Why your company may not need social media

Let’s have some fun with my buns.  Cinnamon buns, that is.

One of the myths we recently discussed on {grow} was the claim that every business needs to use social media in its marketing strategy.

So what determines if the social web can be used effectively in any company?  One key is industry structure.

Marketers are actually quite limited in the number of options they have based on the competitive structure of their industry.  Social media is just one marketing channel, and its opportunity for use will be determined by the marketplace, not the hype you read on the Internet!

To illustrate this concept, let’s look at how four companies — with four very different competitive structures — may or may not use the social web to sell the very same product: cinnamon rolls.

Flat Rock Village Bakery, Flat Rock N.C.

The Flat Rock Village Bakery is a small, family-owned cafe that serves its customers wood-fired pizzas and artisan pastries. They have a single location in a tiny mountain town. Why would somebody buy a cinnamon roll from this bakery?

  • Convenience of central location amid relatively little competition
  • Ambiance of tree-lined community setting
  • Community involvement and reputation of the company
  • Consistent quality of artisan products
  • Appeal of non-chain, local ownership
  • Attentive Service

As a marketer, we want to increase sales by promoting these points of differentiation.  The social web can certainly enhance the reputation of the bakery but probably won’t significantly drive more traffic to this store — They essentially already have a captive audience. Their focus should be on increasing sales per customer at the actual point of purchase. What is their risk of NOT participating in the social web?  Low.

McKee Foods, Chattanooga, TN

Now compare that to a national bakery like McKee Foods whose Little Debbie brand is found in grocery and convenience stores throughout the country. Little Debbie will sell you a cinnamon roll based on

  • Low price, which is enabled by efficient operations and distribution
  • Large selection of products in a grocery store aisle
  • Coupons and promotions
  • Brand awareness
  • Consistent, but low-quality, product with a relatively long shelf life

Unlike the cozy competitive climate of the Flat Rock Bakery, competition in the grocery aisle is fierce and Little Debbie would ignore the social web to its peril.  The bakery giant can certainly use social media to:

  • Monitor customer conversations about its products
  • Build brand awareness cost-effectively
  • Coupons and promotions
  • Involve consumers in its brand
  • Create new products
  • Facilitate customer service
  • Monitor competitor activities

Can you begin to see how these dramatically different competitive structures influence marketing strategy?

Panera Bread, everywhere

Panera has built its successful business by establishing clean, bright stores that serve as community meeting places. You might drive to Panera to buy a cinnamon roll because:

  • It’s a spacious, convenient place to meet colleagues and friends
  • They have bakery-quality food at reasonable prices
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • A recognizable national brand with predictable quality

Panera faces a host of competitors offering similar value.  Compared to the first two examples, its business model is more easily duplicated, so finding ways to connect to customers is key.

There are lots of opportunities to do this through the social web, especially if it could master location-based apps like Foursquare that reward frequent visitors.

Cinnabon, a mall near you

Although Cinnabon also serves up cinnamon rolls — in fact that is basically ALL it sells — it represents a radically different competitive dynamic.

Cinnabon bases their competitive advantage on one thing — location — and the opportunity to sell you through an impulse buy. They are usually located in malls and airports so if you are hungering for a fresh-baked goodie, you really have no choice.

Their price point is set high, and they don’t need to use coupons or other promotions because they’ve got you right where they want you – captive.

They have a Facebook page and a Twitter account but is this where they should spend their primary marketing effort?  No.  As a marketer I would probably spend money on fans to blow the heavenly cinnamon smell out onto the airport concourse!

Putting this to use for your business

Obviously in the space of a short blog post I had to do a simplistic comparison to make a point. I realize the industry structures are more complex than what I present here.  Still, I think it’s a useful example illustrating the widely different dynamics in selling even a simple product like a pastry.

Where do you go with this as you make your decisions about social media?

  1. Begin with the fundamentals including market research, customer interviews and competitor analysis before jumping into any marketing initiative.  Spending money without knowing the competitive structure of your industry will create disastrous results.
  2. Use clear-eyed intellectual honesty when assessing the social media opportunities for your company. There is a natural tendency to want to climb onboard Facebook or YouTube because everyone else is … but take a hard look at what effort is going to be the most effective use of your resources.
  3. Look for channels that allow you to emphasize your competitive advantages and how they match customer needs.
  4. Measure every effort to constantly adjust your efforts to the changing marketplace.

