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I ended the book preface with a story of how my company, Mightybytes, could have really benefited from implementing a solid strategy for web content and social media when we first started, so it stands to reason that I start this chapter with a story of someone who did it right from the get-go.
The Arts Engagement Exchange (AEE) is a not-for-profit organization in Chicago. Established in 2006 with a grant from the Chicago Community Trust in partnership with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, its mission is to support the arts and cultural affairs community by fostering audience engagement. The staff at AEE asked Mightybytes to work strategically with them in building this online resource to offer knowledge sharing, networking, expert advice, sales information, marketing tips, and other audience engagement resources. The site had the following requirements:
Easily updatable via content management system
Professional design that would appeal to the arts community
Detailed community profiles
Many avenues for collaboration: forums, blog, and the like
Pre-planning and regular user feedback made a world of difference in both how the project came together and how it evolved over time. We started with a detailed focus group that included numerous arts organizations varying in size from small music performance groups to large theater companies like Steppenwolf.
The goal for AEE was a robust, user-friendly website with a content management system for maintaining a constant stream of relevant up-to-date information and where users of the site could easily interact. The site launched successfully, with keyword-rich content we developed with AEE to gain search engine rankings the company needed for arts organizations to find it. The site features a blog, member directory, comment and discussion areas, easily downloadable information from past presentations, and more. Having the experience and input of who the target audience is, what they needed, and a team of experts to supply content, we could collaborate to create a strategically designed site that met business and digital marketing needs. The AEE team continues to maintain fresh site content and regularly uses social networking channels to build audiences and strong relationships with arts organizations around Chicago. Much of their long-term success can be attributed to building an effective strategy in the project's early stages. Visit the site at www.artsengagementexchange.org.
As for Mightybytes, we now have the resources and a good system in place to generate content and engage in conversations across scores of social sites, allowing us to build our network, make new friends, exchange ideas, increase our presence, and—at the end of the day—get new customers. We use our website and blog as a communications hub feeding content via RSS to numerous social sites while simultaneously adding to conversations on Twitter, Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, and several dozen others. It's a system that works, but we tweak the details on a pretty regular basis to account for our own internal resources, industry developments, new social media tools, analytics data, and any number of elements that could affect how we come off to our constituents. Like the web itself, our online strategy has become an ever-changing, ever-evolving entity.
In their book Trust Agents, authors Chris Brogan and Julien Smith stated that "etiquette and human understanding are the cornerstones of any meaningful life." One of their many points in the book is that this sort of thinking applies online as well, and I couldn't agree more.
Thanks to the rise of social media, smart mobile devices, faster web connections, and lower-cost technology, we are all now connected in more ways than ever. Connecting to other people with similar interests has never been easier. The tools are at your disposal with a browser or mobile device and just a few clicks. Most of them don't cost a dime to use, but they all take time to create and maintain. With the ease and immediacy of these connections come myriad challenges for staying connected and building relationships that actually matter. In other words, it is more important than ever to monitor your online presence and engage with others through your website, through social media tools, and through the act of creating great, compelling content that attracts both people and search engines.
But doing that takes work—a lot of it.
Assessing the specifics of how you will implement and deliver your message is just as important as assessing the message itself. It's time to adopt and maintain long-term content, design, and technology strategies that meet marketing objectives and are flexible enough to meet changing organizational and technology needs over time as well. This approach is applicable not only to your own website (which we'll cover in the next chapter), but also to your presence on social media sites (which we'll cover in Chapter 3).
Many elements go into creating and managing an online presence, but your success in this arena will likely depend on three key factors:
Your content. Is it compelling enough to attract a community?
Your approach. Are you keeping it real or just using sales-speak?
Your consistency. Do you have long-term staying power?
Create Great Content
Compelling content is at the heart of any online strategy. Your passions—whatever they may be—should drive your message. If you are only moderately interested in what you write, shoot, or record, it will show, and the response to your content will be lackluster—on a good day.
