2013: A Content Odyssey

If 2012 has left you slightly baffled about your marketing strategy and how social media fits in, then you’re not alone. Many small businesses will need to take stock and look at how they move forward in 2013 and where their time and efforts are best spent. However scary the modern marketing world may seem, if you break it down, these new elements are all simply channels through which you can, more easily than ever before, reach your target customers. Email was new once, remember? The difficult bit is creating the right content to put through these channels which will engage your targets and ultimately get them to spend their money with you.

For websites, content is always important and with developments in search engine technologies, such as Google Panda which lowers the rank of both low-quality sites and big user-contributed sites (e.g. eHow.com), quality content is a top priority. Job roles that didn’t exist two years ago will become commonplace, such as Content Developers/Editors, Web Copywriters, Community Managers and Brand Journalists. Small businesses should look to engage these skills from the creative services community to help them ride this next wave of marketing activity. There’s no need to employ an entire agency when one great freelancer will do.

Going mobile is also proving its worth as a business model. Whether this means optimising your current website and applications for mobile devices; enabling your workforce to work from anywhere; or indeed if your business model could work in its entirety as a mobile operation, is worth pondering over a pint. Perhaps a mobile application itself offers a better opportunity to expand your reach, either through app development, sponsorship or purchase. Consumers are app-crazy, downloading everything from apps that let users play games or read the news to those that enable mobile shopping or access to how-to advice. The key is to build apps consumers would be interested in or find enjoyable and market them appropriately. The existing and forecast statistics about mobile application downloads, revenue and developer take home figures make for eye-opening reading. So, where will 2013 and beyond take you and your company’s marketing strategy?

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Anxiety Reducers – Video Marketing

How often do you pick up your phone and shoot video without even thinking about it? Well, if you have young kids, you probably do it several times a weekend. Video is superb for many things (including keeping the grandparents happy), so why aren’t all small businesses taking advantage of this anxiety reducing medium?

Making videos used to mean big bucks, but not anymore. Here’s a few pieces of advice and links to help you make your first marketing video. This list is by no means exhaustive (I haven’t even touched on editing software for example), merely a taster to see that video is affordable, accessible and works.

  1. Making video is relatively easy and cost effective especially with the amazing technology in our smartphones, but sound quality is paramount for the end result to be watchable. Here the guys at Social Saturday Strategy show you a great way to get around the sound issue.
  2. Statistics show that adding video can significantly increase conversion rates and customer loyalty. (In case you need convincing!)
  3. Content can range from customer testimonials, product demonstrations, dialogues or monologues, but make sure the message is right and supportive of your marketing strategy. Have a look at these ‘how to’ guides for help with structure and objectives.
  4. Finally (for now), how do you get your video out to people once it’s made? Well, make sure it works on your website (homepage or landing pages, depending on your strategy) and, again from Social Saturday Strategy, get your video viewed.

I’d love to hear from you about your video dos and don’ts or examples of where it has really worked for your business, so leave your comments below.

The good, the bad and the ugly things about holiday…

The good…going on holiday.

The bad…realising you haven’t written any blog posts and scheduled them to go live whilst you’re away.

The ugly…wondering if scheduling posts and updates to happen whilst you’re away is a good idea for a small business/sole trader? Does it make you look good that you’re always available and online? Or potentially damaging because you look like you’re there and contactable when you’re actually not. Discuss…

Should I run my business through Google?

Whilst researching webhosting options and working on another WordPress site, my thoughts turn to Google. Can I…? Should I…? Who else does…? …Run a business through Google?

When I say run a business, I mean my online presence and communications. Well for £3.30 per user per month it appears I can have my cake and eat it. Google Apps for Business seem to do everything a small business could want. Email, websites, calendars, video chat, groups, documents, mobile sync and more. You can even start with the free version if you don’t need it all and have under 10 users (which is more likely for me for now).

I’ve had my gmail account for a few years and have never had a problem accessing or using email. Now with Google+ and other things I’m running through it, such as adwords, reader etc, I genuinely believe that as Google works so well, then why not use it for business? Now, I’ve just got to convince the others and I’ll let you know how it goes!

Most writing sucks – 5 ways to stop it

I’ve just read Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. It didn’t take long. It’s certainly more a novelty gift than a book, so don’t get your hopes up for anything revolutionary and read the reviews before parting with your money.

Why am I telling you this? Well, whether it’s a novel, a magazine article, or a company website, a lot of writing I read today sucks. It’s often carelessly written with a lack of understanding of audience engagement. So, I want to share a few basic things I’ve learnt over the years of writing press releases, case studies, websites and tweets, in the hope that it prevents silly mistakes and sloppy writing slipping into small business:

1. Spell check everything (just make sure what country your spell check is set to if you’re not sure when it should be a z or an s).

2. Grammar and punctuation still matter even in tweets, blogs and websites. Don’t fall into the trap of text speak – it’s not becoming of a professional business.

3. As much as possible, use active rather than passive language. For example: ‘I write’ rather than ‘I am writing’. An easy way to look for this is to check words ending in _ing and replace them with the more active form of the word. It may mean adjusting the sentence structure, however this is almost always beneficial to the flow of the copy.

4. Read your copy out loud. Always. See where you stumble and rewrite as necessary.

5. Avoid jargon and buzzwords. Read it to your gran or your ten year old. If they don’t get it, it may be poorly written. Complex concepts can be explained in plain English for anyone to understand with the right wording.

That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll think up some more and let you know in due course.

To tweet or not to tweet?

I’ve spoken to quite a few people recently, both here and in Germany, about why Twitter is such a useful tool. Now, don’t get me wrong, some individuals may never want to get involved in the tweeting world, but if you’re in business, then there are undeniable benefits.

As of February 2012, Twitter has 200 million* members. Not quite as many as Facebook’s 845 million*, but it’s a different media and should be treated in a different manner. It’s less about friends and more about engaging with strangers with common interests – and listening out for business opportunities.

I say ‘listening’ because for small businesses this is how you start on Twitter and how you effectively engage with Twitter users. Before you begin to tweet yourself (writing updates in 140 characters or less), use the search function, put in your keywords, competitor names, your name, follow trends (#) etc, and get a feel for what’s being said in your industry or locality. Just like when we first started using the internet for search, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find on Twitter. I’ve learnt a huge amount about my local area by following businesses and local folk and found activities for the kids which I probably never would’ve seen before. It’s all there in my Twitter feed, easy to read and instant. Fantastic.

The below video is from Yell and features BusinessZone.co.uk‘s editor Dan Martin explaining how to use Twitter to promote your business. It’s concise and useful, so have a look. If you’d like to have a look at my top tips too, that’d be great!

*data from comScore