Founded in 2004 with $14 and a dream, Imagine is an integrated marketing, branding and design firm that combines Northern Virginia’s flair for innovation with Chicago’s warm personality and West Coast creativity. We’re an industry-leading group of problem solvers that believe that marketing can’t truly be effective unless it’s integrated, and handled by dedicated experts in each field.
Facebook company pages have been around for a while now – long enough for us marketers to start to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t. What we’ve learned is what we’ve expected to see; the successes on Facebook have been those who do what just makes sense. In fact, the rules for Facebook success are more of what not to do than tips on what to do. By disciplining your page admins on these tips, you’ll be able to build not only likes, but also active fans.
1. Provide value to your audience. Think of what you as a visitor look forward to seeing when you log on. The posts you put on your page need to be enjoyable, even if you step outside of industry expertise every now and then. Our most popular post on the Imagine page was a meme on The Princess Bride – who would’ve known?
2. Build a conversation. Some pages – namely ones from news sites – achieve a lengthy list of comments by posting scandalous news. Unfortunately, it works. You don’t need to take that route; the idea here is to introduce an interesting topic, or to ask a question about things your audience cares about. It could be community-, industry-, or even 80′s cartoon-related. The goal here is to increase dialogue with your fans; building involvement, shares, and ultimately, more fans.
3. Stay interesting. When you post, ask yourself if it’s something that you’d like to see? If not, can it. On that note, it’s important that you post news and start conversations that focus on their interests, not yours. Sadly, it may be much less about how great your company is, and more about what’s going on in the world outside of it (politics, weather, etc.).
4. Post regularly. Daily status updates are an ideal minimum. Don’t get carried away, though – no one goes on Facebook to get a feed full of one company’s content. And very few people read lengthy text updates; so don’t be afraid to keep it short.
5. Lay off the jargon. While a select few may get what you’re talking about, the idea is to make the page welcoming to a broader audience. The fewer acronyms, the better.
6. Use your Insights. Test out types of content (news vs. commentary vs. pop culture, etc.) and review the time of day you post. Facebook makes this information readily available, and you can further your research with Google Analytics when sharing pages or blog articles from your own site. While most companies experience a greater amount of engagement in the evening, yours may not be the case. Try different times and days of the week to find your sweet spot.
Finally, understand that your audience is in complete control of the success of your page. By nurturing a strong, active following, you’ll be able to turn your Facebook company page into a strong marketing machine.
The role of PR in small business typically comes up between “sometimes” and “never”; usually, it’s only important when the businesses wants to diffuse a disaster. And it’s a shame, because it can make a huge difference in the growth of the business. For small businesses, it’s hard enough to find the time to promote your business, much less afford a large agency to manage it. Some owners just need a couple tips to get them started, so we’ve put together a few tips to point you in the right direction.
1. Be mindful of your timing, particularly when you’re leveraging social media. While most small businesses tend to release news during the day, they’re doing so when their audience isn’t watching. Check your Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, etc. to verify this, but most people are on social media at the very end of the day, and into the evening.
While we’re on the topic of social media, let’s mention this concept known as “trending”. While everyone has their own individual area of focus (sports teams, recipes, cat videos, etc.), there are always trending topics – news items or issues of global discussion – that dominate the social media universe. You can learn quickly what the majority of people are talking about just by being active. Stay on top of the news and comment on what’s relevant. It’s a great way to get into the global conversation.
2. Cross-publish your press releases and news placements. Pin the images from your online press releases to Pinterest. Link to media placements in email marketing blasts (mid-week is best for delivering them), and merge your social media accounts to your email marketing platform or press release service. This will ensure that you’re getting the largest distribution for the release. For an offline strategy, send a highly relevant placement in trade publications to potentially interested clients. As critical as the internet is to business, not everyone is tuned in all the time.
3. Don’t send press releases out on the cheap. Free press release services are fine for building links for SEO, but not for attracting the media. Go with PRWeb, or another company that is reputable and has a solid reach to establish that.
4. Keep an eye on your online reputation. for small businesses, the maxim “any publicity is good publicity” doesn’t apply. Keep an eye on your reviews and search results, and address issues that arise, as they arise. Letting a bad review sit for any period of time looks like an avoidance. Even if you haven’t remedied the situation that caused the bad review, by addressing it quickly with your plans of resolution, you can diffuse skepticism and turn a bad situation into a sign that you actively address your company’s issues.
