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How to Add Serious Value to Your Online Community

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest post is from Jamie Thomson – Enjoy! 

According to research carried out by social media experts, Socialnomics, 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations, whereas only 14% trust advertisements. Perhaps that’s why online communities are so good at generating business referrals?

Developing an online community is all about engagement. As a small business owner, you want people to participate in your forum discussions, leave comments on your blog posts and recommend your products and services to other people. But how exactly do you go about achieving this?

The answer lies in the value that you add to your members. Here’s how you can inspire your online community and create a small army of brand catalysts.

Encourage Press Release Sharing

According to press release experts, PR Web, 80 million of us read our news online every day and amongst those 80 million people are your community. If you’re not already in the B2B marketplace, get other businesses in your industry involved in your community by encouraging them to share their press releases on your site. Not only will this improve your brand authority but it’ll also add huge value to your existing community members as they’ll be able to keep up to date with the latest movements in the marketplace without having to look elsewhere.

Create a Classifieds Board

In the same way that Gumtree enables people to post classified ads in their local area, enabling people to promote their services within your industry is a great way to add value to your community. A classifieds board will encourage people to visit your website regularly to see what promotions and offers are available. Consider allowing other businesses to post job vacancies on your site too as this can help improve your authority in the marketplace and establish your brand as a market leader. This in turn, will add value to your community as your members will associate themselves as being part of a successful network.

Initiate Collaborations

‘Hi Linda, have you met John?’ Much like a business version of Match.com, your website can become a hub for people in your industry to find collaborators with whom to create new projects. Actively promote new members who join your community and encourage existing members to introduce themselves. By creating business opportunities within your community, you’ll add significant value and encourage people to increase their presence on your website.

Develop a Forum Thread Specifically for Beginners

We all had to start our business careers somewhere, right? Why not make your online forum the place that those new to the market go to for advice on getting started in your industry? Developing a thread specifically for newcomers will help expand your community and recruit new members. It’ll also give more experienced users the opportunity to share their wisdom with others. Your thread may even lead to successful mentorships for your members.

Review Related Products and Services

The chances are that your industry isn’t limited to the types of products and services that your business offers. One way to add value to your community is to review related services that your website visitors will find useful. This can help establish your business as a trusted brand and will expand your community out with your own particular niche. Writing reviews will encourage people from all corners of the marketplace to visit your site for impartial information about the latest products in your industry.

Adding value to your online community will help you retain existing community members, attract new users and position your business in such a way that you’ll benefit from having an army of loyal fans spreading the word about your brand.

 

Jamie ThomsonJamie Thomson is a freelance copywriter at Brand New Copy where he writes about small business and content marketing on his copywriting blog. He’s also the founder of The Tutor Website, an online hub for small business owners in the private tutoring industry.

 

Why Online Reviews Are Almost As Good As Actual Referrals

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest post is from Jason Keeler – Enjoy!

image 2 online business reviewsAs a business owner, there isn’t much better than a good referral. It shows that you’re doing something right, and that your customers think highly enough of you as a partner to tell other people in their circle about their great experience. Referral leads have a tremendously high closing percentage as well versus other cultivated leads. The implied trust factor allows you to skip a lot of the relationship building and get right down to business. Unfortunately, even your most vocal brand advocates will likely only influence a handful of prospective customers at most, and more than likely just one or two. But what if your happy customers were able to influence hundreds or even thousands of prospects?

The Power Of Faceless People

In the absence of a trusted business contact steering a prospect to your door, an online review can be almost as powerful. Never mind that there’s no connection between the reviewer and the prospect reading their review. According to Forrester data from a 2012 study, nearly one third of online consumers trust a stranger as opposed to a brand. That data speaks specifically to consumers buying an online product, but the sentiment holds true for prospects researching brick and mortar businesses on the web. A 20123 study by Bright Local showed that nearly 85% of customers read online reviews before trying a new restaurant, hiring a local contractor or making a major in-home purchase. The impact of positive reviews from total strangers is incredibly powerful, even if their testimonial fails to put a face with a name.

