Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Places, and a whole lot of other new words will dominate the marketing scene in 2011 and beyond. Physicians, lawyers, engineers, accountants, professors, politicians, business owners, and any and all professionals need to learn how to take advantage of the social media situation and get on board with social marketing.
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When the internet first started in the early 1990s, it was used as a media by academia to distribute research documents and papers. Companies such as America Online gave the average home user a “web” experience and a lot of companies jumped on board and wanted an AOL keyword to market to this new breed of consumer that has a lot of disposable income. You saw ads on television by major companies touting their AOL keywords. It was important to have a web presence on AOL.
By the mid to late 1990s, a majority of companies had their own websites and people figured out that you could access the internet directly, and not have to use an intermediary like AOL. Companies began advertising on television and having their web address at the end of the ads so people could go to their websites directly.
This phase of internet marketing stood still and was the standard for much of the last decade as well. This was all marketing that depended on the user to go to the website and access your information. If I wanted to learn about Toyota, I had to go to their website. Sure, sending out spam email worked too, but email filters became very good at eliminating spam (thank you gmail). So advertisers had to find other ways of attracting users to their websites and buying their products.
Search engines wised up and created special searches for people looking to purchase things. If I type “men’s shoes” into Google, it would return results with lots of webpages with information about men’s shoes, but I could also click on “shopping” and find a ton of online retailers that sell men’s shoes. That made a huge difference and cleaned up the search world.
There were so many webpages out there, that people needed search engines to help them find things. That’s when search engines became huge.
Search Engine Optimization
Because the only way to find things online was to conduct a search using Google, a lot of companies have specialized in “search engine optimization” strategies. You find ways to optimize your webpages to show up very highly on Google searches for your specific field. If you are a lawyer in Toledo, Ohio, you want to be the first one to show up in Google if anyone types in “Toledo Ohio Lawyer”. You can write your webpages to rank highly for specific search terms. This is the concept of search engine optimization. This exploded onto the web marketing scene and was the rage for a while (and still is) because people had no other way of “finding” you. You may have the best website on earth and the best business in Podunk, Alaska, but no one will ever find you on Google if your website isn’t optimized.
Email and Newsletters
A lot of websites have a subscription service where you can subscribe to their email and newsletter updates. Some send out email newsletters, some send out an email notification that their newsletter is up and available on the website for you to access. You can also subscribe to RSS (real simple syndication) feeds to these newsletters and view them on your phone, Google Reader or any other RSS feed reader. These forms of communication still need to attract users to them. They aren’t pushed out to users. You need to find a way to pull users in.
Blogs started in the late 1990s and are still growing strong. Anyone, anywhere could become a publisher (like this blog). People could read your thoughts and link to them. People loved reading blogs and interacting with the authors and other users via the comment section. These still exist and do very well. I have a ton of them that I like to read. Of course, some of the more popular blogs ultimately grew up and became full fledged media websites (cnet, engadget). But bloggers still exist and provide a unique perspective that isn’t the “big media” view of the world. These become especially important during tragedies and disasters (Katrina, Tsunami).
The year 2006 marks the year Facebook was born and ultimately would revolutionize web marketing as we know it (eventually). For the longest time, websites like Facebook and MySpace were designed for people to meet each other, make connections, share information and photos. But they quickly figured out that they could also sell advertising. Facebook’s advertising tools are immensely powerful and advertisers love the level of detail and information. You can select to advertise to men who are 30-32 years old, who are physicians in internal medicine only. Only those men would see your ads. Highly targeted. Advertisers loved this. It wasn’t until 2008 that facebook really became mainstream. Now, everyone has one.
Facebook revolutionized how people interacted online. You could become friends, you could poke people, you could upload photos of yourself and friends, you could share photos, you could tag friends in photos, you could post comments on each other’s pages (walls), you could like comments, you could comment on comments, you could Unfriend people, you could chat live with people, you could post links, videos, and photos on each other’s walls, and do a lot more than anyone ever imagined. Facebook was interactive. Every time you logged in, there were notifications of things people did to you or that need your action. It made the internet very interactive. No other website did this. It was addicting. That’s why MySpace fell off and lost people. It wasn’t interactive. You could check it every 6 months and nothing ever changed. Facebook changed by the minute, and you had to interact quickly. It is almost like a real live game. People loved this. And still love it. People ‘facebook” every day (it’s a verb now). Just like you “google it”. This is what the internet was meant to be.
By 2008, Twitter had become a major hit as well. Twitter came along and the concept of micro-blogging caught on quickly. People could follow their favorite celebrities, athletes, and even President Obama and have access to their unedited, immediate thoughts and reactions. People loved this. Twitter grew up and now groups continually hold twitter chats via specific hashtags, the “#” you see in front of words. For example, if you search twitter for #doctors or #mdchat you will find millions of tweets on that pertain to physicians. Same with #rnchat for nurses. You can search twitter for anything and gauge people’s unedited, immediate response to almost anything. Wondering what people feel about the latest football game, type in #nfl. It’s estimated that over 65 million tweets per day are sent out.
