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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.

Mobile Sense and the Twenty Times Rule

In order for mobile device users to remember a product, they must be exposed to the marketing repeatedly, regularly and at least 20 times before they remember it. Though it’s more of a challenge than the consumer would think, it can also be easier than a marketer may perceive it to be, especially using mobile marketing.

Integration is the method used to expose mobile device users to a product enough times for them to remember the product. If a marketing tool is only placed in a single location, odds are not high that potential consumers will have enough exposure to remember the product.

A mobile device user typically uses more than 10 programs. These include operating systems apps, add-ons, social networking and games, and the Internet. Integration is the process of placing a marketing tool in a variety of locations so potential consumers come across it over and over.

With over 4.8 billion mobile device users, (only 4.2 billion people worldwide own a toothbrush) mobile device marketing is booming and showing no signs of slowing down. An important fact to remember is that most mobile devices users are within arms reach of their device 24 hours a day.

So, the driving question is, “how does a company expose their product to the maximum number of potential consumers at least 20 times?”

First, a company must know the mobile device marketing options. Then, the company must know what these fast-moving potential consumers spend the majority of their time doing on their device. For example, advertising on a genealogy site to a market niche that is 50 or older makes sense. Advertising for teenagers (typically more interested in music and movies) on the same site does not. Mobile marketing companies have found that combining marketing channels is a more valuable product for consumers because an integrated strategy is the only way to run a successful mobile campaign.

Rather than put the cart before the horse however, a company first needs to know its options.

Mobile Marketing Options

SMS, MMS, IM, and MoBlog

  • Text messaging, multimedia message service, instant messaging and mobile and blogging services are some of the fastest and most cost effective means of communicating on a mobile device and have potential for mobile device marketing.

Mobile Operating Systems and Applications

  • The OS of each mobile device and the applications associated with it can be used to promote a product if used correctly in a mobile device marketing strategy.

Social Network and Gaming

  • Social networking and gaming provide a large conduit through with a company can reach potential clients. From overt ads to discrete, unobtrusive marketing strategies that do not interfere with the user’s objective, social networking and gaming marketing is almost limitless.

Internet and Search Engines

  • Marketing directly through a website or using search engine keywords, AdWords and analytics to expose potential clients to a product may be the best promising mobile marketing strategy to date.

Integration

The notion that the more diverse your marketing strategy and the more marketing avenues you utilize, the greater the odds that the target audience meets the company is the key to mobile device marketing. Just like individuals, a company shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket. Integrate.

 

Alternatives in the Cloud: Knowledge is Power

All the cool kids at the water cooler seem to have one phrase on the tip of their tongue: the cloud. Everybody is talking about the cloud. However, thanks to various advances in cloud computing, not everyone is referring to the same thing when they reference the cloud.

Essentially, anytime someone mentions the cloud, they are referencing computing that exists as a service rather than as a product. Instead of a bulky disk that downloads a program onto their computer, cloud computing exists outside of their computer. The resources, software, or information that are provided as part of the cloud exist on a grid or network, which in most cases is the Internet. When companies use the cloud, they can expand their capacity and functions without having to add any extra infrastructure, hire any extra staff or purchase any software. For instance, if a company needs to engineer a large-scale project, they no longer have to waste weeks planning to buy new servers or other equipment. Instead, they can simply sign onto a cloud computing service that offers them this functionality without requiring them to spend piles of cash.

When many people think of cloud computing, they immediately think of the cloud services offered by Amazon or other big names in the industry; unfortunately, a relationship with any of these companies can be costly whereas a relationship with a smaller company may be just as effective or even more effective for less money.

Although most people are referencing the same set of advantages and the same general ideas when they refer to the cloud, there are several different forms of this emerging technology.

Six Types of Cloud Computing

  1. Web-based clouds. With the right web based service, business owners can avoid using expensive applications that may require a lot of space on their computers. Instead, they can perform the same functions from a web-based program. For example, they can use an API for something as ubiquitous as Google Maps, or they can use a mash-up of various programs so that they can perform routine tasks like payroll or payment processing easily and efficiently.
  2. SaaS (Software as a Service). This allows multiple users to access the same web based software from their own browsers.
  3. PaaS (Platform as a Service). This layer of cloud computing allows businesses to run a stack of tailored applications on the cloud’s infrastructure without purchasing the software or servers that would have been necessary to run these applications a few years ago.
  4. Utility cloud services. Instead of employing a host of geeks to add memory here and there, businesses can now safely and easily store heaps of data on the cloud using the cloud’s utility services.
  5. Managed services. Businesses have been using this version of cloud computing since years before the phrase was ever used commonly. In this version, the cloud provider rather than the business employees uses the application. Managed services are commonly used for things like anti-spam services that many business owners find useful to outsource.
  6. Service commerce. A combination of SaaS and Managed Services, service commerce cloud computing gives the end-user access to a number of services from a single application. These applications act like personal assistants, and they can do almost anything for a company from helping them to track their expenses to helping them to organize their payroll.