The Impact On Local Search

The value of search engine optimization to any specific business varies, but local SEO – impacting where your business falls in Google’s local search returns – can be a huge driver for both foot traffic and online visits. The online reviews of your business are a big driver for where (or if) your business appears in the pecking order. There are quite a few other factors as well, but total reviews, quality/length of reviews, having variety in the sites where you are reviewed and of course the sentiment of your reviews will play a big role in determining your place. Aside from helping you manipulate local search results, reviews on popular portals like Yelp! can be a source of referral traffic to your website as well.

Ask And You Shall Receive

As is often the case, some things can be acquired simply by asking. Ensuring that your company actively seeks both referrals and reviews will most certainly pay dividends. And for those who need more than a simple ask? There’s certainly nothing wrong with establishing a review reward similar to a referral bonus, as a consideration for their time. Smart companies may even tie it in to a discount on a future order, not only ensuring a good review but also improving the chance that there’s a repeat order from a current customer. Another unique way to improve your review rate is to use surveys. The bonus here is that you can also find out a few interesting things about your business – areas that you’re surprisingly weak or strong in – and either reward those responsible or start making improvements.

As previously noted, referrals are like gold…but good online reviews are at least like silver, or a high-grade copper. There’s real value there. Make sure you spend time focusing on reviews as well as referrals, and you’ll put more prospects in your funnel with relative ease.

Jason Keeler imageJason Keeler is the Director of Digital Marketing at EAG Advertising & Marketing, Kansas City’s small business ad agency. He’s an avid Royals fan and a lover of all things related to internet marketing.

How Networking Can Increase Your Sales and Help Your SEO

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest post is from Samantha Pena – Enjoy! 

pushing social network structure

photo credit: Thinkstock

You know the saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know”? Although your skills and dedication play a large part in starting your business, your chances of success rise when you know the right people.

Networking is one of the most valuable business tactics in growing your business, because it gives you the opportunity to learn from others and to tell them about your business in return. Consequently, networking can expand the reach of your business, boost your website’s search rankings, and increase your customer referrals. Here’s how:

Collaboration with industry experts increases your brand exposure

Networking gives you the chance to not only discuss your business with professionals but to also offer them something of value, whether that is your help, your service, or your knowledge.

When you meet others whom you think might be a great resource for your business, offer to partner with them on a project that is mutually beneficial to both of you. Although the type of partnership you create will largely depend on your business and your goals, there are so many collaboration opportunities available in real life and in the digital world.

Offering to speak at one of their events or collaborate with them on a white paper gives you the opportunity to showcase your industry expertise while tapping into and connecting with their existing network. Cross-business collaboration is thus a great way to gain greater publicity for your business without coming across as overtly promotional.

Trustworthy referrals influence consumers’ purchasing decision

In an age when reviews are readily accessible on the Internet and the market is inundated by similar products and services, businesses rely on positive referrals to gain new customers. In fact, statistics show that 65 percent of new customers come from referrals, primarily because people gather other people’s opinion before determining whether they should purchase a product.

Therefore, in order to boost your brand trust and increase your referrals, you must establish excellent business partnerships. For example, ask a business connection if they’d be interested in setting up a barter program with you, in which you’ll do work for them and refer new clients to their business and vice versa. Although you’ll be doing some work for free, the high-quality leads that you’ll receive from the partnership will override any monetary loss you may have.

In addition, maintain positive relationships with your loyal customers by offering them referral incentives. Offer a reward or a discount if they refer your business to a friend. A compelling reward and a clear and easy call-to-action will encourage customers to recommend your business to their contacts, increasing your network, brand reach, and leads.

Digital networking encourages brand trust

Building a network between your business, your customers, and experts in your field not only builds up your brand’s credibility but also boosts your SEO efforts. The best way to do this is to create connections with important bloggers and to network with your customers on social media.

