The opportunity inherent in social media for even the smallest SME to compete on a level playing field is a good news/bad news scenario: The good news is that the fundamental steps to a proper internet marketing strategy are generally simple and inexpensive; the bad news is that, once implemented, consistent maintenance and input are required.
But if you can muster the necessary discipline (or can afford to hire staffers), a few simple rules and tips can form a solid foundation for greater popularity online, where “likes” are readily translated into business success.
What makes a foundation for solid networking through social media?
- Blogging. For years, Customer Relations Management (CRM) advisors have touted the usefulness of blogs as the single cheapest form of CRM available. Unlike Twitteresque microblogging, the longer format is proof that a real person is involved in the business and cares enough to engage a potential customer with substance.
- Facebooking. Let’s face it: You’re on it, your old high school classmates are on it, your old high school *teachers* are on it, your aunts and uncles are on it, Shaquille O’Neal’s on it … everyone’s on Facebook. So should your enterprise. A nice-looking, simple and informative Facebook profile can be created in under an hour and getting your friends to “like” builds that profile within 24 hours without effort. Later in the game, Facebook is quite useful for promotional purposes, e.g. contests and giveaways – consider this a short-term investment of time that will pay dividends later.
- Tweeting. That stuff about Facebook and how everyone’s on it? Well, Twitter isn’t *quite* so ubiquitous, but it’s great way to leverage social media to make a reputation and garner information in your specific field. First step after creating a Twitter account: “Follow” anyone and everyone remotely related to your business sphere; early on, you’ll also want to do a lot of…
- Retweeting, an excellent (and easy) way to create an informative feed at first.
- Commenting. Everywhere. Your enterprise specializes in a very specific niche? Fantastic – you’re in perfect position to become an online expert. Register for forums concerning your field and build a fact-centric profile (Including a picture! A company logo will do if you like) immediately. In future, you’ll want to visit these forums and comment relevantly where possible – it’s another great reputation-builder, especially since so many websites are directly connected to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.
Now the observant reader may have noticed that each of the above subject headers are expressed as continuous verbs: This implies that action is continually required in social media! None of this social network groundwork will be of value unless it is maintained; the realities of the lightning-quick internet age has created an audience that demands new insights, information and offers around the clock.
Social networking may be inexpensive in money terms, but the entrepreneur must be prepared to invest the resource of time into this interesting and powerful opportunity.
What is branding? From a pragmatic 21st-century entrepreneur’s perspective, it’s becoming nearly everything. As a greater percentage of commerce becomes based in virtual services, an effective logo and/or website name can make or break an SME.
However, the mysteries of SME branding are ultimately not that complex and the answers to such questions may actually be found in the terms themselves. The much-cited American Marketing Association definition informs us that a “brand” is “a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”
Meanwhile, the Entrepreneur.com “encyclopedia” tells us that “branding” is “the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.
The keywords in both are obvious: Branding is all about *identification* of unique qualities and *differentiation* of one product/line from the others. Easier said than done, you say? Not to worry: Most of the basic techniques are straight out of Marketing 101; a good list of tips to establish branding and keeping it healthy run below.
• The logo. With online culture making information intake increasingly visual in nature, the logo has become more crucial than ever. No one can teach inspiration, but note that all logos may essentially be reduced to two types: Word-based and image-based. As an SME, you’ll want to accentuate the image and make it iconic. Avoid abstract stuff: Nike can use the “Swoosh” because their marketing budget runs in the millions annually; the average SME doesn’t. Choose/create an image that imparts what you do as precisely as possible.
• The USP. Here’s the “differentiation” bit. The SME must address and sharply define its Unique Selling Proposition. Such a USP should be short and concise enough to serve as a company slogan or at very least a mission statement. And remember: Be exciting and active. “We provide marketing services for the SME” is bad. “Our expertise in cutting-edge marketing techniques can grow your SME dynamically” is good.
• Writing. With online self-publishing made so easily online and niche markets so readily accessible, start producing text that demonstrates the expertise and ideas behind product/line/SME. Quite popular at present are industry white papers and eBooks (downloadable from the branded website); a single good lengthy document can extend the brand’s shelf life for far longer than daily blog posts.
• Podcasting. Podcasts are simple, fun and an incredibly good way to get that brand out there. Even the most techno-illiterate can learn how to record and mix down a podcast in one hour or less, and each podcast puts your brand at the forefront of a potential customer’s mind for the length of show.
• Working in real life. Believe it or not, the internet hasn’t wiped out old-fashioned business dealings. Personal appearances at industry conferences and event sponsorships can assure that your brand enters the public consciousness – and stays there. A single name-dropping of a branded website in a business meeting or lecture is worth tens of hours of SEO optimization for that site.