PR, social media and content marketing, when done well, is an extremely powerful marketing and sales tool for B2B businesses of any size. It can put a human face on your company. It can establish thought leadership. It can be a great way to understand and serve the interest of your customers and potential customers. PR, social media and content marketing has been around for a long time, especially in B2B high-tech marketing, but without a strong strategy you are like a ship without a rudder meandering wherever the current takes you. Strategy is all about gaining a position of advantage over adversaries with a course of action or best exploiting emerging possibilities.
In this post I’ll cover why PR, social media and content marketing is so important today and I will provide some strategic advice about how to be good at it.
Developing a strategy that aligns to your company’s goals will offer serious competitive advantage if you understand your target audiences, develop messages that resonate, and address the needs of your customers. You want to acquire and retain customers – they will become your advocate if they know your company. PR, social media and content marketing is an investment in the growth of your business, not an expense. Here are a few statistics on why B2B companies engage with PR, social media and content marketing:
- Brand awareness – 68%
- Customer acquisition – 68%
- Lead generation – 66%
- Customer retention/loyalty – 61%
- Website traffic – 56%
- Engagement – 55%
- Thought leadership – 55%
- Sales – 47%
There is a new buying process by customers today – and that alone should lead any company to develop a powerful marketing strategy to attract, engage and acquire customers. The way customers buy today is very different from how they made purchase decisions 15 years ago. The most significant difference is that today customers do most of their buying research on their own, with many sources of information, often in real time. By the time a customer reaches out to a sales person their purchase decision is almost 60% complete, often already made up their mind about what they will buy.
In short, customers are more informed, they find information on their own and they mainly use the internet for research – search. By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, customers hate marketing, they don’t trust the e-mails we send them or the marketing-speak we write on brochures and other materials. That is why offering content that will engage users to become interested in your brand will help make a customer for life. Getting that marketing content out through PR and Social channels will make them feel as if they were finding the info, not being marketed at.
We evolved from living in an information economy where knowledge is power to time where information is a commodity. Arguably, companies such as Starbucks and Apple started the experience economy where UX and UI is power. But that is giving way to a relationship economy where trust is power. Trust in your values, your ethics, your skills and experience, your ability to deliver, your track record.
10 Steps to building a successful strategy
- Become an expert. You want customers to listen to you. You want to be a thought leader. Then, be an expert at something that adds value to your customers – a reason for them to want to engage. You can’t just hire a writer and task him with writing 20 pieces of content. (You can, but it will not work in the long run.) This is not easy or fast, but it is a crucial element of PR, social media and content marketing. Be the best at something, then write or webinar about it.
- Be helpful to your customers. In this age of commodities, people buy from who they trust. Writing educational or helpful how-to content can be useful in building trust. It can also be used to prove your expertise – or ‘thought leadership’ in content marketing lingo.
- Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. To help customers, you can’t write about your products or services. You need to write from the customer’s point view. They don’t care about your products or their features. Make it about the customer, not about you. If you write about your company and your products, then it’s a brochure, not content marketing. Start with the customer’s context, explore their problems and how they can solve them.
- Express your values. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Your content should reflect your values and should express your point of view, what you and your company stand for. You don’t always have to be right. Sometimes it is more important to be different and to embrace values that your customers share.
- Make it interesting. Be controversial, explore ways to fascinate customers, be entertaining, and provide practical advice. Use graphics, charts and videos. Infographics are easy to consume, but customers will read long articles and white papers as long as they are interesting and helpful.
- Be personal. People don’t connect with brand, they connect with other people. A content strategy and a social strategy can work together to make personal connections between the people that make up your company and your customers. Social media can be used to turn a B2B transaction into a P2P relationship.
- Think like a publisher. This means you probably have to start a content calendar, build an editorial process and set up an editorial board. This is the new marketing; it’s more about educating than broadcasting – and being consistent.
- Go multi-format and maximize your content. Create good content and turn it into a whitepaper, then take chunks and make them blog posts. Why not then create a few slides and create a slideshare presentation or a slidecast. A YouTube video and a podcast is not too far out. Tweet about all of it. All you content should be is cross linked and posted on your website. Also, link it to social sites, as long as it is done the right way. This helps reach more audiences – without putting all your eggs in one basket.
- Optimize for SEO Search Juice. A smart marketer knows his customers and knows what problems they are trying to solve, and what keywords they use in search engines to find the answers. Take advantage of this knowledge when writing content. You don’t have to be an SEO expert, just find someone who is an SEO expert and get some advice. Use analytic tools like Google analysts to measure and track – this will help teach you how the words you are using and how they are resonating with customers.
- Make it a priority. Content marketing, like social media, are important marketing activities. They can’t be relegated to ‘whenever you have time’ because we never have extra time. It must be part of the job description or assigned to a consultant. If acquiring and retaining customers is important, then it should be a priority.
In the end, we need to make it all work together. We need good ideas and smart people with a point of view. Over time, you will build credibility and interesting data to back you up. If done right, you will reach tens of thousands of customers in a way that positions you as experts in your field, helping customers understand how your company and products solve their problems.
Getting results from PR, social media and content marketing is extremely rewarding. Opening new doors and relationships never gets old.
Let me know if you have any strategies that have resulted in your company’s success.
Many business-to-business (B2B) companies are already successfully getting great results using tactics like SEO, landing page creation, social media, public relations and email marketing linked to a CRM marketing automation or a simple email auto response system.
But often B2B companies are not getting the most from today’s PR, social media and content marketing since they don’t have an integrated, planned approach. PR and social media, when done well, can be an extremely powerful tool in acquiring and retaining customers for businesses of any size. It can put a human face on a company. It can establish thought leadership. It can be a great way to understand and serve the interests of your customers, journalists, analysts, dealers, influencers, bloggers and others. It builds collaboration, consistency and a stronger brand.
