Take Command of Your Online Brand

“Reputation, reputation, reputation. Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” (Cassio)  Othello Act II, Scene 3

According to WebpageFX, a digital marketing and SEO company headquartered in Harrisburg, PA, about 25% of a company’s market value is directly based on its reputation.  Along with word-of-mouth reviews, which are indisputably powerful but nevertheless comparatively limited, a company’s reputation is significantly impacted through online sources.  Management of your organization’s online reputation, which is part of your brand, is a must-do.

The online reputation starts with the look and content of the company website and also encompasses reviewing sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List and Trip Advisor and the array of social media platforms from Snapchat to Facebook.  If you throw in content marketing campaigns that are distributed through email marketing, I wonder if the 25% impact figure is generous enough?

WebpageFX also reports that organization leaders now take online reputation management very seriously and 15% of organizations have followed through on an online reputation management strategy and 87% agree that managing online reputation risks is even more important than managing strategic risks.  Think about it—strategic risks are potentially costly, but when paid and unpaid haters flood the comments section of an influential site, the hapless company that perhaps has done no real harm can be shoved into the abyss.

Online attackers spew a shocking amount of vitriol and their diatribes seem to have a million-year half-life.  Blackmail can be involved as well.  I’ve personally witnessed the strong-arming of the General Manager of a lovely B & B by –are you ready for this?– a retired police officer who faked a problem in his guest room, refused to be placated by what most would accept as fair settlement for the “inconvenience” and threatened to ruin the business with bad Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews if his request for a free two- night stay (worth $450) was not granted.  Rumor has it that he’s played the game to the detriment of several small guest houses across the country.  A shoot-out at the OK Corral might be easier to win.

WebpageFX data showed that 91% of consumers search businesses online.  When I’ve gone to meet new clients, in particular someone who has been referred to me and whom I’ve not met,  they frequently mention that they’ve read this blog and viewed my website.  80% of consumers (presumably B2B and B2C) changed their mind about doing business with a company and 67% will not buy from a company that has received from one to three negative reviews.

Regarding social media sites, participation on the various social media platforms is a given for most Freelance consultants, business owners and corporate and not-for-profit leaders. The extent of your B2B client’s social media engagement as regards their external labor force along with your time and inclination, will determine which social media platforms that you’ll use. Maybe you’ll use one or two platforms, plus publish long-form content sent out as an ongoing email marketing campaign.

Just because you don’t use every available social media platform doesn’t mean that you should ignore those that you don’t use. To the contrary, claim all business listings and social media platform addresses, so that a competitor or imposter cannot assume your identity.  Start with your website. Your business name should belong to you alone. Protect your business and buy when possible your business domain name in the .biz and .net formats.  if there is a name that is similar to your company name and it becomes available, buy it and save yourself the potential for headaches down the road. Ensure that an imposter cannot claim your name and make sport of you, bear false witness, or commit other devious acts.

On your preferred social media platforms, maintain a reasonably active and consistent presence as you bring value to your readers.  Post content that will benefit your organization’s reputation and sales revenues.  WordPress allows posting to LinkedIn and my 100 or so connections expect to hear from me every Tuesday.

Finally, if you should receive any negative feedback online, respond quickly and diplomatically. Demonstrate that you regret the mishap and you intend to make amends.  As you publicly clean up the mess, you may win a few customers who like the fact that you’re human and you care.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

IMG_0015    Tall Ships Parade in Boston Harbor June 16, 2017

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Social Media Platforms: Review and Reassess

According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March – April 2016, 68% of all U.S. adults use FaceBook; 28% use Instagram; 25% are on LinkedIn; 26% use Pinterest; and 21% use Twitter.  I’d consider that a compelling reason to ramp up your social media game, that is, if your can expect your customers to respond.  Not only that, participating in social media makes your business more appealing to the all-powerful Google algorithm and your place on the list is guaranteed to rise.  You might even land on page one.  Visibility, coupled with a story that resonates, is what marketing is all about.

The secret sauce of social media for your business is first, work with platforms that allow you to reach your customers and second, supply the style of content that will effectively tell your brand story and hold the attention of your customers, while using media formats that you have the time and money to produce.

Theoretically, social media is free advertising that lets you promote your brand, but there are costs associated with its production.  Time is the largest cost and if you include videos now and again, there will be video production costs.  Also remember that when in business, your job is to find and maintain clients.  Social media have a greater or lesser place in business, depending on your products and services, but it’s not the center of the universe.  If social media play a pivotal role in your marketing strategy based on the ROI generated, consider outsourcing the function to a fellow Freelancer.

