It’s Time for Brands to Wake Up

If you’ve been paying attention to culture and society for the past few years, you know that there is a growing movement — mainly comprised of the young — that is becoming increasingly aware and vocal about important issues having to do with race, culture, gender, and lingering social inequality. Those who consider themselves especially awakened or conscious about these subjects are colloquially known amongst their peers as “woke.”

Social issues and matters of identity politics are most hotly debated — often uncivilly — on social media platforms where an increasing number of people, particularly younger demographics, are getting their news and discussing the subjects of the day.

While many of us are exhausted from all the discussions on social media surrounding politics and political correctness, the #StayWoke movement — love it or hate — shows that people are thinking more critically about everyday, long unquestioned realities and social constructs.

Interestingly, the fuel behind much of this widespread “wokeness” and heated discussion is social media. While some blame social media for the breakdown of civil discourse and democracy, it can’t be denied that social has helped bring awareness to issues that were not previously addressed by the mainstream media. Perhaps, the best example is the recent #MeToo hashtag. Social media discourse has not only led to debates, but to the resignations and firings of prominent figures and revolutions that have toppled repressive regimes.

Perhaps less interesting, but nonetheless important for brands and marketers is the disruption of the communication space and the democratization of media content creation, which is the engine behind societal changes and grassroots movements.

All the way back in 2010, Eric Schmidt said that we create more information every two days than has been created in the entire history of the human race until 2003. The amount of data and content we create on a daily basis is mind boggling. We are living through the greatest shift in communication in history since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. And, we are the first generation whose entire lives will be documented, which means what we say and do on social media will forever be on the record. Your great grandkids will read all of your tweets — even the mean ones you send to Jimmy Kimmel at 4 am.  

There has never been as much content published daily as there is now and the competition is fierce. And, social media has completely changed the game. On these platforms, brands do not simply compete with one another for the attention of consumers.They also compete with viral cat videos, friends’ photos of last weekend, your nephew’s baby pictures, and breaking news.

In the current media environment, we are drowning in a sea of content. Consumers are no longer a captive audience the way they once were on TV (pre-DVR) and radio. They often miss or deliberately block your advertisements. The only way to break through the noise is to frequently and consistently provide value, create content worth paying attention to, and actively engage with the audience. Paying to boosts posts on social media has also become the norm, especially on Facebook. Today, more than advertising or content, the key to success is interacting with your target audience on the platforms that have their attention.

One-way broadcast communication is increasingly less effective and the importance of facilitating two-way communication with an audience is growing with every passing year. Companies who don’t devote sufficient time and resources to engagement are losing their share of the attention graph as well as the market. Brands that don’t wake up and realize that they are no longer advertisers who sell products, but media companies will soon become irrelevant.

As brands begin to focus more of their energy and budget on social media, many of them are making one crucial mistake that continues to undermine their efforts: They’re treating the new platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn as if they are one-way broadcasts. They’re bringing an old-world traditional media mentality to social media, pushing out their messages without understanding these platforms and their nuances on their own terms. This shows that most businesses don’t fully appreciate the broader shifts that are occurring in social communication.

Social media is NOT an extension of your sales pitch or simply a distribution platform for your content. It’s much more than that. It’s a medium where brands can have meaningful interactions with their customers and build relationships. While many brands have woken up to this new reality, many more are still not getting it.

Many businesses are missing enormous opportunities and leaving money on the table by not doubling down on social media. Others are doing social media all wrong. Comfortable sticking to what they know, many businesses remain hooked on their addiction to spending inordinate amounts of money on billboards that no one sees, because consumers are too busy looking at their phones. They blow the bulk of their marketing budgets on flyers and magazine ads that most people throw out or skip. And, they blow most of their digital marketing spend on banner ads that have an average click-through rate of only 0.05%!

Meanwhile, these same brand managers and advertising executives have the temerity to raise their eyebrows and smugly ask: “So, what’s the ROI of social media?” Too many companies are still not taking this underpriced and effective marketing channel seriously, delegating it to interns or family members who lack sufficient knowledge of or experience with social media marketing. And, they don’t think it’s a good use of their time or money to create content or engage with their target audience on these platforms.

As maddening as it is for all of my fellow social media marketers to watch this, we are powerless to prevent this slow-motion trainwreck from happening. Unfortunately, most brands will not wake up until it’s too late. Even as big brands lose market share and retail stores around the country go out of business, companies are still slow to make changes. The brands who are spending time on social media, learning how to use it, testing and learning, and engaging directly with their audience are winning and in the long run, they will win the day.

Moving beyond content

Content is still king, but more effort must be invested in two-way engagement if companies want to win attention and remain relevant in a 2018 world.

We are oversaturated with content. It’s never been so noisy. And, unless you were a first mover on the new platforms when early adopters took advantage and nabbed nice chunks of real estate, you will now have a tough time getting noticed and creating a presence.