What is the competitive structure of your business?  How many “stars” would you give your social media opportunity and why?

“Think outside the office” video promotes new economy

I’m a judge on the International Economic Development Council’s annual website competition this month and I’ll be featuring some of the amazing best practices I’m witnessing in some future posts.

I’ve been impressed with some of things Calgary, Canada has been doing for some time and I really love this new marketing angle they’ve developed for their city — positioning their community as place that enables the new economy by making it easy for people to work from home.

Although working from home isn’t a new concept, making it part of a city’s brand is … and I thought this upbeat video treatment gets the unique  point across nicely. Calgary has done done also done a beautiful job with their “Live in Calgary” website.”

The 20 craziest things you can do on Twitter

OK, we’ve heard all the great business success stories about connecting and learning through Twitter. But the human race is made up of all kinds of people and some of them have more important things to do. Like hooking their toilet up to Twitter.  I started collecting some of these random (and real) uses of Twitter and thought I would present this amusing list to my dear friends on {grow}.

Did you know Twitter can help you …

Tweet with vampires — The Twitter account @vampires will let you follow the adventures of the undead. Bloody great idea.

Befriend lactating cows — A dozen lactating bovines are hooked up to a monitor so you can read their teats er … tweets … after they’ve been milked by a robot.  The cows at a Buttermine Farms near Woodstock, Ont., has more than 2,000  tweets since the project began in December.

Tell secretsSecret tweet allows you to post your secrets to Twitter anonymously.  Here was mine: I am writing this in the nude. Which means I probably broke some law in Singapore.

Rock out – Here is a list of the top 50 rock stars on Twitter.  The list includes Brittany Spears. I doth protest.

Let your pets make friends.  — Cats on Twitter is a site where cats can meet other tweeting cats and of course there is also the companion site, Dogs on Twitter.  There is one cat (@sockington)with over 1.5 million followers on Twitter.  Cat tweeting is apparently serious business. Really makes you take paws.

Water your plantsThis device helps your plants tweet you when they need some H2O. When will  they make one for beer?

Be random — Twitrand lets you generate random tweets from your tweet stream. Why?  Why any of this really.

Learn the rulesThe rules is a hilarious Twitter account which teaches you the rules of life in no particular order.  Today’s wisdom:  Rule No. 537: No speedos, please.

 

Get breaking news on Cheetos — I hate the orange stuff it leaves on your fingers but that doesn’t seem to bother Chester the Cheetah who tweets about a Cheetos wedding, the world’s largest Cheeto, snack impersonators and other tasty tidbits.

Watch the world poop — Everybody does it.  So of course somebody had to put it on Twitter.  TwttrPoop tracks the whole world pooping in real time. They should have called it Twitter Shitter right?  If you thought Twitter was a load of crap, well … now you’re right

Monitor a toilet — You had to know this one was coming. The HacklabToilet in Toronto has a Twitter feed.  Hacklab is a site for hackers in Toronto with a “a strong disdain for twitter” and an urge to wire things to the internet.

Say hello to PeeWee Herman — Hey, he has a new Broadway show now so let’s see what’s up with the ever-boy. Captain Carl rocked.

Follow an execution – In what may be the most distasteful use of Twitter (well, maybe tied with the poop thing) the Utah Attorney General announced the progress of a prisoner’s execution over Twitter.

Track the activities of Superheros — Holy Hashtags Caped Crusader!  You can now follow  Batman (my personal favorite), SpiderMan, and Superman on Twitter.

Get advice on brasYour bra consultant claims that most women are wearing the wrong sized bra. I swear I had no idea.  So don’t be a boob — tune in for the web’s best bra advice.

Tweet while you driveFord announced they will produce a range of tweeting vehicles. The special app will allow the drivers to read their Twitter messages (huh?).  And you’ll be able to reply to tweets as a voice-activated function.

Secretly watch Steve — The Twitter bio description of the ShhDontTellSteve account:  “This is a Twitter page where I secretly tweet about what my roommate Steve is doing at all times.”  Hilarious.

Find people who are addicted to shoesHere is a list of shoe freaks on Twitter.  A well-heeled group apparently.

Read headstones@FindAGrave reports quotes from famous headstones each day. I wonder if they have ghost writers?

