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The way businesses, including solution providers, are marketing their services is swiftly changing as consumers and business users take advantage of the internet and social media to bypass traditional marketing technologies.

That’s the word from Bill Rozier, senior marketing manager of AchieveUnite, an Alexandria, Va.-based consultant on building channel relationships, and a faculty member of CompTIA.

Rozier, speaking to a room of solution providers and MSPs attending Tech Data’s TechSelect 2019 Spring conference in San Diego, said that thanks to social media and the internet, customers know more what they are buying, and from whom they are buying, than ever possible in the past.  

[Related: TechSelect 2019 Conference: Tech Data And Partners Seeing Dramatic Business Growth]

“Never in history has it been easier for customers to know what you are doing,” he said. “And worse, what your competitors are doing.”  

Business users are also consumers and have gotten used to going online to quickly and easily learn about potential purchases before talking to anyone trying to sell them something, Rozier said.

As a result, he said, people don’t want to be sold on something. “Cold calls are out,” he said. “There are apps, so we can lock them out.”  

That makes it a terrible time for sales reps, Rozier said. “Or it’s the best time ever,” he said. “Problem- solving is the new currency. People are on a journey to buy.”

The internet has for all practical purposes become a big answering machine where people don’t look so much for brands as they do knowledge, Rozier said. Therefore, a competent website needs to have pages where users can find product information, corporate information, collateral, career information, news, investor information and partner information.

“This isn’t bad,” he said. “Most [websites] can’t get this far. But we want the internet to point at you.”  

To make that happen, a solution provider’s website really need some additional items, including social media channels, content syndication, a developer community, training and certifications, and translation for those with business overseas, Rozier said.

Other must-have items include business videos, which are the top assets for any business today, and webinars, where the amount of time a user spends listening is the No. 1 indicator of their interest in the company, he said.

Rozier also suggested providing some generic pages with non-company-specific information such as definitions of terms or industry trends that will answer potential customers’ questions and cause them to return to the site.

“If you help them solve questions, interesting things will happen: You will become an expert,” he said.  

The best websites include SEO, or search engine optimization, the ability to hand off users to social media, and active “next content” engagement to encourage users to move on to the next page on the site and engage in “binging,” Rozier said.

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It is also important to include a developer community where applicable, multiple routes to market, and “subscriptions,” or getting users to actually sign up for further information, he said.  

It is also important to remember that the website is not about the company that owns the site, Rozier said.

“You’re not talking about yourself,” he said. “It’s branded. Great brands teach. You’re not talking about your products. You’re letting someone else talk for you. … If you’ve given [users] real value, they won’t go somewhere else.”

It is equally important to invest in social media as a way to better reach customers, Rozier said.  

However, he said, it can be a tough move for many solution providers who have some trepidation when it comes to signing up for social media. “There’s a lot of emotion that goes into signing up,” he said. “But it’s important.”

Rozier said there are six important questions solution provider have to ask when deciding where to start and expand their social media efforts.  

The questions include understanding what social media tools customers use, what are customers saying on social media, what’s the partner’s own unique story it can share on social media, how to make sure the partner’s message is heard, how to increase its audience via social media, and what social media types do its executives like.

“If you know what your executives like, you’ll get there quicker,” he said. “And you will get feedback.”  

Rozier also shared some do’s and don’ts of social media.

Channel partners should make sure their strategic and approved vision for the company is endorsed by the executive team, make sure to research what competitors are doing to come up with some best-of-breed ideas, and share their momentum inside and outside the company. 

However, they must not think of social media as just a hobby instead of the serious tool it is, they shouldn’t publish in the kind of volume they might have once they first discovered the idea of email, and they should ensure they use more images and fewer words where possible, he said.

Solution providers just starting their use of social media or expanding from a small social media presence should consider the pros and cons of the leading types of social media, Rozier said.  

He suggested focusing on a single strategic audience to get started, choose the two best-aligned social media channels for that audience, publish once a week for three months to develop the habit, and choose three metrics to measure performance, including things like total views, growth in sales, sharing of content, and so on.

Rozier said blog postings are one of the most important tools a partner can use, as they can be curated, feature multiple different voices, take advantage of internal experts, offer long-term value, and are easy to share.  

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Blogs create a lot of content, Rozier said. “And it creates a lot of followers,” he said.

However, he said, the shorter the blog the better. “People have a 90-second attention span.”  

Facebook is a good social media tool because so many people start using it as consumers, giving it a good emotional attachment, Rozier said. “People can see other people’s babies,” he said.

Facebook is also a good tool for talent acquisition, and for its ease in getting comments and likes. It offers many free and paid options, is great for team and corporate use, and can be part of an advertising strategy, he said.  

YouTube also offers many advantages, including being a top signal to get higher Google rankings given Google’s ownership of YouTube, Rozier said.

Video remains the top content asset for many companies and provides an easy knowledge transfer capability. It is great for mobile device users, and the content is easy to share. However, Rozier said, focus on short content. “If it’s longer, break it up into chapters,” he said.  

Twitter is a great way to get short messages to followers with real-time news, and should be part of an influencer’s strategy, Rozier said.

Instagram is also important given its visual and emotional capabilities, Rozier said. It is very mobile-friendly, and can serve as a business’ culture ambassador, he said.  

Solution providers need to use analytics to measure the impact of social media to prove their points regarding social media use, Rozier said.

They should measure things like customer responses, executive response and employee responses, he said. “If these three [types of users] don’t see you, you’re dead in the water,” he said.

They should also measure their business growth from social media use, their customer engagement, and how much their influence grows from social media so they ultimately know how successful they are, he said.  

Rozier’s message rang loud and clear with Kerri Ellis, CEO of Secure Networkers, a Spring, Texas-based solution provider and MSP and Tech Data channel partner.

Ellis told CRN her company hired its first marketing person about seven months ago, and that Rozier presented several nuggets of information that made sense.  

“There were a lot of bits and nuggets like the need to keep blog posts short so people can quickly read them,” Ellis said. “And I knew that photos are important, but he reminded us this is something we need to focus on.”

Secure Networkers sees Twitter and Facebook as secondary social media tools, and is starting to look at how Instagram might help, Ellis said.  

“LinkedIn is our primary social media tool,” she said. “It’s where our customers are. It’s more for the professionals we serve.”

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