If, on the other hand, your content is driven by your conviction for its message, you update it regularly, and you connect with others who share the same conviction, it won't be long before your content becomes the cornerstone on which a thriving online community is built. In this community you can share ideas, debate, bond, and build relationships that are personal, business-related, or both.
Know Your Community
Figure out what they want, then give it to them. Sounds simple, right? Creating and nurturing an online community requires significant efforts on the part of those who wish to build it. And there's no single way to build it either. You can design a website, start a blog, create a YouTube channel, establish a Ning site, join Facebook or LinkedIn groups, and so on. The list goes on and on. At the end of the day you want to foster an environment that facilitates online collaboration and provides compelling enough content that community members will not only want to experience the content but trust the entity providing it enough to join and actively participate in the community. That's no small feat.
If answering the question of who your community is and what they want proves to be a challenge, just ask. Groups on social networking sites are a great place to start. Find a LinkedIn or Facebook group that caters to your particular area of subject matter expertise, introduce yourself, connect with a few fellow members, and pose one very important question: "How can I help?"
If you don't receive an answer right away, don't fret. Instead, try answering questions other people have posed and starting conversations with them. Eventually, you will find out what they need. This same practice can work with blogs as well. Gradually, a trend should start to appear regarding the kinds of information people want, and it should become clear what you can provide.
Let's face it, we're more likely to trust those who listen to us and respond in kind than we are those who flood our in-boxes with one-way, blindly distributed marketing messages. By listening to others on social networks and ascertaining their needs, you will be able to devise a strategy of your own for engaging people in mutually beneficial conversations. I'm not suggesting you merely put on the face of listening. No, actually listen to them. Find out what they need. Discover what their interests are. See how they might be in line with your own. How can you offer solutions if you don't know what the problem is? Building relationships starts by listening to your constituents.
In addition to listening to what others are saying about their needs, find out what others are saying about you or your organization as well. Not knowing or, worse yet, ignoring what others are saying about you can be problematic to your online reputation and even cost you money, lost customers, and so on. It's harder to join the conversation with any kind of credibility if your integrity has already been compromised by angry customers, disgruntled bloggers, and their ilk.
Here are some tools that can help:
Get a Giga Alerts (formerly Google Alerts) account to track keywords and phrases.
Also try social aggregation tools like Streamy, Social Seek by Sensidea, Yahoo!'s MyBlogLog, or Facebook's FriendFeed.
These tools and techniques are covered in more detail in subsequent chapters, but they will provide you with a good jumping-off point to start listening to and knowing your community.
Make It Real, Keep It Real
Consider this unfortunately all too common scenario. Someone you don't know very well adds you as a friend on Facebook, MySpace, Plaxo, or (insert your favorite social media site here). Despite some initial trepidation, you accept their request. Shortly thereafter your in-box is inundated with one "special offer" after another. Invitations to events you have no interest in attending show up hand over fist. Product ads flood your wall. It's not very long before you remove that person from your friends list, is it?
Don't be that person. It's social media suicide.
One of the great things about being online (versus more passive media forms like television or radio) is that we have choices: we can skip ads, we can opt-out, we can subscribe or unsubscribe. And we can remove people from our friends list. We can "unfollow" them. In a place where customers have this power, doesn't it make sense to do whatever you can to earn their trust?
This may sound like lip service, but it isn't. Because if you actually earn that trust and then you belie it with banner ads and other blatant selling techniques, then you have turned a potential advocate into an adversary. That scorned customer can post ruinous comments on Yelp, Merchant Circle, Going, Facebook, or any other social site just as easily as they can post accolades. Wouldn't you rather they praise you than condemn you?
Transparency is the operative digital marketing buzzword here, but whatever you call it, just make sure that you're consistent, passionate, honest, and trustworthy in your online posts. The Internet has a funny way of calling shenanigans on anything that reeks of insincerity or fabrication, and once it is discovered that you are not a reputable source you will be effectively blacklisted by any kind of community you wish to be a part of, and you may have tarnished your brand.