Although there is a lot of advice available on best practices on PR, social media and content marketing activities, there isn’t so much on how to manage it, so I developed a simple end-to-end process to help B2B companies produce roughly three times as many leads as traditional marketing programs. Here are my six steps to help you develop a B2B PR, social media and content marketing campaign:
- Develop a successful marketing strategy. PR, social media and content marketing is an investment in the growth of your business, not an expense. What are your company’s goals, objectives and challenges?
- Developing a marketing strategy that aligns to the company’s goals will offer serious competitive advantage if you understand your target audiences, develop messages that resonate, and address the needs of customers.
- Benchmark the competition. As you monitor the competition, make notes about what they are doing to help build your case for these points:
- What type of content does the competition produce?
- What category of content drives the most engagement?
- What content is gaining back links?
- What content has led to earned media placements?
- Build a case for the domain authority, back links, top-ranking pages, and anchor text.
- Do research – perform a separate SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Treats) for PR, Social, Marketing on each competitor. Then compare each to your company. How can you improve each area to do better than your competitors?
- Define target audiences’ personas. Solving problems for customers is why businesses exist and lead up to a sale; prospective customers always have questions. Customer personas are a description of specific persons who are decision-makers or influencers – within or for a company. It goes beyond statistics and demographics, and defines behaviors, motivations, likes/dislikes, traits, etc. The next step is to identify the key people who are the decision-makers and key influencers. In other words, who are your ideal customers you need to target your content? ie. IT Managers, CEOs, COOs. Now make lists of how you can effectively target them, what kind of content and messaging works best for each group? Target content to each persona and you will be more successful.
- Develop a PR, social media and content marketing plan with a strategy to acquire and retain customers and give you a competitive advantage:
- Create and maintain a powerful website. An effective website is the hub of all your online marketing and lead generation. The website is the #1 decision making touch point for B2B customers. Your website needs:
- Be easy to navigate
- Professional appearance
- Search engine friendly
- Easy to update
- Create a content marketing machine that will help the company’s audience learn and work smarter
- Generate traffic to the company website. These tasks are proven ways to bring new and qualified visitors to the site:
- Company blog – A blog gets you 55 percent more traffic and 400 percent more indexed pages:
- Create blog articles that interest your audiences
- A blog creates more pages in search engines
- Blogs make it easier for your company to be found
- Social media – nearly 2/3 of U.S. Internet users regularly use a social network:
- Build a following, share your blog posts and engage in social media conversations
- Businesses see 63 percent increase in marketing effectiveness when using social media.
- SEO – 46 percent of daily searches are for information on products or services and 20 percent of monthly Google searches are for businesses – you need to identify targeted keywords, optimizes the company’s website for those keywords, routinely create keyword targeted content, and build quality links to the website.
- The following list are more content marketing tactics that are considered the most effective followed with a percentage statistic that represents how effective CMOs consider the tactic:
- Public relations – 92%
- Articles on the company’s website – 87%
- eNewsletter – 78%
- Case studies – 71%
- Videos – 70%
- Articles on other websites – 70%
- In-person events – 69%
- White papers – 61%
- Webinars/webcasts – 59%
- Develop a value proposition. The top five compelling message points is like the little black cocktail dress of the marketing world. You can use it, modify it, and turn it into dozens of focused applications. Start with a list of the top five reasons your ideal customer should choose to do business with you. Include the top five points that differentiate you from your competition or the solution that solves your ideal customers’ problems. Write them in plain language, the way you would tell your best friend when helping him or her make a decision. Now you have a coherent marketing document that you can use internally and externally.
- Measuring the program provides you meaningful information on how your PR, social media and content marketing efforts are contributing to the company. Google analytics should play a role in your day-to-day activities. Here are my top seven Google Analytics metrics to watch:
- Bounce rate – put simply, bounce rate is when a user visits only one-page on your website before heading to another site altogether.
- Conversion – a conversion is when a visitor goes beyond casual viewing into taking measurable action.
- Traffic sources refer to where, exactly, site visitors are coming from.
- Content. The average visit time will help you determine how useful your visitors feel your content in solving their needs.
- A social report allows you to see just how many people are finding you through designated social media sites.
- Percentage of new visitors metric helps to determine how effective your marketing strategies and tactics have been in piquing visitor interest and whether they’re converting or becoming brand loyalists.
- Land and exit pages are two key indicators of visitor interest.
Remember, this campaign is all about acquiring and retaining customers – the real ROI. Here are a few statistics from a recent survey of CMOs that prove the value and power of PR, social media and content marketing.
- Eighty-seven percent of CMOs feel the most important channel for engaging with customers is through the company blog, social media and content-led websites.
- Eighty percent of business decision-makers prefer to get company information from custom content on its website, blog and in a series of articles versus an advertisement.
- Ninety-one percent of B2B companies who use PR, social media and content marketing have experienced a positive effect on audience attitudes, strengthening the bond with customers.
PR, social media and content marketing – creating, publishing and promoting helpful content for prospects and customers can earn your company incredible reach, influence and revenue. As advertising is losing effectiveness, search engines and social networks are making it easier for company target audiences to find information for themselves. By publishing content that your audiences need and value, you can then attract everyone you need to reach – customers, dealers, prospects, journalists, analysts, influencers, bloggers and more. With as little as a blog, content-rich website and a few social networks, I know you can earn as large a following as the New York Times and become as influential as a news channel.
My next few blog posts will cover each element of this summary plan. Let me know what you have found to be most effective in your B2B PR, social media and content marketing program.
Social media marketing success is based almost entirely on how well you engage with your customers. Okay, so what does engagement mean in this new world of social media?
Simply put, our traditional definitions of engaging with customers no longer apply. Customer relationships must be earned. Social media provides an opportunity to do something more meaningful than just old-school marketing.
As a company, you need to abandon the old-school marketing notions of one-to-many, fire-and-forget brand building or product offering exercises. Your customers don’t want to hear from you, they want to engage with you – creating a sense of shared values.
