We hope you’re sitting down, because we have something important to tell about digital marketing that will be hard for you to hear.
Actually, we have five important things to say, and they’re all going to be bitter pills to swallow.
But facing these digital marketing hard truths is the only way to stay afloat and efficient when it comes to achieving your online marketing goals in the years ahead. Listening to them will make you a better person and a better marketer
So you may as well get it over with. Here are the five most important digital marketing truths you have to come to grips with in 2018 and beyond…
1. You Absolutely Need an Ad Budget to Get Any Traction on Social
Nearly 100% of businesses have strong reasons to be on social. Without a social presence, they miss out on online reach and lead gen capabilities. Their current and potential customers will also think less of a company that doesn’t have an adequate social presence.
Yet, these businesses are at the mercy of constantly changing social platforms. Companies like Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn make major changes to improve the experience for the average user and help the company stock go up.
Notice how business users and advertisers are left out of the equation.
You have little chance of your posts showing up on people’s newsfeeds unless you apply some sort of budget to promote your posts. Businesses actively trying to boost conversions may also want to consider paying for banner ad space.
The good news is that even with a small budget you can get great results. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other platforms all have great tools for helping you experiment with audience targeting and other parameters to chase better-optimized performance.
Start using these tools now, or else you won’t get anything out of your social channels. Even a small budget of $75 – $100 a month is enough to learn the ropes and start earning positive results.
2. Vanity Metrics Won’t Get You Anywhere
When doing anything online, you should tie your campaigns to target metrics that directly generate a dollar value — or that at least have a high chance of leading to extra money in the bank.
Yet, too often businesses prioritize vanity metrics. A “vanity metric” can be anything that is easy to measure and that can make you feel good but that ultimately has no connection to higher earnings.
Take this example from Social Media Today. They posted a hilarious meme five years ago that still gets thousands of shares and likes. Periodically, the meme will pick up steam and go viral in connection with current trending news.
But ultimately the post equals bupkis when it comes to actual marketing performance.
People who engage with or share the post are not likely to visit Social Media Today’s website since the post has no link to speak of. They are also not becoming more aware of the company’s offerings.
So, instead of just focusing on the amount of likes and followers you have, think fourth dimensionally. Identify metrics that lead to actual revenue, like demo signups or quote requests.
If you have a part of your marketing funnel that is lagging, then you can also prioritize things like email signups, landing page visits, and shares for your big online promotions.
The bottom line is to think about your bottom line with everything you do.
3. Keeping Up With Digital Marketing Hard Truths Through News, Data and Research is Essential
What worked with digital marketing five years ago may not work today.
Businesses used to get away with poorly written content as long as it had strong keyword signals, but that’s no longer the case. Now, high quality content that leads to low bounce rates is more important for ranking. You don’t even need the related keyword in the body of your page if your content is strong enough.
A mobile friendly website was once a nice-to-have, but now it’s essential.
Developments like these don’t come out of thin air. Companies like Google and Facebook will announce most changes well before they take effect.
Other developments, like what factors influence search engine ranking, must be learned through diligent research.
If you don’t keep your ear to the ground and actively search out this information, you will be basing your digital marketing strategy on myth and conjecture. Prioritize staying educated to stay ahead.
4. Bad Reviews Will Tank Your Reputation Unless You Actively Ask for Good Ones
50% of people check online reviews “most of the time” or “always,” but 55% of people say that they “rarely” or “never” leave a review.
This statistic shows that people put a lot of weight on the content of online reviews but usually don’t feel inclined to leave one themselves.
Businesses must therefore actively court reviews from all of their customers. Otherwise, they risk having their review score skewed in favor of people who tend to leave the most reviews: complainers.
Put another way, you have to keep actively adding to your volume of reviews. Most people who have a pleasant or positive experience will be likely to keep it to themselves unless you directly ask them. Remind them that their opinion is important to you and to others online, and you will see your score remain stable.
5. You Have to Be Constantly Gathering Data and Learning From It to Keep Up
Our last home truth is hard to hear because it involves lots of work. Simply put: digital marketing is an ongoing, fairly labor intensive process.
Most small business owners prefer not to work this way. They want to establish baseline practices and stick to them.
This approach may result in happy customers when it comes to your actual operations, but it will never lead to growth through online marketing.