5. Be human. It may almost seem that this need not be mentioned, but I can’t tell you how many business owners go into “corporate robot mode” when they’re creating content for their website, brochures or otherwise promoting their business. No one wants a generic pitch or an uptight business experience. Show your personality. Be professional, but relaxed. The language you use, the interaction you have online, and the overall message your company delivers lets your market know whether or not you’re someone they want to do business with. Think about it; do you want to work with a bland, boring, stodgy business? Exactly. No one else does either.
Finally, keep it consistent. Staying attractive to media outlets and search engines through press releases, fresh content on your blog, social media and news/press pages will increase their interest. Seriously, we’ve been placed and covered in articles just for being visible.
Your company’s brand is an experience, not just a series of pretty sales pieces.
Many AEC firms still cling to the notion that their brand is simply a logo, website, the business cards and brochures. Coincidentally, these are also the majority of the firms that have an extremely short backlog and trouble establishing a presence in the marketplace. Some companies, however, realize that their brand is at work in every single point of contact the public has with their company. They realize that a brand is more like an ongoing opinion, held solely by the customer and only navigated by the company though touchpoints, strategy and the aforementioned marketing tools.
A well-executed brand will ensure a positive experience of these critical interactions:
- How do they find out about your firm?
- What are their first impressions when visiting your website?
- How do you plan to engage prospects at your website, trade show booth, etc. and convince them to get in touch with you?
- What will convince them that you are experts in your field?
- When they become customers, what type of experience will they have?
- What experience do you provide when they encounter problems with your product?
Paying attention to these moments in courting a new customer become even more critical when you only have a 5-6 month backlog. As competitors start lowering their prices, your once “valuable” service can quickly lose its perceived value. Even the strongest customer relationships can dissolve when budgets are tight. If your brand is overlooked, and the above interactions are not tended to, you are left to compete mainly on price. This causes even the largest and most established companies to focus on undercutting each other into bankruptcy.
Quality of work can become homogeneous to the typical customer, so your real leverage is through the experience, which does not have to cost an exorbitant amount of money. As technology makes your company more accessible through websites, third-party articles, blogs and reviews, the customer experience is increasingly being molded by social media. What fuels social media? Customer interactions. What fuels customer interactions? Your brand.
You see, it’s far more than a logo and some flashy business cards.
I understand that, with this list, I may be shooting myself in the foot. After all, dispensing this advice is how I’m accustomed to making a living. However, I feel that underutilized knowledge is the same as lack of knowledge, and I can only help but so many people from nine to five. With that said, I would like to offer a brand strategy to the budget-impaired that will cost you little or nothing to set up. Use it for your business, your personal life, your bowling league, whatever – and feel free to leave your ideas.
- Consider consistent branding. Put plainly, make sure that the design of your web & print collateral carry the same theme. In the world of sales, it’s wise to expect ten touches with your target market before you can expect a sale; ten different times that your company is presented, either in print, radio, press, etc. Each time you use a piece that doesn’t offer a visual reminder of previous attempts, you are starting over. I’ve seen this often when businesses market on a tight budget, while they wonder why they have to stay on a tight budget.Changing photography is expected. Varying layouts are expected. But each piece should be consistent in color palette, typeface, and representation of your company’s name – in other words, your logo.
- Find your message. Creating an elevator speech seems simple, but when many entrepreneurs are tasked with summing up their business is 30 seconds, they end up stammering and stumbling and offering nothing memorable or unique. Avoid yourself a missed opportunity and develop your own. Start with figuring out what you do that your competitors don’t – do you offer an underserved market? Do you give quicker results? Is it convenience? Is it price? Figure out what makes you different and go from there. Customers won’t realize they need you unless that need is recognized and solved by you.
- Craft your message. Now that you have a clear offering, put it in words for your website, brochure, etc. If you’re not an experienced writer, don’t go it alone. There are far too many freelance writers starving for work – do you both a favor and get the job done right. You’ll see that working with a professional makes a difference.Make sure that your message is clear, simple and honest. I can’t stress this enough. If you say that you offer a friendly, high-class experience, deliver on that promise every single time, regardless of circumstances or budget. You never know who’s talking about you the next day.
- Broadcast your message. Submit articles (with the blessing of your handy copywriter) to local trade publications and websites. They are both typically hungry for new perspectives and content. I do advise, however, that if you want to go after regional and national exposure, it’s best to work with someone that knows how to get their attention. In other words, call me. Workshops are an underutilized resource, particularly if you have a lot of peers in complementary industries. If someone in your circle has suitable space, it costs you almost nothing. If you have pinpointed your niche from #2, you can easily offer a seminar that will draw your target market. Advertise it on social networking sites, trade websites, etc. It’s an easy way to gather potential customers and partner with colleagues in your industry that can pay in dividends many times over. I’m assuming that, by this point, you have an effective website. If not, stop this list now and get one. In other words, call me.
