web analytics

Designing for Social Engagement

Businesses invested in social media are aware of the benefits it can deliver. While social media is a long-term investment focused on increasing brand visibility and recognition through consumer engagement and relationship building, it can pay out enormous dividends over time. A social presence is particularly useful when your website is publishing original content with value to your consumer base.

By creating content designed for social sharing, you can essentially turn a normal blog post into productive inroads with prospective customers, using a shared link to bring new traffic to your website. From there, you have the opportunity to produce a conversion — but only if you have a well-developed website waiting on the other end of the link. I repeat, if there’s no ill web design waiting for users who click through, they’ll bounce faster than the king of the four square courts. Whether you do it yourself or hire some professional Web designers, make sure it looks good!

Ultimately, social media can become another conversion and revenue stream if you use smart development strategy at every point. Read on for tips to make sure your online strategy is aligned to maximize social opportunities.

Creating content worth sharing

Developing a social brand should be the first focus of any company. In the early stages, you don’t need to worry about creating phenomenal, mind-blowing content as long as you keep the quality high and consistent. Instead, start cultivating followings on major social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest, to create a broad base of followers.

Once that base is established, work on increasing the uniqueness and quality of your content. Whether you offer whitepapers, blogs or static Web pages, the things you produce need to be relevant and useful to your consumers in ways that point to the value of your business. These aren’t explicit marketing materials, but they all need to relate to your company’s mission and your value to prospective customers.

As you develop your following and people consume your content, you’ll see more people sharing your content with others. Not only is social sharing a high-exposure, low-cost form of marketing, but it’s a great way to gauge what content is most valuable to your followers.

From content consumer to product consumer

By sharing your website’s content online, you’ll draw followers to your website. When that happens, they become social referrals and potential sales or lead conversions. That’s where your website comes in. As your content is making a case for your company’s value to the consumer, your website should make it easy for them to identify and enter the conversion process.

To do this, you need a simplified Web design that makes your marketing mission clear. Your site’s various links and images need to be simplified so they aren’t distracting — you want consumers to immediately recognize where and how to begin the conversion process. If you can get online referrals this far down the funnel, you’ve got a good chance at securing a conversion.

Efficiency in the conversion process

Once in the conversion process, the trick is in seeing consumers through to the conversion’s completion. This is an efficiency game you have to play well to maximize your opportunities. Online consumers are deterred by seemingly insignificant obstacles. Every line of data you request — address, phone number or email — decreases the odds of potential customers completing the process.

Similarly, every step in the process — every time they have to click “next” or wait for processing to take place — gives them a chance to reconsider their purchase. The more you condense steps and minimize workload, the better. The proof is in the numbers: the easier you make the process, the more conversions you’ll accrue.

By optimizing every point in the consumer process, you can increase the efficiency of your website. From there, focus on creating worthwhile content that engages your consumers. The more useful and worthwhile your content, the more social shares — and, ultimately, referred traffic — you’ll generate from this rich resource.

Small Business Going Mobile

You probably have a website for your business. It’s a great, low-cost way to market your products and services. You’ve probably also considered the need for a mobile application, too. Look around; it seems like everyone is getting a smartphone. Should you jump in and build an app for your small business? Do you need a mobile presence? Mobile applications can be developed for very little money and users can download them in under a minute so the answer to both questions seems to be affirmative. But what can these little software applications really do for you? Well, that depends.

Why You Should Bother

According to Pew Research, about 35 percent of American adults owned a smartphone as of July 2011. That figure is certainly growing. It represents an opportunity for small-business owners to use technology to their advantage. Gartner Research reports that mobile applications are expected to earn providers $58 billion by 2014. That’s a pretty staggering figure, right? Can you make interacting with your customers a little easier, more convenient or even playful? Consider it if:

  1. Your business offers a service that could be ordered or used by customers on the go.
  2. New customers might be enticed to buy from your business when they interact with your mobile application.
  3. Your customers currently interact with you and each other using social media technology such as wikis, blogs and forums.
  4. You’re willing to try creating a mobile application and dedicate some staff and budget to the effort.
  5. You can envision new ways to make money for your business using a mobile application. For example, if you offer a global product or service, you might be able to find new customers in Asia, where mobile application use has been rapidly adopted.

