Social Strategy: Developing a Plan to Maximize Your Social Media Efforts

Many small businesses flock to social media in the hopes of supercharging their digital marketing efforts, but few companies manage to make a lasting impact online. Harnessing the potential of social platforms requires a carefully structured strategy, much like a traditional marketing plan. If you’re ready to boost your business’ prowess on the social web, use the following keys to begin building your social media strategy.

Defining Your Goals

Don’t simply create a social media profile and hope for the best. Instead, set specific goals you’d like to achieve, and then work out how you plan to reach those milestones. It’s better to set measurable goals and link them to a specific timeline, which will help you stay on the right track.

As with any marketing initiative, develop a clear target audience for your social accounts. If you know which audience you’re trying to reach, you’ll better direct your energy on the web. For example, Facebook may be the best platform for reaching a wide, general audience, but LinkedIn is better suited for B2B marketers. Use statistics and consumer research to determine which platforms you should explore. From Instagram to Pinterest, the options are nearly unlimited.

Creating Content for the Web

Once you’ve established where you’re headed, begin crafting content that will help you meet your goals. Brainstorm ideas for blog posts, videos, and images you can share to generate interest. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas and concepts—you never know what could turn viral.

Whether you want to post once a week or twice a month, consistency is important. Your followers will come to expect the same regular interactions, so don’t leave them in the dark while you go on vacation or get busy with other things. If you struggle with this idea, consider creating an editorial calendar to track your progress.

Building Your Presence

Don’t be that sad business with 15 followers and 6 lonely tweets. Once you commit to launching your social media efforts, attack in full force. Be proactive about responding to comments, actively seek out new followers, and monitor activity on a daily basis.

If you aren’t able to commit to updating your accounts on a regular basis, consider partnering with an agency that can manage your profiles for you. As your popularity online grows, your accounts may need several hours worth of your attention each week. If you don’t have the time to personally commit to growing your network, an agency can help you ensure your goals don’t fall to the wayside.

Regardless of which approach you take, don’t be tempted to forego social media altogether. According to statistics from the Social Media Examiner, 95% of businesses active on social platforms in 2014 saw increased exposure for their brand—the numbers don’t lie. Make your social accounts a priority and watch your brand build momentum that could last a lifetime

Online Reservation Systems: Are They Worth It?

Mobile technology has dramatically rewritten the rules for the service industry, and the restaurant world is no exception to the rule. According to a report from the National Restaurant Association, a whopping 88% of consumers use technology to interact with a restaurant in some way. From reading reviews to scheduling reservations through online reservation systems, technology simplifies the buying process and helps find restaurants to visit. Of course, providing services like digital reservations comes at a cost—is the investment worth it?

Examining the Digital Reservation Model

OpenTable is easily the biggest player in the digital reservations world. Participating restaurants pay a monthly fee and $1 per person for the service. Along with the reservations themselves, the restaurant receives a touchscreen reservation system and can offer reservations directly from their own website. A restaurant could theoretically create a similar system in a proprietary model, although the development and implementation of such a system would likely prove prohibitively expensive.

As the NY Times points out, a number of competitors have also sprung up in recent years. Some of the competitors in this space include review company, Yelp (SeatMe). A few other minor players also operate in the industry.

Calculating the Cost

It’s difficult to substantiate the value of a digital reservation, as it’s nearly impossible to say whether or not a diner would have still visited a restaurant without a digital option. And yet, many restaurant owners feel the cost is well worth the service it delivers. A piece published in FSR included feedback from restaurant owners who credit online reservations with pulling diners during quiet periods and building the company’s reputation with positive feedback.

Maximizing the Value of a Digital Reservation

In addition to the reservation itself, services like OpenTable provide in-depth analytic information that allows restaurants to track buyer patterns and note specific information about the diners. Dietary habits, birthdays and anniversaries, and other personal information can all be tracked for the diner. This can help the eaterie to provide superior service for repeat visitors.

Many restaurants also feel a digital system helps create greater efficiency for the front of the house. Reservations can easily be tracked and the status changed as diners check-in for their meal. Managers can also take a look at reservations before the shift begins to better determine availability for walk-ins and schedule staff breaks.

Taking the gamble on an online reservation system can feel like a daunting undertaking, but the benefits these systems provide make them an appealing option for restaurants of all shapes and sizes. OpenTable alone services 32,000 restaurants, with approximately 16 million visits reserved each month. As consumers increasingly turn to their smartphone as a means of finding local businesses to visit, implementing a digital reservation system simply makes sense for restaurants eager to grow their earning potential.

How Daily Deal Sites Devalue Your Brand Long Term

In mid-September 2015, Groupon announced it would be cutting 1,100 jobs and shuttering its operations in many countries around the world. It marks a devastating turn for the leader in daily deal sites, a company that was once the fastest-growing business in the world. Where did it all go wrong?

Unfortunately, for small businesses and large chains alike, daily deal sites cause more problems than they solve. Touted as an inexpensive way to land new customers and increase revenue, many business owners have found daily deals generate nothing but headaches. And yet, some businesses are still tempted to purchase advertising space on these sites. Before you make this faux pas, consider the four problems daily deals create:

1. Daily Deals Attract the Wrong Buyers

Pulling in a new customer with a great sale makes logical sense, right? Unfortunately, daily most deals shoppers are simply bargain hunters. You’re not reaching members of your target audience—you’re giving away products and services on the cheap to people who likely won’t come back.

2. Traffic Issues Cause Lasting Repercussions

If you flood the market with an unbeatable deal for your business, you could see your traffic increase exponentially. Sadly, very few small businesses are ready to deal with the challenges that accompany a short term traffic boost. If your service or product suffers as you scramble to serve a massive number of new customers, unsatisfied buyers will flood the web with poor reviews and negative feedback.