Sure, this is a book on digital marketing in its many incarnations and at the end of the day you want to sell products, but a fundamental shift has occurred in what is considered acceptable behavior online. By becoming a valued and trusted source of information, the natural progression of that trust is that your community will happily buy your products. In fact, they'll not only buy your products but they will tell their friends about your products as well and then you're in the world of the viral expansion loop. (We'll cover this in detail in Chapter 11.)
There is no universally agreed upon formula for how often you should offer free helpful content versus straight-ahead marketing messages. Some pundits say you can offer a marketing message one out of every four times you post some content online. Others say it's one out of every ten. I think it should happen more organically than that. Consider these two quotes:
Let my company Mightybytes design your website. —Tim Frick, owner, Mightybytes.
Our project could not have been completed without Mightybytes' dedicated and talented staff. — Lauren Gentile, Chicago Office of Tourism
It's pretty obvious which of these statements holds more clout, isn't it? Testimonials by friends, happy customers, and community members occur thousands of times across social networks every day. Customer advocacy is one of the most powerful factors in online purchasing decisions around. In fact,
74% of consumers agree or strongly agree that they choose a product based on information they found online; specifically, customer service anecdotes. — http://www.eMarketer.com
That advocacy only happens with people who are passionate about your ideas and loyal to your brand. Loyalty is based on trust. Trust is something you earn.
At the end of the day you want to sell products (or services), but why not try earning trust first?
One of the biggest challenges of maintaining success in your online social endeavors is staying "on message" for the long haul. Sure, it's easy to write an effective blog post right out of the gate, but how do you maintain that consistency over time? Everyday life and work challenges tend to get in the way, you can't think of anything to write or post videos about, and before you know it you're losing traction. Rest assured, once people stop going to your site, it's next to impossible to get them back. Just ask Friendster, or any number of social sites who were usurped by the "next big thing" in social networking.
Developing Your Strategy
Developing a good strategy is helpful for a number of reasons. As mentioned in the preface, it's very easy to get caught up in the excitement of increased site traffic, connections, and potential business opportunities that exist online, and before you know it, you're in over your head. Conversely, it's just as easy to get caught up in the daily rigmarole of business and neglect your online endeavors to the point where your site becomes a digital ghost town. A good strategy keeps you on track, on time, on budget, and, most important, on point. This doesn't have to be rocket science. Make your strategy as simple or as complex as you deem necessary to work for your organization.
Any solid strategy requires a number of elements working in tandem. Whether you are a single person or part of a team, compiling strategy elements takes time but offers a great opportunity for organization and collaboration.
Write down specifically what it is you wish to accomplish. Aspirations for more site traffic are nice and all, but try to get a bit more granular in your goals. Also, of course, the goal for many companies is to increase sales online, but there are steps in building up to that goal that you need to accomplish as part of the process.
Try to be reasonable but specific: "I want to increase site traffic by 45%, build a community of at least 500 to 1,000 around my particular area of expertise, decrease my site bounce rate to under 40%, and generate customer conversions in at least 20% of site traffic." That's a good start.
You may only reach 10% of your goals or you may blow them out of the water, but the fact is that having specific goals to shoot for gives you a frame of reference as you expand your efforts and incorporate these techniques into your day-to-day routines.
Excerpted from RETURN ON ENGAGEMENT by Tim Frick Copyright © 2010 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Introduction; The Marketing Strategy; The Technology Strategy; CMS Overview; CMS Hands-On Case Study; Blog Overview; RSS; Hands-On Blogging Case Study; Social Media Overview; Social Media Optimization; The Online Video Explosion; Creating Great Quality Video; e-mail Marketing; Mobile Content; Mobile Case Study; SEO; Alerts and Analytics