Keep your marketing content flowing

content_seoWhat is the biggest barrier to sustained, effective content marketing?

  • Cost?
  • Time?
  • Commitment?

I reckon it’s something else…. Sure, all of these are important but in my experience, none is the biggest barrier. While most businesses can come up with content when they first start their marketing, it’s after a few weeks of sustained engagement with customers and prospects that the cracks start to show…

I can't think what to say next. I don't know how to say it

…yet it is normally only after a period of regular communication that people start to notice it! Why do you think major brands will sponsor TV programmes for months – even years?

The importance of sustained marketing

Marketing is a key function in any business. Just like accounting, HR, production etc., marketing is something that should be an integral part of your business. OK, there will be times when your marketing is higher profile and others when your main focus is on different areas of the business but developing a base level of sustained marketing communication creates a strong platform on which specific campaigns can be built. The mere fact that individual campaigns are built on a platform of regular contact with your market  can immediately give them more recognition and impact than if they were disconnected and ad-hoc.

The value of planning

Don’t get me wrong. Regularly creating new content can be challenging, and all too often it is easy to assume that your marketing efforts don’t produce worthwhile results (though real-world engagement rates can be surprising – check out this post) “Allowing things to drift” is, I believe, the number one reason why sustained marketing programmes don’t continue.

I know what it feels like to be faced with a blank screen when you have a newsletter due to be sent out today!

The best solution is to have a plan where you set out what you are going to say and, importantly, why you are going to say it. I know what it feels like to be faced with a blank screen when you have a newsletter due to be sent out today! Not only is this quite stressful, it also puts your focus on getting words written to fill the space rather than thinking about what the point is you are trying to make and how this will reinforce your brand message. Having a ‘Content Calendar’ gives you chance to take time over your articles. Sometimes it is better to write no more than a title and a few headings or bullet points then come back and fill in the gaps later. Planning ahead also makes it easier to get other people to have input in your content or to review and assess what has been written; not just does it read OK but do you make the point you intend?

Build a Content Calendar

Here are 5 simple steps to keeping your content flowing with a Content Calendar

  1. Draw up your Content Calendar –
    • Plan over at least 6 months, preferably 12
  2. Break your calendar into monthly themes
    • Themes should reinforce your proposition/brand
  3. Write article titles for each theme
    • What point do you want to address under each title?
    • How does point relate to your proposition/brand?
  4. Build content from each title
    • Make sure you have a beginning, a middle and the end
    • Focus on your reader
    • Remember it is OK to start an article the come back to it
    • Avoid waffle or unnecessary detail
  5. Review content in light of point and theme
    • Does everything tie together?
    • Is your key point well made and clear?
    • Finish an article then review it after 1-2 days. Are you still happy with it?

Download a Template to get you started: We have prepared a template (in MS Excel format) to help get you started. Feel free to download it to use in your own business.

  • Version 1 – Blank Template ready for you to fill in
  • Version 2 – Partially Completed Template to give you some ideas

If you need any assistance, please get in touch From now on, you should have well written, relevant things to say ready to engage with your market Your marketing communication will be joined-up and sustainable! Enjoy!

Pros and cons of social media platforms for business

pscs Which social media platforms are right for your business? We have compiled a few pros and cons of the main players in business related social media, from which you should be able to assess which platforms are best suited to your business (and your objectives).  

Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging site which limits posts (Tweets) to a short and snappy 140 characters. It also allows users to upload imagery and videos, all of which appear in the feeds of your followers. There are currently around 300 million monthly active Twitter users. Pros:

  • Business-centric – Twitter is the most popular Social Media platform for businesses as, unlike Facebook, the majority of tweets reach followers. Recent stats suggest that 49% of businesses would rather engage with companies over Twitter than any other platform.
  • Concise – The 140 character limit means users can only read or deliver small snapshots of information. Twitter provides a place to drop the punchy headline and link to a business’s website or chosen piece of content.
  • Huge! – Even the smallest, most niche businesses can find useful people to follow and engage with on Twitter because of the large and diverse audience.

