I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy!Tash

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Email list or social media followers – which is best?

Yesterday, I heard Scott Stratten talk about business awesomeness in a webinar run by the Australian Businesswomen’s Network (ABN) and the above statement stuck in my mind.

Traditional or modern?

For many years, building a list was the key to online success according to many marketers and people worked hard to get more email addresses.

Now, the list isn’t mentioned as much but there is much talk of being on social media – and some will certainly imply or say that the more followers the better.

Is it just a sign of the times that social media is taking over from email lists and html newsletters?

Fractional reaction and social media

Scott uses the term fractional reaction to show how limited social media exposure can be.

Let’s say you have 100 Twitter followers and you tweet something important at 1o am. How many of those followers will be watching their Twitter feed at 10am? If they are not looking, there’s a very good chance they won’t see your tweet. How often do you go back very far in your social media feeds to check you haven’t missed something?

Email lists

On the other hand, if you send an email at 10am and I’m offline, it will still be in my inbox when I get online.

Email or social media, I may ignore your message because there are too many things to choose between or because it doesn’t interest me. But Scott is saying more will at least see your email. And your email has more chance of being opened if you have built a reputation of sending emails worth reading.

Of course, the other advantage of an email list is that it is yours.

And thus you have control over contacting those people to build your relationship and business.

So which give the best results?

If you have tried both email marketing and social media marketing, which has given you the best results?

Here are some of my thoughts…

It really isn’t easy to put a (return on investment) ROI on social media as some it is based on relationship building, gaining credibility as a thought leader, exposure and learning as well as direct marketing – social media doesn’t work just as a marketing tool.

Social media can take a lot of time to make regular posts, although often in short bursts, whereas writing emails tends to take bigger blocks of time.

With the use of automated emails, the same email can be used over and over in a way that just can’t apply to social media.

If you leave a social media platform or it stops, you lose those followers. Likewise if the platform changes rules, you may find it harder to stay in front of your followers – for example, if they start charging.

I hadn’t really thought about comparing the two options before hearing Scott yesterday. Yet I can see a lot of wisdom in his words.

Of course, there is no reason to not build both an email list and a social media following but which is worth more time and effort? Is a social media following worth pursuing at the expense of your email list?

I know I have put less effort into building an email list than I used to – and now I am rethinking that. Something to consider at my next working on my business session!

Is this a new perspective for you, too?

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Blog post writing isn’t always easy, but it’s possible

Does every blog post come naturally and easily? scrabble letters 'writing blog posts'

Speaking for myself, the answer is a definite no!

Speaking on behalf of clients and many business people I have spoken to, I would also give a resounding no!

Speaking for yourself, do you think it’s easy to write blog posts? How about if you try writing them to fit a marketing schedule?

So sometimes we have to make ourselves write a post, even if it is hard finding an idea or topic.

Don’t force your writing

A post on SEO outreach by Emma Fox stated “don’t force yourself into making something for a website.” (Yes, the same post that inspired my post about taking time to develop ideas last week has inspired this post, too!)

It’s an interesting statement.

You can take it to mean its best to write naturally and don’t go too far in making your posts relevant to a very different topic. Which are good points.

Or you can read it as advice to  only write for other blogs when you feel like it. Which sounds very nice, but is not so practical for a business owner trying to market their business!

Choosing a guest blog host

 When it comes to choosing where to put a guest blog post, I try to get that balance through the following ideas:

  1. if the blog’s topic is too far from my areas of knowledge, I don’t write posts for them
  2. I only approach someone with a potential guest post when I know I have the time to provide the post, meaning I have a bit of time to be able to write without it being a huge chore or stress
  3. I don’t try being someone else or write in another’s voice so the post feels natural. I will angle the content and tone to suit an audience but keep to what feels right for me
  4. I am experienced in writing on demand – I think you can choose to write at any time, not just want for the right mood, without feeling forced into it. Habit and attitude can get you writing – like Chris Guillebeau, I like the quote  from Somerset Maugham: I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.

A drop of honey in your writing works

Some years ago, I opened a saving account with a higher interest rate for the proverbial rainy day. I haven’t used that account much for some time but received a letter from that bank  that I wanted to share.

Threatening feel

Angry man threatening a piggy bank with a hammer

Threatening people’s savings doesn’t create a good impression

With opening words ‘Inactive account’, the letter launched with a long paragraph about money in inactive accounts being transferred to ASIC. The paragraph ended with a ‘by the way, the Government recently changed the inactivity period to 3 years from 7 years’ message.

It went on to define in active accounts.