These six iterations of cloud computing are just fractions of what cloud computing is capable of. As the technology continues to emerge, new ideas will come into play, and the types of cloud services that providers can offer will continue to expand and evolve.

With so many cloud-computing options, more and more business owners are looking to the cloud for their particular needs, and they have many different providers that they can opt to work with. There are companies like Amazon that have massive, sprawling cloud servers for enterprise businesses. For companies and individuals looking for an Amazon alternative, there are many smaller cloud service providers that offer the same services for lower rates.

 

Future of Mobile Social Media

When Apple released the iPhone and effectively changed the entire mobile communications game forever, the price of entry was so high that only super savvy tech fans and the 1 percent could really partake. Now, the landscape looks much different. Increasing numbers of viable competing devices and falling data prices have opened the market to a larger segment of society. Since the debut of the modern smartphone, they have grown into a piece of society in a real way. When a band takes the stage at a show, how many phones do you see come out? Does anyone even look at another person on the train anymore, or are they glued to their 5 inch screens? Smartphones (and tablets) have become an extension of the body, and one of that function’s most important assets is its ability to connect with social media.

Most smartphones are filled with a stable of social media applications. As the hardware that runs those applications change and evolve, so too must those applications. The release of the iPad 3 this past weekend gives a little indication of what’s next for mobile: high definition and faster speeds. Compared to other advancements, though, that’s not very exciting. What we will see in terms of information sharing, cloud storage and mobile interaction in the next few years – all with regard to social media on mobile devices – is set to blow some socks off.

The Future of Social Media

Researchers at Stanford University envision a world where users can share data between two smartphones, as well as between a smartphone and a computer, with a single action.  Still confused?  Watch this video: Inventing an open-source mobile social media future at Stanford .

From the Stanford website:

They have formed MobiSocial to ask the most fundamental questions about this rapidly burgeoning field, questions that seem obvious now that mobile and social media are firmly entrenched, but which weren’t so obvious as the technologies were entrenching themselves: Can social be done better? Can it be even more social and more fun? Can it be more open? Can it be more secure? And, if so, how?

The idea is to find a way to synthesize the best parts of mobile and social, then streamline them so that switching between apps and connecting with multifarious networks is seamless, whereas now it’s all just collected in a device.

Another example of this new technology is Sparsh, which allows social media users to transfer data from one medium, such as a smartphone, to another medium using only their touch. That means that each person effectively becomes an organic vessel for information.

These new software systems will have to be powered by robust mobile application development platforms. Mobile application development platforms, such as Brew, will also shape the future of social media. Development platforms continue to incorporate new options for creators of mobile applications, which translates into more sophisticated social media apps in the future.

The Issue of Privacy

Social media claimed its coveted position in popular culture so quickly that many social media platforms were unable to keep up. Along with the widespread use of social media platforms came a lack of privacy and increased vulnerability to identity theft and other social crimes. As mobile social media applications move into the future, it’s likely that they will address these concerns as effectively as possible. For example, since new mobile social media applications will allow users to quickly transfer data from one medium to another, the applications handling the transfer will use encryption to prevent third parties from intercepting the data.

Consolidation

One of the common aims of future applications will be consolidation. There are already apps available that consolidate social media profiles into one location, but it is likely that these apps will become more sophisticated in the future. In addition, new mobile apps will consolidate personal data into an “individual cloud” that a person can use to make purchases, share video and photos with other individuals, and swap valuable information. However, in response to privacy concerns, these new apps will protect your data using more sophisticated security measures.

 

The Future is Now, but For How Long?

Years ago I sat in a library computer lab at my university and thought, “Wow, the MySpace era is over, upended and replaced by Facebook, but how long will the victor stay on top? If MySpace could fall, surely Facebook will as well. What will Facebook do in the future to lose users in the same way?” Of course, Facebook has done very well for itself since and successfully defeated social media challengers or integrated them into its sweeping empire. That does not change the fact that technology is cyclical and someday Facebook will give rise to a new brand that will occupy that space.

 

This is especially important to marketers who specialize in social media and technology trends. Facebook built its empire on the sale of information and created a sharing platform irresistible to the masses. That model has changed the DNA of our interaction with the Internet and will likely continue on into the future.