There are simply too many options. Our attention spans are divided by a plethora of devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets, desktop) and platforms (Snapchat, Instagram, blogs, Medium etc.).

People distracted.jpg

To get people to care about you, it’s important to put out relevant, quality content that touches on current trends and other topics of interest to your audience. However, creating good content is not enough anymore.

The Internet and the social platforms where most of us now live are so crowded that most of the content you share will get lost in the noise no matter how good it is. Not to mention, platforms like Facebook have killed nearly all organic reach. Hacking distribution or taking pains to ensure that the content actually gets seen and interacted with is tricky and more important than ever.

2 ways to hack distribution:

Influencers and collaborations

Influencers, particularly micro-influencers are still tremendous resources of underpriced attention who have a strong impact on what consumers purchase. These influencers have most of the attention and influence on social media platforms where your audience hangs out. By partnering with them, you will be able to siphon their attention and direct it toward your brand. Of course, you should only partner with influencers who make sense for your brand and for whom you can add value as well.

You can achieve this by offering influencers free product and/or monetary compensation in exchange for a mention, a photo or video of them using the product, or a guest blog post. For a relatively small spend (average is about $193 for Instagram micro-influencers), you can gain hundreds of impressions, likes, comments, new followers, and last but not least — leads and sales.

Stay out of the way

These influencers know their audience best. They got to where they are, because they are good at creating content that will elicit a positive response. Therefore, give them creative control and allow them to create the content. Understand that they will have to be subtle in their mention of your brand, lest they come off as too pushy and lose their credibility. If you connect particularly well to one influencer and their audience, consider a long-term partnership in which the influencer becomes a brand ambassador.

Engage, engage, engage

Although it may sound obvious, you would be surprised by how many brands — even small businesses and startups fail to simply respond to comments on social media. Acknowledge and encourage your fans! Reward their loyalty and positive feedback. Respond to your audience’s questions or complaints. Reach out to people tweeting about your space and offer them help without asking for the sale. Send a direct message or a personalized piece of content to prospects, loyal customers, and influencers. Talk, converse, and be human. In other words, be social!
People talking.jpg

Technology has fundamentally altered how we communicate and disrupted the entire way we message and connect with our audiences. If you think your self-serving piece of content i.e. ads, humble brags about about your accomplishments, and mercilessly PR-ing yourself is going to get attention in a world with more options and decreasing attention spans, you’re really not understanding what is happening. You’re not woke. You’re asleep at the wheel and you’re in for a crash.

Notice the shift going on around you. The way you’ve been playing the game until now is not the way you’re going to succeed over the next decade. Don’t simply focus on the culture wars on social media. Look at how it is impacting how we communicate and how we get our news. Pay attention to who and what has the eyes and ears of your target audience. And, work hard to build authentic relationships with them built on trust. Not only will it pay off, but you can’t afford to market any other way.

Advertisements

5 Important Social Media Trends You Must Know to Crush it in 2018

It’s a new year and that means new goals, new opportunities, and new trends you must know about to stay ahead of the curve.

We’re living through the greatest historical shift in communication since the printing press. Major social platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter are where an increasing number of your audience is spending more of their time.

To be successful on social media requires one to be a practitioner who actually uses these digital communications platforms every day, keeping abreast of the constant changes they are making. Social media is an ever-changing landscape, so very little content regarding social media best practices and tactics is evergreen.

Social platforms are always rolling out new features, making algorithm tweaks that affects what kind of content gets seen, and making changes to their user interfaces. User behavior often dictates what changes these platforms make, but the changes made by the platforms also greatly affects user behavior and how people interact with the content you share.

Social media looks very different today from the way it looked in 2008, 2014, or even 2017. What follows is a list of what I believe to be the most important trends and tactics you need to know about to crush it on social media in 2018.  

Ephemeral Content

instagramstories.pngSnapchat was the first platform to introduce the concept of ephemeral social content or videos and images that automatically disappear 24 hours after posting. A piece of ephemeral content or a series of these posts is known as a story. In the summer of 2016, Instagram introduced its stories feature, which is very similar to Snapchat, and last year, Facebook adopted a stories feature as well.

While many brands may not understand it, users are loving stories. Whereas much of social media content is criticized for being heavily filtered, curated, and airbrushed, stories have a very authentic, current, in-the-moment, “right-now” kind of feel. Posts on Facebook or the Instagram grid tend to be high-quality, enhanced by filters and effects. It’s where most people showcase their best selves and agonize to make sure the lighting is just right. However, a story is often where people show a much simpler, less perfected, and more human side of themselves. Stories do not require nearly as much preparation and are usually used to document a typical day, cover an event, or periodically check in with the audience.

Instagram grid.PNG

Don’t go all in on the Instagram grid at the expense of stories.

