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February 08, 2012

Why small businesses should have a company blog

Back in 2011, Hubspot recorded that amongst the interviewed respondents, 65% of small businesses own a company blog. With buzzing social networking platforms throughout 2009-2011, blogging was rumored to be dead and gone but clearly, that isn't the case. If you are still not blogging, you are in the minority.

So, you have thought about starting a company blog but don't know if establishing a content outlet will add any value to your brand? For small businesses operating on low resources (human and monetary), evaluating the effectiveness of any new marketing venture is essential before proceeding. Blogs have been popular for a long time and many companies have been very good at harnessing their social power. Words cause an impact and if you are genuinely keen on building relationships with the audience, a company blog will help you achieve that. 

There are 5 major reasons why you should go ahead with blogging. 

Blogging is free publicity! All you need is a basic idea, (if possible) someone in your team with good writing skills and passion for the service/product you offer. There is no better way to promote your message than by writing it in a blog post. If you are authentically believable, the enriching content you add to web space will be noted and in return help you build trust.

Build Expertise
Writing a blog post requires in-depth research. Doing so gives you an opportunity to enhance your industry knowledge. Over-time, you will also find yourself getting well versed with the products/services you offer. The more content you produce, the better you will get at explaining someone exactly what you sell. As time passes, customers will start trusting you as the go-to source for information. Moreover, expertise in a subject means you will remain up-to-date on the latest industry developments and ever prepared to answer customer queries. 

Boost Team-work
A well proven method of generating content is to get everyone in the organisation involved. Company blogs are a brilliant platform to showcase your employees' ideas/views. In terms of small businesses, this process is even easier to achieve. Team members can spend time together, brain-storming over ideas. You will have a variety of blog ideas and at the same time give employees an opportunity to shine. 

Search point of view
For small businesses, showing up within Google's local search results is important. By addressing product/service related queries or updates at the local/community level, you will be able to reach the right kind of audience. More content to offer means, more pages will get indexed.

Networking and Engagement
Networking via blogs with other stakeholders is something you should look forward to. Once your blog has considerable authority and you are treated as an expert, you could invite your customers to generate content. You can also connect with other bloggers and invite guest bloggers to write occasionally. Getting your audience involved in some form, generally leads to engagement. Engagement will go a long way in building lasting relationships.

Best Practice for Blogging

1. Quality vs Quantity: Companies focusing on hard-selling will choose the later but for a company truly interested in creating an engaging impact on their audience knows the importance of providing quality content. People are quick to see through the fake. Page-views can't justify your sincerity and that shouldn't be your ultimate goal. Stick to being honest and passionately writing about the values your brand reflects. You don't have to write frequently, don't stick to a schedule. Write whenever you can but make it good!

2. Ideas can be recycled: There are only so many topics within any industry that are popular at any given moment. Your posts can't be unique every single time. Instead, pick up ideas from other sources and build up on those. Do NOT plagiarize! Add your own flavor and contribute to the subject. Read...Read...Read. Inspiration will come to you. Start following influential people and websites, utilize Google Reader, use Google Alerts; the web is full of services you can use, that will help you keep up with what's new in your industry.

3. Don't quit social media: Blogging is just another outlet to get your word out there, it is not a replacement for social networks. Utilize your social network power to share your blog posts. Your fans and your followers are your instant audience. 

4. Promote: Going back to the previous topic, you can't expect people to somehow find your blog. Your blog won't gain authority within search engines unless your content is shared. Sharing won't happen unless you go out and promote your blog. It is a social loop. Integrate RSS feeds to your social networks to remind people about recent updates, use a bold link to the blog on your website, spread the word among employees and other stakeholders, include link in email newsletters, add link to email signatures etc. Furthermore, make contributions to LinkedIn Answers and comment on other industry blogs. 

If you are sure you want to begin blogging, read my post about choosing the right blogging platform.

February 05, 2012

Is Social Media adding to the collective consciousness or collective chaos?

I have often wondered, can two people truly stay star-crossed in this time and age? Somehow the filter of tragedy that one could apply to romantic stories in the past has vanished. Chances are, if you know this person's first & last name, you will find them somewhere on the world wide web. We are 'everywhere' and we are over-doing it! But, is all this information leading us somewhere?