Cons:

  • Twitter is very busy – With the huge audience comes drawbacks. With over 350 million tweets sent per day, finding the tweets and accounts that are relevant to you can be difficult initially.
  • Messages are transient – The high volume of tweets means your message will very quickly be consigned to history. This is why Twitter accounts need to be very active, ideally with Tweets going out every day.
  • Concise – Both a negative and a positive. It can be hard to convey a point or feedback to followers within the 140 character limit.

Facebook

Facebook encourages user interaction. With “Share” and “Like” functions, content is shared quickly. With 1.35 billion monthly users, Facebook is a Social Networking giant and always needs to be considered. Pros:

  • Word of mouth – People will share interesting and relevant content, so businesses can reach thousands of people very quickly.
  • Direct contact – Businesses can converse directly and easily with their customers without the 140 character restriction of Twitter.
  • Easy to create a community of followers – Through the use of Fan pages and groups, Facebook can be very effective at creating a community of people who like your brand.

Cons:

  • Much more Consumer than B2B- Facebook tends to be used by people wearing their home hat rather than their work hat, making it a perfect medium for businesses that sell to consumers. It is however, less useful for B2B companies.

Pinterest

Pinterest is an image sharing platform, allowing users to share their images and videos in specific circles (known as boards). Pinterest has 30 million monthly active users Pros:

  • Picture perfect – Pinterest is a platform suited for businesses that naturally generate lots of imagery. It allows users to showcase themselves on a platform specifically designed for images.
  • Linked images – Every image on Pinterest is linked to its original sources. Therefore, traffic to business websites is high. Pinterest referral traffic outstrips both Facebook and Twitter

Cons-

  • Niche – Pinterest attracts a very specific type of user and cannot be used alone to reach a whole target audience. Google recently stated that 80% of Pinterest users are female, so be sure you consider who you are targeting before deciding to use this one.
  • Maintenance – Articles and blog posts can be generated much easier than quality image content that is needed to maintain a Pinterest account. Therefore it is important to understand that a consistent steam of image content is require for a good Pinterest account.

LinkedIn

The ‘Big-boy’ of B2B, LinkedIn has 374 million monthly active users. It is the professional platform, designed for businesses and employees to connect and share content. It is often considered to be the “Professional Facebook” Pros:

  • Professional – LinkedIn is designed for professional, business minded people. This means that that businesses and their employees have a more focused audience on LinkedIn, without “personal” users.
  • Content focused – LinkedIn has an abundance of content relating to companies and individual employees details. This means a business can research a company or individual quickly amnd at little or no cost.

Cons:

  • Cost – As with much software, the free version of LinkedIn has less functionality than the fee-based LinkedIn Pro. The Pro version weighs in at £27 a month – though 2012 figures from LinkedIn suggest that well over 99% of users stick with the free account!
  • Individually focused – As LinkedIn is a platform made up of professional individuals, it can be tricky to promote a company brand. The focus is more on the individual than on company pages.

YouTube

YouTube is a video sharing website. It is a giant! With 1.5 billion active users, it is considered a must for anyone wanted to showcase visual content. Pros:

  • Free – For the service you get, YouTube is a great free platform. As it makes its revenue through advertising, YouTube does not charge for usage. This means businesses can upload and store videos on their own channel at no cost to them (this is also a drawback though – see below).
  • Length – Videos of up to 15 minutes in length can be uploaded to the site, with the potential for more upon verification.

Cons:

  • Adverts – In order to make money, YouTube overlays adverts at the beginning of videos. Therefore, viewers of your video will be forced to watch a completely unrelated advert beforehand (though if you get a lot of views – and I mean A LOT! – you can make decent money directly from YouTube)

 

How’s your Reputation?