Followed by a sub-heading “Your inactive xyz account”.

At this point I was angry because I hadn’t been told about the change in law nor that my money would be transferred to ASIC so “how dare they do that”.

The letter then mentioned I could prevent the transfer by using my account before the end of January.

Why not tell me that first as it is actually the most important thing for me to know?

And encouraging me to make another deposit is surely in the bank’s best interests, too?

Why let me get angry and annoyed rather than show me they are trying to help my keep my money?

The harsh letter made me uncomfortable, and as I only had a small amount of money left in there, my response was to withdraw all my money and close the account myself.

This is obviously a necessary letter for banks, but I think they are missing a relationship building and marketing opportunity to write it in such harsh terms.

Even if most people still closed their accounts, they would do so without negative feelings towards that bank…

It could have been personable and helpful

happy businessman offering a hand shake

Being friendly builds goodwill and reduces stress

In contrast I recently wrote a letter for a client along similar lines.

That letter effectively read:

You haven’t made a contribution for some time so your account is about to be classed as inactive.

If you make a contribution by xx, your account will be reactivated. Otherwise, your account will have to be closed.

Another option would have been  to write:

Did you know that any account without transactions for 3 years are classed as inactive? And that we have to transfer money in inactive accounts to ASIC?

To avoid this for your account, please make a deposit or withdrawal by xx.

Or they could have focussed on the change in law as important news:

Did you know it’s been nearly three years since you used your account?

The Commonwealth Government recently changes the law so accounts are classed as inactive after 3 years rather than seven. That means your account could soon be classed as inactive.

By law, we must transfer money from inactive accounts to ASIC.

Of course, you can reactivate your account by making a deposit or withdrawal before xxx.

Which version would you prefer to receive?

 * Images courtesy of kozzi

Is there business life beyond Facebook?

mix of activities that makes a makreting strategy

A strong marketing strategy encompasses more than one option

Like it or not, Facebook is a big site that attracts millions of people to it. Every day. Repeatedly.

As a business, it is important to understand how Facebook could be part of your marketing plan – note I don’t say you have to be ON Facebook but I do think it is a good idea to actively know about it and consciously decide whether or nor to use it for marketing.

Facebook is changing

If you’ve been on Facebook or read many marketing/SEO blogs, you’ll know that Facebook has changed things a number of times.

Recent changes, however, have made businesses wonder if Facebook will be a viable marketing option soon. Updates on business pages do not go into your fans’ news feed by default any more – some do, but fans have to show an interest first and it’s still no guarantee.

Facebook is moving towards charging businesses to be in front of fans.

As a business, it’s understandable that they want to make money. For SMBs, there is a real and justifiable fear that they won’t be able to compete in the advertising stakes against the big guys. A problem social media supposedly overcame for many SMBs.Select to get Word Constructions notifcations in Facebook

At least they have now added notifications so fans can choose to be notified of updates on a page.

What other options are there?

I don’t see this as a small answer. I never thought of Facebook as that important my business relies on it so I already use a number of other avenues.

But some businesses have put a lot into their Facebook page and could be challenged by looking elsewhere.

The appeal of Facebook is that so many people use it. But how many of those people are really your target market anyway? A targetted option may have fewer users but more of them will be interested so it could offer much more value anyway.

To me, the risk of Facebook (and similar sites) is lack of ownership. You don’t ‘own’ your Facebook profile in the same way you own your website. Facebook can change the rules or  disappear, leaving you without all you built up.

One way to keep using Facebook but have less reliance on it is to add ‘like’ buttons to your site.

That means people can still refer to you and your site to their Facebook friends but traffic comes to your site, not your Facebook profile.

Chris Syme offers a number of good ideas in a recent blog post and I’d add a few more:

  •  get involved on some popular blogs – leave comments and interact with the blogger and other readers
  • do some guest blogging
  • find some forums that suit your niche and become active there – it’s a smaller audience but targetted
  • if using any social media, keep a focus on your website so you don’t lose everything if the platform collapses or becomes unusable
  • develop and maintain an email list
  • promote yourself offline as well – ads in local newsletters, sponsor local events and hand out business cards appropriately

What would happen to your business tomorrow if Facebook suddenly wanted to charge too much for your page?

Do you have other viable options already in place?