Ultimately advertisers and spammers found ways to take advantage of twitter by spamming twitter with hundreds of thousands of messages a day about “loseweightnow” or “fitness” or “diet” or “penis enlargement” and hope that people click on the link and end up at their website that is selling some product.
LinkedIn is the facebook of “professionals”. People looking to network “professionally” can use LinkedIn. While people looking to play or just social relationships can use facebook. The reality is that most people use Facebook for both, since it is the most popular service.
Whether it’s FourSquare, Google Places, Gowalla, or Facebook Check-Ins, people now are broadcasting where they are and where they are going. But that’s not all. They can also leave little tips and reviews of places. If you have the mobile application FourSquare on your phone you can use it to “check in” to nearby places. The more check ins the more rewards you get and the more rankings you can earn. If you check in to the corner Starbucks enough times, you can be the imaginary “mayor” of Starbucks. Users can leave tips and reviews as well, but you would never be privy to this world if you didn’t have FourSquare. Advertisers and business have quickly wised up and started checking in and leaving good reviews.
There are plenty of other applications for cell phones that allow you to leave reviews for places you’ve been.
Google’s website and mobile maps application now has “Places” or “Maps”. You can write reviews of local nearby businesses. In fact, if you go to Google and look for your business, you will find lots of reviews that you never knew existed. These are not just online, but on the mobile app as well.
These are services like youtube.com or vimeo.com. You can upload or record videos to share with others. Companies that have a lot of “How to” type of information like to use these. But you can share almost any video that you think people will find interesting. People will like it and share it and tweet it. You will become an instant celebrity.
So what can I do about it? How can I market myself or my business?
As a professional, if you don’t have a standalone website, that will be your first step. Your business needs a home on the net. A website which describes your business, your services, how to get a hold of you and where you are located. It should also contain links to your facebook page and twitter account. You want to encourage visitors to “follow” you on facebook and twitter. Those are huge and you will see why.
Optimize Your Website for Searches
Your website needs to be optimized for keywords that people may use to find your type of business. People may search for “cardiologist in Deerfield, IL”. If that’s what you do, you better rank number one on Google for that search. If you don’t. You better learn search engine optimization quickly. It’s easy to do. Search the internet, there are a lot of free resources. Or hire someone to take a look at your website and optimize it.
Newsletters, Blogs, and Emails
You can easily create a section on your website that is a news blog or article section. You can have little snippets, videos, tips, advice, and all kinds of valuable information for your users. You can integrate this service with your other marketing efforts. As soon as you publish a new blog or article, an email gets sent out to your email subscribers, and a message gets posted to your facebook and twitter with a brief preview and link back to your website. This will help draw people back in to your website and put your name on their minds once again.
A facebook page can easily be created by anyone with a facebook account. If you have a lawn service, create a page called “Mohammed’s Lawn Service”. Invite all your friends and their buddies to become fans or to “Like” the page. On that page, you should have information about your services, location, contact information just like your website. Have links to your website as well. As people “Like” your page and become fans, you will get lots of links to your page and website. This helps increase your overall web presence, your search rankings, and improves how well respected of an authority you or your website are with regards to your business. Plus it gives you a way to directly interact with your clients, customers, fans, friends, etc. People can ask questions, write on your wall, and interact with you like never before. This lends credibility and trust to your business. People will come to you when they need whatever you are offering and will tell their friends about it. You will be the first thing on their mind in your field.
Having a twitter account can help as well. People like to know what you are up to. You can have a personal account as well as a business account. Your personal account can be used for personal tweets and personal information and the occasional link or advertisement of your business. Your official business account should include tweets of all things related to your field of practice. If you own a deli, your tweets can vary between “Stop in today for 10% off lunch specials” to “Low fat salads are our specialty”. The idea is to get people to continually think about your business. If every morning they get a tweet about a lunch special, they will be thinking about your deli every day of the week. Catering service? Cardiologist? Lawyer? Motivational Speaker? Even better! Keep on tweeting!
Follow as many people as possible with your business account, they will follow you back. Use twitter’s advanced search feature (search.twitter.com) to find people in your city and follow them. Especially, if your business is geographically relevant. There is no need to try and attract follower form California if your bakery is in Boston. But you never know.
Retweet. If you like something someone else has tweeted, you can retweet it to all of your followers. Retweeting helps people find other interesting people to follow. They will also retweet you. Take advantage of this.
Download Foursquare onto your phone and try to check in to your business once you are there. If it doesn’t exist, create it. If it exists, you can claim it and update contact info, phone numbers, etc. You can also look at tips and reviews people have left. Hopefully, you will like what you see. Learn to use facebook’s check in service as well. Do the same with a few of the other popular location services.
