Twitter is a great tool as many would attest. It can do so much with so little and provide the intimacy, simplicity and immediacy that not many other platforms can even come close. While many social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace can expect to continue to command large memberships and usage, Twitter needs to get its act together before its Archilles’ heels bring it down. I’m talking about Twitter spams, and to a less extent, Twitter’s lack of a business/commercial model.
In recent years, it seems that there is a new social network kid in town every year that gets all the attention and leaves everyone else in the dust. This year it’s Twitter. Last year it was Facebook. Before that, MySpace. For Twitter, numerous third party tools and applications have been created to make it even easier to use while providing amazing additional features. But because of the (seemingly) lack of strict quality guidelines of what the users can and can’t do, Twitter spams are becoming prevalent.
Twitter spams are not out of control yet, in my opinion. But it’s reaching a point where it hinders additional explosive growth of the Twitter platform. Sure there are many new users signing up. But I think the vast majority joined out of curiosity and not necessarily needs. And let’s face it, Twitter itself is simple but not very intuitive, so it requires somewhat of a learning curve on the part of new users, and requires them to stick with it to “get” it. Coupling this with high potential for spams will probably keep Twitter to the status of being just another cool, but niche, tool for individuals, and just another tool for business, as opposed to a great tool for the mass and an essential tool for marketers.
But then again maybe we’re trying too hard to make Twitter our own. According to Twitter creator Jack Dorsey as reported on theonion.com, “Twitter was intended to be a way for vacant, self-absorbed egotists to share their most banal and idiotic thoughts with anyone pathetic enough to read them….” Mr. Dorsey said about how Iranians are using his tool that, “I couldn’t believe they’d ruined something so beautiful, simple, and absolutely pointless.” According to theonion.com, “he is already working on a new website that will be so mind-numbingly useless that Iranians will not even be able to figure out how to operate it.”
So the fact remains that Twitter will do whatever it wants to do. And lacking a clear (publicized) business/commercial plan, we’ll just have to take Twitter for what it is right now and be glad that such tool exists. Only the strong will survive, for both Twitter and its users.
Most businesses sell some sort of products or provide services to other businesses or consumers. This selling or providing process relies heavily on the staff in marketing and customer service department of a company. Marketing can be seen mainly as a pre-sale responsibility, while customer service traditionally takes care of the customer after the sale. In actuality, and most importantly in the current social media environment, the line between marketing and customer service is becoming more and more fuzzy. In fact from the customer point of view, marketing and customer service of a company may be slowly becoming one and the same.
It’s the case of “marketing promises me this, but service gives (or not) me that.” It’s one of the classic examples of customer dissatisfaction, and in the social network environment, the news goes far and wide, at a very fast rate. What a business needs to realize are two things:
- Customers are now talking, researching and sharing on the Internet, in general, and on social networking sites, in particular.
- You need to be where your customers are and engage them, especially with those who make the most noise.
The best customer experience is achieved when customer desires and needs are fulfilled by your products or services (good marketing,) and their issues are resolved quickly and satisfactorily (good customer service.) If these do not give you strong reasons to get your business into the social networking arena, then I don’t know what will.
So you have 3 choices: reduce, maintain or increase your marketing in this recession. Obviously the answer lies in the budget that is available for your operation. But more importantly, and independently of the budget, your marketing program needs to be a lot smarter than what it used to be. This means doing more with less, working smarter and harder (not smarter than harder,) focussing on your strengths and putting aside nice-to-have stuff.
Considering that people still need to purchase products and services in order to live their lives, regardless of market condition, here are some typical market-in-decline realities that may help shape your new marketing strategies:
- Consumers are still buying, though they may be searching harder and longer for cheaper alternatives or products.
- Used product sales are on the rise, including pre-owned cars. It’s all about getting the best deal for a given amount of money paid, and cars with 1-3 years of age are the best bargains.
- Sales at goodwill industries are booming. These have their own industries because the markets are big. There are quality items to be found, and smart consumers know this and want to take advantage of it.
- Comfort foods are selling. While consumers do cut back on eating out at high-end establishments, they still look for cheaper ways to enjoy a meal once in a while. Home-cooked style and no-frills eateries with great value and fulfilling foods are the best.
- Do-it-yourself is now the superstar. Homeowners come to the realization that the roofs over their heads are still the best thing they own, so it make total sense to spend what little they have to spend on this large investment. And do-it-yourself (DYI) is where you get the best bang for the buck.
- DIY fitness is more popular. Recreation is another area where people as a creature cannot do without. And fitness is one of the most fun and best value people can do with the least amount of money spent. Expect products like running shoes, bicycle helmets, etc. to take a leap in sales.
