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how to make the most of online marketing tools

Online marketing tools are all around us, and most are free to use and require little more than a lot of effort and stamina.  It's suprising how many companies we speak to that don't make use of any marketing tools, whether through social networking or measuring the success of their own marketing efforts. This blog post is all about what you can do for yourself, and tips of where to look to find the right tools to get you started.

It's all about networking...

We network every day, all day - whether its a phone conversation with friends or a meeting in the office.  We chat, discuss ideas, share information and communicate our wants and desires through personal communication. As a business, you can be doing exactly the same, and it doesn't have to be difficult or time consuming! Social networks provide us with a platform of eager recipients for our message.  In the same way as you'd enter a party at a friends house, you need to go in expecting little, and be prepared to start your own conversation and interactions. Our online networks can be in many forms, from social media sites such as Facebook, Bebo or Twitter to sharing websites such as Flickr or Picasa. By putting content and information out to the wide world, you are opening the door to potential interaction and conversation. 

Your network can also include tools that you are already using.  Most of us live with email, it's like another limb, always there, following us around and ready when we need it. You probably have an email address book with several hundred addresses in it just from your day to day working.  When was the last time you emailed your recipients list and let them know what you are up to?  Have you told customers that have ordered from you in the past that you have a new product or a discount scheme? Keeping your customers in touch with you and your business will encourage them to come back to you time and time again.

... and it takes some effort and planning...

Don't be lulled into a false sense of security - it's not going to be a case of opening a facebook account and posting a message that will result in 100 new calls to the office!  Oh no, it takes effort, planning and a lot of patience! Starting something from scratch takes time.  You need to build your customer base, start several interactions and find people who want to know about you and what you do. Your online social media posts should be strategically planned.  Not word for word per se, but with an outline of what topics you are going to post about and how often.  You will need to control and steer the conversation until your online network take the reigns. Start with posts about new things that you are up to - make them light-hearted and informative, and STAY AWAY FROM DIRECT MARKETING! Isn't it easy to fall into that trap?  You post something telling people that you have 20% off a product this week and expect the phone to ring... not so. People see right through blatant marketing.  If you tell your customer they must order from you, they won't.  If you give your customer knowledge and information and lead them to believe that you are going to be able to help them or enhance their well-being, well, now you're talking. A good social media strategy should dictate which platforms you are going to use, and how often.  It should list some of the main topics that you want to talk about and be open ended enough that your customer is encouraged to join in.  Make it fun, ask people what they really think about you and the company - do they love the product?  what could be better - and be prepared to take criticism.  if you deal with negative comments well, it tells more about you and your company than simply deleting the posts.

How will I know when it works?

There may come a day when you sit back and see your social media platforms running the show for you - your customers will generate a buzz amongst themselves, and you will have so many calls and emails based on your online network that you don't really feel the need to market any more. But it takes time.  You need to know that what you are doing is working.  We've met so many companies along the way that have a website, and treat it as the finished product and the 'saviour for marketing to come'. So few have actually looked at what their website is doing for them.  perhaps the content is difficult to find or read?  Perhaps there are glaring mistakes in grammar and spelling that is putting customers off, or perhaps what the company owners through was important isn't actually important at all so the messaging on the site is completely askew.

There are several tools that you can use to track what you are doing - and it doesn't have to take forever or involve complicated statistical analysis. Facebook offers Insights - a free charting and stats package as part of your facebook account.  You can monitor the stats, see how many posts have been written, how many interactions have been made between your followers, and even how many new or existing followers are following your profile.  It's a simple interface that gives you a snapshot of your activity.  If some posts seem to stimulate more interest than other, then ask yourself why - what is it that those customers find appealing and why are they interacting rather than with other posts you have made.

Likewise, Google Analytics is a no-brainer for anyone with a website.  It simply plugs into your site using a simple block of code (or module if you're using a CMS), and shows you so much about the behaviour of your website and your visitors.  Have you ever wondered what your website really means to your visitors?  Do you know which pages they love and which cause them to run screaming for the hills?  Google Analytics shows you this - in text, numbers and even pictorially. If you're not using it - you should be!

Change, diversify, modify, update....

All strong words with a similar meaning.  As the controller of your online networking and persona, you need to be able to adapt to your customer and change your messaging to suit your market.  If you spend all day, every day spouting the same old message, people get bored and turn off.  You need them to stay stimulated and engaged.  Change your messaging frequently, intersperse your company info with light-hearted content such as a small contest for your customers, a snippet about how John in the office got the truck stuck in the snow this morning.  Whatever it takes to remain engaged. If you've spent hours and hours writing website content, check that it works, are your customers actually reading the 20 pages of technical specifications you put up about your product or are they more interested in the news about the new delivery trucks?  You decide.  Focus your marketing and attention in the places where your customers are active.  Change your website focus to meet demand and be prepared to evolve.  No website should sit there like a lemon.  If you want it to work for you, feed it good content, treat it well and introduce it to lots of other people! (you can give it a name too if you want, but you might not want to publish that bit)

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