Twitter is growing into a mature platform for short-form discourse and advertising. Pinterest is currently being mined for its marketing potential. Sites with a heavy social leaning are cropping up all over the place and nearly all of them present an avenue for marketing products, but marketers have to ask how long social media will continue to be a trend.

You can register your business on as many social media websites as you see fit, and you may find a way to sell products and generate traffic through one of them that is revolutionary. However, in addition to experiments in cutting edge social media, web marketers must keep in mind the foundations of the business that will always exist with the web. As marketers explore the final frontier of marketing on the web, it’s important that they maintain a foundation of solid tactics that will more than likely continue on into the future.

No matter how easily you are able to join a social media site, they remain inherently complicated as far as meeting business goals. Since they were designed as social networks that eventually incorporated a business aspect, they don’t always lend themselves to infiltration by brands.

Longevity

Social media groups are inherently driven by popularity, yet the most successful products experience the fastest rate of growth when they are still new and undiscovered by the masses. While it’s understandable to want a presence on the new, cool site the unfortunate rules of middle school still apply: by the time everyone has itit is no longer exclusive and desirable. Social media marketing isn’t going anywhere next year, or the year after that. But someday there will be something new, and when that day comes we will have to fall back on a foundation of strategy that is typified by plain old good content.

All this to say that it is very important to stay abreast of new technologies when developing new ways to create brand identity on the Internet. It is equally important to maintain best practices for the innovations that got us to this point and continue to propel us toward the marketing future. Maintaining a solid newsletter, engaging the customer, and some campaign management software will go a long way when the frills of social networks begin to fall away and its successor rises from the ashes.

So yes, get on the social networks that make sense for your brand, but also remember the basics that got us to this point, because sooner or later we may have to rely on them again.

 

Websites That Work!

I don’t know if you got the memo, but Google basically runs the world.

They control more than half of the Internet search market, and more than 90% of mobile search. Their ad system is genius and their products ubiquitous. Thought the company has branched out recently, their bread and butter is still in search and in order to succeed in Google’s world, you have to play by Google’s rules.

Google populates search terms by indexing websites and plugging them into an ever-mysterious algorithm. Over time, SEOs have determined the most important factors in that indexation and they are speed, relevance, freshness and content.

What does that mean? It means that if your site is not easily indexed in Google, you may as well cease to exist.

SEO has been around since kids were trying to sneak into adult chat rooms on AOL, but the industry and its methods change as often as the Internet does: every day. Many entrepreneurs are just getting started with a serious site and have only just heard about SEO. For those people, here is a quick guide to building a website that works well with Google’s search index and will help you rise in rank and increase your views and potential for conversion.

Title Tags and Domain

This is the most basic rule of site building in SEO. You want your domain to be easily remembered and easily found. The subject of your blog should be very, very clear in your URL. If you are selling air conditioning services, you probably don’t want your domain to be Plasticmugs.net, right? The title tags appear in the title bar of your web browser and as the headline in most searches. The more relevant your title tags are, the higher you will rank for searches using those keywords or co-occurrence terms.

FRESH

Google’s freshness update was enacted earlier this fall in order to give newer content a bit more priority in searches. For example, if you search for Super Bowl tickets, you’re likely looking for seats at this year’s contest in Indianapolis, and not to the 1993 Super Bowl. Freshness is designed to present you with the most up-to-date information insofar as it is relevant to the search. What that means for you is that if your site has a blog, you can benefit from more frequent updates. Google will read frequent updates as positive activity and bump your site up a bit since it appears to be offering valuable content to a responsive audience.

This is more valuable to sites that deal in constantly changing information. For example, a site about Chicago events has to update constantly because its main subject is always in a state of flux. Sites that sell space heaters or list facts about James Van Allen were not affected by the Fresh update because their topic and content are largely unchanged.

 Locate

Relevance has been the key to SEO since the Panda update, which wiped out four score of bad, spammy sites to greater enhance the user experience. The more relevant your content is, the more Google will like you! Websites about what to do in St. Louis should mention The Loop, Cardinals and all the other things associated with the city. Google will see all those terms connected, and will connect that site with other sites about St. Louis, giving that webmaster a highly targeted audience (people searching already want to know about what to do in St. Louis) and less competition, though the competition is tougher because they all want to bring the searcher to their St. Louis events site.

It’s a long road to good SEO and brand recognition, but a healthy site is a positive and essential first step.

In-House Social Media Teams on the Rise

I don’t need to tell anyone here about the rise of social media and how it has been injected into the DNA of doing business in the 21st century. Nevertheless, it can be an eye-opening experience to watch just how much social media is catching on.

