The business press is full of stories about how small companies are using social channels to attract and engage customers. But while there are plenty of individual success stories, the confidence in what to do specifically is not always clear for small business owners that are strapped for time and online marketing resources.
I was talking with a small business owner recently who was lamenting not updating his website and also that his competition was showing up “all over the place” online. The nature of his product requires some education and an effort to dispell common mis-perceptions. The rapid advancements in technology of his particular product category are not very well known amongst his target consumer market. But there’s a substantial amount of search volume and interest in the solutions his product provides. He’s also a small business with limited time and budget.
To me, this was a classic opportunity for the power of persuasion through storytelling.
My tip for him was to start a blog that answered the most common questions prospects and customers ask. And to do so in a compelling way that his competitors were not: with video, images and text. Each new blog post would be another potential entry point to his website via Google and social networks where people share links. With 1 post a week, he’d have 52 more pages and videos on his website in a year, each offering interesting, useful content that could position himself above competitors. Along the way, he’d be able to gather insight from web analytics, social shares, comments and interactions with the blog posts to refine message effectiveness.
A few key questions to start with his blog content plan:
- Why do current customers buy your product? This can come from sales people and/or the business owner.
- What are the mis-perceptions & objections? Document the things that are education opportunities.
- What type of information helps them change perception? What are the tipping points from skepticism to confidence? Is it demonstration, 3rd party data, credibility of the company, word of mouth?
- Where do prospects look for information on this solution? Talk to sales people, look at website stats and any logged information about lead sources.
By answering these fundamental questions, this small business owner can create a blog content plan that specifically addresses the questions, concerns and triggers that will influence prospects to trust, buy and refer. Understanding the key features of the product most relevant to the target customer as well as prospect tendencies towards finding a solution of this type can literally translate into topics for him to write or talk about on the blog.
Those topics can be run through Google AdWords Keyword Tool to identify the keyword phrases that people are searching for most often. Relevant search phrases can inspire blog post and YouTube video titles, categories, descriptions and tags.
Some basic next steps might include:
- Set up a WordPress Blog, template and hosting (Genesis, StudioPress & Synthesis make this a no-brainer). Plan to write one blog post or publish/upload 1 video per week (2-3 minutes) that answers a key question prospects and customers ask. The video can be captured using an iPhone or other smartphone and iMovie can be used for editing. If you’re on PC, you can use Windows Movie Maker to edit the video. For people not comfortable just talking to a camera, have an employee ask the question(s) and answer them while being captured on video.
- Create a YouTube Channel and start connecting with other channels and video publishers on relevant topics, 5-10 min a day. After uploading a video, embed on the blog, and share on existing social channels like Twitter and Facebook as well as through email to existing customers or opt-in prospect list. Ashley posted some great examples of SMB Twitter promotion yesterday. When embedding the video on the blog, write a description of what is talked about in the video so search engines can make it easy for people to find.
The initial focus for a basic video and photo blog should be on getting used to the habit of creating useful content on a regular basis. I know many readers might be thinking that more substantial SEO and social media tactics should be setup as well, but without good content, social networking and optimization won’t work to convert prospects to customers anyway. Time is usually limited for small businesses, so getting a small base of content built is a great starting point.
Creating a cycle of listening for questions, answering them through content and refinement can go a very long way for small business content marketing. Once things are setup, 20-30 minutes per day can be spent interacting with blog comments and social networks. Establishing a feedback loop means you’ll always have ideas to blog or talk about. It also means you’re connecting with real people, interacting with them and providing something of value that they can share and act on.
In time other promotion channels can be added starting with Facebook, Twitter and Google+ as well as SEO best practices with more specific keyword research and link building. If the initial customer research identifies Twitter as a substantial opportunity, a Twitter Marketing strategy might be involved at the same time the blog and YouTube channel are created. The reason I’m keeping these suggestions simple and basic is that I know how much small business owners can get overwhelmed. As needs grow, outside online marketing consultants or training can always be used to speed things up.
What else? An email newsletter that re-purposes blog content and the Q/A that happens on Facebook, the blog and Twitter can be delivered to existing customers. Viewing every channel of participation as an opportunity to interact and share will help grow networks, trust and credibility as the “go to source” for the product category being promoted. It’s important to create value, but also to not lose sight that this is business. Don’t be afraid to suggest solutions or promote offers. Just do so in a relevant way.
Finally, make sure web analytics (Google Analytics is free) and basic social media monitoring (Trackur starts at $18/mo, search.twitter.com is free) are set up to assess how people are finding and interacting with blog content. Watch for trends in network growth like fans, friends and followers but especially with quality of interaction through comments, likes, shares and the effect on blog/website traffic that drives inquiries and sales.
For a lot of small business owners not used to online marketing, SEO or social media, these suggestions might be out of their comfort zone. But with the way consumer behaviors are changing and increased competition, getting out of the comfort zone and into a place where direct customer interactions drive content and inspire business outcomes is an essential investment.