Information overload. Get fit! Be healthy. The internet is littered with articles, blogs and lists trying to find the ‘answer’. Dietitians and practitioners have made careers and movements with approaches focused rooted in similarities of sub-sets of the population, with theories including the blood type diet and metabolic type diets (adopted in performance sporting environments such as rugby). Digital strategy is similar; a Google search will provide digital/social strategy articles numbering 5, 7, 9 or 100 differing ‘must include’ for a digital plan. The reality is that these sometimes conflicting, often similar and on occasion quirky methods create paths to success for different people. My intent is not to create any new paradigms, or re-invent any wheels, but when choosing how and where to start and focus, it is important as a small business owner/entrepreneur to understand the landscape when working towards a strategy or plan. We’ll visit this landscape below in the familiar terms of groups; owned, paid and earned media, (but the message can be applied to a methodology that resonates best with you).
Owned - It can be argued that this is your most important sales and/or communication tool. The way in which your website is created, structured and designed is important on two fronts. It represents the way your brand/business is perceived by the audience. It also is a core element to your customer/audience conversations, and like any conversation it needs the ability to be up to date, responsive, interactive and relevant. This does not mean it needs to be super complex or expensive, but should ensure that it can adhere to these principles. If you don’t have a large budget, there is no point paying a designer to build you a site that looks visually stunning, but you can’t update regularly (with content and SEO changes), within your budget (i.e. this needs to be at low or no cost for many small business owners), and can integrate with current and future social platforms. This last point is particularly important to small business owners and entrepreneurs; your owned media also includes content generated through organisational social media accounts. Social strategy may start small one to two social platforms through trial, test or based off customer feedback, or managing to maximise social channels either platform by platform or through consolidated management tools such as hoot suite or broad bean.
Paid media - this is ever increasingly made up of performance media such as search, Performance display advertising and paid social. For the small business owner, self-serve options abound, on pay per action budget with the ability to set maximum budgets for given time periods. Paid and performance media works, but it can be a contentious discussion. Debate over the role of a medium like PPC can be confusing for the channel experts, where attribution (which of your ad dollars spent led to customer action (purchase)) sits in the purchase or conversion funnel, brand building vs transactional, to name just a couple of topics; and with merits on either side of the debate. For the small business owner/entrepreneur, balancing the outlay of resources (money and time) vs the immediacy of need and ability to apply rudimentary ‘attribution’ and the nature and role of the business endeavour should dictate the approach. Paid Media is exactly that; ‘paid’. Seemingly ‘getting it right’ or ‘doing it wrong’ may influence your opinion of the channel more positively (over investing) or negatively (withdrawal) than it deserves. Like owned and earned, there are free options to manage your spend, but you will pay for your performance; an upside is both Google and Bing offer SEM/PPC starter coupons for small business.
Earned media – social listening is a relatively new term for monitoring this activity typically generated by customers, influencers and journalists (not by a company or its agents). Online PR and customer satisfaction are areas that can be monitored to manage reputation, create dialogue with existing customers; the concept of online reputation management is an ever-increasing g validation point for new and existing customers. Allocating resources to manage this channel can range from cost free to high value, the associated trade-offs are cost vs time/labour/ability. For small businesses, this can start with cost free tools as simple creating ‘Google alerts’ or leveraging pure free play tools like tweetreach, (the challenge in the ‘free’ space is the truly valuable tools tend to be acquired by digital or SaaS players I.e. Topsy to Apple, and Icerocket to Meltwater). Combing your social media messaging and management with social listening is possible (and a good choice to reduce platforms/tools) through tools like Hootsuite, Meltwater or Sprout Social, costs can range from USD$15 per month into the thousands and this should also be factored into any decision.
When approaching a digital plan, the novice and experienced alike can start ‘digital in’ focusing on maximisation the mechanisms available across owned, paid and earned, to maximise activities across as many platforms (and/or disproportionately focused on platforms favoured or perceived popular in their personal lives). Alternatively, a ‘ground zero’ approach may be adopted and while appropriate for a new business or endeavour it is important to remember is that a ‘digital strategy’ is not a ‘business strategy’. While digital may open new doors to channels, audiences and customers, existing businesses already have a ‘business plan’ or at minimum are delivering solutions to their target audience without a documented plan.
The best chances for success and opportunities to improve in the medium and long term come from strategy and consistency of approach. What works for a person or a group may not be the right path for another; personal or observed experiences, evidence based approaches show success across differing models/philosophies.
Next week we’ll focus on the how and why of business strategy and blockers to integrating digital.