Christine Dugas, in her USA Today article titled “Nurturing clients with social media can pay off”, said social media and the Internet have leveled the playing field for companies, helping them foster closer relationships with customers and identifying potential new customers. With that said, companies need to spend the same amount of time in nurturing and retaining current customers and social media can help manage these relationships too.
The USA Today article mentioned that most companies are aware of social media and high-tech tools, but are often slow to jump into using them. Many of those companies are not willing to move ahead with social media until they see how it works out for someone else in their industry.
So, what are some of the essential steps companies should take when creating and managing their social media engagement efforts? Here are my recommendations:
- Planning: Why am I engaging in this conversation and what do I hope to get out of it? Good question. Planning is the starting point for any customer engagement effort regardless of the audience or intent. You need to plan your social media on where, when, how, and with what kind of content (and at what frequency) to create in reaching out to your audiences. By creating a plan, your company is able to measure results and determine the effectiveness of each campaign.
- Listening: What have my targeted audiences been saying about me? The cornerstone of any relationship is listening, and social media makes this exercise particularly easy courtesy of the digital footprints created by all those online conversations. Trackur or Netvibes create listening stations that enable businesses to track and respond to brand mentions across the social media sphere. By listening, you can learn what customers and the larger world think about you and your products, and allows you to respond creatively to acquire or retain a customer.
- Communicating: What am I going to say that will generate my desired outcome? Work with me, don’t sell to me says the customer. Content marketing is king and social media makes your company a publisher. Today, companies are being forced to let go of stale one-way business collateral and engage with customers in a form and format of their choosing. Which means your company must create value-added content that is engaging (i.e., educational, humorous, compelling, evocative, or otherwise worth the time to read or share). The key drivers of engagement are going to be things like what, when, and how much you post – content that should be defined in your content calendar.
- Measuring & Responding: What was my targeted audiences’ response to my communications and did it net me the desired results? You have created and executed against a social media engagement plan, you did your due diligence to determine what was being said about your company and products, and you have published content across your social media network in a coordinated, targeted fashion. Did you get the desired results? If not, you have the ability to get immediate feedback allowing you to refine your tactics to improve your results. Remember, you just don’t want to know that people have mentioned your brand, you want to know why they mentioned and you want to respond in some capacity.
- Testing & Improvement: Knowing what you know now, what can you do to improve your results with the next conversation? By digging deep into the behavioral habits and response rates of your targeted audiences, you will understand the content that best resonates with each audience, the ideal time to publish your content, who is most likely to respond and when and in what form they want their information – and much, much more.
We live in a relationship economy which means it’s important for companies to smartly use social media to personalize the business and build trust. While social media is about learning, listening, and building your marketing strategy in real time, you can’t ignore the analytics – measuring results must be a part of any social media engagement program. Social media makes it easier to keep track of facts about customers. Having the information is not enough. You have to act on it. You have to engage with your audiences.
Don’t let the Internet scare off potential, new customers.
Online reputation management is crucial for businesses, so says Roger Yu in an article he wrote for USA Today. In this Internet age, when a simple Google search is all it takes to find detailed information about anyone and everyone, makes online reputation management (ORM) an absolute must. Unfortunately, not enough people understand what ORM entails, or how it affects their daily lives.
You commented that small businesses need to be obsessive in monitoring online reviews and how the emergence of social media channels has made it more complex in empowering opinionated customers. While it may be tempting for businesses to shrug off a few lousy reviews, industry research shows benign neglect of a company’s online reputation could quickly hurt sales – especially given the new normal behavior of customers consulting their smartphones for even the smallest of purchases.
If you don’t manage your online reputation, then over time it will have a negative impact on your revenue. A Harvard business school research study says that a one-star increase on Yelp can lead to a 9% increase in sales. Four out of five consumers, or 80%, reverse their purchase decisions based on negative online reviews, up from 67% in 2010. At a minimum, you need to know what is being said online about your company and products, and you need to play defense in protecting the brand – requiring immediate action.
Getting Started: How do you manage your search results?
There are review trackers, online subscription services, that aggregate and alert you instantly of any reviews and online comments written about your business. Review trackers are our modern day press-clipping services. Many of the larger companies migrated to digital solutions early on, spending a good chuck of their marketing budgets not only to gauge reviews, but to learn more about influential writers, bloggers, product issues, complaints and compliments. When you are alerted of a bad review or complaint, you need to send in your defense immediately, and privately, to neutralize the issue and hopefully give the customer a good experience. Besides, if a customer takes the time to write a review or make a comment, then you should take the time to respond.
You need to respond quickly with your defense, but a good offensive trumps defense any day. Below you will find an outline of tactics that could prevent your company suffering its own online reputation meltdown.
- Know what is being said about your company on the Internet. To know what people are saying about your company, sign up for Google News Alerts, and have an alert set for your company name, product names, and even your Twitter handle. You can subscribe to Netvibes or Trackur that provide free tools for their basic services – finding reviews and sending immediate alerts. There are a range of premium services available with analysis and helpful advice on how to respond on individual cases. The monitoring services are also handy for companies who seek to reach out to customers, engaging with them in a proactive effort to head off problems or garner more good reviews.
- Create a great online impression – as they say, dress for success. I see so many companies suffer from a poor reputation, only to discover they’re abusing their biggest reputation asset – their own website content. Prospective customers, future employees, investors, and journalists are just a small sample of those that will turn to your website when determining the reputation of your company. Make sure they find all the information they could possibly need and then throw-in the stuff they might normally look for elsewhere. Link to reviews of your products or services, highlight praise received by bloggers, upload your videos and podcasts, and make sure all content is RSS enabled and social media shareable. If you want to do wonders for your company’s online reputation, you should definitely consider joining the blogosphere – that’s almost a no-brainer reputation management decision. A blog will allow you to hold conversations with your customers and gain valuable feedback.