On Instagram, the most popular network with stories, many people and brands are still putting all of their energy into posting on the grid, devoting insufficient time and attention to their daily stories. This is a mistake. Creating an Instagram story, which is a photo or a video under 15 seconds long, is quick to create and upload with one’s smartphone. Stories appear at the top of the Instagram feed. When you have a story published, your page shows up in the stories section at the top, and if you recently published a story that a user has not yet seen, your profile shows up at the top of their feed circled in red. See below:
Instagram Story Feed

Regularly publishing stories keeps you at the top of the feed and at the top of your audience’s mind. When users watch your story on a mobile device, your photo or video takes up their entire mobile screen, leaving them completely immersed in your brand. And, the more often they watch your stories, the more front-and-center your brand will be in their Instagram feed. So, make sure you don’t only post on the grid and neglect stories.

Stories foster a deeper level of engagement.

This is because a story can only be commented on or engaged with through a direct message (DM). A DM is a one-to-one private chat, which is a much more intimate and personal form of communication than a like or a reply to a public comment. Be sure to post interactive content such as questions or polls to stimulate DM responses and deeper engagement with your target audience.

Don’t give up on Snapchat.

When Instagram introduced stories, many brands were quick to dump Snapchat or post there a lot less frequently. However, data shows younger users under 30 are still spending a lot of time on the platform. If your brand targets customers in that demographic, then you need to continue using Snapchat and establishing a robust presence there. And, even if your business does not cater to that age-group, it’s still not a good idea to completely ignore it. Keep posting content on Snapchat, because that demo will get older and might soon become your customers. Also, remember that Snapchat could roll out a new feature tomorrow that wins back a lot of users and gets brands to come crawling back. If you’re unprepared, you will be caught behind the eight-ball.

Influencer Marketing

selfie-2916205_960_720

In 2014 and 2015 influencer marketing was a promising tactic that more brands were interested in trying out. No longer new, influencer marketing has grown and matured. Now, there is ample proof that it is a worthy investment of time and money.

The good news is that influencer marketing is still in its early years. Brands are seeing fantastic returns with relatively little spend, making it one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing in existence today.

Essentially, influencer marketing is a modern reinvention of PR or the celebrity endorsement. Brands court a social influencer — a person on social media with a large number of engaged followers, and the influencer will mention the brand in exchange for money, free product, or usually a combination of both.

Every social media platform has its own set of influencers. In the current climate, attention has never been so divided and hard to win. By partnering or collaborating with an influencer, you will be able to piggyback on the attention they already have and direct it back to your brand.

Micro-influencers are key.

A micro-influencer is a person on social media with a relatively small, but hyper-engaged following. While the number varies by study and platform, some classify a micro-influencer as someone with as little as 1,200 followers and as many as 40,000 (some go as high as 100,000). Studies show that these smaller influencers tend to have an audience that is disproportionately engaged and interested in the influencer’s posts compared to larger influencers whose audiences tend to be larger, more varied, and less proportionately engaged. Micro-influencers are also much cheaper to work with.

While big brands will still pay big money for the large influencers, such as celebrities or mega-social media influencers with significant returns, a lot of brands are achieving ROI by partnering with micro-influencers. A micro-influencer is often a person who posts about a specific, niche area of interest or hobby, such as nutrition and exercise, camping, video equipment, travel, or clothing. Their following extends beyond family and friends, but is still small enough that most of the followers are following influencer because they are truly interested in the influencer’s content and not because the influencer is popular.

Brands are becoming more savvy about who they work with, now understanding that a large follower-count doesn’t always translate to authentic engagement or return on investment. The cost of doing business with micro-influencers ranges from free product alone to a combination of free product and a relatively small amount of money, making it an extremely cost-effective option compared to spending on advertising or macro-influencers. All of the evidence shows that people increasingly trust the recommendations of friends and influencers over advertisements, making micro-influencers a great way to earn quality reach, impressions, awareness, engagement, and sales. Influencer marketing will continue to grow and become more expensive in coming years so the time to get in on this trend is now.

Tips for working with influencers:

1) Don’t be a control freak.

Another great thing about influencers is that they create the content for you. Avoid trying to wrestle creative control. Your influencer got to where they are because they are good at creating content and engaging with their audience. They have a good understanding of what their audience likes. Leave the content creation up to them and be empathetic to the fact that they cannot appear as a human advertisement. Therefore, the mention of your brand in their content will likely be subtle and smooth rather than overt, direct, and “advertise-y”.

2) Vet your influencers properly.

You don’t want to pick influencers with mostly inorganic or bot followers nor do you want influencers who don’t make sense for your brand. Even if an influencer is popular, they are a bad choice if they do not align with your brand’s values or have nothing to do with your space. The wrong influencer can do harm to your brand. Make sure the collaboration makes sense for your brand and your goals. Carefully evaluate their content, their engagement, and the image they give off. Tools like BuzzSumo and FollowerWonk can help you do it quickly and easily so you can scale your influencer outreach. If they are asking for a substantial amount of your marketing budget, do a little research to see if the influencer has achieved ROI-positive results for others.