In the last year, consumer confidence in social media as a trustworthy source of information increased +75 percent. Therefore, instead of advertising, which don’t work anyway, network on social media. When you connect with consumers on a personal level, you not only gather valuable insight on your their needs and wants but you also earn their trust. In addition, many experts say that there is a correlation between social media and SEO in link opportunity and search volume increase, which is an additional perk of using social media.

You also don’t have to network with just business owners. Sometimes, establishing a connection with thought leaders and influencers in your industry who are willing to write about your product or service and link back to your site is useful in increasing your brand exposure and building up your backlink profile. Especially since SEO and PR are becoming more integrated, it is important to get featured on authoritative sites in order to boost your site ranking.

Networking is a powerful strategy earning you high-quality leads, more customers, and brand trust. Therefore, view every moment as a potential networking opportunity and watch your business grow.

20140319144747_samSamantha Pena is a Content Strategist for Hudson Horizons, a digital agency that offers Web design, development, and marketing for small to mid-sized businesses. In addition to her weekly posts on Hudson, she also writes for various notable digital marketing sites on social media marketing and SEO. You can read her latest posts on Google+.

 

Weekend Favs July Nineteen

My weekend blog post routine includes posting links to a handful of tools or great content I ran across during the week.

I don’t go into depth about the finds, but encourage you check them out if they sound interesting. The photo in the post is a favorite for the week from Flickr or one that I took out there on the road.

jjantschguitar

Part of my presentation at World Domination Summit

Good stuff I found this week:

Briefmetrics – Weekly email report for your Google Analytics data

Taco – Unified task list app that draws from all of the services you already use

PPC University – Great, free,  pay per click advertising course from Wordstream

How to Incorporate Brand Advocates into Your Marketing Strategy

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest post is from Holly Cordner – Enjoy!

When asked about how and why they make purchases, most people say that reviews and recommendations play a major role. That holds true even in the B2B marketplace—according to one study, 60 percent of B2B tech buyers look at peer reviews before making buying decisions.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, when it comes to your own purchasing decisions, are you more likely to trust an ad or a person who’s actually used the product?

The question is, how can you boost positive reviews of your business and how should that play into your overall marketing strategy?

Brand Advocates: Generating Buzz

Brand advocates are more than just loyal customers—they’re ambassadors. They’re people who believe in your business and who are willing to answer questions, write blog posts, and help you create favorable word-of-mouth buzz. They can help you by reviewing your products and helping convince leads who may be on the fence about your services to take the plunge.

Who are your advocates? Where can you find them?

Begin by identifying customers who have had a good experience with your brand.

  • Get in touch with people who are interacting with you on social media or on review sites like Yelp.
  • Find customers who’ve given you positive reviews on comment cards or surveys.
  • Ask your salespeople—which customers to they turn to for references? Which customers are most satisfied with their experience?

Try to identify potential advocates on a regular basis—every three to six months or so—to keep your pool fresh.

This should go without saying, but in case it’s not obvious: in order to keep your loyal customer base large and happy, you need to provide consistently great service. It’s not enough to be just “adequate”— most companies do that—you need to “wow” your customers with attention to detail and personalized service. Try to accommodate special requests when you can, and let them know how much you appreciate them.

Setting Up a Brand Advocacy Program

Identifying advocates is only half the battle. You need to decide what to do with them once you’ve found them. Here are some ideas about how you can leverage their power to help maintain a positive image for your brand:

  • Ask them to follow you on social media and comment on and share what you post.
  • Ask them to write positive reviews and testimonials on your site, review sites like Citysearch, or their blog and social media profiles.
  • Ask them if you can film them talking about their experience with your brand.
  • Ask them to contribute to communities or forums.
  • Ask them for referrals.
  • Ask them to write blog posts or create images for you.
  • Ask them if you can use their experience as a case study.
  • Ask them to speak directly (over the phone or via email or chat) to potential customers.
  • Ask them to come up with FAQ questions and answers or identify improvements for your website.