It’s been a while since we touched on the subject of email deliverability, so we thought it was worth revisiting as much has changed in this area. Historically the focus, when it comes to spam filtering, was on content. Filters would work on the basis that spam tends to have common themes (get rich quick, stocks & shares, prescription drugs etc etc) so, put simply, filters would use keywords to select what to block. Although this is still the case, especially when it comes to desktop spam filtering, and decisions as to whether to place the mail in your junk folder or inbox, things have changed somewhat when it comes to server side and corporate spam filters. Here, reputation is key. Every email is sent from an identifiable IP address and spam filters monitor these to assess the likelihood that an email coming from a specific IP will be spam, or not. This reputation is based on many factors with key ones being:

  • Email volume
  • Number of SPAM complaints received
  • Bounce levels

So what does this mean in the real world? Put simply, when you are planning an email campaign, you should think carefully about the mechanism you use to send emails, and who you are sending to.

Email volume

It isn’t simply that high volume is bad, but more a case of unexpected volume is bad. If an IP address normally sends only a few emails, and then suddenly the number spikes, this can negatively affect the reputation of that server, and hence deliverability. In the real world this means that the best mail server to use when sending your marketing email is one that regularly sends volumes of high quality marketing emails. Relying on your ISP’s mail server (where sending profiles will be very different) can raise problems. In our experience trying to send marketing emails using Outlook going through your normal ISP mail server is a recipe for disaster Outlook really isn’t designed for email marketing! If you are sending marketing emails, (unless you are sending very low volumes) you should be using a dedicated emailing system like mailchimp or consider using a specialist email marketing service provider (like BSA Marketing) to provide a comprehensive, full-service solution.

SPAM Complaints

This is the biggie when it comes to reputation, if you are sending from an IP address that generates SPAM complaints (either your own, if you are using a bad list, or others if you are sharing an IP address), this can seriously affect your deliverability. This is a key reason that we recommend only using your own lists to send email (Rather than renting or buying). Not only will this minimise the chance of SPAM complaints affecting your reputation, it should also measureably improve results.

Bounce Levels

Reputation is also affected by how many of your emails get returned, so managing bounces is important too. Make sure you immediately remove permanently bad email addresses (hard bounces), and monitor temporary (soft) bounces, removing them if they persist. Good emailing systems should do this for you automatically.

Monitoring your Reputation

Warning, Techie stuff ahead! If you are using SAAS such as Mailchimp, the provider should be monitoring reputation as a matter of course and this is the reason they will quickly jump on you if they think you are doing anything that may affect the reputation of their servers (especially using poor lists). If, however you are a little more technically minded, and would like to monitor your own sender IP (you will find this in the headers of your emails) simply send an email to yourself, and then look at the headers. You will find details on how to do this here. Starting from the top of the headers, you will see a number of lines that start “Received: from ……..” Look at the last one of these, and take a note of the IP address listed. This is usually your mail server IP Armed with this information go to senderscore.org, and enter the IP address. This will tell you your reputation out of 100, colour coded Green, Orange or Red, Ideally the result should be green. If you want more info, simply create a free account and log in, you will then get a more complete report on the reputation of the IP address. In our recent experience 90% of deliverability issues have been down to the reputation of the IP address the email is being sent from, so its well worth keeping an eye on it! If you want to discuss how we can help you manage your email reputation, or just have a question, please get in touch

SEO – The longest death scene in history

The death of SEO has been reported many times over the past few years. These reports are normally closely followed by more comment stating that SEO is not dead, progressing then to say that SEO is alive & kicking, it has just evolved. The latest article appeared on the Econsultancy blog this week:

SEO is not dead, but it’s definitely frustrating

The fact is that over time evolution leads to new species that are very distinct from the creature they evolved out of.

You wouldn’t call a blackbird a dinosaur, and you wouldn’t call a human an ape (Though current thinking is that in both cases the latter evolved into the former).

In the same way, maybe the time has come that SEO has changed so much it has evolved into something new which deserves a new name.

Maybe Digital Marketing would be a good start?