- Know your influencers – who are they, what do they need to know, and what do you want to tell them? Whether you prefer Klout or Twitalyzer, or any of the myriad of other influence analysis tools out there, you need to know how many people are paying attention to you – and who they are. I prefer Klout, only because that’s what everyone is using, and so it is easier to compare my reach by using the same stats as everyone else.
- Practice search engine optimization. Normally this is a website/blog-only technique. If you want to get your blog or website to the top of the search engines, you need to optimize it so Google and the other search engines know exactly what your blog (and each individual post) is about. This becomes more important if you want to knock something off Google’s front page. If you made a mistake and something is appearing at the top of Google, you need to focus on a couple of properties, like a blog, and optimize it so it sits at the top of the search rankings. This practice is called reverse search engine optimization.Photos and videos are also excellent SEO tools. Not only do they boost your search rankings, but your photos and videos will often show up in your search results. If you have another result you need to boot off Google, photos and videos can help. Sign up to get YouTube and either Flickr or Picasa.
- Hangout at the right social network communities. Find the “center of influence” for your reputation – the social networks where you’ll most likely find conversations about you’re your company – and create your social network profile there. If you really want to tap into the most appropriate social media network, consider building your own. Companies such as Ning.com are empowering companies to create their own social network.
- Send the media and bloggers love letters. You need to keep in touch with the media and influential bloggers, by commenting on their stories and posts, and treating them with respect. Now when your products or services don’t live up to expectations, the fallout is less severe and they are more apt to speak to you first before hitting “publish” on that reputation-crushing post.
Over the years I have written thousands of words on the topic of building a great PR, social media and content management programs, but I’ve managed to condense everything down to just three words for you to remember: sincerity, transparency and consistency.
Sincerity means wanting to hear from your customers and the desire to truly provide a positive experience with your company. Transparency involves tearing down the walls of corporate rhetoric and PR spin – the more you share with your customers the more you’ll win their trust. Consistency is a vital component for any reputation management efforts. Your customers will forgive your isolated failure, but if you’re not consistently living–up to your brand promise, they’ll find a company that does.
If you play offense following these three words – sincerity, transparency and consistency – you may find your customers playing defense for you.
In a recent discussion with a CEO, he told me that he knows he needs to engage. He knows his competitors are doing it. All the major brand companies do it. But bottom-line, the CEO wants to know what he is getting for his money?
The best place to start is to ask yourself what you want to achieve with a PR, social media and content marketing program. The key to tracking anything is to step back and seek out the same value you apply to anything you do online. If your goal and main metric are leads and cost per lead, then the opportunities and technology exist right now to apply your objective to social media and effectively measure the outcome.
In business, CEOs are responsible for some expected outcomes, as well as for determining the strategy for driving those outcomes. This is also true for social media initiatives. The metrics you need to evaluate the success of social media need to be specific to your company – and no two companies alike. That’s part of the reason why there isn’t just one answer for how and what to measure in social media. Each company needs to have specific, measureable goals and objectives they have to hit. Example of business goals are typically:
- Increase brand awareness
- Drive leads in the pipeline
- Drive traffic to the website
- Reduce customer service cost
- Improve customer satisfaction
- Improve customer retention and loyalty
- Increase sales
With an understanding of the company’s goals and objectives for social media, you then can develop a plan to measure social media. Solid measurement programs require testing and evaluating the same data over time. Sharing those results with other departments is also helpful. Most companies are just starting down this path.
Typical social media business goals:
- Determine what customers and prospects are saying about your company via social media monitoring
- Gather competitive intelligence
- Engage with customers and prospects online
- Build thought leadership through sharing relevant content
- Maximize reach of content and messaging in social channels
- Support existing sales and marketing campaigns
- Support recruiting and retention efforts
- Build a customer community to provide support and advocacy
To be successful at social media you have to determine why you are doing it. What strategic goals and objectives are you trying to reach? Often people are at a loss for what objectives social media can help with, so they are not sure how to align their regular business goals with social media initiatives.
- To begin thinking about how social media can help you reach your objectives, consider:
- What you could do with direct, continuous feedback from customers?
- How could you use increased online advocacy, traffic, word-of-mouth?
- How would customers helping other customers be advantageous?
- If you could reach more of your targeted audiences, how would that be helpful?
As an example, a B2B client selling into a long sales cycle service can use content marketing to fill the sales pipeline by educating customers on issues relating to services and products in a whitepaper or webinar that is promoted via public relations, social media and direct e-mail. In this example, the ROI can be calculated based on hard metrics post mortem. But to understand the effectiveness, it may be better to look at the number of page hits or the number of new feeds generated from the campaign.
During any new relationship/sales process, there is always a point in time when you need to discuss the budget – what is a social media and content marketing program going to cost? In my experience, I usually discuss the general budget range to make sure that I and my potential client/customer are at least within the same general range. It’s far more valuable to the client to calculate the return on investment and break-even point of the proposal. I want to get to the bottom-line quickly – how does social media and content marketing contribute to the company? The focus at Maples Communications always starts with the client’s customer. “What do they need to know about my client and their products?”
ROI is not metrics, but you need metrics to measure business value of an initiative, whether it is driven by social media or not. The equation goes like this:
ROI = Benefits – Costs x 100 = Percentage Return on the Investment Costs
ROI calculations are based on coming up with numbers for the benefit that the social media program brought to the company and the costs or investment associated with that program.
Return on investment can be measured in different ways. In the context of my client, I need to understand what tangible, monetary benefit social media and content marketing will generate for the client/customer such as:
- New customer acquisition
- Customer retention
- New revenues from their existing customers
- A combination of these factors
It’s likely that I won’t have highly detailed information about my potential client’s finances, but I can set the stage for clients to use their own value calculations to calculate the ROI and break-even of my proposed budget – the value versus cost.