Of course these are not meant to be a complete list. Rather they are illustrative of the type of market conditions and consumer behaviors you need to understand right now to help redirect your marketing strategies. The real question is not about whether or not you should scale back or step up your marketing effort. The real question is how do you implement effective marketing campaigns that put your best strengths forward to address the current new market demands.
Here are 3 practical things you can do right now:
- Analyze your offerings and focus on your key products and core customers. Place heavy emphasis on your key products that are relevant to core customers. Nothing else matters.
- Acquire insights from experienced colleagues and take advantage of the experience of those who have survived through previous recessions. This alone is one of the most overlooked affordable secret weapons that you can find.
- Just as important, know where to make cuts (if you must) and where not to make cuts. Smaller budgets are a reality. It’s how you prioritize your marketing activities that will determine how you will recover when the market picks up again.
With a sharply focussed marketing strategy, it doesn’t matter if you scale back or step up your efforts. What matters is you understand your new market forces and meet its demands with the lowest cost and most effective tools you can find.
Content and relevant information are king. We all heard marketing experts say if you want to attract visitors, you should provide relevant content. Even Google itself says so in its Webmaster guidelines. Let’s face it. Web users, both the consumer and the business kinds, are all after a single thing when using their search engines: information. So it makes good sense to give them exactly what they want. You’ll achieve your SEO goals fasters, while retaining visitor loyalty at the same time.
Knowing what web users do is the key to attracting them to your site. You have essentially two challenges:
- To be found by information seekers, and once found,
- To attract and retain them.
While we can follow a number of steps to address each of these challenges separately, there are things we can do that benefit both, killing 2 birds with one stone, so to speak. Let’s look at some key behaviors of typical web visitors:
- Web users are information hounds. Because of the speed and convenient of the Internet, information is always at the users’ fingertips – both good and bad information. So give lots of information, and differentiate yourself from the amateurs with great quality content.
- Web users are analytical. While the fingers are clicking, the minds are on high level of awareness and working overtime. There are only two kinds of visitors that matter to you. One is the browsers who want something but not sure exactly what. The other is those on a mission to find exactly what they want at the best deal they can get. Either way, the web users are actively analyzing the content they find.
- Web users are impatient and critical. Because of the available choices and the speed available to get to those choices, web users have been trained to be impatient. If they can’t find what they want, they’ll just move on to the next provider.
- Web users scan content. They don’t read content. Web users know there may be better choices out there waiting for them to discover, and their impatience kicks in. Web users are fast scanners. So if your content is thousands of words long and contains just fluff in the first paragraph, or requires 3-4 paragraphs to lay out your case, then you’re losing readers fast.
- Web users don’t like to be sold. Sales pitches are so old school. You and I don’t like to be sold, we like to decide for ourselves. So consider dropping the aggressive spiel.
If you stop and think about it, these are exactly our own behaviors, aren’t they? It’s pretty easy to understand and all you have to do is focus your efforts on what many call “inbound marketing” instead.
So what do we do with these behaviors? The best thing to do is addressing them head-on. Marketers have a single goal which is to sell something. But amateur marketers don’t realize that it’s very easy to fall into the selling mode trap. It takes more effort, but with much more effective results, to attract attention through a good combination of relevant information and great value proposition. The sales process will follow naturally.
Here are a few tips on writing relevant content.
- Define your topic clearly and early in your content. This gets you found in relevant searches above your competitors, and lets visitors know immediately that they are in the right place with the right information, effectively answering their key question: “Am I in the right place?”
- Keep your content short and to the point. If you have a lot to say on the subject, break them into sections, bulleted lists, or even series of articles. This does 2 things: a) it answers quickly the visitor’s question “is there something for me here?” and b) facilitates their tendency to scan your content.
- Drop the use of teasers and fluff. I’m never a fan of teasers. They waste my time and indicate to me that the website has nothing to offer me. If you have to read through paragraphs after paragraphs of copy, and at the end still have to take additional actions with the promise of receiving the information sought, wouldn’t you feel cheated? So take the direct approach, don’t play around and make the content easy to get to.
The bottom line: consider how your visitors like to consume content and present your information to benefit their search. In the end, if your content is relevant with clear value proposition, you’ll reduce your bounce rate without resorting to sneaky tactics.