Tash & Word Constructions on Twitter          Word Constructions on LinkedIn         Tash & Word Constructions on Facebook

Learning social media rules

I have been using a lot more social media (specifically twitter) recently as part of my Love Santa project. It because abundantly clear that some people have no idea (or don’t care) about how to effectively use Twitter. Follow TashWord on Twitter

Top most is having an understanding that twitter is for communicating and building relationships – not for blatant ads like old-fashioned media (e.g. a newspaper ad was a one way message). I saw a few businesses tweet their ad at least every couple of hours with no other messages in between. For one business, they had 3 variants of it and ran them in succession once every hour or so during their business hours. I wasn’t their audience anyway but seeing it so often bored and annoyed me, and gave me an uncomfortable feeling about them as a business.

Next is to have one honest profile. It because obvious when 3 supposedly different twitter users repeatedly sent the same tweet straight after each other – a number of times. It came across as trying to trick and con people, plus it seemed they were desperate for business rather than offering quality or showing a genuine interest in people watching their tweets.

The other behaviour that was annoying while I was on twitter a lot (I haven’t really seen it when just keeping up with people I follow on twitter) was an excessive use of hash tags*.

To me it was like reading a blog post or webpage written to show off keywords rather than actually communicate something – boring, annoying and an insult if they think I am impressed by such actions.

Adding # to key words within a message is fine, adding a keyword or two after the message is also fine, but the following wasn’t so fine:

  • adding five or more hashtags after a brief message
  • adding hashtags that were about advertising not the message (e.g. adding #santa after a message about a computer breaking down to get noticed for Christmas or adding #webdesign to a message about dreading a visit to the dentist)
  • making the entire message hashtags with a link

Tweets are like any other content you write – make it about the message and people reading it, not about SEO and getting noticed by more people, as that is what will genuinely get your message heard and distributed.

I can’t say what results those people get from their tweets, but I know I would never retweet or follow them (and I’m sure I’m not alone). I can say that most of the retweeted Love Santa tweets were those based on replying to someone else – in other words, ‘talking’ to people was appreciated and earned greater exposure to other tweeters.

Twitter can be a great marketing tool but it needs to be thought of as a relationship tool with marketing bonuses to have the best impact on your business.

Or maybe you are happy to read tweets with some of the above characteristics? Or have found them effective for viral marketing?

* A hashtag is simply adding # at the start of a word (or group of words without a space in between) that can be used to highlight a topic and make searching for relevant information on twitter easier.

Using Santa for trustworthy content

Baby in a Santa suit is trustworthy and cuteRight now, Santa and all things Christmas are popular topics and adding these keywords to your content can be useful.

At any time of year, using topical words and common events in your marketing can be valuable. For example, think about a chocolate company that advertises all year but leading up to mid February, they use more romantic concepts to tie in with Valentines Day.

If you don’t sell gifts, however, you may not think Christmas and Santa can help your marketing.

Actually, you may be surprised at how you can use current events to promote your business (and I’ll give some ideas later in the week) but here is an example from Jeff Bullas where he used Santa in a heading and one tip to tie an article on building trust to the Christmas season.

Let’s face it, are there many people more trusted than Santa? Would people trust your business based on your online presence?

If you do try to link your business in with Christmas, Santa or some other major event, it is important to do it in such a way as to build and maintain trust; make your message relevant to the added keywords rather than just adding topical words in a heading or description for purely keyword and SEO purposes.


* Image courtesy of Love Santa

Doing the same thing for how long?

One definition of insanity is to keep doing what you’ve been doing and expect different results.

Robin Cangie makes a similar point with “it’s not the metrics. Your marketing just sucks“.

So if you’ve been using Facebook for your business for 6 months and got nothing in your business to show for it. Does it make sense to keep posting on Facebook every day – or is it time to look at other options?

Maybe your Facebook campaign isn’t working because

  • your target audience doesn’t use Facebook
  • your messages are too social and not enough about your business industry/expertise
  • your profile is all about you and not helping customers
  • it leads to a website that isn’t good at converting leads to sales
  • one of many other possibilities

Measuring marketing (whether social media or otherwise) is important, but not more important than running good marketing efforts in the right place at the right time (yes, the 4 Ps of marketing still apply).

Every time your marketing results are less than expected (or desired), you need to decide whether the poor results are due to a short time frame (looking at results too soon can be misleading), inaccurate measurements, a poor campaign or something else. From that, you can decide to continue the marketing, adjust it or stop it.

Going back to our Facebook example, something has to change. Maybe it is move to another social media channel (where your audience actually spend time) or maybe it just needs a new approach.

“There’s no point flogging a dead horse” applies to marketing, too. However, you must give each campaign a chance – no additional sales after a week on Facebook doesn’t mean Facebook is a poor strategy for your business. Sometimes it is a slow process to see results from our actions.