Why I’ve ditched my business cards for networking

LI_squareI ran out of business cards this week, and took a strategic decision not to print more! LinkedIn was a key factor in my decision. Increasingly LinkedIn marketing is becoming a must have tool for any company working in the Business 2 Business arena, and a great tool for getting your name out and engaging with contacts. Once connected, contacts will be informed (via their update feed) every time you post on LinkedIn, whether it is a personal or company update, or more recently when you make a post on LinkedIn Pulse (More on that here). So every time you post – of course you you are being thoughtful and joined up about what you post, aren’t you? – your LinkedIn marketing network will see that content and so….

  • Get a reminder that you are around
  • Learn more about how you think, what you offer and where your strengths lie

So, back to the business cards: My thinking was that probably 98% of my business cards are used at networking events, where business cards have 2 purposes:

  1. Save you writing your email address down every time you meet someone
  2. As a tool to build your contact network

More broadly, they allow you to start a connection with someone you meet.

Skip the business card – go straight to LinkedIn!

Now, rather than exchanging cards with someone I meet, I go directly to LinkedIn on my smartphone and invite them to connect there and then. This way I have the information to contact them directly if needs be, but in addition they will also be updated automatically every time I post on LinkedIn –  unlike the scenario with the business card, where they will probably file it and forget our meeting fairly quickly, That’s great after a reasonably in depth discussion, but what about the “Hi I’m Duncan, have my card” type engagements which are still common at most networking events? In my view, the vast majority of these are pretty much worthless. They are transient, and unless the recipient of your card happens to be actively looking for your skill at the time, you will be quickly forgotten. What’s more, simply pushing your card on someone is increasingly seen as disrespectful. Why should you want someone’s card if they don’t have the time or inclination to have at least a brief conversation? My aim at networking events is to focus on the real conversations, and then afterwards, to look through the delegate lists (often only available after the event), and select delegates where I believe there could be a relevant connection, even though we didn’t get the chance to speak on the day. I then go to LinkedIn and (assuming I can find them!) invite them to connect with the message “Sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet you at the  …… event yesterday”, but I would like to add you to my linked In Network”.  In my experience the majority of these invitations are accepted thus creating a connection with these people, and an increased audience for my LinkedIn marketing content! Assuming that my content has value (hopefully it does!), there is at least a chance that some of these will remember me, and what I do, as and when they have a need! There is much more to using LinkedIn as a marketing tool, and we will cover this in more detail in future articles, but much of its benefit is based on having a growing and more importantly RELEVANT list of connections. I believe my lack of business cards and my switch in strategy will enhance this process!

Case Study – Twitter follower development

Activity. In my opinion, that’s the key to a successful Twitter account. This doesn’t mean that spouting random and unrelated drivel delivers good followers and good engagement. Any increase in activity will attract both followers and engagement, but it won’t be useful to you or your business. Rather 10 relevant followers that add value than 100 valueless ones. Of course, the above points are all opinions, opinions which I have developed whilst running the BSA Marketing Twitter account over the past 2 months. Quality not quantity. That old adage rings true for me when looking to post content. I have steadily increased the activity on the account during the past 2 months, with selected daily content being released. As a marketing company, naturally, I am releasing marketing related content. This might sound easy enough as there are an abundance of blogs and content sources available, although there is also an abundance of tripe, so it’s all about curating the feed and making sure that only quality content gets in. I post daily content under #MidMorningMatters and these posts usually create good engagement, as shown in the graphic below (Text size in the tag cloud indicates level of engagement). Untitled-3   A useful following. When I started working on the account, there were 182 followers, of which only a few  were in our target market, some were random local people and some were just plain irrelevant. This number has since grown steadily to over 300, with an increasing proportion withing our target market. This steady increase in followers,has been a result of thoughtful and effective posting, as a result they are far more valuable to BSA than accounts which promise “5000 followers for $5”. Untitled-4

Follower graph: Here you can see the positive follower graph for the last 2 months.