Pinterest

The Pinterest platform allows members to “pin, ” that is post, photos and videos to what is called a pinboard and the format has made Pinterest an excellent vehicle to tell a brand story in visuals.  If the products or services that your company provides can tell and promote your brand story in a series of lovely photographs or catchy short videos—florists, fashion designers, interior designers, restaurateurs, pastry chefs and special event planners —then this platform is ideal for you.

As of January 2017, there are 150 million Pinterest users and 80 million are outside of the U.S.  Just over 80% are female.  The practice of “re-pinning” favored postings helps content to go viral and pushes you to the top of Google searches that could result in your name appearing on “trending” lists on sites like Yahoo News.

Infographics, those pictures, charts and graphs that also include text and give you yet another way to utilize visuals that help readers to quickly understand your narrative. are a great fit for Pinterest (and also Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn).  If you have the ability and time, use Photoshop to create a customized infographic, but do investigate the several free templates available as you evaluate what could be suitable for your story.  Much depends on the information that you’d like to share.  Some data will look best in bar graphs or pie charts; other elements of your brand story could be more captivating if presented in storyboard format.

Snapchat

Here it is, the platform that millennials love.  As of January 2017, the typical Snapchat user is female and under 34 years old (70% for both parameters).  41% of the 18-24 age group in the U.S. check into Snapchat every day, mostly on their smartphones. The platform has 300 million users worldwide (November 2016).

Your content will self-destruct in 24 hours, so your text and images must be memorable because tomorrow they will be gone.  But that’s sort of the fun part.  Snapchat is meant to be fun and ephemeral, like champagne bubbles in a pretty flute.

Restaurant owners can post photos of the daily specials.  Art galleries can post a piece or two of an artist’s work and announce his/her exhibit that will happen that evening.  Retail stores can advertise one-day sales.  Florists can can use their smart phones to make a short video on of themselves and the flowers that they’ll bring into the shop from that morning’s flower market.  Food trucks can send a photo of where you can find them for the day.

Twitter

As of January 2017 there are nearly  320 million users tweeting around the globe and 82% of those users are on a mobile device when they do.  Users skew slightly more female and the demographic sweet spot is 18-50 years.  Twitter revolutionized social media and along the way, impacted how many of us communicate, thanks to the 140 character limit on tweets that caused us to pare down and condense our sentences.  Twitter has also taken part in social revolutions, most notably the Arab Spring of 2010-2012 that rocked from Tunisia to Persia.

Use Twitter to give real-time updates from an event you’re attending.  Send photos, videos, or links to articles and share your professional insights.  Invite readers to respond with their opinions and create the opportunity to engage with your audience.  Add Twitter to your PR campaign and send out news of your speaking engagements.  Include Twitter in your customer service protocol and invite customers to make suggestions that might improve service and help you better understand how to meet or exceed expectations.  A few might even thank you for a job well done and make you look good to many prospective customers !

YouTube

One billion global citizens post videos to powerhouse YouTube and 180 million of those aspiring videographers are in the U.S. (January 2017) and many of the posted videos are of high quality. Thousands of YouTube users have created their own successful channels that sometimes rival network and cable television shows.  The platform is overwhelmingly about entertainment, but if you conduct tutorials and workshops, you might be able to build for yourself a nice little paid speaking career by posting a few of your workshops and picking up subscribers to your channel.  Maybe 23 minutes of education and 5 or 6 minutes total of intro and recap would work?

If you don’t mind being on camera for extended periods, you can hire someone to film  a behind-the-scenes view of you at work, especially if you do something that has the potential to capture viewer interest, like planning a wedding—talking to the couple (anonymously, of course), speaking with vendors and doing whatever it takes to efficiently pull together a lovely and memorable day.

You may want a system to help you manage your content across platforms and for that I recommend Hootsuite, that is if you’re inclined to invest $20/month in a service that allows you to schedule and track your many forms of content from one dashboard.  Pulling all the threads together will allow you to see the big picture, make it easy to see where you can re-use content and can only improve your social media strategy, impact and ROI.