How do you judge when something has been tried long enough to move onto a new strategy? Or do you just keep trying the same thing even when there is little chance of success?

Communications is more than marketing

Although there is some overlap in the roles, there are distinct roles for a business or corporate writer, communications manager, marketing person, designer, web manager and social media manager or monitor.

Many people don’t realise there is such a range of roles behind the public presentation of a business, so here is my summary of the roles.

A communications manager oversees many of the processes involved in producing materials to promote a business. For example, a communications manager ensures an annual report is written, designed, printed and added to a website with all necessary people approving it. A communications manager may do some of the tasks themselves, manage a team of people to do the tasks or outsource specific tasks. Communications managers generally have a writing or marketing background.

A business or corporate writer actually puts the words together to effectively communicate a message in a style that suits the business and its customers. The writer also often edits material written by other people such as a letter from a sales manager or a marketer’s brochure. Sometimes a writer will also help implement the content such as posting to a blog or working with a print-based or online-based graphic designer to tweak the message to fit.

A web manager obviously manages the website, which can include tasks such as making changes, optimising the site for search engine results, updating the design or navigation, and maintaining data.

A designer makes the message as visually appealing as possible, whether that is a simple letterhead, a website design, branding or preparing some advertising banners and posters.

A marketing officer or manager is a little harder to define. It is a creative role of trying to get the business/message to as many appropriate people as possible. Marketing includes deciding where to promote the business as well as the key messages to promote, such as a tag line, campaign theme and suitable formats.

A social media manager or monitor is obviously a newer role but no less important for that. Social media is becoming more important as a means of promoting and building your business, but it can be time consuming and has some elements that (like most things) require specific skills and knowledge. You can get someone to monitor your social media appearances (ie they check various platforms each day to see what people are saying about you) or someone can manage your social media overall (such as making posts for you, planning a strategy and replying to mentions).

If you are employing someone, you may want to think through exactly what tasks you need done before choosing the role to fill, and someone who can do more than one set of tasks may be valuable (for example a writer who can update your website or post tweets for you).

However, if you are outsourcing, remember the roles are different and choosing the appropriate person will probably give you better results than expecting too much from one person (for instance assuming that your designer will proof read your writing or write some tweets to promote your new eBook could lead to disappointment).

Some projects will obviously take more than one role to fulfill, which may seem hard to manage in itself. In this case, outsource to someone who is willing to manage those other tasks for you rather than someone who claims to do it all themselves. I would never outsource design work to me for example, but I have relationships with some great designers so can manage a project by sub contracting to them – the difference in results is huge but the effort for a client is minimised.

Images in email marketing

A picture says a thousand words.

It’s true that a picture can convey a message very quickly and sometimes better than words, and can make any document more appealing. However, you need to be careful relying on images in your marketing.

Before making an image the central part of any email message, remember the following:

  • many people (I’d guess the majority, in fact) have images turned off so they won’t see the image by default. If your email relies on that image, your email is not going to work very well.
    Yes, sometimes people will accept images and then be able to see your message but I rarely do that if the image is pretty much the entire message as I want to know what it’s about before lowering my security – and I guess I’m not alone in that.
  • including a number of images, even if they aren’t the key message, can lead to a poor presentation of your email if images are turned off – not only are there lots of red crosses on view, but it may distort the layout of text, too
  • people have different perceptions and ideas, and some see a half empty glass so think carefully about about how your image may be seen. It’s not so bad if a supporting picture is misinterpreted as if it is a key part of your message
  • including many and/or large graphics makes your email much larger which may mean higher costs for you and again may limit it’s acceptance by all email servers
  • text in graphics and images themselves won’t help your search engine efforts (for emails online as well as sent out) although it does hide words from spam filters. Technology may be changing this but for now it still matters!

So what do you think when you receive an email that is based entirely or predominantly on graphics? Are they as effective in getting your interest as text based emails?

And don’t forget to support your email marketing, too.

What other small businesses are doing online

About two thirds of small businesses using online marketing in some way say that new customers find them through search engines. Would you agree that is a key way that customers find you? If so, what are you doing about your search engine results?

The American Express OPEN small business search marketing survey (March 2011) has a number of statsistics to show where small businesses see online marketing impacting their sales.

While it is a list of survey results (yawn, yawn!) it is a summary so easy to read and can give some useful insights for trends within small business which is useful for comparisons and particularly useful if you sell to that sector. My opening questions are also examples of how you can use this information to assess your own online marketing.

Read the report and let me know what you learn from it…