3) Find brand ambassadors.

Brands are increasingly establishing long-term partnerships with influencers rather than one-off, spontaneous collaborations on just one post or campaign. Fomenting a long-term relationship with a credible influencer who aligns with your brand and acts as a brand ambassador can produce beneficial results for both parties.

Engagement & Direct Messaging

Brands are increasingly making use of direct messages, such as Facebook Messenger, Instagram DM, and LinkedIn DM as a way to communicate more directly with their audiences. DMs foster an intimate and personal form of communication and they are receiving positive responses from users. With so much content competing for people’s attention in feeds, a private message is a great way to grab a user’s attention. Private messages are even preferred rather than seen as an intrusion by some users who are tired of having all their social media activity publicly scrutinized.

Unlike email, this is one form of direct communication marketers have not yet killed and it’s expected to grow in 2018. As time goes on and users begin to receive more DMs from brands, the effectiveness of this tactic will probably diminish and receive less attention, so capitalize on it while you still can.  

Video

videoguy

Video has never been easier and cheaper to produce at scale. All of the major social media platforms now make it easy to create and upload videos and their algorithms heavily favor video content. They particularly favor video created or posted natively, with LinkedIn introducing native video just this past year. The rise of video began a few years ago, but we witnessed an explosion of video content in 2016 and 2017. This trend shows no sign of slowing down and it is expected to rise significantly. Video is predicted to account for over 80 percent of total online consumer Internet traffic by 2020.

People process video much more quickly than they do written text or even static images and more and more people are consuming content in video format. So, if most of your content is still blog posts and articles, it’s time to start churning out videos — long and short-form. If you don’t have a fancy video camera or equipment, no problem. Grab your phone and get to work. Video is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’, but a must-have for any business who wants to compete in 2018 and beyond.

Audio

podcasting getty_521931185_254656

Last year saw a tremendous increase in audio content. Although not strictly a part of social media, it’s a digital trend worth noting. Podcasts have become a popular way to consume media and information on the go. In fact, monthly podcast listeners increased 24% in 2017. Unlike video, a podcast can be played in the background so a user can benefit from the content while multitasking. Listeners can be driving, doing work, or cleaning the house as they catch up on their favorite podcast content. As the audio space begins to grow in importance, an increasing number of brands are launching their own podcasts and creating Alexa Skills and channels for Google home. Marketers are using social media to get the word out about their podcasts the same way they used to spread the word about their blogs and vlogs.

The democratization of content and media brought about by modern technology has put the power to create, publish, and spread messages directly into the hands of the people. While this makes it increasingly harder to get noticed in a noisy world, it also presents enormous opportunities for brands to connect with their audiences more cheaply and directly than ever before. The companies that are going to win in 2018 and beyond are the ones who take advantage of these new mediums of communication and use them to their advantage.

Should You Put Yourself Out There and Create a Personal Brand?

How much should you put yourself out there when you’re starting a business?

Should you develop a personal brand?

I think creating a personal brand and deciding whether or not to putting oneself out there is very much a personal decision that is up to the individual.

The first thing you’ll have to consider is whether or not you even want to have a personal brand. Many successful CEOs, founders, and businesspeople do not have personal brands and you’ve likely never heard of them. That’s a totally respectable and fair way to go about it.

Many people balk at the term “personal brand.” Some (usually older or more conservative folks in the business world) object to the term or the entire concept of a personal brand because they think it sounds narcissistic and phony. In their minds, a personal brand is something reserved for wanna-be gurus and charlatans or those “crazy millennials” walking around with their selfie sticks making silly Snapchat videos on their phones. There is a modern-day phenomenon of people who monetize an entire business off their personal brand. Unfortunately, some of these people create personal brands that are based on a false image they are trying to project through social media filters.

However, a personal brand is not a bad thing at all. If you don’t like the term personal brand, Vayner Media CEO, and branding expert, Gary Vaynerchuk suggests referring to it as managing your personal reputation. We can all agree that maintaining one’s reputation is important. All the more so in the age of the Internet. Even if you’re not saying anything about yourself or your business, it doesn’t mean others aren’t.

What is a personal brand? Contrary to what many people believe, a personal brand isn’t an excuse to shamelessly self-promote. Doing that is a quick way to turn people off. Successful personal brands are built on providing value and sharing quality content that engages the audience. Depending on your topic and audience, your content should educate, entertain, or inspire. Sometimes you can do all three!

It’s also very important to respond to comments and reach out to people who have greater influence or audience attention than you about collaborations. The one with greater influence has the leverage, so make sure to offer them something of value in exchange for whatever it is you want them to do for you.

A personal brand is your story. We all have a story to tell and even if you don’t think so, you can find a way to tell it in a way that is interesting to others. First, pick your area of expertise or your topic. It might be about your business or your field or it may be centered around a hobby or area of interest. Next, figure out the way you communicate best. It may be audio (e.g. podcast, audiobooks), written (e.g. blog posts, ebooks), or video. Then, find which distribution channels are the best way to reach your intended audience (e.g. Instagram, YouTube, Medium, LinkedIn, Soundcloud etc.).