In closing, I’ll remind you of social media best practices and encourage you to create content that can be expected to have value for the followers.  Pace the delivery of your content and do not overwhelm.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Social Media Platform Review

Unless you are an incredibly well-connected Freelance consultant who is out there making a killing and maybe even turning business away (yes, I know a half-dozen people who fit that description but it ain’t me!), social media plays some role in your branding and marketing strategies.  Each platform has its uses and will be a good fit for some businesses and maybe not so much for others.  The platforms are all free, but remember that time is a valuable and limited asset.  No matter how responsive to social media marketing your venture is, Freelancers and small business owners cannot maintain a presence on every platform,  unless you outsource the function (but if the dollars are there, then it could be worth the investment).

As carefully as you manage your money, likewise manage the time you apply to the social media portion of your marketing strategy (and I mean portion, because social media is not the alpha and omega of marketing).  Get started by first asking yourself what you would like your broader marketing strategy to achieve and then what each platform can do to support that aim.

Everything always starts with your clients, your target markets.  Who are they and what kinds of social marketing might they respond to? B2B clients will require a different approach and will have different expectations than B2C customers, for example.  Next, think about what you would like social media outreach to do for you?

Is your objective to promote products or services, or promote awareness of your brand story (that is, who you are, what motivated you to go into business, what your venture sells and something of your values and priorities as regards the business)? Might you like to build relationships and a community of customers who will also talk to each other and you? Does supporting customer service have a place in your social media objectives?

Finally, how do you want to express your story narrative? You will notice that my blog content is exclusively text (but I did include images in two posts and a video in another, a couple of years ago).  I’d like to include photos sometimes, but I don’t have time to hunt down freebies online, so I chose to research, write and present topics that you might want to read about in text format.

Facebook

The biggest of the platforms with about 1.86 billion users (February 2017) around the world, who represent an all-encompassing demographic spectrum.  There are somewhat more women users than men and the bulk of the age demographic is 25-60 years.  47% of Americans say that Facebook is their primary influencer when it comes to making purchases (Forbes Magazine).

Especially those who are in B2C and for some in B2B, Facebook will bring excellent ROI.  In-store events and promotions, speaking engagements, your workshops and other events can be announced to Facebook Friends.  Content provided in text, photos, or video can be uploaded.  You can create groups and build communities, or post a customer survey.  Share behind-the-scenes information about your business and what it takes to do what you do and in the process engage with customers, strengthen your brand and build relationships.

Does that sound like too much work and too much sharing? Then create a Fan Page and limit your presence to basic info.  Be aware that your presentation of text, photos and other content should be relaxed and welcoming, to create a personal feel (but remember that business is nevertheless the context).

Instagram

You’ll find 500 million users around the world here and 80% are outside of the U.S. On average, 95 million photos and videos are shared every day, with many accessed on a mobile device (present your content accordingly).  At least 42% of teens in the U.S. follow Instagram, with the demographic sweet spot 14-35 years and slightly skewed to female.  Instagram is about photo sharing, very short video trailers and concise text posting that includes a hashtag # that helps to spread your content.  Add a link to your profile bio.  Decide if you want a public or members-only account. Links cannot be shared.

Visual storytelling, behind-the-scenes photo montages, social selling, brand awareness, engaging with customers and creating relationships are good uses of this platform. If you are in public relations or special event/conference planning, then you will find worthwhile B2B use, otherwise it’s B2C as far as I can tell.

LinkedIn

As of January 2017, LinkedIn has 467 million users globally and it’s considered the gold standard B2B social media platform, very effective for communicating one’s personal brand.  I think most users place it at the junction of free website and online curriculum vitae. Business ventures large and small,  Freelance consultants, corporate and nonprofit leaders,  physicians and dentists, any employee who harbors professional aspirations and most college students  have a LinkedIn profile page. Recruiters use of the platform as well, to identify potential candidates for job openings and their success has motivated  thousands of companies to post job openings on the site.

LinkedIn is an excellent platform on which to build a community of professional colleagues through your connections and share with them your professional story, successes, highlights and other updates. This blog posts to my LinkedIn page and my connections receive notice of its arrival.  Your connections will also share their stories and there is great opportunity to be in touch and nurture relationships.

Professional portfolios, videos, white papers, newsletters, blogs, infographics and SlideShare presentations can be added to your profile page to add depth to your brand story.  Links to articles or studies that could interest your connections can be posted. Recommendations and endorsements let others verify your professional bona fides and you can return the favor.

In the Groups section, you’ll engage with colleagues within your industry, or with alumni of your school. Topics of interest are explored through posted questions and group members can respond and in the process get to know one another and possibly, forge  relationships that lead to doing business.

We’ll continue next week with overviews of more commonly used social media platforms.

Thanks for reading,

Kim