Getting Started
To get started, check out websites such as Infinite Monkeys or BudgetAppDev. You can create a basic business application with display advertisements with the Infinite Monkeys drag and drop interface for free. It’s easy (and fun) to create your application. Video help provides guidance along the way. By specifying some basic information and uploading a background graphic, you can create an application that reinforces your brand and helps you connect. You get to choose which features and functions you want added, including photo sharing, blog feeds and videos. You can download your custom QR code and put it on your brochures, signs and marketing collateral. Users will be linked your application or the HTML5 version in the event that your customer doesn’t have an Android or iPhone. You can also view usage statistics.

If You Need Inspiration
Check out the BudgetAppDev portfolio for some excellent examples to trigger your creative flair. People love to use their mobile phone to pass the time. Can you develop a dynamite quiz related to your small business that people will play while waiting in an airport or train station? Want to package up training and support tips, tools and resources for your company that your customers can access from any location? How about a restaurant guide for the area surrounding your business as a benefit to visitors?

If any of these ideas appeal to you, you’ve already taken the first step in designing and developing a mobile application to support your small business. Now, take your idea and consult with your customers to find out what they might need.

The Success of Indie Developers

The arcade and console gaming industry was established and spurred on by creativity and true genius in its early years. The late 70s and early 80s saw an explosion of games based on the abilities of individual developers or small talented teams skilled in graphics optimization and backed by conscientious investors. Everyone remembers and loves the likes of Brick Breaker, Pac Man and Donkey Kong. Unfortunately, the industry is in the grip of a decades-long cycle of repeats in concepts and name upgrades. Year after year the “top” gaming prospects are determined by the companies that win by having loudest voices and the brightest colors.

The beginning of the 21st century, however, has seen a rise in more of the buck-the-system styles of independent–or indie–developers. As a result variety is seeping back into the market and there seems to be more of a place for those looking to express creativity.

But why now, when everyone is being driven toward big money? A few possibilities beg for our acknowledgement. Mass platforms like Facebook have become convenient outlets for gamers. No more jostling for a quick demo in an elusive limelight. Developers can now play all the cards. This is the story of smaller squads run by guys like Jonathan Blow, creator of the Braid game. Another reason for the growth of indie game development is the influx of developers from the mainstream sector. This exodus, while not exactly pilfering the mainstream markets of its talent, gives indie game developers a tint of viability.

So, you’re an aspiring developer; and you have enough business sense to understand that skill with coding and stand-out creativity will not be enough to keep you afloat. We have a few tips that may be helpful to you.

Find a Niche

Knowing where you are and what you have offer will give you sure footing in the development game. The strength of indie game production is in niches. The best and brightest produce a game that helps them stand out. Most game devs who go indie are attracted to it because of unique concepts that aren’t available except in the developer’s chosen outlet.

Don’t Go for it Alone

Build a solid team around yourself. Although it could be rewarding to hock out an award winner all on your own, it’s not likely. The best indie games are produced by teams built of passionate experts in their field, and use already-established graphics optimization companies. You may not be the best at what you do and you may not be able to get the best sound developer or designer, but you can put together a solid and dedicated team.

Capital, Capital, and more Capital

Yes “capital” is a dirty word in the world of indie gaming, but you must come up with creative ways to fund your projects. You and your team have to eat. Keep your day job. Try and raise capital investors from interests groups that line up with your concept interests or avid gamers that you know.

Consider Seeking Out and Joining an Already Established Team or Start-Up

If you are confident in your skill level, you may be able to go the route of some of the professionals who got their start in the mainstream. Although you won’t have as much of an appeal there are probably more than a few budding teams that share you drive and determination but lack that necessary ingredient: a team member like you.

Above All, Stay Positive

As the indie industry grows so will the competition. But staying positive will allow you to continue to develop in your skill area, suffer setbacks and move forward until you see daylight. Don’t be discouraged at this, but you may have to go through a few teams and projects before anything chalks up to a worthy gaming experience on the other end. Keep the faith and go forward.