A while ago, I watched an online talk on how social media is working as a catalyst towards bringing about an evolutionary change in the world (Think Egyptian revolution). Sid Mohasseb, in this talk addresses the clash between virtual and real world. You can no longer separate these two-- local and global have become a huge part of our lives. Not only are we in touch with our communities, networks like Twitter/Pinterest/LinkedIn leave our brains open to grasp the global knowledge. Pre-smartphones era, you had to log onto computers to open your door to the world but now it seems as though we never really shut the door (checking social networks in the middle of the night-that has me written all over it!)

Being a psychological-spiritual pseudoscience geek, I have read quite a bit on collective consciousness.

What is collective consciousness?

"The term collective consciousness refers to the condition of the subject within the whole of society, and how any given individual comes to view herself as a part of any given group...
...the phrase collective consciousness implies an internal knowing known by all, or a consciousness shared by a plurality of persons. The easiest way to think of the phrase (even with its extremely loaded historical content) is to regard it as being an idea or proclivity that we all share, whoever specifically “we” might entail." - 

There is vast amount of literature on this subject but for this post, I'm only going to consider the standard meaning. For anyone who still finds this concept complicated, the Star Trek geek in me has a brilliant example to offer, -"Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated".

So is social media causing this assimilation of human minds? Are we really moving forward towards a new spiritual awakening? Sounds rather extreme but I personally think that on some level, our consciousness is moving from individual to universal. Now this "universal" consciousness is further divided based on the "community" or rather the "school of thought" we belong to but when we embrace social networks, on some level we do lose our individuality. Whether as a simple user or as a marketer. This is a nice read on the topic of losing our individuality to social networks. 

Our user layouts look the same, our timeline cover photo might express our individuality but we all have the same 840 X 310 dimension allotted by Facebook! 

As a collective consciousness, most of us spend everyday trying to chime in our 2 cents to add to our ever growing community online. We share and tag and like and share some-more only to end up re-tweeting/re-pinning even more. If you spend even a couple days with no internet contact, you've quite a bit of catching up to do when you go back online!

Just like in the real world, we are trying to fit in by doing and saying what is considered acceptable and what entertains people within our social circles. Nothing wrong in that really, as a people lover, I strongly feel we need to say the right things to connect with others, else we'll be left alone. I doubt that most of us were designed to survive alone. 

When it comes to Marketers relying on social networks to spread their messages, the same applies. A little competitive research and we are trying to do what the other guy does but hope we do it better. Fitting in has somehow been equated with presence on every social network known to mankind! Its all well and good but the problem arises when we start using online marketing channels only so we can tick off "digital marketing" on the Marketing plan. The same monotonous statements are fed across all social networks and people on the other end are expected to have gained something from it! Where is your individuality and customised effort? I personally am of the opinion that you cannot Market without Research! 

Venting aside, back to the topic at hand. The fight between collective consciousness and collective chaos seems like a war between wisdom and stupidity. As a brand, what do you aim to spread?

Do you see your fans/followers as a breathing mass or humans with the capability to think?

Social media can't be effective if you are spending resources targeting the wrong audience. This is why experts suggest investing in market research to figure out what segments make up your audience. If there's something to learn from Pinterest's success, it is that Pinterest targets categorizing. Recently, I read an Oglivy article on what we can learn from the Sh*t We Say meme. The author Blake Bowyer, talks about the importance of targeting based on segmentation. Segmentation would mean using unique/individual approaches to market. You can't leave one segment out in the favour of targeting another. Each and every one of your followers/fans is an individual who is a part of a local collective which then is a part of the global collective. Obviously one cannot shape marketing based on every individual's likes/dislikes but you can definitely target the local collective. By engineering a marketing environment that uses a customised approach to target smaller collective communities, you have a better chance of winning their hearts and in turn making enriching additions to the collective at large. 

The picture social media paints cannot be black or white. Those shades of gray leave me unsure and I can't make a definite conclusion on whether the overload of information is adding to the collective consciousness or collective chaos. 

The reality as I see it is,

For true collective consciousness to occur, there would have to be a much greater percentage of people involved. Furthermore, any information shared would have to be accessible by everyone in the network and this information will have to be honest

Another issue is that the sense of community is stronger in some countries as opposed to others. Collective consciousness is community based and therefore it is more likely to work in developing nations than developed where individuality finds itself placed on a higher rank than community. Born and raised in India where community ranks higher than individuality but having spent years living in UK, I have friends on Facebook (the ones in India) who are quick to think as a community and friends from UK, who would much rather express their individuality than be a part of the local community. I suppose this is where segmentation plays a key role in any marketing plan. 

If not collective consciousness, then is the over load of information on social media causing collective chaos? 