Follow your cat’s every move – Sony has developed a prototype cat tweeting device that has a built-in camera, an accelerometer, and a GPS so you will be able to tell when the cat is moving around, eating and sleeping.

So there you have it.  For better or worse, all the world’s showing up on Twitter.  Hope you had some fun with this list!

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Illustration: Geek and Poke

Creating a content marketing plan — without any content

When somebody talks about “content marketing,” they’re really talking about “content engineering” — scientifically optimizing documents such as blogs, case studies and white papers to create search engine results and sales leads.

This can be an extremely complicated, time-consuming and expensive proposition! So I started thinking about this in the context of my friends and small business customers who simply can’t afford that kind of effort.  It led to this idea:  micro-content, or marketing content when you don’t have time to produce content!

Let’s examine ideas about micro-content that even a time-starved business owner should be able to master in 15 minutes a day …

Preparation

Like any marketing initiative, you must have a firm idea of your strategy, selling points and target audience.  Spend time thinking through a set of keywords that represent your business and your customer needs. You’ll need to weave these keywords into your micro-content.

LinkedIn forums

If you’re like most people, you have a profile on LinkedIn and haven’t done much with it. This platform is a goldmine of opportunity to create micro-content!

There are about 600,000 groups on LinkedIn covering every imaginable business interest. You’re sure to find one with like-minded people who might be interested in you.   If you are in a very specialized field, consider starting your own special interest group.  Make sure you use relevant keywords in the title of the group so people can find you.

Look for some Q&A sessions within relevant groups and get involved. Simply answering questions is providing meaningful content that can attract attention to you and your website.  I’ve personally made some fantastic connections and acquired my two most profitable customers just by answering questions in LinkedIn Group Forums.

Make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and helpful so people can learn about you.  In the “specialties” section of your profile, list your keywords!

Twitter

This is the ultimate site for making connections through micro-content. In this separate post, I’ve provided some helpful ideas on building a targeted audience through Twitter. It makes no sense to work on micro-content on Twitter if you have nobody listening!  Here is a suggested micro-content regimen if you’re just starting to tweet.

1) Create a habit of sharing — When you read something that interests you, share it on Twitter. It takes but a moment.

2) Leverage your network — If you’ve surrounded yourself with interesting people, they’re providing great content. When you find something great, re-tweet it! You don;t have to generate everything yourself.

3) Try following the “3 x 3 x 3 rule” — If you’re new and trying to figure what to do, tweet three times a day, at three different times of the day, on three different subjects:  a) interesting non-work-related information you saw, heard or read; b) news related to your business, market or industry (use keywords), and c) your opinion on an item in the news or something funny. Pass on links and snip your URL’s!

Remember that micro-content is still supposed to do the job of big content — drive people to action on your website. Of course you need to include your website in your profile and use your keywords in your bio.

Comments

Commenting on relevant blog posts, videos, and Facebook pages is a quick and easy way to deliver micro-content that links to your website.  Here are some examples:

  • A small business owner I know commented on a magazine’s Facebook site and was invited to send her product to the editor for coverage.
  • Adding your comment to relevant YouTube viral videos can create impressions with thousands of people who are interested in a related topic.
  • My comment on a popular blog post contained a link to my website which is still receiving hits nine months after I posted the comment. That’s not unusual since posts on popular topics can have a long “shelf life.”
  • Comments on my blog have resulted in new business partnerships, guest blogs, and freelance assignments for my readers.

I find that comments can carry even more impact when they’re “micro.”  People will read a few sentences, but probably scan a few paragraphs.

Re-purposing micro-content

There are so many great benefits to blogging but this is usually the place time-starved marketers stumble. Think about re-purposing your micro-content on your website as a blog, even if it only happens once a month:

  • Cut and paste answers you’ve already provided on LinkedIn and blog comments as new, unique posts.
  • Start a blog post with, “I found this interesting article on Twitter …” and share the great content on one of your tweets.
  • Share a relevant article, video or blog post from a trade publication and simply write a few sentences commenting on it.

In summary …

These are just a few of the ways you can effectively network on the social web with a “sprinkle” of content instead of a flood.  Obviously there are hundred of other ideas I’m sure you can share with the community but this is at least a start that a small business owner can work on 15 minutes a day.

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