Awareness is an important component of selling your product or service, but it will only get you so far. People are making decisions about you and your product/service well before they want to hear from you directly. They are going to do their research first. Before they hear from you, they need to hear from someone else that you are legitimate.
In other words, what you say doesn’t matter nearly as much as what others say about you. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have influence over it. Let’s talk about developing your brand as a way to help others say the right things about you.
The Three Pillars of Online Branding
Your foundation is your Web presence. It has to be simple, instructive, and professional. Consider this table stakes. If you don’t have a Web presence, it’s a liability. So get these three things in order:
On the front page: A clear statement of purpose, and a way to get in touch. If you’re just starting, this can be a one-page site. You want to have your own domain as a destination. A lot of businesses rely on Facebook as a home page, and a way to connect with customers. This is useful, but what happens when Facebook changes its terms of service or its algorithms? Own your own site. No exceptions. Maintaining control of your brand means being in full control of your content.
This is the core of your content strategy. You have to have a voice. Don’t tell me that you can’t blog. If you are passionate enough to start your own business, then you are passionate enough to write about it. People want to hear interesting stories about interesting people. Your business is interesting, right? Your customers, too? Remember, they are the hero of the story (not you). If you don’t have anything else to write about, then make it about them.
Also, don’t think of your blog as an ephemeral stream. A blog is a terrible publishing platform in a lot of ways. It can feel like when you produce something, it just disappears into the ether. If you are building your content strategy properly, think of your blog as permanent statements that you can refer to over and over again. Don’t have anything to write about? Start with common customer questions—the things that you find you have to answer multiple times. Write an article about it instead, and now you have a permanent point of reference. It is not only the best, clearest statement of the answer to this common question, but it also makes you much more efficient. You don’t have to take the time to answer the same question repeatedly.
Yes, you could put this on your Website. But the reason that blogs are better is that they are more sharable. If they are written “correctly,” they stick to a single topic, so that it’s highly relevant to the issue or question. And they can travel better. Each piece has its own link, meaning that when someone shares it, the reader goes directly to the article, not to your site in general, or worse, your blog in general. No one wants to wade through tons of information to find something. Give it to me right now, or I’m gone.
3. Social media
If you are still griping about social channels, or deriding them as time-wasters, then it’s time to get with it. If you are not having success with social media in your business, then there are only a few reasons:
- You are using the wrong channels. Just because “everyone” uses Facebook doesn’t mean that it’s right for you and your business. There are a ton of social channels—you have to find the one that’s right for your particular audience.
- You are doing it wrong. The biggest mistake that people make on social channels is that they treat it as a 20th century broadcast medium, churning out “look at me” awareness chum. You’re not fishing, you’re connecting. Get bi-directional and stop advertising. Social doesn’t work that way.
- You haven’t really given it a chance. This stuff takes time. Building a community does not happen overnight. Social media just makes those connections more available to you—but you have to do the work. Find common interests. Participate. Offer real value. Just like you would in person.
Guess what? These are not the fault of the medium, the audience, or social media in general. It’s up to you to make it work.
There are tons of folks who have found their audience and built a community online via social channels. This stuff works, if you do it right. But you can’t go into it thinking that you are just there to yell about your product and hope that people will care. The rules are different now. You have to approach this by making the first move—and being generous about it. You have to take a risk and provide real value to real people, without expecting anything in return.
I can’t think of a single business that doesn’t benefit from real connections with real customers. Business is all about relationships. Think of each of these tools—your Website, your blog, and social media—as a way to build these important relationships.