Instead, business owners must actively measure their digital marketing performance and learn from it. They have to establish benchmark metrics, set goals to improve them, experiment, and then measure the results. Then, they have to keep tweaking their approach until they can reliably grow their KPIs (key performance indicators).
Most galling of all, achieving consistent success is not an invitation to rest upon your laurels. Instead, you have to be prepared for ongoing changes and shifts that naturally occur.
Digital marketing is not a factory. You can’t just put in the same inputs and expect the outputs to remain consistent.
Instead, digital marketing is a sportscar engaged in a constant race with conditions that change all the time. It requires frequent tuning, measuring, testing and maintenance. It also requires you to change up your practices as the weather changes or the track itself is reshaped. Sometimes you have to swap out your entire engine just to stay in the race.
Yes, the act of continually taking your digital marketing campaigns’ temperature and making adjustments can be exhausting. But it’s the only way to stay ahead in a modern era where past performance is no guarantee of future success.
You have to make your own way while keeping your eye on competitors in the rearview mirror. And if you can stay focused on learning and improving, you will always come out ahead.
Millions of business owners all over the world struggle when it comes to generating a positive image of their company online. Despite their best efforts, they just can’t seem to get momentum behind people expressing positive sentiment.
But one simple strategy can change all that: ask for a review.
Businesses that consistently ask people to review them after a transaction or service has been completed are far more likely to receive a higher volume of positive reviews. They also tend to get more detailed feedback from both happy and unhappy customers, which can inform strategic improvements.
Developing a habit within yourself and among your employees to ask for reviews is therefore the most important thing you can do. Doing so won’t just make you look better online; it will also help you genuinely become better thanks to the feedback you earn.
If you are a business owner or a marketer trying your best to improve your online reputation, you can use the following tactics to increase the rate of reviews you get.
Recognize Why Positive Reviews Are So Important Yet So Hard to Get
As with most best practices, understanding why asking for reviews is important helps a ton with motivating your follow-through.
Firstly, people care about online peer reviews more than any other form of information on a product or service.
According to eMarketer, 31% of people 18+ trust the information they receive from online reviews. That’s the highest-rated source, beating out the 23% of people who indicated they trust recommendations and feedback from friends, family and colleagues the most.
Think about that: 8% more of the population trusts strangers online more than their own family and friends!
Millennials — those 18-35 years old — have an even bigger gap. 40% of them trust online reviews the most compared to 24% who prefer input from people they know personally.
Yet, there’s an even bigger gap between the likelihood of someone reading a review versus leaving a review.
Around half of people say they check reviews either “always” or “most of the time”. But 35% of people say they “rarely” leave online reviews and 20% say they “never” do it.
Making matters worse, people are more likely to leave a review after a negative experience compared to a positive one.
Getting happy customers to review your business is therefore a huge challenge, but one definitely worth meeting head on.
Business owners must recognize the importance of pushing through the uphill battle to earn more reviews. To help them find success, they can use any of the following tactics.
Make Verbal Requests Part of Every Customer Customer Interaction
Employees must be trained to ask for reviews at the end of their interactions with a customer. People are more likely to feel positively towards an individual requesting a review compared to a faceless request bearing a company logo.
“The person-to-person request is incredibly effective, particularly if the requester has spent a lot of time with the customer,” says digital marketing firm owner Brian Patterson. He reveals that in-person requests get seven to eight times more reviews compared to email.
Everyone in your company should therefore make it an instinct to ask for a review. Don’t be pushy or directly ask that they say something positive. Just request politely that they leave feedback “if they’ve had a good experience.”
Better yet, ask about their experience beforehand just as a barometer. If someone feels positively, suggest they leave a review.
If they react negatively, do everything you can to record their input and correct their issues. This helps them feel listened to, gives them an outlet to vent before they go online, and also gives you information for improving your services later on.
Make It as Easy as Possible for Someone to Review
How many times have you thought about leaving a review but didn’t?
This happens to people all the time, and they quickly forget that they meant to leave a review in the first place.
Fix this problem by sending helpful digital reminders.
Asking in-person is the first step since it creates intent in the mind of the customer. They promise someone something, so they have more intention to follow through compared to a generic “Review Us!” request.
