If your brilliant idea is summed up with this phrase, I don’t need a crystal ball to predict some disappointment in your future. Social networking shares some unconformable similarities to casual gaming. The biggest and most problematic issue is simply that it looks easy to the observer.

Let’s consider a good case in point. We’ll call them “Irritated Avians.” You hear from someone that this particular little offering has popped up overnight and is making millions its first month. So you take a look at it – bright, simple graphics that look like they could be from a flash banner (or from a bin of toddler-safe toys at your local department store).

I’m sure I could do better than this, you think. I just need to add in a few clever little bits, and I’ll be a millionaire before the week’s out.

Welcome to the second similarity between social networks and casual games. There is an endless list of imitations that won’t ever see the light of day. No matter how many looping sparrows or green sunbursts get tacked on.

Any social networking system, no matter how small, is a sustained chain-reaction. (Note, I did not say self-sustaining.) This “Networking Fission” can be extremely powerful. The success stories all read like the mix of one “brilliant” idea with the magic of the network made success inevitable. No one tells or listens much to the other stories. All the countless fizzles and flops, the forgotten and the never known. But, you should.

That is, if you’re still interested, after this much gloom and (hopefully) disillusionment. Social networking isn’t easy, but it can be worth it.

In moving ahead with a social media idea, you will be fighting the twin opponents of ignorance and indifference. (Not exactly easy going on you your first day). In other words, nobody knows, and more importantly, nobody cares. If you want to win against these two issues, you’ll need a game plan, and a good one.

I’ll help you get started. Are you ready?

“Hit fast and pull hard”

That’s it. Whatever details you’re thinking of now are going to change. “No plan survives contact with the enemy” (Helmuth von Moltke) as the conventional wisdom goes. Getting out there fast is the first concern.

Start with the simplest painfully pruned down version of your concept that you can imagine. The Minimum Viable state, as the jargon goes. This step of the process is a tough one. The big guys have so much more flash and all those features. But remember the words of John Gall: “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.”

What you need now is metrics (and a moderate ad campaign) to start the long hard haul of taking those precious few starters and building them into the community that will sustain the reaction. Watch closely and move fast. Every complaint, every quit, every time the site is used, every when, where, how, etc., can and must inform your site into something worth sticking around for.

In the end, if your first venture into a social media project falls short, take the feedback you received and apply it to your next idea. Success lies in paying attention to the details, so you don’t want to ditch all the data that your first project allows you to collect.

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and More Sales in Your Pocket

One of my co-workers recently had a business lunch with a few different people. One of the guys at the lunch ordered a salad with chicken. When the waitress brought out his salad, it was truly a sore sight to see. The salad with chicken had lots of lettuce and other goodies on it but only TWO PIECES of chicken, along with one piece of pure gristle. He showed the salad to everyone at the table, asking for verification, “Don’t you think a salad that comes with chicken should have more chicken on it?” The consensus was unanimous – there was absolutely NO DOUBT that the salad should come with more than two pieces of chicken.

He called the waitress over to bring the issue to her attention. She balked at his request for more chicken. She questioned why he should get more chicken; she initially wasn’t going to do anything about it. Finally, she agreed to take it back to the cook and let him determine if he neglected to put enough chicken on the salad. When she brought the salad out again, it had more chicken.

What was the disconnect here? How could a table full of people come to one conclusion, but the waitress wouldn’t jump on board? You could say that the waitress was simply backing up some unwritten restaurant guidelines on being stingy with patrons. But that wasn’t the case. What happened is that he changed his approach, his sales pitch, if you will, when he talked with the waitress. With his lunchmates, he took the time to show them the salad – the two measly pieces of chicken and the piece of gristle (yum). When the waitress came out, he didn’t do that. He simply told her, “I want more chicken on my salad.” Throughout his back-and-forth with her, he never showed her the salad. He just kept reiterating that he wanted more chicken on his salad.

Perhaps he’d done his show-and-tell spiel enough times with everyone else at the table that he didn’t think he needed to go through it again. Since everyone at the table agreed with him so quickly, perhaps he thought the issue was obvious enough that it didn’t need any kind of visual accompaniment. Regardless, the point is that he didn’t sell his case to the waitress.

That often happens with us in business. The benefit of our services seem so obvious to ourselves that we fail to accurately represent those benefits to potential clients. They come, listen to our spiel, and leave without signing a contract. And then we scratch our heads and wonder why.