It’s no secret that social media has real effects and results for businesses that do it right; more and more companies are seeing the light. The most recent trend in businesses of all sizes is hiring in-house social media teams to handle brand management, customer engagement and digital marketing.

Savvy marketers have long praised the growth and efficacy of social media on the whole. Facebook has ballooned to more than 800 million users in the wake of its OpenGraph platform – the behind-the-scenes protocol that allows integration with Spotify, news sites, and all that other cool stuff. Perhaps it is this continued success for Facebook that led to its recent and long-awaited IPO.

More companies across the board are following the lead and cultivating in-house teams dedicated to social media. They generally operate within the realm of a marketing department, though their tasks are more dedicated solely to social media.

The big question is how this will affect firms that have helped companies with social media strategy up to this point.

The importance of business-suited social media is also evident in the backlash Google+ received when users learned they could not create business pages – an innovation Facebook pioneered – that have since become standard procedure for any real social sharing network. YouTube’s announcement of brand channels was welcomed with ringing bells and banging drums by enterprise businesses.

More often than not, a business will enter into a social media campaign believing there are fans of their brand out there waiting to have a place to congregate and spill their guts about just how much they love a company. What we’ve seen is that, though that is sometimes the case, most people are waiting for a tweet offering free coffee or a grocery coupon. “Liking” a brand on Facebook is more indicative of an interest to receive something for nothing than it is a genuine curiosity about a brand.

Rather than be pulled into these campaigns by outside marketing firms or agencies, businesses have elected to develop their own in-house teams that will take a perspective that emphasizes the companies’ strengths instead of just diving into social media because they read 100 blogs on the internet telling them it was the right thing to do.

These in-house teams are culled from freelance social media professionals or marketing gurus who have the wherewithal to understand what social platforms work for the business by which they are employed. Whereas some shoddy agencies have put companies that sell plumbing services to the residents of Muncie, Indiana on Twitter and Vimeo without any real reason, these in-house teams are being assembled with the mindset of the company taken into account; hopefully, these in-house teams will understand which of the many, many social platforms actually present an opportunity – and which should be ignored.

If this trend continues, social media marketing companies like Back At You will have to start leveraging their expertise in order to stay relevant. And the case may become harder to make as more experienced social media professionals are snatched up to work exclusively for big brands.

YOUR SEO SUCKS: A Guide to Effective Optimization

You need to form a comprehensive strategy if you hope to see any real return on investment with your SEO efforts. Everyone has their own methods for success, and they may achieve it to varying degrees; you have to find the method that works best for you. That being said, there are certainly universal tactics and a clear battle plan you can draw up using basic SEO strategy.

Branding

Your brand is the personality that defines your product. It is the flagship indicator of culture. There are more than a half billion brands in the world and they are all vying for attention. How does yours stack up? Few people are aware that branding is the real purpose of content-focused SEO.

Let’s take Groupon for example. As a nascent company, Groupon hired on a number of talented comedians from the Second City, an improv group as famous as Oprah and infamous as the bloody gang battles fought in many a Chicago hotel. The culture of Groupon is steeped in that talent pool and flows through their every email, notification, and web page. When people see the cat with the gold chain around its neck, they know it is Groupon.

Developing that kind of brand takes time and effort, but what do you do once the brand is cultivated? Send it out!

Groupon approaches their target market across multiple platforms.

Mobile – The Groupon application for smartphones and tablets used to just send you an email about what deals were available that day, but the company announced Groupon Now, a hyperlocal deal finder targeted at users on the go. By keeping the name and essentially launching an offshoot to their already successful service, Groupon carries over many customers who are familiar with the brand and attracts new ones who have heard good things.  This model fits their company very well, but it may not work for yours. Nevertheless, developing a mobile strategy is key in finding success in a world where the computer means less and mobile Internet is growing exponentially.

Email – As mentioned above, the Groupon emails have become the calling card for the company. Evocative and provocative, the emails use humor to connect with their consumer base and do so on a daily basis; it is as much a part of their brand as their logo, color scheme and rugged low deals. Other culture sites like Thrillist attempt to use humor in their daily emails, though they take on a decidedly “edgier” tack in order to differentiate themselves.

Social – When targeting a demographic of young professionals, maxing out social media potential is key. Again, the brand must come through and for Groupon it does.

WHAT NOT TO DO

When Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, announced that Netflix would be separating its DVD by mail service, the service that made the company famous into a separate entity called Quikster, the Internet went into a riotous frenzy. This is a big no-no. Not only was it a bad business decision, but it segmented the brand’s base, forcing them to choose between Netflix and “Quikster”. Users who wanted both would need two separate accounts for what used to be included under one umbrella. It was a costly mistake for Netflix; they lost nearly one million customers after the announcement and subsequent price hike.

