Part 5: Simple Social Media Tools – A Blog

Most niche technology companies issue press releases when a new product is announced, a major customer is acquired, or another news worthy event occurs. These press releases are intended for the niche market’s news media which theoretically will pick up the article and publish it. In reality, these news articles typically get collected onto a company’s website into a “News” section, rarely read and almost never republished. Still, these press releases have value as a starting point for other social media uses such as a blog, Twitter tweets, LinkedIn status update, Google+ posts, and others.

A blog might be the most important of these, even if you do not use it to solicit comments from your customers. It allows authorized users to create content for your company website without technical knowledge of web design. Some blogging systems, such as the free WordPress platform (http://wordpress.org), can be used to create anything from a simple blog to a complete company website where only selected pages have blog posts.

Other benefits of a blog include control and ownership of your content. Using a social media website controlled by a specific company can be a problem if the site goes away. Do you remember Geocities and MySpace? Even popular services like Facebook only recently have created a way to back up posts. Other technical advantages of hosting your own blog are post popularity tracking, automatic support for mobile browsers, and integration with other social media platforms. The last one is the most powerful. Once you have created a blog post, it is straightforward to link to it in an email, tweet it in Twitter, or use it for a status update in LinkedIn.

Creating a blog is simple in theory, but integrating it with your website requires some technical knowledge. WordPress is probably the most popular and can be installed in three steps:

  1. If you don’t have a website already, find a Web Host (http://wordpress.org/hosting/). The ones that WordPress have historically recommended have been great hosting companies in general besides offering easy integration with a WordPress blog.
  2. Download & Install WordPress (http://wordpress.org/download/) by using their famous 5-minute installation. It is famous for being 5-minutes under perfect conditions, like using their recommended web hosts. Otherwise, have your webmaster available for this step. It can get ugly and involve FTP access, setting up a MySQL database, users, permissions, and other complex settings.
  3. Read the Documentation (http://codex.wordpress.org/Main_Page) and become a WordPress expert yourself.

Don’t be intimidated by these steps, it is worth learning the basics of a blogging platform like WordPress. Once you get past the installation and configuration, you will end up with an easy to use web interface that allows creation of posts, editing of posts, moderation of comments, design changes, etc. by users you authorize. 

wordpress

There are also other related benefits of blogs. Regular blogging of great content gives customers a sense of a well run, modern company. Also, it quickly creates a web presence, especially if press releases lead to blog entries that are tweeted, posted to LinkedIn, and other related websites. Prosig is a niche technology company and a Google search returns impressive results for them that are typically only returned for much larger, mainstream companies.

prosig

The next posts in this series will briefly discuss three other simple social media tools that you can pick and choose from to create social media presence. Also, please take a moment to go to elephanttech.com and sign up for our free email newsletter. It contains material not found in these posts, only goes out every couple weeks, and we never sell or share our email list.

Part 4: Simple Social Media Tools – Email Interaction

Email can be a great social media tool, but it needs to be used with great care. Many people’s email inboxes are flooded with newsletters, advertisements, and other miscellaneous e-cruft. There is no social aspect to these communications, they are “push only.” With the tools described in the previous post, your emails can become a social interaction. You can add links to new datasheets, white papers, case studies, your customer newsletter, products on your webstore, add an occasional survey, link to content in your user forums such as popular discussions, and many other useful tidbits of information. The email management system will show which links customer have clicked. You should also archive these emails on your website so customers can find them later. It can be frustrating to find a bit of useful information in a company email, then search for it later on their website and not be able to find it. An iterative process like this can initiate the social aspect of email for your company. For niche technology companies, information you might find mundane can be valuable, hard to find information for your customers.

One warning though, be careful when building your email list. The US email laws are very specific about people having to “opt-in” to email. MailChimp has a great guide (http://kb.mailchimp.com/article/can-i-use-my-list-in-mailchimp) worth reading, some of the ways of getting email addresses that are not allowed are surprising.

mailchimplists

Next time we will explore more advanced, but still simple, social media tools.

Part 4: Simple Social Media Tools – Email!