I’m not saying that having a personal brand is for everybody. Not everybody wants to put themselves out there, be in front of a camera, have their writing published, or create content that is about who they are or what they do.

However, if it’s something you think you can get comfortable doing, then I strongly recommend trying it. Having a personal brand will be an increasingly more valuable asset in a 21-century world where content creation is democratized and the competition is fierce.

Alongside your company brand, you should consider developing your own personal brand as well. People have an easier time relating to other people than to entities or organizations (surprise, surprise). Sometimes the content from your personal brand can be the hook that reels people in and gets them interested in your business.

Zev Autumn selfie

If you’re a freelancer or a solopreneur, having a personal brand is essential. It’s what sets you apart from the rest and prevents you from becoming commoditized in the marketplace. A strong personal brand will get you picked for lucrative gigs. Not only that, but developing a personal brand can ensure that leads will come to you rather than you having to chase after them. If you’re an introvert or on the shy side, having a personal brand online that attracts people to come to you rather than the other way around is a G-dsend and this is probably the greatest time to be an introverted entrepreneur.

Let’s say you’re NOT an entrepreneur or a business owner. Is it still a good idea to have a personal brand?

Absofreakin’lutely!

In a competitive job market, it’s those with a strong online presence and establish thought leadership, competence, and credibility through their online content and published work that will get the job over equally qualified candidates who choose to rely solely on their resumes. When you apply for a job, one of the first things your prospective employer will do is look you up on LinkedIn. Are you going to have a blank, gray, faceless avatar staring back at them or a profile that hasn’t been updated in years with none of your recent work?

If you’re interested in developing your personal brand, but aren’t sure how to go about it, then I recommend this fantastic book by blogger and business consultant, Mark Schaefer: KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age.

In this handy guide, Schaefer takes you by the hand and walks you through the process of figuring out what to talk about, where to talk about it, and how to become known in your space or area of interest. There is also a supplemental workbook available with helpful exercises to get you started. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing him and that interview will soon be published in the Huffington Post and on my upcoming podcast.

If you decide to create a personal brand, be forewarned that it does involve some risk and vulnerability. You have to have the stomach to handle occasional negative comments. You also have to decide how much of yourself to expose. To a certain extent, being raw, real, and authentic will help you win attention and a following like never before and much of the business world is becoming less stuffy and buttoned up thanks to the Internet and startup culture. However, you have to figure out where to draw the line between what you feel comfortable sharing and what is too personal or NSFW.

Also, keep in mind that colleagues who think having a personal brand is unprofessional or self-indulgent might poke fun or criticize you for doing it. Some companies have strict guidelines about what you can or cannot say publicly, which you should be familiar with if you’re concerned about losing your job. Consider that now may not be the right time in your life yet to do it and that’s ok. Have an honest conversation with yourself about whether or not you are ready to start building your personal brand.

Have you developed a personal brand or are you interested in doing so? Do you communicate best on audio, video, or in writing and what channels do you prefer to use? Do you have any questions or tips you’d like to share?

Please let me know in the comments!

Overcoming Fear of the Ask: Approaching Prospects for the Sale

Like some of you who read this blog, I’m a marketer.

More specifically, I’m an inbound marketer. This means I don’t interrupt people from what they’re doing to hoch my products and services. Rather, I throw out some tasty treats that I know my audience will love and then I lie in wait like a tiger for them to arrive.

It’s “pull” marketing (pulling the audience in) as opposed to outbound “push” marketing (pushing messages out in front of people’s faces).

And within inbound marketing, I am involved in the softest, most subtle yet effective type of marketing of them all — branded content creation and social media marketing.

And yet, I faced a dilemma. Do I persist solely with content marketing or do I try other approaches to grow my business as well?

Zev pondering

For all of you marketing nerds out there, most of what I do corresponds to the “top-of-funnel” brand awareness, which can be nurtured into leads and sales. It also engenders loyalty among current customers. Building brand takes time and effort, but brand equity is the magic that gets people to buy your product or service without you having to deliver a sales pitch or lower the price tag. You buy a brand almost without thinking. You don’t need to be sold because you’ve already bought.

I don’t sell anything I don’t believe in. I would never expect someone else to buy if the provider doesn’t believe in or use their own product.

That’s why I’m careful to make sure that my own content marketing efforts are strong. I blog regularly, contribute to the Huffington Post, and post every day on various social media platforms. Creating content, sharing it on platforms that have consumer attention, and engaging with people on social media is a fantastic way to attract people to your business. This is the service I provide to clients and because I am such a big believer in my own “product” so to speak, I put my money where my mouth is and test it on my own business.

