Panel: Online marketing begins with people-oriented approach

vbridges@newsobserver.comSeptember 23, 2013 

  • Common small-business marketing mistakes

    • Just winging it. You need to create a focused marketing plan that starts with considering your customers’ wants and needs, the desired objective, effective strategies and appropriate tools.

    • Not listening to your customers and thinking you know it all.

    • Trying to do everything and doing nothing well.

    • Setting unrealistic expectations (such as thousands of followers or a viral video) for goals that don’t correlate with your objectives.

    Sources: Natalie Best, Karen Albritton, David Chapman, Valerie K. Fields, Jim Tobin

— Facebook. Twitter. Blogs. Websites. Don’t forget Tumblr, Pinterest and Snapchat.

Modern-day social media marketing can be tricky for small-business owners trying to navigate and understand the ever-evolving channels and opportunities.

Last Thursday, about 75 current and future small-business owners and representatives from other organizations attended Shop Talk’s first Small-Business Breakfast, a sold-out networking event sponsored by The News & Observer and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

The breakfast was led by a panel of five area marketing and public relations professionals who offered advice and expertise on how companies can build their business by using social media and other marketing channels.

To get started, the panelists said, small-business owners need to step back and create a larger marketing plan before worrying about social media strategies that include Facebook and Twitter.

“Whether you are starting a new business, whether you want to reenergize an existing business, go backwards and put together a plan of attack,” said panelist David Chapman, CEO of 919 Marketing, a national marketing agency based in Holly Springs.

Ask the right questions

Jim Tobin, president of Ignite Social Media, a social media marketing agency in Cary, said the POST approach – coined by global research and advisory firm Forrester Research – suggests a framework that starts with “people” and transitions to “objectives,” “strategies” and then “technologies.”

That means owners need to understand the people they are trying to reach and establish campaign objectives such as sales, leads and partnerships.

“If you do a lot of work on the (people) and the (objectives), the strategies become sort of self-evident,” Tobin said.

Tobin suggested that owners ask themselves an “if only” question and then find an effective answer.

Tobin used the example of high-end blender company Blendtec, which came up with the idea that “if only people could see what their blenders could do,” customers would buy them – even with a high price tag. The answer was a series of videos showing the blenders consuming objects such as iPhones and Hannah Montana dolls. The videos went viral and sales increased, Tobin said, because “they answered the right question.”

Karen Albritton, president of Capstrat, a full-service marketing and public relations agency in Raleigh, said companies should start by asking themselves why they are in business, before they start talking about what they do and how they do it. Albritton said she founded her firm to help clients at crucial moments, “and everything we build our shop around is answering that why.”

Valerie K. Fields, chief PR pro at V.K. Fields & Co. PR PROS, a full-service public relations and copywriting agency in downtown Raleigh, cautioned companies about trying to do everything, “and then ending up not doing anything well.”

Small businesses, Fields said, should target a few of the most effective platforms and deliver consistent and quality content.

Chapman said owners should avoid talking about themselves too much and mine information from customers and the channels they pay attention to.

“Find out what they want to hear, what they want to learn, how they want to be entertained,” Chapman said. “Adjust your message accordingly.”

Take your message online

A website is an affordable tool that will help most companies, the panelists said. It offers a business the opportunity to tell its story, communicate with customers, monitor activity, and sell its products 24 hours a day.

“It is the cheapest employee you will ever hire, and it’s always on. It’s always telling your story,” and serving as an extension of the business, Fields said.

Tobin suggests that companies have their own websites, and not rely on sites such as Facebook as an alternative. It’s not smart to depend on a domain that they don’t own, he said.

To build a presence on Twitter, the panelists suggested following other companies with related interests and reaching out to influencers. On Facebook, companies can engage customers by offering something for free.

However, Tobin said, companies should grow organically and bring in followers who care about their product or service instead of worrying about how many followers they have.

“Having a fan or follower is not a business objective unless you can activate them,” Tobin said.

Reputation management

If owners don’t use social media, it doesn’t prevent others from talking about their companies on those channels.

“The consumer has chosen to participate,” Tobin said. “They don’t need you, or your Facebook page, or your Twitter account to talk about your brand or talk about a positive experience or a negative experience with your brand.”

Owning those channels, Tobin said, gives a company more control of their message.

“You have got the platform. You have got the opportunity to put your message forward, and if you do it in an interesting way, it is the most cost-effective marketing you can do,” he said.

A good reputation starts with delivering a quality product or service and building good will in the community.

“You can’t communicate your way out of something you behaved yourself into,” Albritton said.

Companies should, however, have a crisis plan and respond to challenges quickly, Albritton said.

Small-business owners can protect their company’s reputation by monitoring activity on the social media platforms they are using; setting up Google alerts for their companies, industry and competition; or paying for tracking services such as Raleigh-based

Natalie Best, executive vice president and director of client service for Raleigh-based public relations firm French/West/Vaughan, suggested that companies encourage transparency and conversation on its various platforms so they can address a problem before it blows up.

“Solicit that push and pull of content about yourself,” Best said.

In a crisis, the company needs to own the loss, take action to address the problem and move forward, the panelists said.

“What people are looking for, what I think we would all agree on, is that customers, clients and consumers are very forgiving,” Albritton said. “What they want is the truth and they want to hear it from the business first.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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