The second step is to make leaving a review as effortless as possible.
Ideally, you email them a direct link to your preferred review site, such as Google or Yelp. You can also send out general reminders periodically on Facebook and other social media so past customers can remember to review you.
Some customers may even respond well to links sent via SMS, so take surveys and have customers indicate their preferred option so you can work with their tendencies, not against them.
Emphasize Strong Customer Service Basics
When it comes to positive reviews, consistent service that delivers on baseline expectations is far more important than “wowing” the customer.
According to the Harvard Business Review, many efforts to “surprise and delight” the customer fall short. They write that “89 of the 100 customer service heads we surveyed said that their main strategy is to exceed expectations. But despite these Herculean—and costly—efforts, 84% of customers told us that their expectations had not been exceeded during their most recent interaction.”
Instead of going above and beyond, try to get the ground level right. Hammer home basic customer service practices, such as asking if someone needed help or if they experienced any problems.
Listening to customers during their transaction helps improve their positive sentiment towards their overall experience. If someone has an issue, try to resolve it or offer some way to make it up to them.
Speaking of which, gathering data from older reviews is an important step for businesses looking to improve their online reputation. Find patterns within negative feedback, and work to improve these recurring issues.
Also, make note of any positive feedback so you can explain the importance of certain aspects of the customer journey to employees, such as having a friendly attitude.
Monitor Online Reviews and Respond to Those That Need Your Attention
Respond to a reasonable rate of glowing positive reviews — maybe around 5% to 10% — and try to address issues presented in negative reviews.
When responding to negative reviews, always take the customer’s feelings and experience as gospel. Work on moving the relationship forward towards resolution rather than making excuses or arguing about what happened in the past.
You want to appear pro-active and eager to resolve conflicts rather than interested in starting publicly visible fights online.
Constantly Collect Customer Review Data to Improve Your Online Reputation
Once you begin your efforts to earn more reviews and improve your reputation, track your results.
Try to look for patterns among the types of customers who are more likely to leave positive reviews. As an example, people who use a specific product or service may come away feeling more positive compared to others. Focus more on these people when requesting feedback.
You may also notice that certain tactics are more effective than others. Sending an email from a named employee email account compared to a generic “customer support” account can increase your positive review rate, for instance.
Over time, data generated from your reviews will reveal a path forward where a higher rate of your customers leave reviews, and a higher percentage of those have something nice to say.
Keep asking for reviews, and maintain focus on providing great experiences, and you should be able to improve your online reputation in no time flat!
Running social media marketing becomes infinitely easier when you find the right tech tools to do most of the work for you.
There are countless platforms out there designed to help you save time while adding more power and control.
We sifted through the absolute best of these social media tools to bring you our top recommendations. Use them to open your social media profiles up to become more diverse and creative. You will also end the frustration of struggling through complex workflow to complete tasks.
We tried to avoid any platforms that require a significant buy-in. As a result, most of the following tools are free or have a low-cost option for business owners. We’re also leaving out the big total management tools like Buffer, HootSuite, SproutSocial, AgoraPulse and others.
The following 21 best apps and browser-based platforms fit our criteria and can improve your social media marketing success in 2018 and beyond.
Bitly does two amazing things for you: 1) Shortens links to make post text cleaner and better looking 2) Provides a custom redirect so that you can track CTR on your shared links and possible behavior after the click.
The free version of Bitly is indispensable for any social media page that wants to share links. Without it, you have no reliable way to track engagement.
Backly lets you share links while providing on-page reminders to go back to your branded site or social account later. The tool provides a pop-up frame on content pages you share, keeping audiences thinking about your brand even as they browse outside your owned pages.
Use Backly to drive traffic back to your website with each link share and avoid people getting distracted from your in-brand experience.
Ever see something cool online, think “I’ll save that for later,” and then forget about it? Lots of people do, which is why tools like Refind are so great.
Refind saves and tracks links you find when browsing. It can also analyse your links and find other ones worth looking at and sharing.
The Refind platform ultimately intends to work as a type of social community. You can link up with other Refind users through their social accounts to see what else they are saving and sharing. These stats help you track trending content, especially among niches.
Quuu is perfect for finding interesting links in your brand niche. The app is 100% free. All you have to do is plug in a number of interest categories, and it starts suggesting and saving personalized recommendations.