Go Deep Young Jedi

YodaWhen you first get your business on social media it is important for you to build your community and your reach. This is called expanding your breadth. However, there comes a point when you have to expand your depth and start digging deep. This is where most brands fail.

Starting out in social media, you will be focusing on getting followers, talking to people, getting retweets and shares. You will be focused on driving clicks to your site and building your engagement. Those are things that will never shift focus. However the way in which you reach those goals will shift.

As your social media accounts grow, so does your audience. In the beginning, during the introduction phase, they might be ok with nominal communications, tweets that shared basic information and generally skimming the surface. Think of this as your cocktail party conversation. But once you get past the handshake and a quick chat over a drink they are going to want more from you. If you cannot deliver more then your engagement will decrease. Sure some new followers will still like your generic tweets. But the people who you have been developing relationships with will likely start turning away.

It is time to increase your depth. Don’t be afraid to dive into your topics. Don’t be afraid to open up discussion on the controversial topics. People want you to have opinions, and not everyone is going to agree with you and that is ok too. People like to have debates and discussions and as long as you keep them civil, they can be a very healthy thing.

Diving deeper into topics will encourage people to look to you for a formed opinion. They will turn to your information to be a source for in depth coverage. You will become a valuable contributor and resource.

Though this transition can be scary, what it means is that your account is maturing, so make sure you mature along with it.

You Blog. Why? (How definining your purpose will help you reach your goals)

When people start a blog I often ask them, what is the purpose? What is your goal? Why are you writing and what are you wanting to accomplish? You might think that everyone has a clear idea about this, except you.  The reality is, most people do not really know what they are wanting to accomplish with their blog. They just feel that they have something to say and want to say it. Or they feel that they could have things to say and want to make money. Either way that is not a real purpose. What ever your goal is, defining your purpose will help you reach it.

When you have a blog you need to know what your goal is, but first you need to know what kind of blogger are you?

  • Are you wanting to share you life? (personal blogger)
  • Are you wanting to participate in a community? (mommy bloggers or niche bloggers)
  • Provide information to clients, potential clients or peers (industry blogger)
  • Write about up coming technology and write tutorials (tech blogger)
  • Provide social commentary (political or activist blogger)
  • Share photos and travel experiences (photo blogger or travel blogger)
  • Give reviews and share pictures of food (food blogger)

There are more categories than just these, but you can see that their topic is the first step in defining their goal.  Once you have your niche established you can decided what you want to do from there. Are you wanting to relate to your peers, provide information for a client base, or appeal to a mass audience?  Are you wanting to write for the sake of writing and provide information or would you like to eventually monitize?

I can tell you this for certain. People who only write a blog to make money will fail. Though I am sure their are a few who could prove me wrong, generally speaking the people who are successful are the ones who write because they are passionate about their topic. That passion will pull and audience and eventually they might be able to make money off of affiliate content or ads. But the money is not the primary driver.

When I started this blog, the purpose was to provide information about social media and tech developments for my clients and/or potential clients. This is why I had it associated with my consulting business. The blogsite was designed with this purpose in mind. But over time, my audience grew and I realized that there was more interest than just (potential) clients. I had to re-clarify my purpose.

This is not uncommon. Often when you really get into blogging it takes you in a direction you did not initially anticipate. That is ok. Just take in that information and adapt as needed. In my case, I redesigned the site and set it on a new URL (laurenmacewen.com). That way the blog was more personally branded, as was becoming an apparent need and designed to promote itself more than the consultancy.

Your audience will be integral in shaping your blog. Ultimately they might redefine your original goals. But when you start our, make sure you know your purpose and you will be able to reach your goals. Or set new ones!

