My grand-puppy is learning to walk on a leash. As we begin our outings she is very excited, a little fearful, eyes darting everywhere, weaving back and forth, stopping to sniff, and unable to focus on the task at hand. After a few minutes she settles into the rhythm of my pace, looks straight ahead, trots at my side and occasionally looks at me for guidance. There are moments where she gets off-track - the scary postal truck (how do they know its the postal guy, anyway?), a romp with another dog, or other distraction. Eventually, we return to the walk and pick up where we left off.
So, what does this have to do with marketing, you ask?
When I work with a new client who has jumped into the world of digital marketing I often observe a similar pattern. There's an initial excitement and enthusiasm to be everywhere, darting from one social media channel to another without a clear understanding of strategy, unable to focus. As we work together to develop and execute the marketing plan, things begin to fall into place and a rhythm forms. Blog, email, share, repeat. Blog, email, share, repeat. There are the occasional moments that upset the strategy, but after a little guidance, we're back on track.
Here's a tip.
The important thing to remember is to start small and develop good habits. Plan time to devote to your marketing plan, pay attention to your metrics, and don't be afraid to reach out for help when you need it.
How much time do you spend working ON your business? Do you set aside time each week devoted to marketing? Is it difficult to maintain consistency in your marketing? Do you sometimes struggle with technology or the ever-changing features of Facebook?
For many small business owners, putting on the "marketing hat" feels like wearing an itchy, woolen winter hat - downright uncomfortable. Yet, marketing is not an option. It's a critical component of your business. So, how do you decide what to do? It all begins with ...
The good news is that marketing tools today are affordable and easily accessible to small businesses. The first step is to determine your marketing strategy.
Once you know the answers to these questions, it is simply a matter of choosing the right tools to reach your market. Don't be afraid to ask for help putting it all together, organizing and executing the plan.
How quickly do you respond to customer questions via the phone or email - the same day, within 24 hours, within an hour? Well, hold onto your marketing hats. Facebook thinks you should answer 90% of your messages received through your business page within 5 minutes in order to earn a "Very Responsive To Messages" badge.
A five minute response time may not be realistic for your small business unless you are glued to your computer, have dedicated staff or offsite administrator who can monitor activity. So, what can you do to make sure your business isn't negatively affected?
First, you must have Messages turned on in your settings so that customers can contact you directly. Make sure that you turn on notifications for messages in your settings. There are settings which can help set some expectations from consumers and not draw the wrath of Facebook.
1. Set an away message if your business is closed. You must list your business hours for this setting to work.
2. Add an instant reply to buy you time. If you're open for business, but not immediately available to answer a message, you can set up an instant reply that looks like this:
3. Change your response time display to more accurately reflect your response time. The recommended setting here is "automatically show your response time" but you can change this to meet your needs. Note that anything over a day will negatively affect your page.
This is just one of many changes Facebook has made recently that can impact your marketing. If you need help with your business page, I'm here to help. Call 413-539-7950 or email me.
You just finished composing your first email marketing campaign and are ready to hit the send button.
WAIT. Hold on a minute. Are you SURE you have permission to email these contacts?
What's the big deal, anyway. If they don't want to keep getting your emails, they'll just unsubscribe, right? WRONG. You may be a SPAMMER.
A spammer is defined as anyone who sends unsolicited email. If you didn't get permission to email that contact, (we're not talking about one-to-one messages here, we're talking about sending bulk messages) you are a spammer. It has nothing to do with the content of your message, it only applies to whether that person gave you permission. So, let's break it down further.
If you bulk email using your ISP (Internet Service Provider, ie. Gmail, AOL, MSN, etc.) and send your commercial message to a bunch of contacts through BCC who have not given you permission, you are a spammer.
If you bulk email using your ESP (Email Service Provider, ie. Constant Contact, iContact, MailChimp, Vertical Response) who have not given you permission, you are a spammer.
Spam costs society over $20 Billion dollars a year (Source: 2012 research by Hotmail & Google researchers
What goes on behind the scenes?