Using Quuu will help flesh out your content and keep it focused towards your business area and brand values. The only drawback is that the current version must plug into Buffer or Hootsuite in order to operate.
Social Mention is a search browser specifically for mentions of certain brand, influencers, trending topics or products. Use it to get a quick overview of conversations involving your brand or area of business interest.
You can also link the Social Mention API to other apps if you are savvy enough to handle the custom coding.
Yotpo lets you gather together all reviews and user-generated content related to your brand.
The platform is super useful since it makes it easier than ever to link to or share content mentioning your brand. For instance, you can use it to find user photos related to your business and share them as social proof that you have loyal fans.
It is one of the few tools we’ll mention that requires a higher-end plan to work, but the platform is incredibly versatile thus worth a look.
Yala can schedule posts for you automatically, but it has an even better feature. By monitoring your feed for engagement, Yala will suggest peak times for posting your content.
You can use Yala through either Slack or Facebook messenger. It has a free trial as well as a monthly or yearly subscription.
Adobe Spark is the perfect tool for editing photos on the fly. It’s free and works right in your browser or app.
You can use it to touch up photos taken on your mobile device before posting or create unique content through effects, text captions and more. Spark also lets you rapidly create branded videos with text captions.
Rocketium can turn photo slideshows or short videos into captioned videos.
Since video drives engagement better than text and 80% of Facebook videos are watched without sound, Rocketium can be an awesome tool for driving engagement. You can use it to repurpose blog content or longer videos into something highly engaging.
It is an even more lightweight and easy to use platform than Adobe Spark. While it lacks Spark’s editing prowess, it does make up for this with rapid results.
Pixabay is one of the best sources online for royalty free stock photos. You can use it to search for free stock photos through your browser or the Pixabay phone app.
Since images are important for getting better engagement on social media posts, Pixabay can be a lifesaver. It’s particularly effective when you combine it with photo editing tools like Adobe Spark or Rocketium.
BuzzSumo helps you find trending content on certain keywords and topics. Business owners can use the tool to hone their conversations, optimize content to get better engagement, and find buzzworthy links to share.
IFTTT stands for “if this, then that”. It lets you create custom rules that trigger certain events across a range of apps. For instance, if you post a new blog, IFTTT can automatically create new posts in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, post them for you, and email everyone on your mailing list about the new post.
Business owners who want to simplify the way they manage multiple marketing channels will love IFTTT since it helps you create powerful algorithms without even a lick of programming experience.
Tell Us About Your Favorite Social Media Tools We Missed!
The dozen tools we covered are just of the tip of the iceberg. There are countless other free or low-cost social media tools that provide huge benefits to business owners.
So tell us which ones we missed! If you have a favorite tool you use, we would love to hear your recommendations in the comments. Tell us how you use and why you love it.
Between our own recommendations and those from our fellow readers, business owners will quickly find themselves getting better social marketing results than ever.
Social media marketing sounds simple enough to many newbie business owners, but they need to recognize the difference between personal social media use and professional use.
Think about it like this: if you make a good pot of coffee to serve your family, then that’s something you can manage on your own. But if you plan on serving 1,000 cups of coffee to peers over the course of a three-day business conference, then that’s an entirely more complex matter!
Everything gets more complicated when you move from personal to professional, and the results matter more, too.
Suddenly, you aren’t just posting on your Facebook when you feel like it. Nor can you just feel good about the occasional reply and like. Instead, you’re actively trying to drive business goals and represent your brand in a likeable way.
The dramatic difference between the two approaches catches many business owners off-guard. To help them out, here are a eight secrets the pros use when it comes to social media marketing — and that many small businesses overlook.
Write Down a Policy and Style Guide
Ask them to tell you what the business’s social media policy is, and you’re just as likely to get dozens of different answers. In fact, most employees may look you back blankly in the face.
A social media policy guides the brand voice as well as the decisions a business makes when posting. So, if you were trying to pick between two image types, the social media policy could help you decide on the one that aligns better with your social goals.
Creating a social media style guide can similarly help make posting easier, especially if more than one employee handles the duties. Align everything in your policy and style guide so that your social media accounts can support both your brand and your marketing goals.