3. You’re Selling Yourself Short

In marketing, perception is everything. By setting your prices, you’re teaching buyers what your product is worth. When your $45 entree becomes $15 on a daily deals site, you’re rewriting customer value perceptions. Why should that customer ever want to spend three times as much on the same service he received at a discounted rate?

4. You’re Not Maximizing Your Marketing Dollar

When you purchase a daily deal ad, you’re selling discounted vouchers to customers through a third party. If you’d offered the same sale yourself, you would have the buyer’s personal information, which you could use for marketing initiatives down the road. Instead, you’ve simply purchased a customer’s business as a one-off opportunity.

Even worse, you likely won’t see the money from that sale for some time. For example, Groupon lays out a complicated payment structure for its merchants. You won’t receive the entirety of the money until two months after the sale, by which time you’ll likely have seen the customers come and go. If you operate on a tight budget, this could cause serious cash flow issues.

The clever idea behind sites like Groupon caused the daily deal to explode in popularity a few years ago. As the economy has recovered, and buyers have started spending again, however, the novelty has worn off. Buyers aren’t near as interested in daily deals, and the vendors hawking them aren’t turning a profit. Don’t fall prey to the mistakes of others—instead, use tried and true marketing efforts to grow your bottom line.

Loyalty Building – Why Experiences Trump Points Every Time

Capturing the attention of first-time buyers drives many marketing campaigns forward, but repeat customers represent greater value for loyalty branding. It costs six to seven times as much money to land a new customer, as opposed to simply retaining those already frequenting your business. A loyal customer spends more money, recommends your brand to others, and generates a lifetime of return.

Some businesses choose to build point-based loyalty programs, in an effort to encourage repeat spending, but research suggests most of these programs don’t boost revenue. Instead, customers are more apt to frequent businesses that create a great buying experience.

Understanding Buyer Motivations

As an entrepreneur, you likely already understand the basic appeal of the products or services you offer. Beyond the wants or needs of your buyer, however, what is motivating how he or she spends his money? Of course, rewards and discounts can have some impact on a business’ success, but many times a customer is seeking an overall enjoyable experience. For example, Zagat discovered in a survey of restaurant diners that 51% of all complaints revolve around noise and bad service—not food quality or prices! Customers associate your brand with the experience you provide.

Don’t Undervalue Your Product

Loyalty programs are often used by businesses that struggle to set themselves apart from the competition. According to research cited in the Harvard Business Review, many businesses ultimately lose money because a points-based loyalty program trains customers not to buy without a discount. You are effectively telling your buyer not to pay the sticker price because it’s not worth that amount.

How to Improve Customer Experience

Poor service is one of the largest factors that pushes buyers to seek out competitors. Train your staff to be courteous, friendly, and sincere. If you’ve ever visited a luxury hotel, you may remember the customer service more than the room itself. At a certain point, a bed is just a bed, after all. Customer service is what allows a business to set itself apart.

Other factors that influence a customer’s perception of your business include your staff’s flexibility. If you run a restaurant, do you allow customers to make substitutions, for example? Modern buyers expect variety, choice, and the freedom to change their mind.

There are plenty of powerful tools you can utilize to encourage repeat visits from customers, but a loyalty program doesn’t need to be one of them. Instead, focus on making your business the best in its class. Diners don’t visit a Michelin-starred restaurant for the credit card points they’ll receive—they’re seeking an unforgettable experience. Apply the same principle in your business and watch your bottom line grow, all without using coupons and discount cards as a crutch for your marketing team.

Elicit an Emotional Response with the Right Imagery

Emotions have long been recognized as one of the most important factors in marketing. In one analysis of 1,400 case studies, marketing campaigns that elicited emotional responses were nearly twice as effective as the baseline. To capitalize on your buyer’s emotions, you need to understand how to elicit that elusive response. On the web, copy and design form part of the equation, but it is a site’s images that truly impact a visitor’s emotions.

Wonder how to use your website’s images to make the biggest impression on potential buyers? Use these simple tips to maximize the power of your digital photos.

1. Understand Your Audience’s Needs

Defining a narrow target audience has benefits that extend across every facet of your marketing strategy. If you understand what your reader needs emotionally, you’ll be better equipped to evoke that response. Establish your audience needs first, and you’ll then be better able to choose imagery that will connect with the reader in question.

2. Use People to Sell Your Product

We’re naturally wired to focus on human faces, which is why you’ll see human beings as one of the top image choices on the web. Buyers don’t merely want pictures of your products and services. If you can use a photo of a person to drum up feelings of nostalgia or memories, you can generate an even greater emotional pull.

3. Focus on Authenticity

Many marketing firms shy away from stock photography for one simple reason—it doesn’t resonate as well with web users. Consumers want the real, raw deal, with photos that aren’t airbrushed to perfection. Choose to highlight photos of your staff members, or instead take photos of your business, flaws and all. An honest portrayal of who you are is much better than trying to create an unrealistic fantasy.

4. Select Sensory Photos

If you’re not already familiar with sensory marketing, take some time to learn more about the science behind this riveting phenomenon. Our senses affect our mood and memories in a powerful way, and while photos only call on a web user’s sight, the right picture can make your reader practically smell your product or taste your food.

Choose graphic pictures that catapult your web user into another world. Remember, the whole marketing equation should be focused on your buyer, not on your company and what you sell.
When selecting images for your site, try to imagine what your ideal customer would want to feel when interacting with your brand.

There are countless resources available to business owners who want to use images to enhance their marketing efforts. By selecting photos that emotionally resonate with your web visitor, you’ll boost your conversion rate and get consumers excited about choosing your business. If you’re able to do this consistently, your website could easily become one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal.