Of course, if a particular piece of marketing has almost no traction you may decide to conserve resources and move on.
While there is no magic formula that guarantees success, taking a structured approach to your online marketing can help you to create marketing campaigns that fully address the needs of your customers. This in turn will create additional opportunities for conversions and sales.
If you need assistance with your online marketing plan at any stage – whether planning, execution or evaluation – we can help. Get in touch with us today and speak with one of our online marketing experts to learn more about how we can help you to increase conversions and sales. 
< Back to Blog