Updated 08-18-09. We’ve read all the buzz about using Twitter, from sources in print and online, from friends to co-workers. Do a quick search on your favorite search engine and you’ll find the latest tips on how to deploy and employ Twitter for personal and business purposes. It’s not hard to find tweeting theories, tips, tools and zillions of other advices on how to tweet successfully. What’s really lacking is a practical, realistic step-by-step guide to tweet, but I believe I’ve found one that’s easy yet detailed enough that will work with almost all things you apply to. I’m still testing it but so far it’s working great for me, and based on the process I believe it will continue to help me for a long time to come.
Like many marketers, I’ve looked for solutions for tweeting but never really found anything that sounded and looked good enough to even start. And I know many others have actually tried a few with varying degree of success, but those were never long-term successes for many reasons. This process I’ll describe here works because it’s simple, realistic and doable. There are some pretty basic ideas mentioned here, plus a few more advanced concepts. Together as a package they provide one powerful tool. So here’s the process.
- Social network etiquette still rules. Whatever you do, do not forget the basic rules and etiquette of social network and social marketing. After all Twitter is a blogging tool and a social networking tool that you should respect while using it. Take advantage of it like you would LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace, but do not abuse.
- It’s still all about helping others find what they need. Unlike traditional marketing (some call it “outbound marketing”,) social network has never been and will never be about you and/or your company. It’s all about contributing what you can to the social network and help other people solve their problems.
- You must know your target social groups and customers. Assuming you have something to offer (expertise, skills or knowledge,) you need to focus on your niche and not take the shotgun approach. By focussing on your target groups you’ll be more relevant. There are plenty of tools out there to help you find people with particular interests, but one of the best ways to target a group is to tweet from both your heart and your head, consistently (see 5. below.) Over time your group will find you. It’s inbound marketing at work.
- It’s important to apply your branding to your Twitter account. This includes your username, bio, background, etc. Use your business sense to do this, but whether this is for personal or business purpose, your brand is what you present to the world about you.
- Start blogging, not just about what you had for lunch, but what you’re all about, what your interests are, and what you find important and useful you can pass on to others. You should know what your brand is about, and many tools are available to help you post/blog relevant topics all day long (as your time permits.) One such tool is the Google Alerts service. Also there are tools to automate posting of your content as well.
- Find your targets to follow. Just like in any other industry, it’s all about finding and associate with people with the same interests, problems, pursuits or passions as your own. In the business world, another layer would be finding people with the same interests, problems, pursuits or passions as your business, either to give help to or get help from. In time if you have something to offer they will follow you back. And this is how you build your network. Again automation tools abounds to help you find targeted people and build your follower network.
- Set up automation to greet new followers when they first follow you. It’s part of the social landscape, and greetings, together with your brand, are the first impressions in the social networking sphere. Be professional and never pushy. People who greet others with a sales pitch give a poor first impression.
- Know what you want. I saved this for last but it may as well be your very first step. You must know what you want to achieve with Twitter in particular, and with social network in general. Whether it’s brand awareness, click through rates, traffic counts or whatever else is important to you, only you know this. So clearly define your goals and stay on track.
I have applied the above process successfully in conjunction with a tool called the “Twitter Traffic Machine.” It is an effective tool and process combination, and I’m applying it with great results for my clients. The Twitter Traffic Machine, and a few other similar offerings currently floating around the Internet, are getting a bad rap for what they’re trying to do as the end goal and are considered spam tools by many. My view is, of course any tool in the “wrong” hand or used irresponsibly can result in undesirable consequences. For me as a marketer, it’s a tool that I’ll take advantage of in my own ethical way.
The bottom line is, if you put this tool/process combination in your marketing toolbox and use it everyday with your other tools like SEO, SEM, direct/email marketing and ad promotion and tracking apps, then you’ll benefit from it. And like other great tools of the trade, you’ll have to really use it to benefit from it.
By the way for interesting reads on the Twitter bird and the brand, read Nils Geylen’s “The Twitter Logo, Or Is It?” and Cormac Kelly’s “The Birdie brand and the Twitter bird.” As it turns out Cormac Kelly is not making his post available online any longer, but he is very generous to allow his full post content republished here. Thanks Cormac! Find out what Cormac is up to these days, head over to Birdie Web Design.
The Birdie brand and the Twitter bird
Since I launched the Birdie site a couple of weeks back, there has been loads of great feedback, which is always appreciated, but it’s been mentioned a couple of times that the Birdie icon is similar to the Twitter bird. In this post i’ll address the comparisons and give a bit more background on the brand.
Twitter, for those living under a rock, is a mobile micro-blogging application. Users send and receive updates via text messages, and there are a load of third-party apps to feed updates to blogs and the like. I havn’t played with it much myself (it’s a bit too pervasive for my taste, but thats just me) but it’s a bit of a phenomenon and is widely used. Twitter have a very strong brand presence as a result.