These are just some of the ways that brand advocates can be put to good use. You should get creative and decide on which strategies will work for your business.

You should probably start small. Ask potential advocates to do something easy at first, like follow you on Instagram or give you a five star rating on Google+, before moving on to bigger projects like testimonials and blog posts. You may also want to consider setting up some sort of rewards or kickback program where advocates get a percentage off, a nominal payment, or free products (à la Amazon Vine) for completing tasks.

You should also invest some time in mentoring and quality control. You should let your advocates be authentic voices for your brand, but you may also want to set some guidelines if, for instance, you plan on connecting brand advocates with potential customers directly.

How about you? How are you leveraging the power of brand advocates in your business?

Holly Cordnerhollycordner is a marketing manager living in Salt Lake City. She writes for Needle, which helps businesses of all sizes identify brand advocates and connect them with customers. Her first love is technology with tofu coming in a close second.

 

7 Examples of the Power of Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is a powerful tool.

Duct Tape Selling

Photo courtesy of Sally Hogshead

Being invited to contribute content to an established blog is an opportunity to be introduced to someone’s network. When you share useful information and demonstrate command of a subject in this environment, it is a chance to create referrals and even clients.

But more than anything else, writing guest content and inviting others to do the same for you is one of the most potent forms of digital networking available today. Despite Google’s recent moves to crack down on “junk guest posting,” done organically it is the best way to generate valuable links and social signals. It is how you begin to develop strategic content and traffic partners that often lead to co-marketing and joint venture opportunities. It’s how you turn content into an authority building asset.

There’s nothing easy about it, you have to produce content people find valuable, you have to establish relationships with people who want to publish your content and you have to work equally hard at building a reputation for sharing and promoting other people’s content. But the payoff, over time, is substantial.

Below are seven examples of guest posts that members of my “network” ran in support of my book launch last week. This is small demonstration of how the power of networking online pays substantial dividends.

5 Reliable Ways to Use Content as a Referral Tool

I’m guessing you do great work. You add value everywhere you can, and people want to refer you on their own. Clients who get what they expected and have a great experience in the process want to tell their friends, neighbors, and colleagues about us. It’s a behavior that many people are simply wired to do. But, let’s be honest: we’re all busy. Read the rest at Copyblogger

The Sales Hourglass: The new way to approach selling

The Sales Hourglass is about taking customers and prospects on a journey they weren’t aware they were going to travel. I’m talking about a dramatic shift in the sales process. It’s not about tricking the customer or wasting their time; quite the opposite. It’s about making sure they arrive at the most helpful destination of all. If we look at our job like we are going on a journey with our customer, instead of simply leading them, it can really make the entire sales process quite a remarkable one. Read the rest at Freshbooks

Guiding the Customer Journey

Just a few years short years ago marketers were still heavily focused on broadcasting their message to create demand for their products and services. Today, a kinder, gentler form of marketing called inbound marketing relies primarily on the creation and distribution of content in an effort to “be found.” The foundation of the inbound approach is based to use heaps of content to draw people into you marketing funnel. And, while this has proven effective, many marketers simply interpret this to mean you create more demand by creating more content. Read the rest at Brian Solis

5 Ways to Generate the Right Kinds of Leads

Instead of sitting back and waiting for just any lead to “request more information,” you can significantly increase your chances of growing your business with the right customers when you understand how to define and attract ideal leads. By narrowly defining what makes a prospect an ideal lead, you can create processes for finding and attracting more of those. Read the rest at SuccessNet by BNI

Building Your Content Tool Box

Content is one of the most important (if not the most important) tools for marketing and sales pros today. Essentially, from a marketer’s point of view, content is about writing for the purpose of turning interest into purchase. There are many forms of content that must come into play to accomplish this. Content that creates awareness, trust, education, engagement, and conversion. Read the rest at Convince and Convert

