What gaps are in your communication strategy?

Alice

The fourth assignment for my CIM Professional Certificate in Marketing involves creating a communications audit on the organisation I have based my assignment upon. After I had fathomed exactly what was required, I started to enjoy analysing every aspect of communication the organisation did, including the ‘external’ stakeholders involved, such as the media and pressure groups, the community and those involved in corporate social responsiblity.

This may all sound complicated, but there is no need to get apprehensive (unless you haven’t done much about communications in your business). First you need to work out all the different aspects of communication: websites, social media, blogs, PR, newspaper reports, articles written online and paper published, recommendations, networking (off and online), participation in events in the local social diary, corporate social responsibility and involvement in local groups. There are probably more you can think of, depending on your kind of business.

Go on the web and find out what other companies, especially your competitors, are doing to publicise the communication strategies they have in place. Sometimes a little light secondary research can reveal a lot about them, as well as yourself. How visible are you, both off and online? How much information do you make available about your company and the things that you do? How easy is it to find?

Then you need to work out the impact your communication strategy has on your business and your stakeholders, which includes past, present and potential customers, your competitors and suppliers, as well as the general public. How well do you communicate with them on the areas that are relevant to them? What kind of things do you need to tell them? How frequently do you perform this and what have the results been? Have you achieved your objectives from these ventures? What strategies do you have in place to continue, improve and achieve success in your future endeavours?

I have only just scratched the surface on this subject, but hopefully to get the strategic juices flowing. Being visible to the appropriate stakeholders could make a real difference to your business, not only to publicise what has been going on and any future projects, but to increase awareness, explain more succinctly exactly what you do and what you are aiming to achieve, increase networking opportunities and relationships that could evolve into joint ventures and other likely connections, and much more besides.

Let us know what you are doing within your communication strategy – it would be exciting to find out how successful you’ve been and what tactics you have thought up to set the communication wheels moving as smoothly as possible!

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The importance of interaction

Alice

When you’re dealing with social media, one of the most important things to consider is interaction.

Interaction is when your readers, audience, fans, friends or whatever are compelled to respond to your social networking activities. This will happen when you post up something that is worth commenting on, full of value, beneficial and helpful, entertaining or educational, or even controversial, just begging for a response to counteract it or confirm their approval or agreement with it.

Blogs thrive from comments. Spiders register a comment as new material, so it can enhance a post by making it more attractive to the search engines. It also adds to the conversation because the reader is presented with new ideas and concepts that contribute to the subject matter or interest factor. Ideally posts should be written to encourage a comment, or contain a call to action to remind readers to leave feedback or their point of view.

Facebook works on interaction, as every time you post on your profile, or ideally on someone else’s profile as a comment to their status update, Facebook sees this interaction and clocks it as a match. The more interaction you have with your Facebook friends, the more likely you are going to see your posts or blog feeds on their profiles. If you don’t partake in lots of interaction on social networking sites, it’s not only the search engines that deem you to be inactive, its the social networking robots as well, which can be detrimental if you want to create interaction to help promote yourself or your business.

Twitter is the master of interaction, of course! It is all about interacting with your fellow Twitterers, chatting, commenting, retweeting, sharing in real time – generally forming relationships with your followers as you interact and find out what they are doing. Really this is not a place to be doing business in the old sense of the word, it’s about communicating and making friends, networking by being sociable, asking after their health, family or latest event, having a giggle over a piece of news or notification from elsewhere, exchanging information about each other as if you were face to face and not separated by the web in between two computers. It is a place to find out information, learn from a blog feed, gain trust and credibility by giving and sharing, having a conversation with real people who respond readily – in other words, interacting.

Using social networking sites, and also social bookmarking sites, needs commitment to fine-tune your interaction with your followers and friends. It’s no good having a fantastic blast one day, and then forgetting to continue for the next few days. Even if your followers forgive you, the search engines and social networking sites won’t. Robots don’t understand like humans do, and they see inactivity as exactly as what it is, and immediately your ratings go down, you loose those slots on your friends’ profiles, your stats take a plunge and your Twitter streams are dark and empty.

I know it’s hard to keep it up indefinitely, so it’s worth working out a social media diary to help you keep the momentum going. Plan in advance what you are going to say that month, or week if you think short-term, so that there is always information available to use when your inspiration dries up. It’s much easier to provide content, leading onto to some beneficial interaction, if you have a focus, goal or objective towards your social networking activities – get more leads, raise your profile, extend your expertise, collect more fans or ‘likes’, increase your subscription rates, develop your visibility on the net – need I go on?