Thankfully, my content marketing efforts have paid off and my online presence has helped me attract many leads and clients. In fact, the vast majority of my clients come from inbound.

Eschewing interruptive and outdated forms of outbound marketing that annoy customers rather than provide them with value, such as cold-calling, the only outbound marketing I was doing to grow my business was attending networking events, mainly in New York City. Although I am digital marketer, I still believe in the power of face-to-face interactions. Nonetheless, as an introvert, I much preferred to share content online and pull people in rather than to go out and pitch myself.

The great thing about content marketing and branding is that when you do it right, you tend to attract more qualified, targeted leads than you do by reaching out to people at random or pushing a sales pitch on somebody who might not want it as per direct marketing tactics. Most of the inquiries I received were on target, which helped me have a high close rate of over 50 percent. It also helps that I’m quick to write up and send proposals and contracts. This netted me approximately one new client a month.

However, there was one major problem preventing me from growth: My lead pipeline was not even close to big enough! I still had too much time on my hands after doing my client work and creating my own content and sharing it to my own networks.

I began to ask myself the same question my clients ask me:

How do I get more leads and clients?

I was in a predicament. I wondered if by resorting to any outbound tactics I would be betraying my “religion” and tacitly admitting that content marketing doesn’t work or that I’m no good at it. Perhaps, even by seeking any outside help for marketing whatsoever, I would be undermining my own abilities. Would I be a hypocrite? A phony? I was suffering from a major case of “impostor syndrome.”

I’m adamantly against cold-calling and spam. I wanted to reach out to people in a way that would still provide value and be empathetic to the time and needs of others. But how would I get more leads in the pipeline? Do I focus more on branding and content or sales?

I learned that the answer is both.

Building a brand and sharing content on social media is a highly effective form of marketing (so long as your content is good). However, building a brand either for a company or a personal brand takes a lot of time and work. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes time to gain an online presence with an engaged following large enough to matter and sustain your business. Your efforts to build lasting relationships will pay off in the long-term by getting you more leads and sales than other types of marketing or advertising ever could, but in the meantime, you need to generate consistent cash flow.  The sales you make act as fuel to keep your business afloat and some of the cash you earn should be allocated toward branding and improving your content marketing so that you can attract more business.

I realized that it is not at all hypocritical to do both long-term branding and relationship-building as well as direct, outbound lead generation and sales. Nor is it a sign of weakness for a marketer to delegate some of that responsibility to others or use certain tools to help.

Two Outbound Tactics I’ve Adopted:

1. LinkedIn DM (direct message)

LinkedIn DM

Over the past two weeks, I’ve grown my LinkedIn connections from 1200 + to 1808 and counting. My profile views are up 20% from last week at 493 profile views.

I’ve been sending connection requests to all kinds of people on the platform. While some may object to this practice, I don’t think many people on LinkedIn mind accepting requests from people they haven’t met. After all, it builds their own network as well. It’s become common practice at professional networking events, such as the ones I attend in Manhattan, to simply add people on LinkedIn who you only spoke to for a few minutes — sometimes in place of exchanging a business card!

At times, I add people at random who are suggested to me from my LinkedIn network, but I also search for people by job title e.g. CMO, marketing director, marketing coordinator, CEO etc. and send requests to people with those positions. Some of the people I message are decision makers and others are people who are close to decision makers and tasked with hiring outside marketing firms.

After linking in with someone, I send them a personal message. Yes, it’s often taken from a list of about five prewritten responses, but I address each person by name and send a message that matches the person’s job title or area of specialty. Occasionally, I tailor it to be more specific to the individual.

I’m not a fan of automating human interaction, but I try to scale while still remaining human. Every day, I spend time going through all my new connections and send them these messages one-by-one, sometimes to over a hundred people in one sitting. If they reply and express interest, I send a follow-up message that is personal and crafted specifically for them.

Since I started doing this a couple weeks ago, I’ve received a number of inquiries, one solid lead for whom I’m writing up a proposal, and about a dozen meetings with people who I can potentially collaborate with or hire.

LinkedIn direct message is an extremely smart tactic for any B2B business or sales professional (Instagram DM and Facebook messaging is great for B2C). As long as you demonstrate awareness of who the person is and what they do and don’t open the conversation with a sales pitch, LinkedIn messager is a great way to network and gain access to people who can help you grow. It’s a direct form of communication tat doesn’t interrupt someone from what they’re doing.

LinkedIn has introduced a cleaner UI and various features, such as video, to become a “stickier” platform enticing users to increase the amount of time they spend there. LinkedIn is quickly becoming an engaging and interactive content-rich platform that’s very similar to Facebook. If you’re not already using LinkedIn DM and the social network as a whole to build your brand and grow your business, then I highly recommend you start becoming more active there.

If you’re scared to slide up in the DM, I urge you to get over it. Sure, you’ll get a lot of no’s and responses saying something like: “Thank you, we’re not interested at this time,” but every now and then, you will get a yes or a warm lead and potentially a new client, customer, or valuable relationship.