The chicken salad incident simply serves as a reminder that with EVERY potential client we have to SHOW them the benefits of working with us. We can’t just assume it will be obvious to the client. How can you show the benefits? Well, it’s different for different businesses. However, here are some of the ways that Digital Dogs communicates with potential clients:

– Before and After snapshots of websites

For some reason, people seem to appreciate a web redesign only if they see how horrible the website looked BEFORE the redesign.

– Free Demos
We built an awesome app that sells itself rather easily once people see it in use. Scheduling a demo with a potential client can sometimes be difficult, but give them some incentive. Offer a Starbucks card if they’ll sit through a demo (mmm…coffee).

– Sample Reports
It always seems to help people see the kinds of results that current clients have received, and reporting works well for this purpose, especially for our SEO customers. We like to use actual client reports – not just mocked up samples – but we always make sure to get client permission before showing their reports to other companies.

These are just some of the ways that Digital Dogs tries to show, and not just tell, potential clients about our services. We realize we can improve with our methods, and that often we don’t utilize all the tools we have at our disposal.

What about your company? What are effective ways you’ve found for marketing yourself to potential clients?

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The social media world of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn consists of MILLIONS of users. In fact, over 80% of all U.S. residents use a social network account on a regular basis. Check out how much time Americans enjoy spending on social sites:

Nielsen found U.S.users spend nearly 10x more time on Facebook than Twitter or LinkedIn.

Despite the popularity of these websites, only 44% of small businesses actively use social media to connect with their consumer base. Businesses who fail to target social media users are missing out on the opportunity to engage with an active, influential consumer base. For most small businesses, the culprits for lack of online activity include:

Lack of time (With a small business, you already wear many hats. Adding another role to your repertoire can seem overwhelming)
Lack of knowledge (You know you SHOULD use social media site, but you just don’t know WHAT you’re supposed to do)
Lack of an audience (You have a boring business (no offense), such as cable manufacturing, and you don’t think people would really be interested in hearing from you.

In this blog post, I’m mainly going to address the second bullet point; I’ll touch on the third one in a follow up post. As for the issue of time – the first bullet point – oftentimes, we don’t make time for things we’re unsure of how to do. In fact, these kinds of projects actually seem like a waste of time. After all, if you’re sitting in front of Twitter, twiddling your thumbs for 20 minutes, trying to figure out what to say, you might just stop in frustration because you feel like you’re wasting your time (which, if you’ve twiddled your thumbs for 20 minutes, I’d agree: you’re wasting your time.). However, if you know HOW to do a task, you’re more likely to make time to get it done, because you know what you need to do and how long it’s going to take.

The biggest roadblock for many small businesses is knowing what to post – whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Do people really want to know what you had for lunch? (The answer is NO. People do NOT care what you and your employees had for lunch. Unless, of course, you’re a restaurant owner crafting new creations to put on your menu. In which case, please, feel free to show your audience what you’re working on). However, your everyday business interactions often provide you with some materials for postings.

For instance, a couple months ago, Digital Dogs had the opportunity to give a presentation at a local SCORE seminar. It was great – we had good feedback from the audience and it even provided us with a couple of business leads. Apart from that, we were able to take some video of the presentation and post that online. Here’s a clip that we took:

Oh, wait. We completely had the BEST intentions to take some video and post it online, but we were in such a rush to get to the presentation on time that we completely forgot once we were there. But, that’s okay. We were able to grab some pictures on our phones, and we could post these photos online:

Oops – we forgot to take pictures, as well. Well, at LEAST we were able to post on Facebook and Twitter about the event and let everyone know how it went.

Except, we didn’t do that either. We had a great opportunity to leverage this event on social media sites, and WE DID NOT. Regardless, such an event provides great material for updating your company’s online profiles. Learn from our (poor) example, and you might start viewing events through the lens of marketing potential that they have online.

Here are some things that you might be able to use for social media fodder:

– Speaking events and conferences (whether you’re speaking or just attending)
– New products or services you’re rolling out
– News in your industry (newly published studies, developments, etc.)
– Anniversaries (Did your company just celebrate its 5-year anniversary? Let people know!)
– New staff acquisitions
– Charitable work
– Etc. (The following blog post will give more ideas that fall under the Etc. category)

The main goal of posting regularly to social media sites is to show your customers and other people in your industry that you’re a resource of information – a true expert – in your industry. To avoid overkill on any one topic, make sure to mix up the things you post about. After all, even if your company does a lot of charity work, people will get sick of hearing about it, if it’s all you post about and they feel like you’re bragging.