Target Your Content and Conversations Towards Personas
Some small businesses get HUGE social media followings …of people who would rarely buy anything from them.
There is a big gap between mass engagement and targeted engagement.
You want your posts to speak to a highly targeted audience based on the traits of your best customers. For instance, if you pitch your services to existing IT departments, don’t be shy about using jargon. Stay current on any discussion, too, so that your ideas don’t seem dated.
But if you want to offer managed IT services to regular businesses, they may not know a CAT cable from a cat collar. Feel free to post basic how-tos, and try to keep terminology approachable.
Decide upon the segments you want to speak to in order to raise your chances of success. Imagine traits of a single person in this segment, including their typical job role, the things they value most, and broad aspects of their personality. This is your “persona” for an idealized version of a target audience group.
You can even name them! That way, before you decide on a post to share or an image to use, you can ask something like: “Would Sarah the retired optometrist care about this post?”
Strategize, Set Goals, And Ditch Vanity Metrics
Always set goals for your social media usage. It should serve a concrete purpose that ultimately benefits your business.
Common social media marketing goals include:
Raising website visits
Generating leads through job quotes
Helping introduce new products to people
Getting more participants for events, contests, and things like webinars
Upselling existing customers
Reminding prior customers to return again
Promoting a specific brand value, especially through philanthropy
No matter what your goals are, ensure they actually help your business get more money or improve its brand.
For instance, having a certain number of “likes” or shares from a post promoting your content should not be a goal. These are vanity metrics. Instead, you should monitor the amount of actual visits to the content on your website. Ideally, you will also have targets for the percentage of people converted from social to content to signing up for your related offer.
Carry on Actual Conversations and Engage
Don’t just post into the void or post things you, personally, want to read.
Everything you post should be targeted towards the personas you have created and tied towards business goals.
With this in mind, you want your audiences to feel like your brand is carrying on a conversation rather than just talking at them.
Respond to certain positive comments or interesting ideas. Try to see if you can get the full perspective from people who have something negative to say. Make each response feel personal, not canned.
Give your audience opportunities to take center stage. Post a question for them, like “what are your favorite ways to save money?” Ask them if they would like to see more of certain content types, or less of certain post types.
Also, make your social media use broader than just posting on your own page. Use social listening tools to monitor brand mentions and jump in on messages when you think it’s worthy of a conversation. Find other business pages, and engage with them like you would want others to engage with you.
Many business owners go ahead and queue up an entire month’s worth of content in advance.
This is great! Having a schedule makes the social experience more consistent and professional for your audience.
But you shouldn’t be shackled to this schedule.
New articles and ideas will pop up on your radar all the time. Maybe something interesting happened in your industry this week. Maybe you just snapped a great photo of your team at the office.
Give yourself the chance to actually share content during opportunities like these rather than hoarding it all until next month. If you set aside, say, an hour each week to make time for unscheduled postings, then you can flesh out your existing content and make your page feel more organic.
Just remember to stick to your policy, goals, and persona guides. Also, proofread twice!
Promote Content Posts to Put Them in Front of Targeted Audiences
Promoting content on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can be highly affordable. More importantly, it can grow your audience beyond people who already follow and interact with your pages.
Start experimenting with promoting certain posts and using custom audience building features. Platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook even offer the ability to target specific companies or hyper-local areas.
If you put just a small budget behind a few key posts a month, then you can quickly multiply the number of people who see your messages. You also generate valuable data based on who does and doesn’t interact when they see certain posts.
Don’t Assume Social Media Marketing Is Easy to Do Yourself
There’s a reason “social media manager” is a full-time job at most big companies. Even for small businesses, managing it all and doing it right can be tough.
On top of that, you may not have the time to dig into your data or revisit your strategies and guiding documents.
So seek out help. Share the burden with others who are qualified and whose judgement you trust.
As Social Media Week observes: “Long gone are the days when you could rely on an intern to manage your business’s social media accounts. Either hire an in-house expert, or outsource to a social media management firm.”
Crawl Before You Walk, Walk Before You Run
As with anything in business, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Stick to one or two social networks at first. Otherwise your pages could feel like soulless cookie-cutter copies or, worse, ghost towns with nary an update in months.