Showing the Worth
Let’s assume that I am pitching a new social media/content marketing solution for a client with a price tag of $10,000 a month ($120,000 annually). Since the goal of the program is to acquire new customers, the return on investment and the break-even analysis should both answer two questions:
- How many customers can the proposed PR, social media and content marketing program (ROI) generate for the client?
- How many customers does the Maples Communications’ PR, social media and content marketing program recommendation need to generate in order to pay for itself (break-even)?
The problem with answering both questions is that I don’t know exactly how much a new customer is worth to the potential client. The way to address this is to provide a range of values. This is perfectly acceptable as long as I do some research first to determine a range of reasonable values for my client’s industry. I usually present these numbers in tables:
By providing this information next to the proposed budget, I provide context that can limit objections to a price that my client may consider hard to understand in monetizing a PR, social media and content marketing program. Even if my potential client doesn’t agree with my assumptions, he or she will understand my method of thinking – PR, social media and content marketing needs to acquire new customers and retain current customers. It also gives me the opportunity to have the client speak more about his or her business and perhaps give me greater insight into the actual values used. I want to make the potential client comfortable that I am interested in the success of their business.
ROI in this case would look at the benefits of the online community with a higher customer satisfaction rating provided to the business. Those benefits could be a reduction in the amount spent on customer service agents. That number can be calculated by looking at the number of calls, the cost per call times, or the number of deflected calls. The costs would be determined by calculating the cost of the social media program. This would include the people involved, the money spent on processes like marketing and the cost of the technology meaning the software and implementation.
It is also important for any company to ask the questions: “Can my business realistically expect to acquire customers for considerably less than the amount that I can monetize them?” In addition to recruiting new customers and building brand awareness, what are you doing to reward and engage your current customers?
Recently, I met with a former client to discuss how and why he hires a public relations firm. Of course, I raised the question. His primary focus when hiring a PR firm – are they industry focused and come recommended. Do they know my business? My team doesn’t have the time to educate a firm on the industry and his company.
He continued to commit, has the firm proven they are ready for the unexpected? Can they create buzz, awareness, generate leads, mitigate negative issues, etc. Is the firm able to become a trusted resource and partner? And then he humbled me, “That is what I like about Maples, best practices, inside industry relationships and a great partner.” Here are a few points he thinks every company should ponder in selecting a PR and Social Media Firm:
- TRUST: Most PR firms have the agenda to be the company spokesman and strategic advisor – their agenda is to maximize the company and product exposure and reputation. I need a little more than their agenda, I need someone I can trust, run ideas by and ask them about things that I might not know. Knowing that my confidence with them will not be broken. Someone I can turn to in any situation.
- STRAIGHT TALK: One of the most important services is to have my PR team tell me when I have it wrong. Most PR firms don’t want to point out errors in my decisions – one of the worst ways to gain my confidence. I like having a PR partner who tells it like it is.
- BEEN THERE – DONE THAT: When I hire a PR and Social Media firm, I want someone who has the experience to get the job done, provide me strategic advice and exceeds my expectations. When my company, or I, come under attack by the media, I may feel overwhelmed and need a PR firm to put me in checkmate when I want to lash out. This is critical, I am hiring a professional who has dealt with these situations and know how to resolve the issue and how much time I should take in responding. I want them to help me make better decisions.
- SOCIAL MEDIA AND CONTENT MARKETING: I know that I need to be part of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social networks. I know that content marketing is critical to garnering new customers and retaining current customers. I want my PR firm to understand the lay of the social landscape with the ability to devise an effective social media strategy that complements our traditional PR efforts. They need to understand the social media ROI that equates to quality business leads, improved customer retention and loyalty, and improve customer satisfaction. Not to mention that I want to increase brand awareness and drive traffic to my website.
- EXECUTE: As a small emerging growth company with a tight budget, I need each piece of communications, whether it is PR or social media, to generate tangible results. I need a firm that delivers results and has a creative approach in developing communications with compelling message points. I want my company to stand out from the clutter.
- WINGMAN: I want a wingman with a different background than my own, with skills and experience to protect my blind side. I want someone who understands the importance of focus, discipline, integrity, teamwork, leadership, setting high standards in making a difference for my company. In short, I need someone to look out for me and respond when the vultures circle.
He concluded that the hidden value of an industry leading PR firm is their ability to get the company leaders in front of the industry leaders and influencers to shape the corporate message ensuring successful brand delivery.
Social media is now an integral part of every public relations campaign whether the company knows it or not. Maples Communications recommends and incorporates a layer of social communications into every client campaign. In my next blog I will speak to how social media integrates into the campaign and how easy it is for a client to manage the process.
Please let me know if you have more I should add to my client’s list of characteristics.
If your customer does a search for your company or products, will they find you?
It’s not a secret that customers increasingly go online to discuss products and brands, seek advice, and offer guidance. Yet it’s often difficult to see where and how to influence these conversations, which take place across an ever-growing variety of platforms, among diverse and dispersed communities, and may occur either with lightning speed or over the course of months.
As the marketing power of social media grows, it no longer makes sense to treat it as an experiment. Every company needs to harness social media to shape customer, whether consumer or business-to-business, decision making in predictable ways.
Everyone certainly knows what social media is. After all, if Facebook users constitute a country, it would be the world’s third largest, behind China and India. Company executives and marketing departments can even claim to know what makes social media so potent: its ability to amplify word-of-mouth effects. Yet the vast majority of management have no idea how to harness social media’s power. Companies diligently establish Twitter feeds and branded Facebook pages, but few have a deep understanding of exactly how social media interacts with customers to expand product and brand recognition, product preference, drive sales and profitability – engendering loyalty.
Many of the name-brand companies have quickly learned that social media works: 39 percent of companies surveyed by McKinsey & Company already use social-media services as their primary digital tool to reach customers, and that percentage is expected to rise to 47 percent within the next few years. Social media marketing is a rapidly changing environment, as we know. But the good news is that your customers are embracing social media as a normal part of their lives too. Even the over-50 population is adapting at a staggering rate.