 

Catalyst

With the American economy mired in the mud and fears of a double-dip recession looming, the professional world, it seems, has stagnated.  These can be worrisome times for businesses, as comparisons to the Great Depression are being regularly drawn.  However, a lot has changed since the last time this country has seen such financial turmoil, so entrepreneurs have more options available to them as they navigate the morass and lead the way into the future.  With fewer employees, the time it takes for those retained to do specific jobs must be balanced with the expense of keeping them on staff.  Thankfully, there are many tools which are available that can help this idea become practical.

Internally, software development has allowed businesses to streamline and increase productivity exponentially.  Doctors’ offices are now able to use medical billing software from companies like Kareo, freeing up office staff for more important tasks.  On a much smaller scale, improvements with small business accounting in programs like Quickbooks and Peachtree almost successfully automate the financial process.  There are also companies that can remotely manage your payroll, help you set up your company’s 401k, and other services.  In choosing these things, the company must (again) balance the expense and needs against such investments.

Externally, one of the most important innovations to date is the emergence of various social media outlets.  Businesses now have the ability to advertise their services in a forum where many different pairs of eyes can see, and consumers have the ability to show their like or dislike of businesses, services, even individual employees. With these new ways to externally promote and streamline your business, customer traffic can increase, and customer service can be refined.  In the past, most marketing was the result of many months and thousands (or millions) of dollars invested in make sure the product or service would be accepted by the public.  Now, in the world of viral videos and SEO, those results come in real time, and are measure through actual results of both use and opinion.

In addition to the external and internal, there is the “gray area” which exists in the form of apps and other resources available to the owner.  Adding to this smorgasbord are various phone apps, many of which are free.  Whereas cell phones used to be a novelty, most people have one now, and use them for far more than just making and receiving phone calls.  Foursquare, for example, is a free app that allows users to let their friends know where they are, and what is going on there.  If you happened to be the business that is being discussed, this will not only bring more people to your door, but it will also tell you what is noteworthy to your customers.

The thing to remember in your business is that there have been many who came before you, who felt the same apprehension and doubt that you are likely feeling now, as you watch news reports and listen to accounts of Wall Street.  But fear not!  Through innovation and maximum usage of the resources that are available to you, you can maximize your chances of success and lead your business into the future.  Whether that success is aided by medical billing software, or a simple points system generated by a social media outlet, is entirely up to your company.  The promoter which pulls your company to the next level may be something as simple as the organic nature of social media, or the many different adjustments made both internally and externally.

Social Score: Measure your Impact in Social Media

 

Stacked Coins

How do you measure up in Social Media?

Influence, engagement and reach are words often tossed around in social media, but how are these elements measured and assigned value? The average social media user definitely influences and engages with their followers, and although the audience might be small, your reach can extend beyond your social network.

Measuring influence, engagement and reach can be difficult, but these criteria all factor in to a user’s overall social media value score.

So how do you measure up? There are many quick ways to see how your social media use compares to others on the general index:

Follower counts:

You can get a quick read on your social impact simply by looking at the number of followers you have on any of your accounts. Assuming you are practicing white hat audience building (ie: not paying for followers or using follow-back apps that tend to falsely inflate your numbers) your follower count is an excellent indication of just how many people value your input on social media. This is also a rough gauge of your reach, as your followers constitute your direct audience and often your most easily influenced contacts.

Total RTs, @ mentions or posts:

Another quick gauge of your audience impact is the number of times your information is shared, or someone shares information with you. A glance at your Twitter RTs and @ mentions will tell you how influential you are among your network, Similarly, your Facebook wall will often give you a good sense of how engaged your network is with your posts or your profile. Most social networks are net up to provide notifications to help you monitor your pokes, messages, comments, likes and mentions. Check out your notification settings to see what information might help you measure your engagement.

Third Party ‘Scores’:

Your daily social media activity and data can also be summarized by companies like Klout and Peerindex, who calculate and assign you a score which reflects your social capital. The upside of these services is that they are free (at least at a basic level) and they collect data from multiple social media profiles automatically. On Klout, for example you can connect not only Twitter and Facebook, but now YouTube, LinkedIn, foursquare, Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, Blogger and Last.fm accounts to factor in to your score. Peerindex is more limited, but offers Quora integration.

