It’s almost 2015, so let’s be honest, if you are not involved in some form of online marketing you are missing out on revenue, leads, or something else very important to your business. Countless stats exist outlining how markets find the businesses they patronize and the results overwhelmingly lead to the online world. Even with this knowledge, many businesses are either not doing anything, or doing it ineffectively. Why is this? Could it be a lack of time, no system in place, or a basic lack of understanding about which tasks or channels would be the most important for their business?
Whether you are a D.I.Y. type, or would rather have someone else do the work, an ineffective or non-existent online strategy will be damaging to the long term success of your business. Even the smallest brands need to be managed in the online sphere, if for no other reason than to stay in touch with your customer base. The internet is like a battleground, with constant changes and more and more channels to keep up with every day. If you go to battle without a plan, what are your chances of success? Below is a step by step outline explaining how to start the battle charge and not just tread water but effectively leverage these channels to the advantage of your business.
1. Plan how much time and money you can allocate to the project.
Gaining an understanding of the pool of resources for which you have access, is a must before starting out. Although you may not know exactly what a realistic budget or time allotment is for an effective online marketing strategy, you do probably know what your marketing budget is or how much time you can allocate. Additionally, some quick research will paint at least a vague picture of what you might anticipate to spend. Always use conservative estimates so that your budget isn’t blown out of proportion. The online world can be just like the car dealership with lots of bells and whistles, but if you can’t afford them don’t buy them! Managing your brand online is a long term project and you need to be certain that your budget and time allotment is sustainable.
2. Define what you are trying to accomplish with the campaign.
The intent of every campaign is bound to be slightly different, but it is important to clearly define what you want to accomplish. Is it to grow a certain part of your business, promote an upcoming event, raise money for charity or just get the phone ringing with lead for your sales staff? You must define what you believe a successful ROI will look like for you. Additionally, that ROI must be realistic. Some businesses may spend $40K a year and if they get one deal it is well worth it, whereas others may spend $5K a year and need hundreds of deals to consider it a success. Outlining these ROI parameters in a realistic and time bound way will be extremely important to understand what is working and what is not.
Also remember that some aspects of the online world cannot be easily tracked with traditional ROI measures. For instance if a business is constantly receiving bad reviews or never responding to customer questions on social media accounts this can have a very negative effect on the business and fixing the issues can have a positive effect, but the specific ROI can be hard to discern. Having measurable to track the overall online ratings and response times will give you a good picture of ROI in these areas.
3. Research thoroughly or consult with a PRO about what channels and tasks will be most effective for your business type and budget.
Once you have defined your approach and what a successful campaign will look like, the next step is to choose the channels and tasks that will best get you the results you desire. Search Engine Optimization, Social Media Marketing, and a focus on Online Review Management is a great place to start. Again, there are countless options in this arena and it will be important to always look back to your definition of what you are trying to accomplish while planning. Are you blogging, using social media, or other types of tasks and what is the timing? A weekly blog post with multiple social media posts per week, along with other SEO focused approaches? This must be clearly defined, if you go into battle without a plan that can produce disastrous results.
4. Measure, React, Realign.
Nothing is ever perfect out of the gate and the online world is no different. Whatever methods you choose, be sure that everything is measurable and that you can easily discern what is working and what is not. It should be both time bound and measurable and should be consistent through the agreed upon timeframe. Most social media channels make it pretty easy to manage analytics. With website traffic there are plenty of measures like Google analytics that can be implemented, either by you or a hired SEO professional to understand the traffic to your website. If you are making a focus on online reviews make sure that you track response times, number of reviews, and average rating across multiple different sites. While you may think one is most important, all of them have an effect on your businesses online brand.
These “front end” measurable are certainly important but it will also be necessary to look at “back-end” stats as well. For instance, it would be great to get 1000 likes in a month for a Facebook marketing campaign, but if you are not sure whether it led to any business it is a worthless metric. Have ways to measure on the backend. For B2B companies it’s always great to ask “how did you hear about us”, for B2C companies surveys are great and also printable offers created through social media. After all if you are not sure that it is leading to business how could you know what is really working and what is not. If something is not working it can be changed and if something is working, more focus can be put in that area. Make sure to track this, but also as previously stated know that everything in the online realm may not be easily tied to ROI!
Putting together a proper online strategy can be a daunting task, but is a must in this day in age. Make sure to take the time plan your approach before going in blindly. Today’s expectation is for businesses to interact with their customers in the online realm. As a business you do not have the luxury to choose where your customers talk about you, what they say, or whether they find you or the brand new competitor on the corner. These are all serious considerations when managing your brand online. If you do not have a plan in place it could adversely affect the reputation of your business. Make a plan and stick to it for a set amount of time and then realign as needed.