Apart from know WHAT to post, you also have to make the time to do it. It’s okay if you’re not perfect about posting – trust us, we know how easy it is to let good opportunities slide on by. However, once you get into the mindset and the habit, you’ll be able to see the positive impact that some good social media communications can have on your business.

Look out for the next blog post, in which we’ll discuss how you can market even the most BORING businesses through social media.

Image source: http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/26-promising-social-media-stats-for-small-businesses/

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…or How to Keep Your Website Development under Control

Everybody loves the The Cat in the Hat – well, maybe not EVERYbody, but we’ll just pretend that most people have good taste. Think about the character the Cat in the Hat – he’s fun; he’s energetic; and he owns an awesome hat (you can buy one here, if you’re so inclined). Plus he has some really fun things – Thing 1 and Thing 2, just to mention a few.

But if you take a moment to think about the Cat in the Hat, he’s actually not that great. That Cat is a MESS. Imagine having the Cat in the Hat at your office every day. Productivity would probably come to a standstill – unless your company defines productivity as juggling and running around with kites.

That said, the Cat in the Hat actually does pop up in work environments all the time. Seriously, he’s standing behind me right now. Watching every word I type. It’s actually kind of creepy. Oh, nevermind, that’s just my co-worker Tim dressed up in a cat suit.

Anyway…I’m not lying when I say that the Cat in Hat shows up in the work place, though it would probably be more accurate to say that the spirit or attitude of the Cat in the Hat shows up. We see it all the time in the web development projects we do. A client has a plan, an idea, that we map out. It’s perfect – until the client decides to throw in some milk and cake, a few books, and a fish on rake. Not to mention a toy ship with a little toy man. But that’s not all – oh no! Then they actually ask us to hop on a ball. Not much, just a few little hops here and there. Surely we can do it. There’s no way we can fall.

It’s completely DO-ABLE, if you know anything at all.

This blog is not a rant about client projects – I promise. Instead, what I want to do is give you a couple of tips so your website turns out as awesome as possible without causing you (many) frustrations or headaches. Here are 2 things that will make your web development project (or any project) easier for you:

1. Stay Focused
2. Keep Your Team under Control

1. Stay Focused

– Make a list of everything that NEEDS to be on your website. If you sell products online, then clearly a shopping cart is a must.
– Make a list of things you would like to have – features that help the end users but aren’t actually necessary for your business to function online.
– Keep a running list of new features you would like to add that occur to you during the web development process (after the initial contract or proposal has been signed).

Keeping this list will not only help keep your goals clearly in sight, but it will help you keep your budget under control. Perhaps there are some website features you would like to have, but they drive the cost up too high. For instance, maybe you want to incorporate a large, dynamic graphic slider on your homepage, but it eats up a large chunk of your budget. Don’t get overwhelmed by this one item. It doesn’t mean you need to scrap the whole website. Set aside that extra feature for now and implement it at a later point when you have more funds available to make website changes again. For now, stick with a static image that still resonates with your users but is much easier on your pocketbook.

The third point on the list – features that occur to you during the web development process – is also key to staying on budget. Many clients expect their new websites to include anything they can think of – no matter how many extra items that may be. However, if you come up with 10 new features that you didn’t mention at the start of the project, don’t be surprised when the cost of the website increases from what was originally estimated. Once again, you’ll have to decide if these are features that you and your end users absolutely NEED on the website or if they are things you would just like to have. If they fall into the latter category, you can save on costs and implement them at a later point.

Aside from budget concerns, ask yourself if certain features you’re interested in including will truly improve the user’s experience. If it will, include it. If it won’t, put it on the chopping block. Sometimes having too many “cool” features can end up creating too much noise for the users, and they actually hurt the website’s performance and usability. Keep your end user in mind and avoid adding features that are just for show. Otherwise, all that fancy juggling could lead to this:

And let’s face it – having your website collapse on potential customers probably won’t garner you much business.

2. Keep Your Team under Control

With small business looking to revamp their websites, this isn’t so much of an issue. However, larger companies often have committees representing the interests of different groups in a website project. When revamping the company’s website, it’s important to get feedback and keep people within your company engaged, but you also have to remember point #1 – STAY FOCUSED. When you open up the project to outside comments, you can receive a lot of great feedback. Some of it might be great and make sense to implement into the website. However…

How do you do?
Would you like to shake hands
With Thing 1 and Thing 2?