From my point of view, our brains are wired in ways we will never understand. We can grasp and rationalize bits and pieces of information thrown at us to create a collective story. Makes me think of the chaos theory. In simple terms, chaos theory is about finding predictable information within chaotic random data. It appears that our brains are still extremely efficient at making sense of the 'chaotic'. Somehow it makes me want to believe that we are evolving and adapting to the chaos around us. 

There is no way to determine if our brains will someday burn out like an overheated electronic appliance. Between collective consciousness and collective chaos, I'm inclined to believe that we are somewhere in between. Our brains have smartly adapted to the chaos and we are building collective stories but for the sake of mankind, I sincerely hope it will lead to a positive collective consciousness. 

I like to believe that people are inherently good or at-least want to be on some sub-conscious level (if they haven't yet turned complete sociopaths). As brands, it is important to consider the effect you have on your audience. Corporate social responsibility can't end offline, it has to continue through your online efforts, after all the virtual and real have become one world! Sharing a bulk of information without consideration is crap marketing. On the other hand, I don't believe any brand can aim to create a spiritual experience like collective consciousness! You would be in a happier place if you were smoking a blunt and dreaming that can happen. What I believe is that by using the right tone of voice, actually investing in understanding your market segments, taking time to be considerate and then providing enriching individual content can help you go a long way in creating a collective story.

February 02, 2012

Importance of the 'visual' in online marketing

Visual distraction is what the internet specializes in, whether at work or writing a paper, one little click can pull you down the "just one more page and I'll get back to work" avenue. But, this same concept of visual distraction or even visual capture (because distraction is a rather negative term) when applied, can make your brand stand out from the crowd.

My last post covered the unexpected/lovable introduction of Pinterest into our social networks. Only a few weeks after I published the post, I'm noticing many people integrating their Pinterest feeds on Facebook and websites that are incorporating the Pin It buttons, with the aim to simplify the process of social share.

This time around, I've stumbled upon Conceptually this platform is designed to be quite similar to Pinterest, you can follow different categories according to your interests. The one cool feature about Mobli is that it supports sharing photos/videos in real time.

Growth in social platforms that are focusing on the visual only means one thing-- one can't deny the need to make your web presence appear aesthetic.

An image speaks louder than words there by ensuring your message has a better chance of lingering around in the viewer's mind. While focusing on content, many companies over look the 'image' aspect. Lets face facts, some brands aren't as glamorous as other brands but a DIY brand like HGTV on Pinterest is a great example of segmenting and diversifying your outreach using images that can be of interest to your audience.

Benefits of image incorporation within your web content

1. Improving social experience: Looking at some brands, I get a feeling that companies seem to forget that their web presence isn't just about providing their audience with the right content, it is also about providing an experience. Using images as part of your content is a smart way to practice experiential marketing in the virtual world.


2. Brand presentation: Images are the core of eloquent visual rhetorics. Harnessing on the power of images, you can build a desirable brand image.

Source: Moon Games by Laurent Laveder

3. Speak better than words: Brands can build stories that transcend the language barrier. Visuals speak for themselves and can help you send out subtle messages. At times visuals can be used to simplify a message that can appear complicated when explained with the use of text.


3. Search/Social media optimisation: Appropriate use of tags on images will ensure a rise in web traffic. Not all these people who land on your page will be interested in what you offer but there is always a good percentage of viewers who will click on the 'Website for this image' link to read more. In terms of social media optimisation, good descriptions below images can get the audience to click on your link,  presented with the image.

Things to consider when using visuals

1. Use high quality, beautiful images! Poor images will have an opposite effect on the audience and turn them away.

2. Make images clickable. Nothing is more annoying on the website than having an image that cannot be clicked.

3. Concentrate on tagging. It is important to have tags that are not misleading.

4. Credit image source.

5. Insert spaces when required. Quite often I've noticed web pages where images and textual content appears congested. Good designing practice requires empty space to be left between images and text.

6. Use creative inspiration from digital design websites like Beautiful Life.

Some of the world's most popular brands have attractive and pleasant visuals accompanying their content. Investing a bit more in acquiring high quality images from stock websites or hiring a professional photographer will always have a good return. Furthermore, you can use Pinterest, Flickr, Google+ and now Mobli to share your photos online!

Talking about visual experience, just yesterday I found this website for Sandvik (An Engineering Group). One might consider their brand to be uncool but the brilliant visual experience the site has to offer has something else to say! This is a great example of how you can take some of the most unglamorous brand related imagery over 125 years of manufacturing and produce something so engaging.