Another popular ‘tool’ is EmpireAve, which works like a stock index of social media users. The site works like a large monopoly game, and makes it fun to invest in and support others. Your value on the index is both a factor of your social media activity and your use of Empire Avenue; not a true social score, but an excellent means of comparison. If you are an avid social media user, these tools are the easiest way to gauge your overall influence; however you can also glean insight on your topics of influence, the users you influence most, and the users who influence you!

Good old Google:

Last but definitely not least, is the good old Google gauge. Google has set the bar for tracking data on the web, with rich analytics and evolving algorithms that try to fairly sort, rank and categorize information. Social data is no different, and a quick Google search can give you an idea of how prominent your social presence really is. When Google reintegrates real-time searches (temporarily turned off, at the moment) you’ll also be able to see your reach, impact and influence in real-time; not to mention the Google+ project which aims to eventually index and assign rankings to all social data on the web.

 

Whichever means your choose to apply when measuring your social influence, engagement and reach, remember that the value is subjective; don’t be discouraged by what you perceive as a low score. Set goals around increasing your scores and monitor them carefully to discover how your social influence, engagement and reach truly measure up.

 

The Big Question: Facebook Polls

Facebook recently introduced their version of the most tried and true feedback tool in the box: Questions. Now anyone can easily create a poll to gather data on anything that comes to mind, and can link back to that poll through their Facebook account or Facebook Page.

However, there is a strategy behind successful polling – just ask Nielsen, or the census committee. Here are a few ways to get the most out of your efforts to ask for feedback.

 

Create a Debate

Which is the most financially savvy gender?
a) Male
b) Female

Giving your users a limited number of answers to choose when replying to a controversial topic will almost always create a debate – in this case, the good ole’ male vs female argument. You don’t need to be inflammatory either; political opinions can be just as strong as say… culinary ones. Avoid offering answers that let people sit easily with their position (ie: no ‘maybe’ option) so you can stimulate a conversation around the difficult options in the comments section.

 

Solicit Suggestions

Where is the best hamburger in the city?
a) Joe’s Local Resto
b) My backyard BBQ
c)…

Leaving the Question open to multiple answers enables a different type of data collection through this Facebook tool. Rather than using a poll to determine a fixed outcome, it can be used to build a list of resources from your audience’s suggestions – in this case, good burgers. This is a fantastic way to engage your audience, solicit feedback and potentially target the next sponsor for your company BBQ.

 

Let them Decide

For our next giveaway, would you rather win…
a) an Apple product
b) an Amazon gift card
c) cash

Never forget that your audience loves to influence you – and you should let them! The impact of a fan-driven decision can bring you greater success, for example in running a contest, and can give you a story to hang the campaign on. Although people can be fickle (and you probably shouldn’t base any major decisions on a poll) this can be a great way to check the oil before you rev up for future initiatives; or if you’re lucky, you may get an incredible idea from the crowd that you would never have thought of on your own.

You are talking but no one is listening: Understand your audience

a 1950's movie audience wearing 3D glasses

Understanding your audience is an important part of marketing strategy.  Who are they? What are their age ranges?  Are they predominantly male or female? Unfortunately, you can know everything about the demographics of your audience and still not reach them. An important factor that is often overlooked is: when are they active?

Knowing when your audience is online is important for a number of reasons:

1.  If you want to be sure your target audience is reading your posts, then you want to make sure you are posting when they are online.

2. Posting relevant content at relevant times shows them that you are part of the group, participating in the conversation, rather than someone from the outside trying to broadcast information

3. Work smart not hard.  If you don’t get traffic on the weekends, stop posting on the weekends.

People are always trying to figure out how to drive more traffic.  The best way to do this is to thoroughly understand your audience.  By knowing when they are likely to be most active you can optimize your time by using it effectively.

There is no shortcut for this.  You can read all the stats you want and see when people tweet the most, and what days are best to post to your blog.  Ultimately every audience is unique.  What works for one person might not work for you.  Keep track of your stats, watch your traffic, monitor your engagement.  Pay attention to when your audience is paying attention.  Once you know them it will be easier to get them to know you.