Projecting a Great Customer Experience a Half Year Ahead

The hunt for new customers often starts with an attempt to make the phone ring or generate a click on a website. Yet the best way to generate calls is to focus on making an existing customer thrilled. What if your first thought in designing a new marketing campaign were to be about what you want the customer to think, say and feel about the product 180 days after purchase. Read the rest at Entrepreneur

How Salespeople Can Build a Superstar Online Reputation

If we’re being honest, we all prefer to do business with people we know, like, and trust. In today’s online world, however, trust building means something very different than it once did. Reputation and trust building used to be controlled by marketing. Now the Internet and social media give customers a bigger say in the creation and communication of how a company is viewed by the rest of the world. Read the rest at Salesforce

4 Realities of Inbound Marketing You Can’t Afford to Neglect

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Rohan Ayyar – Enjoy!

Inbound marketing and social media participation for brands are one of the most effective promotion tactics today. The whole world of marketing is now skewed towards “earning customers” instead of “buy, beg, or buy your way in” that outbound marketers follow, if this Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing infographic on Mashable is to be believed.

The fundamental shift in consumer behavior is certain now: individuals are in control of what information they choose to receive. Not only do they have options when it comes to brands while buying, but they can also choose who they want to hear from.

According to Mashable’s infographic, more than 84% of 25-34 year olds have abandoned their favorite website because of intrusive or irrelevant advertising. More than a whopping 86% of people skip television ads. At least 200 million Americans have registered for FTC’s “Do Not Call” list. Over 91% of email subscribers have unsubscribed from an email list they previously opted into.

Clearly, outbound marketing is having a hard time. On the other hand, inbound marketing works, but only when you go at it the right way.

Here are a few inbound marketing realities you can’t afford to neglect:

1. No one gives two hoots about your brand, product, service or whatever

This one’s hard. In fact, it’s the hardest truism about being in business today. Contrary to whatever you might think about your business, your prospective customers don’t really give a damn about you. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Does it mean all that passion, sweat, blood, and tears you put into running your business are for naught?

Customers aren’t overly concerned about you, and won’t be either, for as long as you beat your big corporate chest with your “campaigns,” you are just carrying out interruption marketing.

What the world does care about is solutions to problems. Your prospective customers are looking for solutions that can make their life better somehow, in some way. Whatever fits the bill – with respect to products and services – takes the cake.

2. Competition has no face

Once upon a time, all that a company would have to worry about – apart from producing goods and delivering services – was competition from similar companies selling similar products. Today, competition comes in new garbs everyday.

First, there’s the information overload that customers are slowly getting immune to (which means that they mastered the art of ignoring what you have to say). Second, the competition comes from smarter and leaner companies that have learnt the art of keeping customers engaged (with inbound marketing practices, of course).

If you’ve ever wondered why all that money being spent on campaigns never managed to bring in a dollar, it’s because of this competition overload. You just have a lot more to do today.

Are you ready to deal with it?

3. Marketing is the new way of giving

Capitalism was almost a result of selfishness. Ayn Rand was a staunch advocate of “self-worth” and “self-preservation.” She wrote whole tomes like Atlas Shrugged to get that point across. That was then.

Capitalism is still about making a profit. It’s just the way profits are made has changed with inbound marketing. This new line of marketing calls for “selflessness.” It calls for giving away more than you ask for. It calls for altruism, generosity, and spreading buckets of value through content, information dissemination, and relationship-building on social media.

Take whatever route you like, just make sure you give.

4. Inbound is harder than outbound

Most rookie entrepreneurs believe that since inbound marketing is relatively cheaper than traditional marketing, it ought to be easier. As they say, “Talk is cheap.” However, it’s easy to forget that work comes at a premium.

Inbound marketing is harder than traditional marketing. As a matter of fact, marketing is always hard as Drew Williams of HubSpot candidly explained. There are a whole lot of things to get used to. Businesses have to produce an unimaginable amount of content. There’s social media, there’s content (which itself stretches into blog posts, videos, podcasts, slide decks, infographics, curated content, and a whole lot more), which companies have to produce at an alarming rate.

Then there are multiple channels to tap into. Marketing itself is now a hodge-podge of tasks, departments and functions. Teams need to put their heart into all of these. They need to learn and use sophisticated tools for manifold tasks ranging from project collaboration to publishing, from web analytics to video conferencing. What’s more, they need to be effective at that, produce results and justify ROI.

How do you go about inbound marketing? What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in getting inbound leads? How do you convert these to sales? Do you have any new tactics or strategies to share?

Rohan Ayyar bio photoRohan works at E2M solutions, a premium digital marketing firm specializing in creative content strategy, web analytics and conversion rate optimization for startups. He is an avid blogger, with posts on Search Engine Journal, Social Media Today and Moz, among other places. Rohan hangs out round the clock on Twitter @searchrook – hit him up any time for a quick Q&A.

Increase Rejection to Grow Your Business

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Andrea Waltz  - Enjoy!

YistheDestinationgraphic-webIt seems ridiculous.  After all, most business owners and salespeople alike operate from a place of fearing or, at best, avoiding opportunities to be rejected.  If the goal is to close sales and build the business, how would getting rejected more often possibly work?

The simple answer is it is in the avoiding rejection that the greatest opportunities are actually lost. The strategy works on the premise that when you increase opportunities to be rejected and hear more ‘no’s’, that your opportunities for yes’s, or whatever it is you are seeking, will also increase. You could say it is a numbers game.

For example, we’ve all heard the line, “Would you like fries with that?” A question so popular, the phrase itself encapsulates the entire philosophy of what it means to “upsell.” Of course, it is true: the mere act of increasing the amount of product you show and services you offer increases both the yes’s and no’s you will hear. It is not only a fool-proof formula, but one of the great undeniable laws of the universe.

What’s the issue?

Most people have grown up in a “Go for Yes” world. In that world, closing is good (the yes) and rejection (no) is bad. If you get a “no” you must be a failure and doing something wrong.   Unfortunately, it’s this emotional baggage and poor belief system that that holds us back from asking more questions, talking about additional products and services, or going after that big, scary client we’ve always wanted to land.

As kids, we had a natural sense of tenacity that has somehow been drummed out of us. So as adults, business owners find themselves doing everything within their power to avoid hearing “no”, sabotaging their growth and ensuring mediocre performance. As we go on, the entire world of opportunities starts to shrink because they only look for the yes’s – the low hanging fruit, the “easy” sales, leading to average results over time.

Try this:

Go out of your way to intentionally increase your failure rate. You read that right; intentionally increase the number of times you hear prospects and clients say “no” to you.  And, if the key to success is to increase our no’s, then it only makes sense to celebrate our setbacks as well. If someone turns you down, celebrate it! When was the last time you rewarded yourself for failing or hearing a no? Probably never!

How many total “no’s” did you personally obtain yesterday?  Last week?  Last month?  Now it’s time to start.  For this to work, you’ve got to get into action and step outside of your comfort zone.  When you start hearing no’s and start thinking differently about no, you will create the mind shift that is required to get back to that persistence you had as a kid. And, in the process opportunities will come into your business and life because you are finally willing to risk and wanting to ‘fail.’

To achieve significant success in today’s world, failure and hearing ‘no’ is not just a possibility…it is a requirement. We must see success and failure for what they truly are: not opposites, but opposite sides of the same coin. In other words: Yes is the Destination, No is how you get there.

AJWHeadShotFeb2013-WEBRichard Fenton & Andrea Waltz are the authors of “Go for No!” a short powerful story written specifically for business owners and sales professionals in every industry who must learn how to face failure and rejection to be successful. Visit http://www.goforno.com or get ongoing NOtivation at www.facebook.com/Goforno.