How important is social media to the success of your business? Perhaps more so than you think. A study by Nielson consulting group on the state of social media in 2011 suggests that a smart online presence is more important than ever. Here are a few key considerations on why social media is important to your company and should be a critical part of your marketing programs:
- There are more than 800 million active Facebook users, with over 200 million added last year.
- Over 80 percent of all Americans use social media.
- Americans spend more time on Facebook than any other U.S. website.
- Nearly 23 percent of online time is spent on social networks.
- More than 90 percent of social network users start their shopping process online.
- Well over 50 percent of users write reviews of products and services online.
- Over 56 percent of marketers have acquired new business partnerships through social media.
- More than 60 percent of marketers saw improved search rankings
- YouTube generates 92 billion page views per month.
- LinkedIn has more than 161 million professional members.
- 4 out of 5 Internet users visit social networks and blogs.
- 50 percent of people follow brands in social media.
- 57 percent of companies acquire customers from blogging.
- The average Internet users spend 32 hour online every month.
The fact that social media can influence customers at every stage of the buying process doesn’t mean that it will in every instance. Depending on the company and industry, some touch points are more important to competitive advantage than others. What’s more, our work with dozens of clients adapting to the new social-media marketing environment strongly suggests that the most powerful strategies focus on a limited number of marketing responses closely related to individual touch points along the customer’s decision-making process.
Social media’s primary goal is to reach customers at the moments, or touch points, that influence their purchasing behavior. Social media is a unique component that influences customers at each and every stage, from when they’re pondering brands and products right through the period after a purchase, as their experience influences the brands they prefer and their potential advocacy influences others.
It is obvious a company should use social media as an integrated part of the company’s marketing efforts. If it is going to make an impact at your business, you will need a social media strategy with a focus on amplifying positive sentiment and activity, and to lead changes in the behavior and mind-sets of customers.
Should you re-vamp your social media efforts? Have you asked all the right questions? How will you quickly engage a social media program to have an impact on your customer’s buying process?
In Hollywood, the pinnacle of accomplishment is an Academy Award. In public relations and social media, it’s the PRSA Silver Anvil Award – the most prestigious honor a PR professional can achieve.The Silver Anvil, symbolizing the forging of public opinion, is awarded annually to practitioners who have successfully addressed a contemporary issue with exemplary professional skills, creativity and resourcefulness.
I am proud to say that Maples Communications has earned seven PRSA Silver Anvil Awards and one Bronze Anvil on behalf of our clients – more than any other PR/social media practitioner in Southern California.
Silver Anvils recognize complete public relations and social media programs. Winners incorporate measurable and sound research that identifies problems and opportunities; select effective strategies and tactics; effectively implement resources; and evaluate, identify, analyze and quantify results. These four areas represent the solid criteria by which senior practitioners judge each entry to ensure it meets the highest standards of performance in the profession.
Sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America – the world’s largest public relations and social media professional association – Silver Anvil Awards are regarded as the highest watermark of success for any public relations practitioner. There are 16 categories, reflecting the wide scope and valuable contribution of public relations today. Only one Silver Anvil is awarded in each category; no awards are given in categories where judges determine that the entries do not merit them.
For more than 60 years, this elite group of Silver Anvil winners has contributed to the public relations body of knowledge, forging the history of the profession by promoting and shaping best practices among all public relations practitioners.
I am privileged to be a part of a dynamic industry and a highly talented community of communications professionals. Naturally, peer respect and recognition are deeply rewarding; to be considered one of the “best” PR practitioners in the country seven times is a great honor. But it’s equally satisfying to share the spotlight with my clients. After all, ours is a close and collaborative partnership in which the rewards of hard work and commitment deserve to be shared.
Summaries of all seven of our PRSA Silver Anvil-winning campaigns, as well as the Bronze Award campaign, are available on the Maples Communications website. These summaries include research that identifies the issues and opportunities the programs address; complete plans listing objectives, strategies and target audiences for each campaign; descriptions of key tactics; and metrics for success.
Are you ready to make these winning strategies your own? It was an honor to win seven PRSA Silver Anvil Awards and it would be an honor to help you with a winning PR/social media campaign too.
Earning media coverage from traditional or social media provides a low-cost way to spread awareness for your business, so says Zack Cutler in an article he wrote for Forbes Magazine. Public relations and social media have other advantages, such as increased credibility for your brand and the opportunity to highlight media mentions in promotional materials.Entrepreneurs and small emerging growth companies with limited budgets should choose which marketing mix best suites their particular business. If implemented well, any marketing channel can be effective. Unfortunately, high costs are usually associated with strong campaigns.
The most powerful and cost effective marketing tools are public relations and social media. PR, the art of attracting media attention with a well presented story, and social media, the creation and sharing of relevant content, directly increases a brand’s target market visibility, which directly boosts sales.
What follows are some tips on a few key marketing essentials to create a dynamic and magnetic marketing communications program. These are what I consider the essentials for an entrepreneur and emerging growth company to consider in building value in the brand.
- A logo package: Whether it is software, hardware, bicycles or whatever, it always makes sense to develop a logo package that really packs a wow factor. Spend the money to have your logo done by a professional graphic artist – design a logo, business cards and letterhead. With the design elements that you get in the package, can give your business a real professional feel and look. It will be money well spent.
- Business cards – Many logo packages will provide a business card design. If you didn’t get one of those, you can pair the elements of your professionally-designed logo into a pre-designed business card template. Simply search Google for “creative business cards” and get some good ideas.
- Digital letterhead – If you have a great business card design, then you can cut and paste some of those design elements into a great looking digital letterhead that you can use to print memos and letters off of your desktop.
- E-mail signature – Now take your logo and create a killer signature. There’s a cool app out called WiseStamp that has great templates that will make your signature a digital contact information powerhouse.