2. Outsourcing a lead generation service

This tactic costs a little money depending on how you go about it. As a marketer, you may feel funny about the idea of outsourcing some of your own marketing, but if you want to grow and remain focused on your own clients, don’t be afraid to receive assistance that complements your current marketing efforts.

While the idea of using a lead gen service or utilizing any form of outbound marketing kind of turned my stomach at first, I’m excited to see where it will go. I commissioned a friend who used to work for Salesforce and now does this sort of work on a freelane basis. He was nice enough to give me a huge discount and introduce me to an app that uses analytics and certain metrics to score the online presence of different businesses and helps me find ones that the app determines are lacking in their social media marketing. Until I see results, I will refrain from recommending it, but if it’s any good, I will let you know!

If you’re starting a new business, don’t be afraid to try a wide variety of marketing strategies and tactics that will help you get in front of your target audience and attract new clients or customers. Obviously, do your research so that you don’t waste money or time on things that have little chance of succeeding, but don’t hold back.

Exhaust every avenue. Try things. Deploy a mix of branding and marketing. Create content and also pursue direct sales. Don’t discount something without first learning about it or testing it. Your business depends on it!

 

Do I Need Social Media if I Have Word of Mouth?

If you’ve built a successful business, chances are many of your leads come from the referrals of satisfied clients or customers. Some businesses have done very well with little or no advertising.

Every now and then I’ll hear a business owner express doubts about investing in social media, or even marketing altogether because most of their business comes from word-of-mouth. There is then a resistance to putting money toward marketing, which is totally understandable. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

However, the success that comes from word-of-mouth can also lull you into a false sense of complacency and prevent you from growth, which leads to stagnation and long-term business failure. And even if the customer-base is loyal enough to keep the company in business, the business risks leaving a lot of money on the table by refusing to market. Good can always become great and great can always become better.

The most important thing for today’s business owner to understand about social media is that social media marketing is word-of-mouth marketing. Social media simply magnifies and amplifies your word-of-mouth, harnessing its full potential.

Traditional advertising attempts to pitch products and services to the audience. It’s a one-way, broadcast style of communication. Social media, by contrast, allows a brand the opportunity to meaningfully engage in two-way communication with its audience. Social media helps you not only attract new clients and customers but also stay in touch with current ones.

By consistently providing value on social platforms where your audience is already spending their time and attention, you can make a genuine connection with them, converting prospects into fans, fans into customers, and customers into loyalists.

Word-of-mouth has long been the strongest form of marketing. Most people will be far more inclined to try a product or a service that has been vetted and recommended by a trusted source, such as a friend or a third-party expert over an advertisement.

When a brand speaks highly of itself, you think: “Duh, of course, they say that.” When a friend of yours has had a good experience with a brand and tells you about it or when an individual whom you trust, such as an influencer, recommends it, you’ll be much more likely to choose that brand over a competitor.

According to the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Report published in 2015, 83 percent of online respondents in 60 countries say they trust the recommendations of friends and family over advertisements. And, according to data from Musefind, an influencer marketing platform, published in 2016, 92% of consumers trust an influencer more than an advertisement or a traditional celebrity endorsement.

Creating a community on social media may not provide immediate or directly traceable ROI in the short-term, but over the long-term, it will get your brand in front of more people and build brand equity, which you can leverage in powerful ways, reducing your new customer acquisition costs and receiving more repeat business.

Social media allows you to see your friends’ likes and interests as well as which brands they follow. Friends see posts from brands that their friends of engaged with, allowing branded content to spread virally throughout the Internet. Friends who see that their friends like, follow, and trust a brand, will be more positively inclined to try the product or service for themselves.

Social media is not a replacement for word-of-mouth. Social media has simply restored word-of-mouth to its rightful and lofty place in the marketing universe. With over 47% of customers using AdBlock technology and tuning out or fast-forwarding advertisements, word-of-mouth has become more important than ever before.

Social media channels are places where brands can seamlessly mix into the conversation. Remembering that social media marketing is a conversation is key. The number one mistake most brands make on social media is treating these new channels as one-way broadcasting platforms where they attempt to push out their marketing messages, much in the same way they do on TV, radio, or in print.

Social media is where people go to converse, catch up, get information, or find entertainment. Users don’t want to be interrupted with ads and sales pitches. By creating content that blends in natively to each channel and respects the nuances of each platform and provides value to the audience, brands will delight current customers and fans who will engage with the content and spread it to others.

Furthermore, people are going to talk about your business regardless of whether or not you have a strong social media presence. Social media is a valuable team player that helps your business win on both offense and defense. By having an engaged fan-base on social media, you’ll spend less time and energy on reputation management, deflecting negative comments or poor reviews. Instead, you’ll have an army of loyal and passionate brand advocates who will step in, engage, and help spread your message for you.