If you own a bakery that makes special chocolate donuts, post a video on YouTube.com of how to make donuts. Post this from your business youtube account. Have links back to your website and bakery so that people can stop in and get that food. If you have a special video or something especially crazy or funny, post it. It can “go viral”, which means everyone will be sharing and reposting this link to all their friends and networks. You can tweet and share these videos on your facebook as well. People will like them and share them. You will see a huge increase in traffic.
Link it all up
Your blog should contain links to your website (or should be hosted on it). Your website and blog should contain links to your twitter, youtube, and facebook accounts. When one updates, the others should update as well. If you send out a newsletter or email, your facebook, twitter, and other services should all notify your networks.
If people post questions on your blog or facebook page or directly at you in twitter, respond to them. They need to know that you are real and credible. Build relationships and trust.
People will push advertising of you and your business to each other. Social marketing is pushed to people. That’s the beauty of it. People will share your links, will Like your page, will Retweet your tweets to all their friends and followers. People will broadcast your business and service for you. You need to jump in as do this as well. You no longer have to wait for people to find your website or business through a search engine. People will be sending it out to each other’s facebook, twitters, cell phones, and a multitude of other services.
Facebook and Twitter your website
You can add facebook applications and buttons to your website. For example, if you have a website that produces articles about football, like http://www.FootballTimes.org , you can add the ability for people with facebook accounts (nearly everyone) to interact with your website immediately. They can “Like” your pages and articles, they can “Discuss” your articles at the bottom, they can “Share” your articles and pages with others. You can also add Twitter functionality to your website. People can press a button from your webpage and quickly share your website with their followers. That is pretty intense.
So how much is too much? Does it make sense for a physician or lawyer to have all this crazy functionality on their website? To send out billions of tweets? No. But it makes sense for a motivational speaker to include all of these features and tweet often.
So how do you know what is the correct amount of social marketing? You can try looking at your competition, but I can almost guarantee that they don’t do any social marketing. Does the law firm next door do facebook or twitter? No. Does the doctor down the street do twitter or facebook? Probably not. So you are already ahead of the game.
Depending on what type of professional you are or what type of business you run, you can decide how much social marketing you want to do. Everyone should have a facebook page. That’s easy. If your business depends on “walk-ins” you should also have a twitter account. You can decide how much to get involved. If you need help, you can hire consultants, especially if you have no idea what you are doing. But before hiring expensive consultants, do your homework. Get a twitter and facebook account and see how they work and what they actually are first. Don’t let someone take you to the cleaners and charge you a ton of money. Educate yourself. You can always ask me if you need help.
Social marketing will be the next big thing. Twitter and Facebook and these location services will be huge. Jump on the bandwagon early. This isn’t going away. If you want to be noticed or well known, get on board now. If you have questions or concerns, you can always ask me in the comment section or via my email, facebook, or twitter accounts.
Below are some nice implementations of social marketing and networking worked into some professional websites I am involved with:
Football Times is a website that offers football advice, free playbooks, and informative articles for recreational football players. The front page incorporates a lot of social media links at the top as well as an area to comment and Like the front page. Every article page allows comments via facebook comments as well as the ability to tweet and share the pages.
Alo Legal is a law firm in Toledo, Ohio which offers general services to people living in Toledo, Ohio. Notice the subtle “tweet” and “share” on each page. You don’t need all the facebook comments interaction here. But you can go to their facebook page for that. It’s a nice clean implementation. Of course, there is a “Share” page under “Contact Us” that allows you to share the website with all your friends and social networks.
A local bakery/deli in Toledo, Ohio. A link in the front page to their twitter account and facebook page. A nice simple implementation. Could use a few more features and a more cohesive interface.
This is this blog that you are reading now. There is a link near the top under my picture to follow me on twitter and facebook. There is a comment section with each article. It allows for interaction. Adding the ability to comment through facebook comments will help as well, but hasn’t been implemented yet. This blog imports directly to my facebook account under “Notes” to allow for people to view my blog and read it in other locations. They can comment on my posts in facebook as well. Readers have the option to share, tweet, and send out each post to their friends easily at the bottom of each article.
My personal website. Great for patient’s very nice looking and well designed using the latest technology. Loads quickly. A quick link to my blog, twitter, facebook. Clean and simple. Keeps you connected. But no interactive features. You don’t really want them here.
Our family’s website, although the links to facebook and twitter aren’t obvious, they are under each person’s individual menu. If you click on Mohammed Alo, you will see links to my blog, my CV, my twitter and facebook. Clean and simple links, but no interaction. You don’t always need to add the interactive elements to a website like this. Why would someone need to “like” or “share” our family website? I am not sure. But search engine optimizing that website would be crucial. People need to be able to find the Alo family on Google if they looked.