Your brand is going to be the first thing about your company that people see and you literally have seconds to pull prospective customers in. Using SEO and digital PR to amplify that brand and its messages is going to be paramount to achieving success in the digital present and future.

Real Snail Mail

Transactions that used to be performed primarily by mail – receiving and paying bills, payroll services, bank statements and communication – are increasingly being done online. Nevertheless, many items are still sent by mail, including magazines, mail order DVD rentals and packages. Some of those items can be time-sensitive and any delays in their delivery can be a recipe for customer rage or other problems. Come Spring 2012, though, the entire mail system will slow down considerably as the U.S. Postal Service attempts to cut costs to avoid filing bankruptcy. With the volume of first-class mail dropping about 7% annually, it doesn’t make sense for the USPS to continue operating at the same levels it’s used to. At this point it seems the only choices are to lose the Postal Service or endure cuts in service.

 What Brought Us to This Point?

This past year, the Postal Service declared that it expected $43 billion in losses over the next four years due to a steady decline in use of the service. First-class mail usage peaked in at 104 billion pieces in 2001, but fell to 73.5 billion last year. By 2020 it’s estimated that the USPS will process only 39 million pieces of first-class mail per year, showing just how difficult it has become for the nation’s mail service to receive enough mail volume to fully fund all of their operating costs. Add to that the fact that the federal government requires the postal service to prefund its retirement benefits by and you have a recipe for massive budget shortfalls. The USPS has already overpaid $75 billion for pension funds, bringing it to the brink of bankruptcy. Postal workers calling for the government to remove the prefunding requirements and refund the overpaid money to keep the service solvent were largely ignored.

 What Consequences Will Be Experienced?

The troubles the USPS is experiencing have resulted in a reduction of services, namely a closing of around 250 processing facilities and the loss of up to 35,000 jobs. This will result in slower mail delivery times, extending first-class mail from 1-2 days to 2-3, increasing the relevance of streaming media rather than having it shipped on physical discs through the mail. The accelerating decline in physical mail usage coupled with the looming threat of a collapse of the federally regulated postal service means that further shifts toward digital purchasing and Internet usage will be experienced. This means that search engine optimization (SEO) will become increasingly important as more and more companies flood the web with their products and services, all vying for the coveted top positions on search engine results pages (SERPs). Many traditional forms of advertising and branding, such as mailers and magazine advertisements, will be more expensive to mail and be delivered less reliably with the increased waits, requiring businesses to look to digital branding and advertisement for recognition and customer interaction. SEO can provide that by helping businesses target their niche demographics, becoming more recognizable to their core audience through search engines.

 

Readers Hungry? Redirecting your RSS Feed

Feed Me: Redired your RSS Feed

This great graphic came from a blog called Marketing Coffee & Pretzels

Have you ever thought about moving your blog? For many of us as our blogs grow, we think about moving to a different URL or to a self hosted site (like using wordpress.org which allows you to use the wonderful framework and blog designs of wordpress while having your own personalized domain) if we are not already self-hosting. But if your blog has been housed at one location for a while, how do you move it without losing your feed subscribers? This is a question a lot of people don’t ask until they are faced with the issue.  So if you are asking this question then you have likely moved your blog and discovered that your subscribers are no longer getting their RSS feed.

When I moved my blog from smcubedconsulting.com to laurenmacewen.com I spent a lot of time looking into redirecting the URL.  I was concerned that people who knew my web address would have difficulty finding the site. Plus I did not want any outside links to unlink because I moved my blog. Eventually I chose to do a 301 redirect. What this does is when  you go to the old URL it takes you to my new site automatically. Using the 301 redirect I don’t lose the SEO work I have done, page ranking I have gained in search engines and people would still be able to easily find my blog.  However, that 301 did not seem to work on my RSS.  Now that is strange.

The research that I did indicated that it would. However, though some feedback from subscribers I found this not to be the case. That is because I was using feedburner to manage my RSS. Apparently the 301 redirect does not affect the feedburner feed because that feed is through an outside source and you cannot redirect a feed that is not your own, though if you are not using an RSS manager the 301 will work perfectly well.

Thankfully, there was an easy fix. I grabbed the feed URL for my new domain name and replaced my old feed URL with the new one. This then solved the issue of my existing subscribers missing out on my feed. Now my new website is feeding to the new feedburner RSS and the old one. So new subscribers and existing subscribers alike will be able to read the feed.