Tag Archive for 'website'

Build community with a website & social media

Here is a question many small business owners ask: “Do we need a social media strategy if we have a website?”

The answer is the same as for why you have an email address, even though you have a phone. It’s not an either/or decision; it’s both/and.

Clearly, your beautiful website is also very handy: cyber address, digital brochure, e-catalog, virtual store, etc. But as versatile as it is, there is one increasingly important capability you need that a website isn’t good at: community building. That’s what social media does.

By my definition, social media is much older and more comprehensive than the popular Johnny-come-latelies, Facebook and Twitter. Your social media strategy includes everything you do to build, connect with and serve customer communities, including: the new stuff, email marketing, customer loyalty programs and, the original social media, face-to-face.

What are these communities? Do you have one?

In the old days – like 1999 – your customer list was just names on an accounts payable report or sales forecast. Today, those customers are part of your business’s community; the rest are prospects who are becoming interested in you. But unlike the passive customer list of old, this community is functioning and has expectations you have to meet, or they will join another community.

At the risk of hurting your feelings, once customers find you, returning to that beautiful website of which you’re so proud will be of decreasing interest to them. But the good news is that anything you have that’s new – product and how-to information, order status, special offerings, etc. – is of increasing interest to customers. They just don’t want to have to come back to get it. More and more, customers are saying to businesses, “I’ve seen what you offer and like it, but I won’t be returning to your website much, because I’m very busy. Why don’t you follow me home?”

This is what customers and prospects mean when they join your community by giving you permission to connect with them and send them stuff by email, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They just want the new stuff, including updates to your website.

Connect with and serve your customer communities by following them home with all social media resources. That’s how a small business transcends merely being competitive by being relevant.

It’s both/and: Build and serve customer communities with a website and social media.

I’ve talked a lot about building online communities on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. Click here to see all my interviews on social media, but first, let me know what you think about building customer communities.

A prediction becomes reality

Last week I compared the evolution of websites to that of social media adoption. I proposed that two things were likely in the future for small businesses: 1) They may be more likely to have a social media strategy than have a website; 2) More and more would employ both a website and social media to cross-collateralize content and e-commerce capability.

This line of thinking got me wondering how you’re using these two customer-connecting tools right now. So in our poll question last week we made this request: “Please choose one of these four options for how you connect with customers online.” Frankly, the answers surprised me.

Almost one-in-five respondents said, “We have a website for our business.” Of course, this would be way too low for this answer, except that we also offered this choice, “We do both - website and social media.” Those who chose this one represented more than 70%.

A very small percentage of our sample said they used social media as the sole method of connecting with customers online. In time, I believe this will change. And thankfully, those who admitted that they didn’t connect with customers online at all were also a small number of our respondents.

The good news I’m taking away from our responses this week is that my #2 prediction in the first paragraph is coming to pass sooner than I thought. Small businesses increasingly understand that in order to be relevant in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, you have to be prepared to use all methods of connecting with customers, the traditional and the new.

Recently on my radio show, The Small Business Advocate, I talked more about the connections between social media and websites, now and in the future. Take a few minutes to listen and tell us how you use social media in your efforts to connect with customers.

Comparing the evolution of websites and social media

What is the relationship between social media and websites?

Websites and social media will work together in the future

Do you know how customers are finding you?

In the old days, when someone would call or come in the door of your business for the first time, you would ask them how they found you. And since it’s not your customer’s job to catalog such things for future retrieval, you probably had to help them a little by reciting examples of where you might have spent your marketing budget: an ad on the radio, TV, newspaper, Yellow Pages, a Little League uniform, etc.

Here in the second decade of the 21st century, asking how customers find you is still important, but with one new element: For the past 10-15 years, you should also include, “or did you find us online?”

Not too long ago, saying “our website” instead of “online” would have been appropriate. Today, online is best because customers can find you in other places on the Internet, including the social media and customer review platforms, even if, Heaven forbid, you don’t have a website.

The question is not whether your company is “out there” online today, but rather to what degree and – this is so important it will be on the test – what is being said about your business.

We wanted to know how much small businesses are attributing sales performance to the Internet, so recently we asked our radio and online audience this question: “How much of your 2011 sales do you think will result from some kind of Internet activity, even as simple as people just finding your business mentioned online?” The results made me very happy. About 90% of our respondents said they would be able to attribute some sales in 2011 from the Internet.

Breaking the numbers down, over 50% said less than half of 2011 sales would be attributed to online activity. The next number is really exciting: About one-fourth said they would see more than half of their sales from the Internet. And finally, the bookends: Those who said all of their sales would come from the Internet were almost the same – around 10% – as those who recorded a goose egg because (read this with a nasal whine), “We don’t have a website.”

As the Age of the Customer™ becomes the marketplace norm, your customers are increasingly demanding more connection and support from you with online resources. Any company that is not making at least some effort to meet the growing online support demand will experience the painful death of irrelevancy.

You don’t have to win the online race to be successful, but you do have to show up and compete.

Today on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked more about the Age of the Customer and why you should have an online presence. Click on the link below to listen and, as always, leave your comments.

Do you know how customers are finding you?

To participate in this week’s Small Business Advocate poll, go to SmallBusinessAdvocate.com.

Don’t make a business wardrobe faux pas

The late comedian, George Gobel, once joked that he felt like the whole world was a tuxedo and he was a pair of brown shoes. Some small businesses may be starting to relate due to their uncompetitive Internet capability.