- Website headers, banners and ads – Armed with a professional logo, you can create website and blog headers, banners and ads in a snap when using Microsoft Publisher. It is easy, but the images can come out slightly grainy. Instead, try using BannerSnack, an online website header and banner tool that is free and really easy to use.
Value Proposition: The top five compelling message points is like the little black cocktail dress of the marketing world. You can use it, modify it, and turn it into dozens of focused applications. Start with a list of the top 5 reasons your ideal customer should choose to do business with you. Include the top 5 points that differentiate you from your competition or the solution that solves your ideal customers’ problems. Write them in plain language, the way you would tell your best friend when helping him or her make a decision. Now you have a coherent marketing document that you can use internally and externally. Let me provide you a few recommendations on how you can use these 5 points:
- A marketing message summary - After your market research and market planning is done, the top 5 compelling message points and top 5 points of competitive differentiation summarizes your marketing message in a way everyone inside and outside your company can understand and also tell your story.
- Selling sheets – Turn these message points into selling sheets. Start by creating one sheet for each point and do a single sheet with all ten points. As you begin to penetrate different markets, you can customize these selling sheets as you mix and match the message points by customer industry, segments and product needs. The possibilities are endless and you keep your selling messages straight, consistent and on point according to your marketing plan.
- Blogs – These compelling message and competitive differentiation points make ideal blog posts. Use the document as a foundation landing page and then link out from within the article to products, services, customer testimonials and other forms of credibility and proof of your statements. Just like your selling sheets, make a point of writing articles that features each individual point that’s in your marketing message summary. Use those points as the foundation for everything you write about and you will never be at a loss for great brand-building content.
- Direct marketing – Use your message document to create direct marketing pieces that go out to key customers and prospects, have a call to action, and drive them to try and purchase additional products or services.
- Trade show exhibits – Identify the trade shows you will be attending and then use the marketing message summary as inspiration for your trade show marketing, including the exhibit, display, pictures, pre-show marketing, etc.
- Landing pages – If you have done a good job of segmenting your market and used your list to create one selling sheet, then you are ready to create website landing pages to drive these ideal customers through preference and purchase.
Optimize your Website/Blog. Your company website is your primary destination for customer call to action. It is your marketing ante. It should be simply and elegantly designed around the one thing you want your visitors to do. Make sure you’ve installed Google Analytics tracking code to your website (visit: www.google.com/analytics [http://www.google.com/analytics] for more information), and study your visitor behavior. Then, start making improvements to your website around what you’re seeing in the data. You need to continue developing relevant content that resonates with your audience if you want them to continue coming back.
You need to take care of the basics of usability, done with the appropriate keyword research, the posting of relevant content regularly for your target audiences, and do the basics of SEO across the site. With that said:
- Have metrics tracking in place – You need to make sure you sign up for Google Analytics. Seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed how many firms don’t take advantage of it. It offers more data than you may need, but you can’t beat the price.
- Write and distribute an SEO press release – This should be a business announcement with a focus on the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of your product or service. In other words, separate your company from the competition and position yourself as the industry leader. I recommend you use the same SEO copywriting techniques as you did for the web page – emphasizing the appropriate keywords, especially in the title and the beginning of the release. An SEO press release is an effective way to get your news distributed across the Internet news channels for generating market awareness, in-bound links for SEO and new visitors to your website.
- Submit the Website to the Internet Directories – Links are the fundamental building blocks of the Internet and Search Engine Optimization. Having links pointing to the site is what makes your company site visible and are vital to ranking high in the search engines. Submitting your company site to Internet directories like Open Directory www.dmoz.org and others is a great way to build a foundation of keyword optimized links and tap into a new source of qualified visitors.
- Company blogs (Management or Product) - There is nothing better to build natural search engine rankings and traffic than blogging. Blogs are the most powerful search engine optimization tactic available today. Now that you have the new website, several posts in place for each blog, you need to maximize the links and traffic for your blogging efforts and consistently post at least one and possibly two per week. Having a blog allows you to use the powerful “Blog and Ping” method of getting keyword optimized back links to your website for SEO and it’s also a good way to generate sustained traffic from the “Blogosphere.” You can accomplish this by creating a blog and submitting it to hundreds of blog directories such as Technorati, Furl, Digg, and others. Start with your value proposition:
- Use your logo package as design inspiration. You can easily integrate your logo into existing WordPress templates.
- Get a landing page plugin. A landing page plugin for WordPress integrates perfectly with a blog design and lets you convert your existing sales copy into an effective landing page.
- Re-purpose articles and marketing materials. Use your value proposition and your marketing materials as foundations for new blog articles. Interview customers, and write about problems you’ve solved or new products and services you are exploring.
- Create product pages oas landing pages. If you are selling products or services, create a landing page that features groups of products and then link out to articles or more information.
- Leverage your ‘expert’ articles – Taking your expert articles and presentations and getting them published on other sites is the ultimate online marketing strategy. They can be used for the following advantages:
- Generating one-way in-bound links for boosting company search rankings
- Attracting laser-targeted “ready-to-buy” visitors to the website
- Positioning the company as an expert in the various industries it participates
You can use an online article syndication websites to submit the company’s various whitepapers and case studies. In addition, you can use YouTube, SlideShare, Flickr and other network sites to place presentations, videos, images, and reviews with links back to your company website.
E-mail Marketing. Today’s e-mail marketing services such as Constant Contract, Mail Chimp or a Weber integrate with just about anything you throw at them. You can use them independently or you can integrate them inside a blog.
- Newsletters: Use your logo package to inspire the design. Use your WordPress blog articles to send out as newsletters. You can also create an original newsletter each month or just set the system to aggregate your blog posts and send them out in a newsletter format.
- Customer relationships: Group your customer lists and keep them informed about things that are important to them. You can pull relevant items from your value proposition and be sure to feature messages and specials to those customers that care about that the most.