When you hit the "send" button, your message travels through your ESP's servers on it's way to your recipient's inbox. Their ISP is constantly monitoring ESPs to make sure they are not sending spam. They monitor complaints, non-existent addresses, spam traps, engagement metrics (did the recipient open the mail? How long did it sit in the inbox?) They look at content and subject lines often associated with spam.
They also look at the sender's reputation.
If you send unsolicited email, or spam, your recipient's ISP (Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, etc.) may block your ESP (Constant Contact, iContact, etc.) and can report the abuse to a 3rd party Block Listing Agency and share results with other ISPs. Getting unblocked takes time and costs money.
Companies like Constant Contact who have a very good reputation as an ESP, invest a lot of money making sure we all "play nice" and follow the rules. New customers with large lists and certain industries who are often responsible for spam may have their lists vetted. Customer support may ask your email collection practices. If you come to an educational workshop, you will receive "best practices" in how to grow a great mailing list. After all, we're all in this together.
So, how can you NOT be a spammer?
I was standing in line at the grocery store yesterday when my eyes wandered to the magazine rack. Glancing at the various article headlines as I moved my shopping cart along, it reminded me how short a window each publication had to grab my attention and help me decide to put that magazine in my cart.
Magazine headlines are similar to email subject lines, blog post titles or social media posts/tweets/statuses in that they must have a hook to get readers to pay attention quickly.
Imagine scrolling through your inbox this morning, scanning down the list of emails, trying to decide what needs attention. Should I open it now, later . . . or never? The important factors are: Who is it from? What's it about? If the subject line isn't compelling, you may decide to save opening the message until later and we all know what happens to messages left in the "later" category.
How to write a good subject line.
Writing a compelling subject line is an art. Publication companies have teams of copy editors whose job is to make you stop and read their covers and hopefully pick up the magazine and put it in your shopping cart. The next time you're standing in line at the grocery store, scan a few article titles to see what makes you want to learn more, then come back to your office and compose a killer subject line for your next campaign.
You just hit the "send" button and your email campaign is launched. Then what happens? At this point, your ESP (ie. Email Service Provider-Constant Contact, Vertical Response, MailChimp, etc.) takes over. Hopefully, you've followed best practices for email marketing and have done the following:
You'll also find emails that didn't quite make it where they were supposed to go. An email bounces for several reasons. It can be blocked by a server, your recipients could be on vacation (lucky them), or some glitch occurred during transmission.
Any "non-existent" addresses should be reviewed for obvious typos (extra spaces, .com vs. .net, etc.). Remove these. Repeated attempts to email non-existent addresses will hurt your deliverability rates. They remain a subscriber and may affect your account status.
Source: Constant Contact
If you have a large list, consider exporting your bounces on a regular basis and cleaning up any recommended for removal. The "mailbox full" category generally means these are on the way to being non-existent. The "suspended" category, (used by Constant Contact), is a safety mechanism which lets you know that you've attempted to email a non-existent address more than once and will be placed on hold so that your deliverability rates are not affected.
Remember, a well-maintained list will provide more accurate results, and results are what will help determine your next campaign.
In January, Facebook announced another change to its algorithm, the mechanism that determines what shows up on the news feed.
Not again. Why?
You may have noticed that your reach, which is defined by how many people see your post, has drastically shrunk over the past year or so. Facebook's answer to this is simple -- there are far too many posts occurring to have everything visible on the news feed. Posts are ranked based upon audience engagement, rewarding quality content by appearing on more news feeds.
So, what is quality content?
The Facebook developer team described quality content by the following:
1. Is the content timely and relevant?
2. Is the content from a trusted source?
3. Would you share it with friends or recommend it to others?
4. Is the content genuinely interesting to you or is it trying to “game” (or trick) the News Feed algorithm?
5. Would you complain about seeing this content in your News Feed?
What other changes took place in 2014?
Facebook also announced a crack down on "like baiting", in other words, downgrading posts that ask the reader to "like" something -- a page, picture or post which artificially creates higher engagement. Basically, if your content can't stand up for itself as being engaging, don't expect Facebook to reward you.
