Social Media Branding Tactics
Social media is a no-brainer when it comes to modern-day brand communication. But is your company using it to its fullest potential?
IMAGE COURTESY OF PROMOREPUBLIC
Think you’re in control of your brand? Think again.
Today, most companies know it’s important to have some sort of online and social media presence to remain competitive. But implementing an effective strategy in these areas can be challenging and sometimes downright intimidating for businesses. The landscape is constantly changing in the digital world, making it difficult for even the most technology-oriented companies to keep up with the latest online platforms. But businesses can use simple tactics plus enlist the help of industry experts to enhance their web, search engine optimization (SEO), and social media strategies. Either way, they should take a holistic approach to their social media strategies to ensure they are targeting the right audience in the right location and with the right message.
Web Design Strategies
A website is still the most important digital property a business can have, says Julie Hirt, director of account management at Spawn Ideas, an Anchorage-based advertising agency. “A website is the hub of the digital ecosystem,” she says. “Anything else you do on the web drives [people] to the website.”
Julie Hirt, Director of Account Management, Spawn Ideas.
Image courtesy of Spawn Ideas
A company’s online and social media strategy can be as simple as having a one-page website and one social media platform. The simpler the strategy, the better because it will take less time and money to maintain it.
When it comes to the design of a corporate website, user experience is a major consideration, Hirt says. The design should ensure that the content is organized so people can find what they need, how they need it, and when they need it. “It’s also about your brand, which is not just a logo or tagline,” she says. “It’s the experience. For example, if I come to your site and it doesn’t work well, it’s hard to find information, and it loads slowly, I will have a bad feeling about your company.”
In addition to having a user-friendly design, it’s important for a website to be transactional in nature. It should enable people to do something like register for an event, request information, or place an order.
It’s also imperative to keep in mind who will be reading the web content. “If your audience is younger, make sure your messaging reflects that,” Hirt says. “If they are older, be cognizant of how they are trying to access that information.”
Although most businesses have a website, a surprising number of them don’t have a mobile-responsive site, according to Jennifer Christensen, co-founder of Beacon Media + Marketing. Responsive sites are designed to properly display content on a variety of devices and screen sizes, which is important since smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices generate most online traffic. “As a business owner, I have a lot of empathy for business owners because sometimes you get so busy and you don’t notice until the phone stops ringing,” Christensen says. “And then you tend to call for help. You need someone you can trust to make sure your online presence and social media are updated.”
A company’s online presence is constantly changing and should be checked on at least weekly, Christensen says. This can easily be done by setting up a Google Alert to see if anyone has mentioned the business in a review, blog post, or news article. When creating an online presence, it’s better to start slowly and build momentum than to try to do everything at once. “If you start an online presence and stop it, people may think your company went out of business,” she says.
Christensen says a website is a foundational part of any online and social media presence. Consequently, the first step she takes when assisting clients is to review the content on their site to see if it “rings true” with the audience they are trying to attract. She considers a host of questions: Is the design attractive? Does the site load quickly? Can people find what they’re looking for? Does it have the right keywords?
“Then we do ongoing content development and SEO to drive traffic through Google,” she says. “Lastly we drive most of the leads through Facebook and Google AdWords. We’re driving the traffic with an advertisement to the website, and then we use a call-to-action to get people to respond.”
Jennifer Christensen, Co-founder, Beacon Media + Marketing.
Image courtesy of Beacon Media + Marketing
Christensen adds: “Sixty-seven percent of the time people are making decisions about doing business with you based on your online presence. It’s not just about cold calling anymore.”
In terms of the cost of web design, companies can create a rudimentary web presence by investing just a few dollars and hours of their time. They can buy a 99 cent domain from Go Daddy and set up a template-based WordPress site with hosting for $9 a month. However, they can expect to pay considerably more for professional website development.
SEO Revolves around Google
SEO, which is designed to improve the way content is ranked in unpaid search results, has evolved over the years. But it’s as vital today as it was when the dominant search engines encompassed more than Google and Bing. “When you think about SEO, it’s about a customer finding you,” says Kathy Norford, Spawn’s Denver-based media director. “With social, it’s you finding your customer.”