In hindsight the comparison was always going to happen. Twitter has a lot of momentum right now, especially within the blogging and web communities, so pretty much anything with a little bird reference is going to bring Twitter to mind at the moment. Obviously this wasn’t my intention!
The origins of Birdie
A bit of context on the Birdie brand will help here. I came up with the name while I was looking at domain hacks, inspired by the social bookmarking site del.icio.us and the (really nice) Irish photo sharing site pix.ie. I started going through words that end in .ie and came across Birdie. It was perfect – memorable, personable and, in combination with the domain name, it gave me a real ‘smile in the mind’ as they say.
It all tumbled along from there really. I ran it past a few people and they liked it (and my girlfriend loved it), so I registered the name, and then the URL. (Which I couldn’t believe was still available.)
I designed the logotype and decided on the colours based on nothing more than my current personal taste. The final element was an icon to fit the name.
It’s here the Twitter comparisons really come in I guess. I don’t think it’s all that similar, or at least it’s no more similar than any other vector bird. Nils Geylen has kindly provided a comparison which puts this better than I can. (Thanks Nils.) Thing is, the two birdies have very similar histories: They are from the same place.
The Twitter bird imagery, on the home page at least, is from iStockPhoto, and is mostly by Simon Oxley of idokungfoo. The Birdie, um, birdie, is taken from iStockPhoto illustrations by Freelance Bloke. Take a look at Twitter’s here and Birdie’s here.
So there you have it. It’s all very flattering to be compared to such a good brand, and though I resent the rip accusation a bit I know it’s not true. There is also quite a long story about how I got my particular icon, but it’s too long and dull to get into here. Anyway, you know what they say – there is no such thing as bad publicity!
Have a tweet tip? Share it with us.
Online marketing. It’s very important to know your numbers. For marketers, especially Internet or online marketing professionals, analytics is an absolute must-have. But while your own numbers can tell you a lot about where you need to improve, looking at the wider market analysis and trends can quickly point out where the big holes are in your marketing strategy. If you’re not targeting your products or services to the 45-and-older demographics, you may be leaving a lot of cash on the table.
Here’s the problem. Many think of the younger generations as being web savvy. You know, the Gen-X and Gen-Y demographics. This is definitely true. However, the latest numbers may surprise you. In the post called “Generations Online in 2009“, Sydney Jones, Research Assistant, and Susannah Fox, Associate Director, of Pew Internet & American Life Project, reported on the latest trends of online activities of different age groups by specific activities. While you can go there and read the complete article, here are a few things online marketing professionals can take some action on immediately based on the numbers. All graphics courtesy of PewResearch.org.
Below is the definition of generations as segmented by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Internet use and email
While the younger generations (Gen-X and Gen-Y in the 18-44 age groups) dominate Internet use, older folks are actually getting more involved. At 22% (ages 45-54) and 13% (ages 55-63) for a total of 35%, older Internet users are coming on strong and are expected to continue to push this trend in the future.
There’s no surprise here as we’re really looking at the group of Boomers. With modern advancements, life expectancies continue to increase and people stay active for many years longer, further contributing to the growth of Boomers’ presence on the web.
With respect to email usage, the tendency is also similar. While the younger users prefer instant messaging, social networking, and blogging as their communications tools of choice, email are still the most popular application among older Internet users.
So without knowing these facts, many may not realize the following:
- A third of Internet users are above the age of 45. And the trend is continuing upward, not downward.
- Though the exact numbers can be argued, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that peak earning years of U.S. male workers are now between the ages of 45 and 54 (1999 data). That’s exactly the leading group of this 35% older Internet users.
- If you’re not marketing to this group on the Internet and via emails, you’re missing out.
- The point: Don’t forget the 45-and-above demographic!
Tool for research, shopping and banking
While fully 80% of Gen-Xers continue to lead in online shopping, noted the study, the 45-and-above crowd prefer information research (mainly health care and other products), shopping and banking. And even though still trailing behind younger generations in shopping, 56% of users ages 64-72, and 47% ages 73 and older do in fact buy products online. However you look at it, these are pretty big numbers.
In the online banking segment, both Gen X and Gen Y maintain their high rate of activity to manage their day-to-day spending and finances online. And as these users grow older, they will effectively take their habits with them into the older age groups. Again
- The point: Are you prepared for the 45-and-above demographic?