Which brings us to the changes announced in January, 2015
Stop promoting! No, really, Facebook will devalue posts that are promotional. Best practices for Facebook content follows the 80/20 rule (80% of your content should be useful, relevant, educational, engaging, etc. while only 20% should be promotional).
Here's an example of one post written two ways:
Let's say you are a veterinarian clinic, posting about flea/tick prevention.
Example #1: "Ever wonder when you should apply flea/tick medicine?" which includes a photo of a dog and link to a blog post on their website which educates the reader and includes a link to the product.
Example #2: "Don't forget - now is the time to buy flea/tick medicine for your best friend. We're offering 10% off all month." which includes a photo of a dog and link to the product on their website."
Both posts get the reader off Facebook to the website, which is good, but post #1 will be preferred by Facebook. So, whether you're a restaurant, hair salon, lawn care company, dentist, or photographer, keep the self-promotion to a minimum. If you want to promote, use the paid advertising feature.
Email marketing is the #1 way to keep people engaged with your products and services. It is an extremely cost-effective method to build relationships and keep your business "top of the mind" with prospective customers. How do you know if you're doing it right? Here are some common ways where you may be hurting your efforts:
The life of an entrepreneur is always in motion. We grow and evolve, downshifting when needed and jumping into uncharted waters without looking back. Sometimes this constant movement can cause problems. The business is out of synch with your core beliefs and your marketing plan no longer reflects who you are and what you're trying to do. You are off brand.
My first meeting with a client is often when the business owner is investigating the addition of a social media or email marketing plan. I am coming into the business with a fresh set of eyes, looking at it from a customer's perspective, and what I see is a an outdated website, or a poorly constructed site that does not reflect the owner's professionalism. I see business cards with graphics and fonts that don't match, social media channels that are missing important marketing tools and email templates that underwhelm.
Do we go ahead and establish a social media marketing plan on top of a foundation that is not serving the business well? Not a good plan.
Recently, I was pleased to work with three businesses who faced this situation. They were initially unhappy to postpone their debut into the world of social media, but stepping back and looking at their business turned out to be very illuminating and up-lifting. Serious conversations between stakeholders refocused their attention helping them to unload outdated information, and showcase their products and services more effectively. The resulting updated websites and logos will, of course, require new business cards and collateral materials to follow. Online business directories and existing social media profiles need to reflect the rebranded image.
Re-branding a process, but it's kind of like cleaning out an over-stuffed closet. You get rid of a lot of stuff, figure out what's important to save and wear more. It's not fun in the beginning, but along the way you discover why you bought that purple pant suit in the first place. In the end, you will feel relieved, and reinvigorated to proudly wear "your brand".
I was reading Chris Brogan's blog recently and he posed the question, "What three words would help you in the coming year?" The answer came to me very quickly and without hesitation:
Family . . . Balance . . . Mastery
Family. Last Thursday, my day began like many others - preparing to work on a couple of websites, and finishing up invitations to a business event. At 8:15 I learned that my daughter was involved in a serious car accident on her way to work, being hit head on by another driver. A tractor trailer was able to avoid the vehicles by crashing into a stone wall. She will be OK, thankfully. The event made it so clear what's really important in life - not websites, social media or speaking engagements.
Balance. The whole balance thing also pertains to family. In the game, Jenga, players must gingerly remove a colored block from the tower without toppling the whole thing. No one wants to be the one who causes the collapse. As entrepreneurs, we're not always great at work/life balance. I work a lot of weekends - nothing new for small business owners. Last summer I did an experiment by unplugging my computer from Friday afternoon through Sunday, enjoying time at the shore with my husband and my girls whenever their schedule allowed. It worked well, although it didn't last as the busy fall schedule started.
Mastery. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mastery a "knowledge and skill that allows you to do, use, or understand something very well." The more I learn about social media, email marketing, website building and all the other parts of my business, the more I'm convinced that there is much that I DON'T know, and that's OK. In 2015 I do want to continue to build my skill sets and learn more ways to help my clients manage their marketing more easily.
What are your three words?
Liz Provo, Mass Marketing Resources.