And above all – it’s so important to have fun!

How to build your brand through social media

Alice

First, let’s get outside the concept that a brand is your logo, and establish that it’s also your customer service and your attitude to those who buy or do business with you.

And when you’re dealing with social media, it’s the ‘attitude’ part that becomes important. When analysing this medium, half of its name needs to be properly considered: ‘social’. This concept should not be ignored or forgotten.

So to use social media for brand awareness, you need to be sure what aspect of your brand is most effective in attracting your customers. Do some marketing research to find out what makes it attractive, and how it relates to their problems, needs and lifestyles.

Then you need to start communicating with people, and that’s were social media comes in. Even before you start broadcasting about your brand, amass a following. Do this by being friendly, interested, chatty, funny, educational, informative, helpful, showing empathy – whatever is needed to draw attention to yourself.

Social media works by being interested in what others are doing. In other words, by being sociable. Remember you need to work at it – friendships are not one-minute wonders, they take time, and gradually your followers will get to know you, like you and eventually trust you, and when they feel they can ask you anything or tell you their latest story, then that’s half the battle won.

Then you start broadcasting about your brand, and answer anybody who responds to it. This is not an exercise in selling – far from it!  Social media does not tolerate selling tactics. This is when you start to share stuff that is interesting, helpful, useful and beneficial to your friends. Notice I said friends, not customers – if your friends like what you are offering them, then eventually they will become customers, or refer you to others who are more likely to become customers.

Because you’ve gained the trust from your followers, they are then more likely to notice you, your business and your brand. You haven’t forced anything at them, you’ve allowed them to find out about you at their own pace, even if what you are offering them isn’t suitable for them. That doesn’t matter, they can easily become advocates on your behalf, and don’t forget a ‘warm’ referral is much more effective than a ‘cold’ call.

By becoming known as a helpful resource within your brand or business, all accomplished by being purely ‘sociable’, you are far more likely to be remembered, recommended and referred to, and who knows who might pick up on various aspects of your ‘sociability’, if you’re recognised as an expert in your field, it can only provide chances to expose your brand even further…

How do your customers find you?

Alice

I have a good friend whose new business is doing particularly well. She opened her new shop nearly two years ago, and already she is overwhelmed and thinking of expansion!

I asked her what she thought contributed to her success.

First, she has encouraged repeat business, a good following and excellent referral status by providing small discretionary discounts where she deemed it appropriate.

This did not undermine her prices, because the discounts were placed while the customer was already in situ. They had already come to her for an appointment, so adding on other services on top, mostly via the customer’s request, but sometimes from her suggestions, offering a discount didn’t compromise on her time or resources. Not only did this promote what other services she could provide, this also put her in a good light as far as the customer’s finances were concerned, making them far more likely to return.

Second, she participated greatly on social media. Being young and dynamic, using Facebook was natural to her, so she used her already amassed following as a referral base. I remember her opening night party was like sardines due to her publicity tactics on Facebook.

She has a well populated Facebook Page for her business, to which she regularly contributes with new ideas and products, special offers, answering questions, general observations, pictures of past successes, and testimonials from ecstatic customers only too happy to show off what she has done for them.  She gets her staff to check it daily, and regularly keeps up-to-date with her responses, so the content is always fresh and new.

Also she maintains her website’s number 1 slot on Google through the same tactics. It is regularly updated, sometimes every day, with material from her Facebook Page, but obviously adapted for a more professional slant. Here she promotes new services and products, discounts and competitions, and provides a personal insight about a particular product or service every month.

When she questions her new customers how they found about her, they nearly always say they came because of her website. I’m sure this isn’t due to expensive PPC strategies or worrying about in vogue keyword usage, it’s purely down to regular updating. She knows what her customers want, sources the solutions for them, and promotes her products and services in a friendly, accessible and professional manner.

This continuous new material aimed purposely for her customers’ benefit, without a hint of blathering on how wonderful she is (she doesn’t need to say that!), is what hits the spot and, along with her welcoming message, environment and premises, new custom is encouraged to visit and try her wares. Once sampled, they’re hooked, and are very likely to remain as regular customers, thus building up her client base even further.

How WordPress.com can help businesses in the short-term

Alice

I read blogging blogs that exalt the virtues of WordPress and what a fantastic platform it is to create a blog. But what they are mainly talking about is WordPress.org, the sophisticated version that is independently hosted, and can perform in total synchrony with your website, or even become your whole website!

But its problem is its expense, it requires a webdeveloper who understands how the platform works, and it can take time to set up. Even so, once accomplished, the results are totally professional, collaborate extremely successfully with the search engines, and are very much worthwhile the expenditure.

This is all very commendable, but what about the blogging sceptics? There are plenty out there that are uncomfortable about starting a blog, are not sure of the expense, may be on tight budgets, or would like to find out more about WordPress before making a commitment.

Enter WordPress.com, the ‘free’ version hosted by WordPress that can be set up in minutes. Its minimal expenses are to activate Akismet, the ‘spam eater’, and if you want to convert the URL WordPress gives you to one of your own.

Here is a blogging platform ideally suited to enable you to ‘practice’ blogging before embarking into this section of social media properly. By creating a WordPress.com blog, you will be able to learn how to fully use the platform, discover all the tricks there are available, excel in the intricacies of blogging and enjoy producing a fully-operational blog with the minimum of fuss.

OK, there are some restrictions: you can’t put advertising or sell from a WordPress.com blog, as the blog police will close you down. Only certain forms of HTML are accepted (RSS, YouTube videos, podcasts, etc) so it is not a medium to make money, only to education, entertain and publicise your business.

But if you want to create a blog to practice blogging or to dip your toe into the blogging world before expanding into more elaborate and profitable realms, then WordPress.com is the platform to use.

And don’t forget, it is extremely easy to transfer the contents of your WordPress.com blog over to your new WordPress.org website without losing a thing! A perfect example of continuity to maintain consistency.

Is being the fastest the best?

Alice

It is commonplace to hear that an event had received a large audience because it has been publicised on Twitter. This does, of course, depend on how many followers the Twitterer had, what time of day the tweet was sent, how many times, and what it said. And the viral element: how many times it was retweeted, which, in turn, depends on the Twitter accounts it was retweeted by, and who read it…

Social networking is notoriously fast. To those who aren’t old fogies like me, it seems incomprehensible how slow we were 20 years ago, without email, mobile phones or even the internet. Publicising an event would have taken planning, forethought and a considerable amount of legwork: getting flyers printed, distributed and posted up on show; invites sent out to likely friends, relying on the Word of Mouth (a factor now replaced by Word of Mouse); booking done via telephone, in person at a box office or even by post (heavens, not snail mail!).

Of course there are (slightly) slower versions today: texting and status updates on social media do require a bit of a time delay before you get an answer, which should allow you plenty of time to think of something suitable say (if possible). Go a step slower and blogging encourages comments on its posts which, depending on whether they are moderated or not, can become flowing conversations where necessary.

Email newsletters and similar campaigns are maybe the slowest, but booking online via clicking on a link that will direct you immediately to a Paypal or similar shopping cart certainly cuts down the lengthy procedure of finding a box office, and stimulates a more immediate response that eliminates the chance of being forgotten, overlooked or displaced by another event.

But then these slower options do allow more room for information about the event, a phenomenon that is certainly more difficult if restricted to 140 characters (SMS as well as Twitter) or the quick-fire responses on status updates on Facebook, (certainly, as in the case of my daughter, with several open all at once!). Posting up details of the event on a blog, forum, Facebook fanpage or as a discussion on a LinkedIn group will allow a bit more perpetuity than the ‘here, now gone’ scenario of Twitter, so subject to a continuous timeline forever superseding what has gone before.

Do some Christmas giving via LinkedIn

Alice

‘Tis the season to give and take, and this should not be confined to presents under the Christmas tree! Business thrives on giving and taking, especially within social media, and really this sort of altruism shouldn’t be limited to the last days of December!

The title mentions LinkedIn, so how do you give and take in this form of social media?

A major part of the LinkedIn profile is the ‘Recommendations’ area under ‘Experience’. This is where past and present clients who have been pleased or impressed with your business activities can leave you a testimonial or recommendation, and this listing will show prospective clients or employees how satisfied the givers are with what you have done for them, and if you’re lucky they may even state the project successes amongst the other nice things.

And if you’re vain, you do have the opportunity to ‘edit’ the testimonial, but then that would defeat the object! I think you should accept praise or criticism in whatever form it is presented to you, even if it doesn’t quite meet your expectations or match your desired patterns or forecasts. People see you in their own way, and this can be quite enlightening – after all, as every marketer knows, feedback in any form is good and should be valued and acted upon.

It’s always pleasant to receive presents (albeit recommendations), so why not give one back in return? Summaries of the recommendations you give to others are listed in your sidebar of your profile, a nice touch to show off your altruism that always looks good to whoever reads up about you.

So why not send someone a testimonial or recommendation today (big hint from us at Appletree!) so we can send one back to you too!