Essentially, SEO uses various techniques to enhance the online visibility of online content. This can include everything from strategically embedding keywords within a web page, online press release, or blog article to tagging photos, using Meta tags, and mobile optimization. “With SEO, it’s the things you can do on the back end of your website to align with how Google will help people find you,” Hirt says.
Hirt emphasizes that keywords are germane to social media and search engine marketing (SEM). For example, with SEM—which primarily equates to Google AdWords—it’s important to employ the most appropriate keywords. “If you know what words are most important to your business, you will want to use them throughout your website and social media properties,” she says.
With SEO, the key is to keep it simple and cover the basics, Hirt says. Sometimes SEO can be as simplistic as making a personnel investment. “Many website platforms that you can use to build a simple site come with SEO and steps for you to follow,” she says. “You can start small and simple and go from there. You don’t have to be everywhere, but you have to be concise [and have focused and targeted messaging].”
For Christensen, SEO entails the technical side and content. The technical aspect involves ensuring a website has all the elements required by Google’s ever-changing algorithm or formula for ranking web content.
Content is critical because it’s one of the key components Google analyzes when evaluating websites. Therefore, a company’s content needs to accurately reflect what people are actually searching for online. “You need to have very detailed explanations of what services you provide and how you can help people,” Christensen says. “The more detailed and precise, the better chance you have of having your site pull up in Google.”
Companies also need to constantly add content to their website. Blogging is a great way to accomplish this because it allows content to be kept alive and relevant. Christensen also recommends using strategic link building tactics. “You want to make sure your site shows up on the internet in as many places as possible that [are] relevant to you, such as in directories like Google Places,” she says. “Google does look at how many other web pages are linking to you. The more you can have people link to your site, all that will help your SEO.”
An effective SEO strategy requires a combination of integrated tactics; the cost for implementing SEO varies from agency to agency.
Simple Social Media
People have a growing interest in social media, with a strong penchant for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Every day there’s a new social media outlet or platform being introduced to an audience of hundreds of millions of people. It can be overwhelming, but companies shouldn’t get distracted by it. Hirt says, “While you need to be aware of the platforms, you have to be aware of where your audience plays.”
Companies should choose a platform they feel would be used by most of their existing or potential customers. Nine times out of ten that would be Facebook, Hirt says.
It’s important to create clear and concise talking points, along with imagery and videos. It’s also good to post items frequently on Facebook. “Post something short and simple at least once a day,” Hirt says. “Also, take a look at paying to boost your posts on Facebook [to reach a broader audience].”
Kathy Norford, Media Director, Spawn Ideas.
Image courtesy of Spawn Ideas
Today, organic reach through tactics such as SEO and social media is not sufficient for an effective web presence, Norford says. Companies need to add paid advertising to the mix. Although Facebook is a massive channel, it has aged significantly. “What we do for clients is we’re looking at each platform and seeing how far that organic reach is getting you and whether it can be augmented with a paid schedule [advertising]. The changes to Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm announced in mid-January putting the focus on friends and family interactions over those of brands increases the need to complement organic reach with paid placement.”
Social media solutions can be very simple and cost-effective for companies to implement, Hirt says. This is particularly true if they limit themselves to a single platform like Facebook.
As an advertising channel, Facebook is currently underpriced, Christensen says. And this makes it a good investment for companies that want to enhance their social media strategy. “It’s still very undervalued,” she says. “Most of the Fortune 500 companies are using Facebook. That makes sense because anybody who wants to have a profitable business and wants to have the best return on investment would consider Facebook advertising.”
Christensen also feels that almost all companies need a social presence—but not on every platform. “It’s no longer an option for most companies to not have that social media presence,” she says. “That’s where people are spending their time, so you need to meet them where they are. One out of every four people in the world is on Facebook.”
Also, Facebook offers big data on all the people that companies want to reach. “You can target exactly who you want to reach with your message,” Christensen says. “For example, if I want to reach chief financial officers at insurance companies, I can target those exact people… Another piece of the big data they have is that Facebook is not just pulling data from Facebook, but from everywhere. It’s unbelievable.”