But if you stay focused on your goals and your principles, then you can start out small to find gradual success. Only once you get the hang of it should you start to scale out and do more.
In 2018, use of video among small business owners will mature and solidify into a “must have” marketing component. Businesses able to make strategic use of video will seize critical opportunities for sales lift and market share.
Many marketers hailed 2017 as “the year of video,” and with good reason. Video marketing, video advertising and overall video consumption boomed in the past 10 months.
All of these developments foretell a new year where digital video will be more important than ever for business owners’ success. Those who take advantage of the following four video marketing trends in 2018 will likely be in for a great year ahead.
Video Content Marketing Becomes a Must-Have for Small Businesses
Consumers’ preference for video has steered most content strategies towards a video-heavy portfolio. Business owners who steer towards video find tremendous value in the form of boosted returns.
For one, people complete video content more frequently than the average non-visual, text-based blog article. According to Vidyard, over a third of all video viewers (37%) make it to the end of the video’s run time.
Nearly all of mobile users who watch video (92%) have a tendency to share video content with others. Simply Measured also says that video gets shared around 12x more frequently than content links or text.
Other studies show that audiences retain video in messaging better than text.
With all of these advantages, businesses putting video content out there will see higher levels of engagement, shares and conversions into their marketing funnel. Having a video component to your digital marketing strategy will therefore become a competitive differentiator in the months ahead.
Business owners looking to get into video can start by transforming existing content assets into a short (around 2.5 minutes or less) summary. Look to the assets with the most views and shares for inspiration.
Video Becomes an Integral Part of the Sales Pipeline
Offering video content helps turn what could be a pushy and person-intensive sales process into a self-service nurturing pipeline. Interested prospects can view video content hosted on websites or shared via social to learn more about products and features. As they educate themselves, they move towards the end of the sales funnel with minimal person-to-person contact.
Self-guided lead nurturing not only reduces employee overhead, it also results in a more pleasant experience for leads. 19% of prospects claim they only want to hear from a company rep when they are actively considering a purchase. 40% of prospects want to be able to buy without talking to anyone at all.
Meeting this need involves considering how video assets can provide value at every stage of the sales/marketing funnel.
For instance, business owners can cultivate awareness by creating emotional or intriguing video advertising assets.
Video content marketing assets provided on their website next to text content can help buyers at the nurturing stage. In-depth explainer videos can help lay out different buying options or the final steps in the procurement process for those ready to close the deal.
“When you incorporate video into your sales processes, customers get what they want: a frictionless, self-serve experience on their time, and on their terms,” says WireBuzz.
Think about buyer needs that were once traditionally met with person-to-person interactions and imagine how video can replace these needs with a self-service, video-heavy customer journey.
Websites Expand Use of Product and Explainer Videos
Vamping off the point above, even retail consumers expect video content during their sales journey.
According to Business2Community, “25% of consumers will lose interest in your brand if you don’t have a video explaining your product or service.”
If you sell retail goods online or even exclusively in-store, your customers will want to see live demonstrations and rundowns of product features.
For a good example of how you can showcase product videos on your ecommerce or business website, take a look at RevZilla. They include a video summary with most new products and all of their best sellers to keep buyers informed and engaged.
Live Video, 360° Video, Slideshows and Other Video Formats Gain Traction
Live video presents an easy, low-budget and low-concept way to create more video content for audiences. Brands can engage with audiences in a way that feels authentic and like a 1:1 conversation.
Peppering live video into your content marketing and social engagement strategy can therefore quickly round out your assets without a massive up-front investment.
On the other end of the spectrum is 360° video. These assets use a special camera setup to capture a full spherical range of images. Audiences can then use a smartphone headset like the Google Daydream to tilt and move their head as the video plays, changing their viewpoint as one might in real life.
360° video results in a truly immersive and memorable experience. But the high cost of equipment and production means businesses require an airtight strategy for converting 360° videos into measurable returns.
Somewhere in between live video and 360° are alternative video formats:
Slideshow video — A series of connected images played in a sequence to convey motion or a story
6-second video — Taking a page from the Vine format, these short videos communicate messages quicker than text and in a more-engaging way than static images
Formats like these lower production costs for video — especially video ads — while still providing higher levels of engagement. Best of all, they can communicate well even without sound.