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5 Ways to Use the Internet to Drive People Off the Internet

One of the greatest uses of the Internet for small local business is as a tool to enhance their greatest offline strength – the ability to engage in person.

Mike_fleming via Flickr

While the Internet offers the ability to reach globally, it possesses real power for the local business in its ability to extend reach locally.

Local marketers that fuse what they are doing offline, in their store, in their leads groups and in their community, with the awesome depth and ease of reach available through an active online presence can amplify the impact of their efforts in ways that produce a much greater return on investment all around.

The in person experience is the ultimate competitive advantage for the small business and it’s how they beat the online and big box competition. Many people have begun to call this thinking O2O or online to offline marketing.

Here’s a taste of what I mean:

Meetings that start online and end offline

What if you started a local leads group and used MeetUp.com to help facilitate the promotion and invitation to your referral group that also met in person once a month in your place of business.

This could create a powerful network of strategic partners using a suite of online tools to build each others businesses passively while still connecting at a much deeper level by meeting in person.

Networking that is both on and offline

Local business owners understand the power of networking and belonging to local groups such as their Chambers of Commerce. What if you supplemented your local networking events with social media and networking tools?

Think about the impact of meeting someone at a local event and then connecting through Facebook or LinkedIn to continue to communicate and share. Now, imagine what the relationship might look like the next time you bump into each other simply because you were able to connect, learn and engage online in between meeting face to face.

By connecting some simple tools like Rapportive, SproutSocial or BatchBook you can easily add the social network participation of everyone in your contact database. Do you see how that might speed communication and networking in the best sense?

Snack sized online showcase

The next time you plan a seminar or workshop, add this feature. Invite all of your clients and prospects to the live event, but add several opportunities for them to sample the great content in a few easy to attend online events.

Interview speakers, tease content and give them a taste of the value of attending in person. It’s become much harder to attract customers and prospect to events and so you need to sell the value in many ways.

By creating preview type marketing and distributing it through online channels using tools like GoToWebinar or Vokle you can create a sense of excitement and offer potential participants proof that there is a compelling reason to attend the full deal.

GPS as a marketing game

Mobile is for the most part an online game that is played locally. People that use their mobile devices for locating, shopping, and sharing are often doing so with local buying in mind.

Smart local businesses are plugging into tools such as Foursquare to build brand pages and reward local offline purchases, but they are also creating their own games using platforms such as Twitter and Scvngr.

Create a local social group

Social networks such as LinkedIn allow members to create and moderate groups on any subject.

Some smart local marketers have picked up on this and created very locally based groups around a topic of interest. Of course the topic has the most traction if it has broad appeal rather than simply promoting one business.

If you can create a group that brings lots of your prospects and network together in support of a topic of interest you might find it to be a powerful way to drive offline behavior inside the group as well.

Bryan Elliot’s Linked Orange County is a good example of what’s possible.

There are so many ways to use online tools to make your business more attractive to offline prospects. The key is think about how to efficiently access increasingly larger online audiences to build the trust required to drive them into your profitable offline offerings.

Integration is the New Killer App

chainAll around us companies are innovating. New web-based applications are cropping up faster than you can count. These applications, when used as a stand alone, can make life much easier.

However, the real power of an elegantly thought out application comes when two or more application providers find ways through APIs to get their applications to work in tandem.

This is classic multiplication at work here. When one app with a fan base can start working seamlessly with another app with a fan base, all the fans win and the organizations grow exponentially through cross pollination and an enhanced feature set.

This kind of thinking is something that needs to be baked in at the strategic layer of every business – online or off.

Below are 7 examples of web apps that multiply in value when you understand how to use them together.

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7 Simple Truths of Social Media Marketing

social mediaThe first truth I need to reveal is that the idea for this post is a bit of a response to a post by Sonia Simone of copyblogger titled – The 7 Harsh Realities of Social Media Marketing. Sonia and I sparred a bit over the fact that “harsh realities” and making all this sound hard is something that keeps some small biz folks from diving in the way they should. Yes, it’s work, but what about marketing isn’t?

First, understand that I think Sonia is brilliant and copyblogger gets a daily visit from me, but – using social media to grow your business just isn’t that harsh and it doesn’t need to be that hard. Okay, it’s new and there are some new names to learn, cultures to understand and lingo to get comfortable with, but the fundamentals of marketing are the same, only the platforms have changed.

Here’s my 7 Simple Truths of Social Media Marketing

1) Listening is the best way to develop strategy

Everyone knows they should develop a social media strategy before diving into to every network they can. The problem is, few can tell you how to do this because any real marketing strategy is highly personal and involves your customers, market, competitors, suppliers, products and services. The best way to approach discovering a strategy for your social media participation, and perhaps all of your communications, is to listen really, really well. Social media is one of the greatest listening tools on the planet. Your customers are telling you about their fears and hopes, they’re telling about what they like about your products and dislike about the competition, they’re telling you what they wish someone would make – and now you can hear it. If you do nothing but set-up listening stations, using free tools like Google Alerts and Twitter Search, you can get an enormous return on your time invested.

Once you spend time listening to your market, understanding how people use blogs and just what seems to work and not work on LinkedIn you may be more prepared to develop a marketing strategy, once that based on achieving marketing objectives, than ever. Don’t skip this step for tactics!

2) Nobody really wants to read another blog

I’m fond of telling anyone that will listen that every small business should have a blog. I don’t say that because I think your customers are itching to grab a cup of green tea and fire up what you wrote in your blog today. In fact, if you polled most of your customers and inquired as to whether you should write a blog, most would tell you no. But, those same customers go to search engines like Google and Bing every second of every day looking for answers to questions, suppliers in their town, and ways to solve pressing problems. And when they do, guess what most of them find, that’s right, blog content!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t write incredible stuff, with a long term goal of attracting lots of readers – when these readers start linking back to that content your search results will soar – what I am saying is, write what people search in your market and your town, educate with your posts and you blog will pay off faster than any other online play.

And it that weren’t enough blog software, like WordPress, is so user simple and feature rich that it’s the best way to run your entire web presence.

3) It’s kind of a real estate game

While I started this post off talking about the virtues of a solid strategy, there is a bit of a real estate grab that comes on the front end of getting value from social media. There are many profiles that you can claim and optimize, even if you don’t quite yet know what your development strategy is, and you should claim them. Creating spokes of branded and optimized content in sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Slideshare and YouTube has become standard SEO practice, but don’t forget about taking the time to build very rich profiles on sites like Biznik, BusinessWeek’s Exchange, OPENForum, and BizSugar. (Disclosure: I write for OpenForum)

Your profiles in these outposts will serve as content real estate that you control and can help fill in the gaps when someone Google’s You.

4) Sell awareness and the money will follow

A lot of people will tell you, and perhaps you’ve experienced it first hand, that you can’t sell using social media sites. Let me ask you this, have you ever really have much luck selling anything to anyone just because they happened to be standing in front of you. The only difference is social media makes it easier to stand in front of someone. You can’t really sell anything to anyone until you’ve built trust. The most effective way to build trust in any setting is to show someone how to get what they want and allow them to come to the conclusion that you have something they might want to buy.

Social media, just like the most effective advertising, is a great place to build awareness about your content: blog, white paper, seminar, workbook. If you do that, and your content builds trust, social media is a great place to make money – think of it as another version of 2-step advertising.

5) Networking hasn’t really changed

I really believe that effective networking on social media sites like Biznik, Facebook, or LinkedIn greatly resembles that of effective networking at in person Chamber or Association events. The key difference being one of a style of engagement and perhaps a different set of follow-up steps.

Before you do, act, or respond in any manner on a social media site, ask yourself if it would be an effective response to a prospect you’ve just met at an business event? You know, you wouldn’t go shirtless, with beer in hand to an association meet and greet, why would you post the same on your Facebook profile? This varies to some degree, but not that much.

6) It makes your offline play stronger

One of the things I don’t hear enough people talking about is how much social media can impact your offline efforts. Most business is still done across a desk, but starting relationships on LinkedIn and then building them much deeper over lunch is the killerest combination.

Social media also allows you to more easily and more consistently stay on top of what’s going on in your customer’s world. A growing number of CRM tools, such as ACT2010! and BatchBook make social media activity a part of a contact’s record.

7) A system is the solution

A well run business is a collection of systems. Marketing is a system and one of the best ways to keep social media participation from becoming your full time job is to create systems and process for how you participate.

I know you see people that spend their entire day on Twitter, but you must understand that they fall into two camps a) people who make a living teaching people how to use Twitter, b) people getting ready to go out of business.

It may seem a bit robotic to talk about social media and engagement as a process, but scheduling routines for your blog posting, commenting, tweeting, fanning and friending is a must, just as scheduling the appropriate time for selling, training employees and meeting strategic partners. Here’s a look at what an example social media routine might look like

Image credit: viralbus

10 Small Business Lead Nurturing Tools

lead nurturingLead nurturing is the act of following up with leads in a consistent and, hopefully, logical way moving them gently along the path of becoming a customer.

In some high end, long decision process selling environments it’s the only way a sale is made. “Hi, glad to meet you, call me when you’re ready to buy,” isn’t a very nurturing approach.

In today’s marketing world smart companies are tapping powerful nurturing tools and technology to help their prospects get to know, like, and trust them, make sales when competitors can’t get past the front lobby, and charge a premium for their products and services.

In some cases it’s a matter of automatically dripping more and more information, in others it’s case of knowing exactly when your prospect is showing interest and in still others it can come down to gaining greater knowledge about your prospect by simply using technology to understand their behavior. (Don’t worry, none of this need be done in a creepy way, it’s all a matter of using technology and the information your prospects willing share.)

The secret is to stay top of mind and continue to educate, but do it ways that have impact.

The following ten tools are ones that I would suggest to most any small business owner to use in tandem with a cadre of education based marketing content in the form of ebooks, audio, video, newsletters, surveys and seminars.

1. BatchBlue – a lightweight CRM tool with a twist. BatchBlue makes it very simple to add your prospect’s social media profiles thereby having access to their blog and twitter feeds right at the point of interaction. Really great for your journalist target market too!

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