We are living in a very unique time, Christensen says. Thirty years ago, advertisers and businesses were in charge of their own brand and messaging. “Now it’s more of the consumers being in control, and they are actually telling the brand who they are,” she says.
Traditional advertising is becoming less influential, as consumers focus less on radio and television. Eighty-seven percent of consumers don’t believe ads anymore, and 92 percent hate ads, Christensen says. “You have a whole generation coming up who are doing ad blocking,” she says. “What’s replaced that is your online connections and reviews. But if you’re willing to be courageous and really engage with your fans, you can have a big impact with consumers being loyal to your brand. Now customer service on your social accounts becomes part of your sales cycle.”
Getting Professional Help
Developing an integrated web, SEO, and social media strategy can be a complex undertaking. A lot of it appears simple in that it can be a self-service platform, but the answer can be complex because companies need to consider all of their own communication and the other communication out there, Norford says. Therefore, she recommends businesses get professional help. “When you ultimately want to get that communication solution, it’s important to use experts,” she says.
That’s where agencies such as Spawn Ideas come in. Spawn—named the Small Agency of the Year Northwest by Advertising Age—is a fully-integrated advertising agency. The company’s team of forty employee-owners is equipped to assist clients with a wide array of needs. “We certainly offer a lot of services, but we always couch it in a larger brand and content strategy,” Hirt says. “We want to understand what problem you are trying to solve… and then craft what your brand stands for in regard to that problem.”
Spawn helps clients take a holistic approach to digital media by balancing client-owned and paid assets. The client’s own assets could include their website and social media platforms, while paid assets could be Google AdWords and Bing advertising.
Beacon Media + Marketing has an entire web and SEO department in house, which is somewhat unusual since many agencies are outsourcing some of these pieces. However, Beacon and its twelve-member team don’t try to be everything to everyone. “We focus on five verticals: health and wellness, nonprofit, Native, service, and tourism,” says Christensen, who was named Alaska Marketer of the Year by the American Marketing Association of Alaska. “This allows us to keep our training time down to ten hours a week.”
Everything is changing every three to six months, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram or Google AdWords. Because of those constant changes, Christensen created Beacon Marketing Academy to help companies stay ahead of the curve. “Our first mission is to educate and provide good resources for our clients,” she says. “I think that, specifically in Alaska, the more educated businesses can be on the subject, the more we can sell [goods and services] out of state.”
General Advice about the Wide World of Social Media
As a word of general advice, Christensen says companies may need to consider employing multiple providers to meet their web, SEO, and social media needs. “Digital agencies tend to focus on Facebook so you may need another company for SEO and Google AdWords,” she says.
Companies, particularly those in the start-up position, need to educate themselves about creating an online presence and adding a social media strategy to their marketing plans. Then they can decide if they are capable of meeting their needs internally. “If it’s not something you enjoy doing or feel confident about, you should consider outsourcing,” Christensen says.
Businesses are focusing more on using analytics and data to enhance their messages and better reach consumers. This involves personalizing messages according to people’s preferences. For example, millennials generally prefer to communicate through a device and they don’t like to wait. “We are going to have to be mindful, as we sell products, about how we should interact with people,” Hirt says.
As the web, SEO, and social media continue to shift, Norford advocates being authentic, engaging—and keeping it simple. “Don’t try to dazzle the user,” she says. “You want to focus on giving the answer that the user is seeking.”
Hirt also recommends maintaining a simple approach. She says: “You can’t be everywhere for everyone. Really focus on what’s the most important thing to do, and do it well. Maybe it’s a one-page website and one social media platform.”
However, Hirt emphasizes that the trend is not for companies to choose web design over SEO or social media but to combine all three to ensure they’re in the places people can find them. “There’s a lot you can do for little money on all three fronts,” she says.
Every day there’s something new, and there’s a new way to reach people. “It’s an exciting frontier,” Hirt says, “and it’s going to continue to evolve.”
Tracy Barbour has been an Alaska Business contributor since 1999. As a former Alaskan, she is uniquely positioned to offer in-depth insight and enjoys writing about a variety of topics.