- Grow your brand. As your exposure and reputation grow, it’s time to take it to the next level. A couple things to consider are:
- Appearances on local talk shows, newspaper columns, local radio – which are always looking for expertise.
- Walking tradeshows. Not only will you run the risk of gaining a client, but you may also learn a few things about their industry that will help you serve them better.
Let’s face it, anyone with an internet connection and a pulse is aware of the profound impact that social media is having on our lives. I feel that traditional media has run its course, having become more of a business than a resource. Besides, with our recent advances in technology, news can travel quicker than ever without the need to wait for 5 o’clock. True, there are those that consider it to be a fad. I’m sure they’re still waiting for this whole internet thing to pass, too. If anything, social media will evolve with us and it’s a good idea to figure it out now.
With that said, I have to admit that I’ve become a bit obsessed with this abundance of information and immediacy. With iGoogle as my home page, with its Tetris-like construction of various RSS feeds I’ve gathered from my travels, I maintain active accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace – all of which are also accessible by my cell phone. I increasingly feel tethered; parasitically inseparable from my window to the world.
It even causes issues with my workday; as many can relate to. If you’re tempted to start a farm, crime enterprise, zoo or vampire war on Facebook – while maintaining a full-time job – I advise you to resist. Your plants, pets, prostitutes and various other dependents will need your support throughout the day, which can kill your focus on the real world. It takes serious and thoroughly unnecessary discipline at times to abstain, and often, I fail.
Social media certainly isn’t helping my social life, either. I feel creepy chatting with anyone because I feel like I’m interrupting them. Even a moderate amount of direct contact with anyone online makes me feel like a stalker, so I try to keep a distance. I call it social (media) anxiety. It’s so ironic how, as we break old communication barriers, new ones seem to take shape.
I’m not quite sure what’s next in the evolution of social media, but I know what’s next for me. I’m going to sign off, tuck my daughter in and go over anniversary plans with my wife. Those are a couple forms of communication that I hope we never lose.
Yesterday, a good friend of mine led me to what could possibly be the sign of corporate web sites to come. It turns out that Skittles no longer has a full web site. It’s now a floating widget, about the size of a large banner ad, that displays links that open in your internet browser.
Kudos on the design idea, but here’s where it gets really interesting.
Their “Home” page is now their Twitter page. Their “Friends” page is now their Facebook page. Their “Media” page is…you guessed it, YouTube. Their legal information has been reduced to a paragraph of aptly titled “gobbledygook”. This leads me to wonder, has the Skittles brand just gotten lazy?
I decided to take a look at the website of their parent company, Mars, Inc.. There I discovered that the scarcity of brand experience is not the method of choice. In fact, what you get is a slow-loading flash site with an interactive globe that longs to present a deluge of things I really don’t care about. It does, however, tell me more about the Skittles brand than I can squeeze out of Skittles.com. It’s a bit hard to find at first due to the masssive amount of content, and definitely something you have to search for, but it’s there.
After a bit more research, I read that Mars is buying Wrigley, another cavity-inducing behemoth. Many of the Wrigley brands, such as Big Red and Life Savers, don’t have web sites (seriously, Google it). This discovery leads me to believe that there may be some hidden genius driving the candy industry towards this new design.
Consider where you come across these brands in the real world. Is it the candy aisle? Rarely. The candy store? Hardly. The candy restaurant? I wish. The truth is, they have to encounter you, usually in the checkout aisle, where you stand and wait with little else to do but endure your children’s pleas for Skittles. That same logic is now being used online: don’t wait for the customer to find you; instead, go where the customer is. Social media is turning the gears and keeping the content fresh, current, and relevant; thus creating a more effective (not to mention less expensive) web presence.
Under new light, his approach makes perfect sense. Long-gone are the days of teenagers going to play flash games on websites in computer lab. Instead, they’re updating their Twitter status, and Skittles is showing it’s awareness to it. I’m now interested to see how it’s used in other industries. I find that more and more major-label bands are dropping the expense of promoting via web site for a the dierct functionality and traffic of a simple MySpace page. I can’t wait to see how Wal-Mart tries this.
Until then, let’s reminisce to what was, shall we? Here’s a link to a time when Skittles had a home. Enjoy!