 

Not too long ago, a national survey indicated that half of small businesses don’t have a website. This number is difficult to believe, but it’s probably pretty accurate. Some business owners still don’t understand that a website is not just for selling things online, the way Amazon does. More often than not, customers just want to find out who you are, what you sell, why they should care and how to contact you.

 

Recently, when we asked our audience about their websites in an online poll, six of 10 of our respondents said their website is a critical part of their business. And a little more than a third said they have a website, but it was just an online brochure. Even the five percent who don’t have a website said they intend to get one.

 

So why do our findings differ so much from the research mentioned first? Clearly, members of my audience, by definition, are smarter and higher adopters of technology than the average small business owner. After all, how could you hang around with me for very long without succumbing to the pressure, guilt and shame I lay on anyone who is not taking advantage of the Internet? To paraphrase Erich Segal, tough love means never having to say you’re sorry.

But while it’s difficult to believe that 50% of small businesses do not have a website, our 95% adoption number likely indicates that those who don’t have a website won’t admit it, even anonymously.  It might seem like twisted logic, but it’s a good thing to be self-conscience, if not embarrassed, about not having something so essential to 21st century business success.

 

Your world of customers and competitors is proceeding to dress itself up with the online capability equivalent of a tuxedo. If you’re inadequate Internet capability has you feeling uncomfortable about being uncompetitive or, worse, irrelevant, congratulations; not because you showed up at a formal event in a pair of brown shoes, but because being aware of the deficiency is the first step of many toward getting your business properly dressed for success.

Here are three of several places where you can get a website produced and hosted quickly and for low or no cost.  Yola.com, Homestead.com and Webs.com.

 

If you have a Web presence, keep improving and upgrading it. If you don’t, get one.

Recently on The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about the importance of having a web presence with Anita Rosen, author of several books, including E-Commerce a Question and Answer Book, and e-Learning 2.0. Anita is also president of ReadyGo.com and a valued member of my Brain Trust. Click on one of the links below to listen to our conversation, and, as always, leave your comments.

 

How difficult is it for prospects to find your business online? with Anita Rosen 

How does your website serve prospects and customers? with Anita Rosen

Small business and the whole SEO thing

A website is your small business’ portal to the billions of Earthlings who are on-line. This thought is exciting, but before you get too worked up answer this question: Is your website structured to maximize SEO?

If you don’t know what SEO is, that means there is a great likelihood that your website is a digital wallflower wearing birth-control glasses (heavy black frames, thick lenses, circa 1960), when you need it to be partying in cool shades, 24/7, all over the world wide web.

So what is SEO, and how do you get it? First, follow me down memory lane for a few seconds.

For decades, a business relied heavily on a utility – the Yellow Pages of the phone book – to provide a gateway to prospects. In the 21st century that gateway is a search engine and, of course, the big daddy is Google, followed by little brothers Yahoo, MSN, and others. So, SEO stands for - search engine optimization.

Virtually every day search engines visit your website by sending digital probes called “spiders” which “index” the pages you have available to the public so that when someone does a search for something you’ve said or your company offers, you can be found. But search engine spiders are fickle and finicky; they like the red on their candy the way Goldilocks would: ju-u-ust right. So if your candy – I mean pages – aren’t “optimized,” your stuff will get indexed but, sadly, not very well. Think of it like this:

The late comedian, George Goble, once lamented about himself, “Did you ever get the feeling the whole world is a tuxedo and you’re a pair of brown shoes?” Well, if your website is not optimized, it’s a pair of brown shoes while your competitors’ websites are probably partying in their tuxedos.

If I’ve caused you a little discomfort, that was part of my goal. The rest of my goal is to get you to contact an SEO expert – today! These are really smart people who don’t have a life and have to be locked up at night, but they actually know what kind of candy search engine spiders like, and they can help you put a nice pair of black patent leather shoes on your website so it can be invited to more parties.

One of those SEO experts is Jim Baldwin, from NSPSO, and he joined me on my show recently to talk about the whole SEO thing. I promise you’ll learn a lot of SEO stuff by listening to our conversation. And don’t forget to leave a question or a comment.

Small business and the Virtual World

Let’s say you’ve just spent a lot of time and money launching a brand new website. Congratulations. But at the risk of sounding rude, it’s probably already obsolete. Or at least it will be very soon.

What is the purpose of my presumptuous disregard for your new on-line baby? Let me remind you that most things in the marketplace have always been measured in terms of generations. And one thing we know about generations is that they have a life expectancy. In the old days, the generational life of a product, strategy or other asset might be a year or more. But in the 21st century, things are measured in Internet terms, and an Internet year is about 90 days – max!

So what’s the next great generation of on-line capability we should all be lurching uncontrollably toward? Virtual world. You know, with Avatars. Those digital forms that represent us in the dimension known as cyberspace.

While I admit to knowing a lot less than I should about the Virtual World, I do know that it’s something I’m going to have to learn, really fast. And I encourage you to do the same. If you would like to get started, listen to the conversation I had with Brain Trust member, Jorian Clark, founder and CEO of Spectacom.com. She and her team are Virtual World experts. So unless you are – a Virtual World expert, I mean – take a few minutes to listen to what this one said on my radio show today. By the way, my new Avatar looks a lot like Tom Selleck.




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