- Surveys: These e-mail marketing systems also have simple survey features that you can take advantage of to ask your customers questions and tweak that top 10 list.
I could go on and on with ideas on what to do with a value proposition, WordPress blog, logo package and e-mail marketing service, but I think you get the idea. It doesn’t take a lot of time, money or content to create a powerful marketing program. PPC, press releases, blogs, online syndicated articles and presentations, and SEO are today’s most effective methods for generating a quick surge of immediate traffic to your website as well as long-term sustainable traffic for educating audiences and building awareness for the company. It takes time, but you need to consistently develop relevant information for your audiences, engage in the online communities, and be active with the company blogs.
What else do you need to know about building your brand and generating sales?
This is 3-of-3 in the “E-tail Content Marketing: Engaging Customers at the Point of Purchase” series of blog posts. A Content Marketing Program is designed to support the e-tailers by placing content at the point of the transactional purchase – a sale that does not require a sales person. The purpose of the content is to inform customers and prospects about what they should consider in making their decisions.
Today’s customers look everywhere for great, relevant content in order to make smart buying decisions. Therefore, they need content that makes them smarter and more knowledgeable. Companies that provide great content, in the right places, will win. Whereas in the past, customers were wary about information that didn’t come from a traditional media source, today’s savvy buyers can sniff out the good content from the bad, and they don’t mind if the information they engage in comes from your company.
There are many social media tools and social communities to choose from, and the list grows longer every day. By mixing your customer knowledge, your company objectives, and, frankly, your budget, you should be able to determine appropriate content mix using various social media tools. Remember, even though certain vehicles that I am about to introduce may prove to be the best options for your company, your content marketing efforts need to be well integrated with the content initiatives in my previous blog. A few more social media touch points for your consideration.
YouTube Channel: YouTube is the largest video sharing site to date and a perfect place for your company to establish a channel. The site receives the most traffic and the highest amount of users making it the definitive place for getting videos published and marketed. To maximize our video efforts and results:
Create compelling videos: You need to create content that addresses your audiences’ needs and wants (company content value proposition standards). The primary goal is to create videos that are helpful and compelling to our prospects and customers. Video content may consist of how-to’s, answers to frequently asked questions, expert interviews, screen video captures, slide shows, etc.
Make the videos findable: Videos often appear on the first page of search engines, and are a proven method of leap-frogging competitors to the top of the search results page – Google owns YouTube. To make your videos more findable, you need to do the following:
Title: You need to use targeted keywords in the first few words.
Description: Start the description with a full URL and be as description and keyword-rich as possible – we should not be stingy with our description.
Tags: You need to add any and all related keywords in the tag field.
Company YouTube Channel: You need to turn the YouTube channel into a destination.
Use annotations to build subscribers: You can add annotations to the Company YouTube channel videos that include clickable calls to action – they can include links to other videos, playlists or channels, or include subscription options.
Post a bulletin and alert friends and subscribers: You need to create a bulletin and a link to the videos that will appear on the subscribers’ and friends’ home page – this draws extra attention and traffic.
Leverage other social media platforms: Every time you post a new video, we should create a blog post around it, post it on Facebook to reach a wider video audience, Tweet it, and submit it to StumbleUpon.
By creating video content that resonates with the audiences, building up a branded channel and using bulletins and ads, you can greatly increase the return on the company’s investment in creating online videos.
SEO content: Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to techniques that help the website rank higher in organic search results, thus making the website more visible to customers who are looking for your products via search engines. You need to write content that your customers will find relevant and engaging. Aside from the topical nature of the content, the way format the web pages can have an impact on how the search engine bots digest our content. Every webpage you create should have a thought-provoking headline to grab the customer’s attention, and should also include the keyword or phrase that the webpage covers.
Title tags and Meta tags: Meta keywords consist of an additional text snippet in the HTML that allows you to list a few different keywords that relate to the webpage. Meta descriptions are usually the first place a search engine will look to find text to put under the blue link when they list the website in the SERP. The Meta description is limited to 150 characters.
Customer product reviews: Recommendations from like-minded buyers build shopper confidence. More than just star ratings, customer reviews connect shoppers to buyers who share their interests – driving engagement and sales. You can make these conversations easy and productive, using innovative social and SEO solutions. A few key points for customer reviews:
Drive Sales: Help shoppers make better decisions quickly.
Increase Traffic: SEO puts fresh information from quantified buyers directly on the product pages – where search engines can see it and shoppers can find it.
Generate more content: Consistently proven to drive higher levels of content volume and product coverage. The customer review process generates the critical mass of content needed to power meaningful social programs.
Syndicate across the social web: An open social commerce network puts us in complete control of our review content, making it easy to share our user-generated content to social networks and channel partners.
Contests – for product reviews and customer purchases from an e-tailer: One of the best ways to drive engagement and build word of mouth about the brand is to run a contest via social media. Launching quarterly contests will help you achieve specific marketing and sales goals. You can do contests with your e-tailers to buy your products from their site where customers will be entered into a contest with the chance to win a cool prize with friends and family. Also, we can run contests to garner reviews on the company website.
There are probably a fair number of ways to measure the program with Google analytics and other online analytical tools. We should manage these analytical tools, but we should focus on the numbers that give us the biggest impact on what we’re doing. Key expectations:
Increase transactional sales through your e-tailers without sales assistance.
Obtain customer product reviews.
Most popular content – determine which pages on the website and our e-tailers are getting the most traffic – create more content that resembles the most popular.
Execute e-tailer partner contest promotions for customers to buy products on their site – did it increase sales?
Execute quarterly product review contests to get customers to write product reviews.
Content marketing can always be measured if you have a clear understanding of your strategic communication objectives. Just keep it simple and answer the question, “How will we know that the content plan is working?” This should lead you directly back to your company goals. A company that invests in content without investing in the measuring of that content doesn’t truly believe in the content marketing initiative.
Are you implementing a content marketing program? How are you measuring your success?