  Following : Follower Ratio People judge Twitter accounts. Very soon after landing on the page, a user will decide if they wish to follow your account or not. A major factor in this is the ratio of accounts you are following to the accounts that follow you. In the ‘Twittersphere’, if you are following 1000 people and only have 10 followers, you are viewed as a poor account to follow, regardless of your posts. Obviously there are exceptions. For example when a new account starts up, this will usually be the case. I have always been mindful of an ideal ratio (1:2 in favour of followers) during the past 2 months, and is certainly something to be aware of when running a Twitter account. Building you followers I have not been able to rely purely on accounts following the BSA account without encouragement. I have actively had to seek accounts that I feel are in our target market and add value to our account. I have a strict mental checklist when choosing whether to follow an account or not. They must be active, in the UK and be relevant to what we do.. It is important to do this so as to stick to the following, follower ratio guide. If an account becomes inactive for sustained periods, I cut ties with it.  By being active in my following, I have been able to build up a good number of active followers that BSA are interested in with both the number of followers and the proportion of relevant accounts growing as a result.

Marketing – Just do it!

Is there a ‘right time’ to do marketing?

tickSome people say marketing is all about timing but does this mean there are times when you should do marketing and other times when you shouldn’t?

I say, just do it! 

It is so easy to put off your marketing until the things you are dealing with at the moment, or your current busy period are over and you ‘have more time’. The truth is there is no good time to start marketing (except at the beginning!) and actually you should be doing it all the time! Sure, sometimes you might be doing more and other times less but the underlying process of communicating with your customers and markets and building your brand should be constant.

So what about the ‘timing’?

There certainly is good timing in marketing; being able to pick up on events, whether in your business or outside, and turning them to your advantage to make a  particular offer or demonstrate how you really can help people. The danger is that if you have no marketing processes in place, you might miss the boat. By the time you pull together the resources to get your message out, the opportunity may have passed, or you may have to spend a lot of money to get things moving quickly, with inevitably less opportunity to plan your approach. On the other hand, if you have a sustained marketing communications process (even if it is only low-key) it is relatively easy to turn the gas up to exploit opportunities as and when they arise.

But I need to sort things inside my business

Good marketing can be a bit of a waste of time if you don’t actually fulfill your promises! If the people and processes in your business aren’t lined up to deliver to your customers, getting people interested in what you offer can backfire. Conversely, ignoring your customers while you work to ‘get things right’ inside your business doesn’t really help either. Being too ‘inward-looking’ can risk losing your presence in your market. This is where a joined-up approach is so powerful. By developing internal people/processes and external communication as 2 elements of the same thing; both focused on the goal of effective growth of your business means nothing gets left behind. Sure, your emphasis will inevitably be on one or the other sometimes but keep up with both internal and external development even if it is at a modest level, ready to expand when appropriate. As a direct reflection of this approach we find that with more and more of our clients, we work in partnership with clients and growth consultants to create powerful business growth teams which focus on the development of both people and market communication in parallel. If you would like to discuss the potential for a joined-up approach to growth in your business, get in touch – we might even be able to find funding to support the programme.

Just do it!

There is one more issue; you are just too busy to think about growth! And the answer? Just do it! I have a simple view of business: It’s all about Time and Money. If you are very busy (i.e. no time) then I would hope you are making some money so be in a position to fund your growth. If, on the other hand, your bank account is a little light then maybe you are quieter so will have time. If you have neither time nor funds then (unless it is all planned on the critical path of a well-structured growth programme, of course) I suggest you need to look at the fundamentals of your business! Hopefully this isn’t how you find yourself and you do have some resource (time or money) to invest in your business growth. In this case, even if it feels like you are too busy, my advice is to just do it. Get the ball rolling and make sure you have good people around you. I would always recommend working with people you know and trust. If you have built up good working relationships and have confidence in someone’s ability to help you achieve your goals, work with them. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ or want to develop a joined-up business growth team, I’d be happy to talk