They’re so nice and friendly, and they have the best intentions. They’re going to give us GREAT feedback!

However, trying to cater to too many voices can also cause you to lose focus. Though trying to help, they cause chaos instead:

We’ve had different clients who wanted to completely change their websites to have a clean, fresh look. By the time they accommodated everyone’s opinion in the new design, they often end up with a cluttered look that’s similar to worse than the old one.

When the ideas getting thrown around start to compromise your main goals, you need to do this:

Get your team under control. Thank them for their feedback and, if you think it’s necessary, explain how certain input helps bring the website project closer to the final goal while other commentary does not. If you let team members have too much free rein in their opinions, they can quickly get out of hand. Be specific about the kind of feedback you’re looking for, and don’t afraid to be firm if people start to cross the line.

In the end, keeping your focus on the main goals for the new website and keeping your team on track with you will help your website project stay on schedule and accomplish the overall company goals that have been set.

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We had a client recently ask us about email marketing service providers and what’s the best one to use. I bet a lot of you out there are trying to figure out the same thing. Our client was asking specifically about the pros and cons of Vertical Response vs. Constant Contact. I thought I would provide our two cents.

Constant Contact
We typically use and have success with Constant Contact and have recommended it to many of our clients. They have been in business since 1996. Their user interface is very user friendly and you can get it up and running quickly. We also like the fact that you can quickly import and manage contact lists (including managing your unsubscribes). Emails coming from Constant Contact don’t typically get caught by spam filters. In other words, you will have a better chance of your emails actually reaching your audience because mail servers won’t recognize it as spam. However, Constant Contact can be on the more expensive side when it comes to email marketing service providers. It isn’t as flexible as some of the other email marketing service providers when it comes to customizing sign-up forms. And, you may incur extra charges for adding any additional features such as online surveys and archiving newsletters.

Vertical Response
Vertical Response, on the other hand, is a little bit newer. They have been around since 2001. They have a strong support community that offers a lot of interaction. The amount of storage for your newsletters and archiving is much larger than what Constant Contact offers. Plus, newsletter archiving and survey creation are available at no additional cost. However, their spam checking tools are very limited.

There are more and more companies springing up that can help you manage email marketing. Some of them you may have heard of, some you may have not. If you’re looking around for an email marketing service provider, check out this article I found that reviews a large list of email marketing service providers: Who’s The Best Email Marketing Service Provider?

You can see what they have to say and form your own opinion. If you are still confused, please call us and tell us what your objectives are and we can recommend the best solution that would best fit your needs.

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In our previous blog post, we outlined some of the top ways that your business can benefit from maintaining an active LinkedIn profile, as well as different ways you can monitor and improve on your company’s success in LinkedIn.

One of the most important things for your LinkedIn account is to keep your followers engaged with your company by posting regular updates. Oftentimes, keeping your updates current can seem like a daunting task, so we’ve put together some ideas for what types of materials work well for LinkedIn posts.

Ideas for things you can post to your company page

Companies get lots of questions from customers. Whatever those questions are, use them for LinkedIn updates. Take the question and turn it into a company update. Talk about pros and cons of topics. When it’s based on questions you are already getting, it’s likely that other customers will be interested.

Share information your followers care about. Make good use of questions in status updates. This says that you welcome feedback. Use polls. Ask questions and get feedback from your audience on what’s most interesting to them.

Give your followers clear directions. If you want your followers to do something, ask them directly…they are more likely to take that direction and will drive results. For example, ask them to sign up for something, download something, etc.

Test best times to post:
• Post on weekdays. Studies suggest that this is the most effective.
• Is your community engaged in the mornings? Test posting at different times of the day and find out.
• 5 posts a day work really well, if you can. Or, try to post once per day at minimum.

Best practices for status updates:
• Use links and images in your status updates
• Make your updates short
• Tell your followers what action to take

Engaging your clients on an ongoing basis can seem like a daunting task at the beginning, but, like everything else, it gets easier the more you do it.

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What’s the best way to market your company LinkedIn page?
Like Facebook, LinkedIn allows you to have a personal profile and a company page. Business owners often ask if they if they should have a Facebook company page and a LinkedIn company page. There’s really no right or wrong answer here. The best thing to do is think about your audience and the context to find out if it makes sense for you. But, in most cases, companies do opt to have both.