Video downloads, online travel reservations and work-related research
What about these other online activities like video downloads, travel reservations and work-related research? Well an interesting trend emerges here. According to the study,
Generations on the oldest end of the spectrum also became significantly more likely than they had been two years before to download videos. Some 13% of G.I. Generation internet users (age 73+) reported downloading videos, up from 1% in 2005, and another 13% of the online Silent Generation (ages 64-72) say they download videos, up from 8% in 2005.
If one looks at these “smaller” numbers in context, they are actually huge. Considering that the Internet concept itself never existed to these age groups during most of their life, the numbers really indicate that the older folks are not only already savvy with Internet technology and communication, but their numbers are increasing as well. And again when you further consider that the younger generations are growing older all the time, you’re looking at a growing market.
- The point: You need to target for the 45-and-above demographic!
Broadband Internet Access Tripled in Oldest Groups
Let’s take a look at the broadband Internet access in the homes in the U.S.A. This is an indication of the capability of the users to do more online. It really is an enabler, because without it, user experience (or the lack of it) will always keep the users away, resulting in limited Internet use and growth.
Recent technology advancements, and more affordable price points, have helped large growth in broadband install for home use across the board (see graph below). While there was a doubling of broadband access in the home between 2005 and 2008 for many age groups, the real kicker is the tripling of broadband access in the 65-and-older group. Again absolute numbers are probably small, but the growth is phenomenal.
- The point: Go ahead and market to the older demographics. They’re well-equipped and ready for you.
So online marketers, times may be bad and the economy may not recover for a while. But if you dig deep and make an honest assessment of your online marketing goals and strategies, you may find new and untapped opportunities right in front of you in the form of the 45-and-above customers. Like in any other market groups, just make sure you understand your customers, prepare the proper and targeted marketing messages to solve the customers’ real problems and needs, and you can position your organization for growth.
Share your experience with us. All comments and feedback are welcome.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a powerful tool for managing many aspects of your organization’s online marketing. One of the least use of SEO, but also one of the most important, is online reputation management.
A simple search for your name and keywords associated with your name and products will reveal things about your company that you may not be aware of. There will be things that you can easily fix, while others are harder to resolve, but more often than not, all can be managed. If you’re already doing SEO for your website, then the technique is directly applicable for reputation management. The only major difference is normal SEO is a marketing and sales function. When applied to reputation management, you add public relations (PR) to the team.
Here are few ideas to get started.
- Know what’s out there. Do a thorough search of terms related to your business name, products and services, like you’re doing a keyword analysis. Be sure to pay attention to the blogosphere and social networking sites. These are the places where you’ll find people discussing and sharing their own experiences about your products and services, both positive and negative.
- Know your battlegrounds. You may find sites and blogs where your reputation is being discussed in positive or negative lights, and you’ll also find sites and blogs where there’s no discussion about your name and products at all. These are both valuable sites to get involved in, as your team will need to not only create marketing and PR campaigns to deal with (or take advantage of) the conversations, but also to create presence where there is lacking.
- Know your online social etiquette. Whatever your campaign goals are, you must adhere to proper social networking etiquette and mind your online social manners. Be yourself, be truthful, be honest, be helpful, and above all, be respectful and understanding of the public’s viewpoints. There are many ways to tell your story, and it’s much better to take the join-and-conquer approach instead of going in with your guns blazing.
- Know where the action is. If you can join a discussion to tell your side of the story or to do damage control, by all means do it. This will allow you to head off a problem straight on, or prevent an issue from blowing out of hand. By doing this, you’ll be seen as part of the solution, as you are actively managing your reputation at the same time. Additionally, you’ll leave a trail of written communication representing your company’s viewpoints around the web. This means when these discussions are found in search results, then your company is also found. This is effective SEO at work.
- Know your first rule of SEO: content. Applying other SEO techniques such as writing keyword-rich content in comments, responses, blogs, forums and chat rooms will further help get your story found in relevant search results. Make it a habit, no, a policy, to always be helpful to the group with good and useful information about your company, products, services and industry. Doing this without being and sounding pushy will get your content found by your potential customers.
Actively managing your reputation through SEO and social networking will bring back immediate and measurable benefits. Reputation management should be an ongoing process. Don’t wait until you really have to manage your reputation, but manage it before you need to. Your name, and the reputation tagged to your name, is so important, you need to start managing it with the utmost urgency. After all, if you don’t care about your reputation, why should your customers?
So what are you doing to manage your reputation, online and offline? Whether you have a campaign or plan in place, try adding SEO and social networking to the mix. And don’t forget to share your experience with us in the comment below. We need all the help we can get. Thanks.