Responding to both negative and positive comments on social media makes your audience members feel valued. It feels special to be recognized, especially when so many businesses seem to take customers for granted and are slow to respond to questions and comments. Engaging with your audience makes your brand more human, relatable, and trustworthy. Additionally, most millennials, in particular, value transparency and are wary of brands that do not put themselves out there on social media and authentically engage.

So, if you were hesitant to invest more into social media, now you understand that social media will provide an added boost to your word-of-mouth and allow your business to grow and reach new milestones.

And, don’t get hung up on worrying about what kind of content to create and share on social media. With each piece of content, simply keep in mind how you can provide more value to your audience. This approach to content will help you create an inspired, engaged community of people who share your values, passions, and vision. Of course, if you’re still having trouble, feel free to reach out to me in the comments below.

Did you experience positive word-of-mouth as a result of your social media marketing efforts? If so, how did you do it? What could you have done differently? 

 

 

 

The Most Important Social Media Metric

Most people who are new to social media marketing ask the following question:

“How do I get more followers?”

While increasing your top-line follower count may boost your ego, it’s not necessarily going to translate into any real, business value. It’s what we call a “vanity metric.” Impressions and views. Also, vanity metrics.

What matters more than the number of friends or followers you have is the level of audience engagement.

Audience engagement may be measured in a variety of ways ranging from post likes, comments, and shares to clicks, mentions, and lead inquiries.

The sad and ugly truth is that followers can be easily purchased and automated with the help of bots and apps. Many dishonest social media marketing companies, gurus, and influencers inflate their follower counts with these methods because having a large number of followers makes for good optics. Next time you see someone with a large number of followers, check to see how many interactions their posts get. For example, if they have thousands of followers on Instagram and only a couple dozen likes, you know their followers are mostly fake.

Having a large number of followers does you no good if those followers are not engaged. Therefore, it’s better to have 5 engaged followers than 500 followers who never interact with your content. Engagement is where the magic happens. It’s what leads to the next stage, which might be lead generation, sales, or other business objectives. A relationship is fueled by engagement. Without it, your social media presence may look impressive superficially, but it’s no more than smoke and mirrors — a facade that will fool those who don’t know any better but will be laughed at by those who do.

How do you earn engagement?

Well, you can start by being engaging. Think about your audience’s wants and needs with every piece of content you put out. How are you bringing them value? Leave thoughtful comments (not just, “Wow, great!” and “Good stuff”). Respond to comments. Pose thought-provoking questions or post interactive content. Pay attention to culture and world events and incorporate it into what you share. Initiate and participate in the conversation.

Try engaging with your followers and seek to actually provide real value to them. Only when your motivation is to bring value to them and not to boost your own ego and impress anyone will your social media activity start to produce results and make a meaningful impact on others.

To Win, You Need to Make the Time

You want your brand to get noticed?

You want the leads to come to you?

You want to grow your business?

Then you need to create content.

You need to create quality content that provides value to your target audience on platforms that have your audience’s attention, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter frequently and persistently.

Depending on your brand, your content might be entertaining, educational, or inspiring. It might be helpful, motivational, or funny. But, it must provide value to your audience and the content must be in the right context — shared at the right time, for the right people, and created in a way that it appears native to the platforms on which it appears.

Sunday-well-spent-life-quotes-sayings-pictures

You will only succeed once you commit yourself to creating content on a consistent basis and sharing it with the world. There is enough time. But you have to be willing to sacrifice some nights and weekends or times when everybody else is enjoying their leisure.

Most of your content creation is not going to take place during your traditional work hours. You’ll never get the time. You have to make the time. Set aside a block of time each week for creating content or working on your content distribution strategy. A little planning will take you or your organization a long way.

In a world where there is so much competition for consumer attention, it takes a great deal of effort to get the market to care about what you’re doing. Content marketing is not a short term marketing strategy. Even if you create good content, you need to earn audience engagement consistently. It takes many interactions before a purchase is made. But, if you stick with it, focus on the needs of your audience, and commit to providing them with as much value as possible, you will eventually build a brand and earn your audience’s trust. Once you have their trust and their attention, your hard work will pay off.

It takes a lot of time and effort to amass brand equity, but once you have it, you can leverage it to advance your business objectives. However, to stay on top, you will need to continue putting out content and keep the momentum going.

Content marketing cannot be seen as something “extra” for whenever you get around to it. As entrepreneur, vlogger, and marketer, Gary Vaynerchuk so aptly puts it, most brands are playing it “half-pregnant” and that’s why they never see results. You need to invest the time, money, and people to create and distribute content effectively. If you want to reap the rewards of content marketing, then you need to understand that it doesn’t happen overnight. To break through the noise, it takes a ton of patience, grind, and scaling the unscalable.

If you’re not ready to do the work and you can’t afford to invest the resources necessary to make it happen, then you’re not yet ready for branding and content marketing. To succeed with content marketing, you need to go all in and stay focused.