LinkedIn Profile vs LinkedIn Company Page
On a personal profile level, LinkedIn allows you to create a professional profile which gives you an online identity for yourself. It’s a great online resume that you can use while job hunting. You can keep in touch with your contacts, past/present colleagues, fellow alumni and stay abreast of their latest jobs, projects and contact info. You can also take advantage of the many collaboration and communication tools available.

At the company level, LinkedIn provides business owners with marketing solutions that help you better reach targeted audiences which will help generate more quality leads. By creating a company LinkedIn page, you can also build your network, grow your follower base, educate yourself by joining groups that are in “your space” or industry and increase your sales conversions. There are over 120 million users on LinkedIn and this includes professionals, like you, that are trying to educate themselves and grow their business. So, the quality of your business networking interactions is much greater with LinkedIn versus other forms of social media. You can even interact with experts through trusted introductions that can help you resolve unique business challenges.

Here are a few best practices regarding setting up your company page:

1. Create Company Presence
LinkedIn is free and easy to use. Set yourself up as an admin which allows you to control and publish content throughout your company page. Think about having a couple of admins to allow others to access it as well. Then, set up your basic info. The top 8 lines are primarily read by your audience, so they really pack a punch. Also include specialties, define your space and what you are offering. Keep in mind, there will also be an SEO benefit of adding these details to your page.

The Products & Services tab allows you to customize content for your business. Include all of your products but think about other ways to use it such as promoting events. This provides another way for people to interact with you. The default page is for all members. But, you can also set up a custom view, by clicking on edit to create a new audience. You can target different audiences based on job function, industry, etc. You can even see the size of the audience you are reaching.

Word of mouth is important and hard to create. Recommendations are a great way to do this. Ask for people to write a recommendation for you within LinkedIn. By getting recommendations, you are building credibility and creating content you can possibly use in your own marketing materials. This can impact your lead generation and it’s free.

2. Attract Followers
The main goal is to drive effective engagement.

Proactively invite and grow your follower base by doing the following:
• Invite your family, friends and coworkers first
• Reach out to people through existing means of communication – email, phone, in person, etc.
• Mention your LinkedIn Company Page across your website & other channels.
• Add a “LinkedIn follow link” or follow company button to your website and email signature
• Run an email campaign and ask people to follow you on LinkedIn

How to use groups for follower growth:
• Engage with people from companies you follow
• Refer the companies to your business
• Participate in discussions

Promote you company page on other marketing materials
• Business cards, flyers and email signature
• Ebooks, whitepapers and guides
• Presentations and event marketing collateral

3. Keep your followers engaged
What is your audience passionate about? Picture them as “brand ambassadors”. This helps your base grow and they will stay engaged. If you have information on what types of blog posts or email offers your users enjoy, use that info to figure out what content will be most engaging. At the end of every day, is the content you’re publishing bringing value to your fans, customers, etc.? Is it making their lives easier and better?

In our next blog, we’ll list out a more specific plan of action you can use to keep followers engaged with your company.

4. Amplify Through Network
Another great tool is leveraging LinkedIn groups. These are forums that are for professional knowledge and networking. Groups are a great targeting environment. Don’t spam your products. But, get your voice heard and recognized within these environments.

There are 1 million groups on LinkedIn.

Focus in on who your specific audience is and what makes sense. Create and join groups. Find a group to run and own and build your voice around it. Quality is better than quantity. Once you start to build your influence, the group identifies top influencers and that helps your credibility. Be aware that some groups are open and some are closed. Build an audience around inbound marketing and encourage personal meetings.

Ways to take advantage of groups:
• Stay active
• Engage people in thought leadership discussions
• Set guidelines for discussions
• Content creation

5. Analyze and Refine
Ensure you’re on the right track.

Look at how you are trending on new followers, total impressions.

View your dashboard of what’s trending over time. The stats will show where you have an increase in clicks, likes, shares. All of this data will show you if you are gaining traction.

Metrics are available within 24 hours after your posting, which is great. On every status update you post, you can see stats of any activity happening around it. You can see instant feedback and know what’s effective or not. This also allows you to gain insights about your followers by analyzing their demographic info.

6. Keep track of ROI

See the connection between LinkedIn marketing and real business results.
Conversion rates from LinkedIn are superior in terms of how they are turning into leads compared to other social media and the quality of engagement and targeting.

Keep an eye out for our follow-up blog post, which will provide more specific details on how you can keep LinkedIn followers engaged with your company.
Information Source:

HubSpot Webinar: How to master LinkedIn for marketing, 07/19/12

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