From the standpoint of presenting some “simple” social media tools, the first focus will be tools that enable great content, starting with the humble email. You probably already have some kind of email newsletter you send out a few times a year. It allows you to “push” information to your customers, keeps your database up to date, and sometimes can generate new sales leads. Hopefully you use a great email management system. If not, there is no excuse. Some excellent ones are free for small mailing lists, easy to use, and very advanced. I use one with a strange name, MailChimp (mailchimp.com). The first time I used it, I setup a campaign in less than 30 minutes. MailChimp takes care of all the ugly details of mail list development, management, avoiding spam filters, etc. It is free for up to 2,000 subscribers / 12,000 emails per month. So if you have 1,000 subscribers, you can send 12 emails per month. This is sufficient for many niche technology businesses. One of the most amazing parts of MailChimp is the preview function. Here is a sample preview for both an email to be opened on a computer and on a mobile device. mailchimp1 mailchimp2

This preview is from their simplest single column “template.” You can choose from hundreds of templates from simple to designer templates.

mailchimp3

MailChimp and many other email management systems include the ability to track how many people have opened your email, not opened it, unsubscribed to it, clicked on links in it, and how many bounced emails came back (and from whom). It also tracks who has opened it geographically. If you are targeting the automotive industry, wouldn’t it be nice to see how many recipients in Michigan opened the email?

So start simple with social media, upgrade your customer emails. It can be done in less than an hour and the results will impress your customers and improve your bottom line. Next time I will discuss turning simple email into a social media interaction.

Part 3: Simple Social Media Tools

I received a strange email the other day. No, not THAT kind of strange email, Google filters those nicely, thank you. It was from a company called Dynamedion advertising “Your Music Played by a Symphonic Orchestra.” Here is a link to a PDF of the email: Dynamedion. I am not sure why I received this, but strangely I was attracted to the idea from a social media standpoint. For a company to think that they could market an “orchestral recording service” was intriguing. They made it so easy with their three step process (http://www.dynamedion.com/orchestra/).

dynamedion_threesteps

You can pay online, send them an MP3, then “lean back and wait” for the final product. They create the orchestration for a 66 piece orchestra, they hire the musicians, they book the space, they do the recording, all while you “lean back and wait.” The email was well done, starting with a short testimonial from composer and ending with a list of impressive credits. They even have an online cost calculator  (http://www.dynamedion.com/orchestra/oors) lets you know exactly how much a 66 piece orchestra costs based on the number of minutes of music, etc. FYI, it costs about $900 / minute of music.

If Dynamedion can help a non-musician understand the process of recording an orchestral session, any niche technology company can find a way to develop an interest in their product or service, no matter how complex. Next up, examples of repurposing existing marketing materials and integrating them with simple social media tools.

Part 2: Simple Social Media Tools

It is tempting to jump right into the social media tools. They seem a lot more fun than developing marketing plans or doing traditional, boring customer research. The shiny, new Google+ app, slick LinkedIn group, a growing number of Twitter followers are a mysterious and addicting part of modern marketing. As explained in the last post, social media does not replace good sales and marketing practices, it supplements them. Back in the 1980s and 90s, good direct mail campaigns, a few magazine ads, trade shows, and a crack sales team were all that was needed for success. Where else would customers get information except by circling numbers on the “bingo cards” in the back of magazines? Today, the savvy customer already knows where your product fits in your marketplace. If not, they can join a specialized group on LinkedIn and ask the market directly, or worse, your competitors will jump in and answer! Here is an example of the Institute of Acoustics group. A member asked “Anybody have any experience with the Svantek sound levels meters? If so, do you like them? If not, why not?” The answers were all over the board. Some people didn’t like them. And one comment said “Plus, they look like the rubber bricks that kids use in swimming lessons in the UK at least to retrieve off the bottom of swimming pools!” Others just named their favorite meter. Is this the “unbiased” information you want your potential customers receiving?

In niche technology markets, you cannot just Google “Svantek reviews.” The search returns nonsensical information. This is why it is so crucial to have a social media presence as part of your marketing strategy. If you have no marketing department to speak of or if you are part of a larger, international company not based in the US, you might not have the local resources to create blog posts, webinars, podcasts, or videocasts, but you must have some traditional marketing materials such as datasheets, a website of some sort, demo guides, demo equipment, sales training notes, etc. So part of this series will also focus on repurposing these existing materials and integrating them with simple social media tools. Again, bear with me a little longer, the tools are coming, but the tools will not be of any use without a reliable source of interesting and useful content.