As a small business owner, how can I plan and manage my online digital strategy in 2019?

Managing your small business usually means that you’re in charge of too many responsibilities. Organizing a clear approach for your digital marketing efforts is the key to success. This includes setting concrete goals, creating unique content, and measuring your results on a regular basis. Your 2019 strategy needs to include not only your website, but all of your social media platforms, and electronic newsletters. Since your time is limited, the biggest challenge will be to create personal habits that include setting aside a regular weekly time for digital property updates.

It can be an overwhelming topic. But like any complex project, when it’s broken down to its individual parts it becomes more manageable.

Before starting with anything else, you need to figure out how much time you will have each week to devote to your online marketing efforts… and commit that time without fail.

If you’re a solopreneur, finding that time can be a real challenge. It will take discipline and practice, but dedicating the same day and time each week, maybe by tying it to another weekly chore for your business will help you to create this new habit.

(For some invaluable tips about creating and sustaining new habits, I strongly recommend checking out tiny habits by B.J. Fogg.)

Many of the small businesses and organizations I help in the Two Rivers and Manitowoc communities (my backyard) rely solely upon Facebook for their online marketing. They do not even bother to maintain a website because it seems too difficult to keep up with more than one property. Since Facebook is heavily used by people living in northeast Wisconsin, it’s an understandable approach.

But what’s the unforeseen impact on your business’s credibility if you’re solely on Facebook?

If you choose to go this direction, realize that you are exchanging credibility for time.

Here’s what I mean. Anyone can set up a Facebook Page. Just because you’ve got a dedicated Page, it doesn’t mean that you are actually a legitimate business. Anyone visiting your Page who does not find an associated website will wonder if you are a credible business, or something being run out of your garage.

However, you are making more time for yourself. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Just be aware that there are other important trade-offs to consider. If you are on Facebook, you’re going to get insights about how your page marketing efforts are doing. However, the amount and quality of information that you will get to see is certainly going to change in the near future. The same goes for what your Page followers will see. In 2018, Facebook adjusted its algorithms to privilege posts by friends over business Pages. Expect more of the same in 2019.

By the same token, it’s not a great strategy to have a website without any social media profiles at all. As much as any of us might say we want to get away from social media, the visibility of these platforms makes them important to your marketing plans.

This isn’t to say that you cannot be successful with just a social media profile, just a website, or just an email marketing newsletter. If you look at Seth Godin, a top marketing thought leader, you’ll see that he has gotten along nicely putting all of his efforts into a blogging and email strategy. It can be done well.

But you’re probably not as smart as Seth. If you’re not sure where to begin, it’s better to hedge your bet and craft a digital strategy that relies upon many channels.

Using many channels is about meeting your potential customers where they choose to spend their time. If you’re just maintaining a web page and not on Facebook, for example, you’re missing a huge potential audience. Or if are in a business-to-business (B2B) space, you should seriously consider setting up a LinkedIn Company page.

The number and types of platforms you use all comes down to how much time you have to give.

So when you’re thinking about your time commitment, it pays to be smart about what channels you’ll use to engage.

  • Where are your target customers?
  • Where do they go?
  • What do they look for?
  • When do they go online to look for solutions to the problems you help solve?

It’s worth asking a few prospects and customers directly. Set up one-on-one meetings. Take out five of your best customers for a coffee and ask them the following questions.

  1. When you are looking to buy a new product or service (like mine), do you look online? Why or why not?
  2. How did you find out about my business?
  3. Have you been to my Facebook Page, website, or other social media platform?
  4. What do you like or hate about businesses online?
  5. How did you feel after purchasing my product or service?

These types of interviews can help you to come up with a strategic approach to setting up your online presences. It can also help you to set more realistic goals for yourself.

Set digital marketing goals

The biggest rookie error I see from online marketing efforts has to do with a lack of clear goals. Even some very large brands I have worked with, including big tech companies with a global presence, use their online marketing like it’s a club they can use to smack prospects and customers over the head!

They treat online communication like an advertisement or a one-way street. They use terms like “feed the beast” when building a content strategy because they somehow feel that by publishing a constant flood of new socially “snackable” content they are somehow creating value and gaining or maintaining a great position on social media.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Google and all of the social media providers have been tuning their algorithms in recent years to ignore content that’s spammy and does not actively engage people’s interests. For a great analysis of this, turn to Avinash Kaushik’s article describing the problems with organic social media posting for brands.

The idea behind snackable content is that the casual visitor to your social media or website can look at something visually interesting, entertaining, and short while on a break or commuting to work. It’s the equivalent of sitcoms on TV. But do you remember what sitcoms you sat through last week? Most of us don’t.

Let me suggest that your goals should be much less about visibility and building your following and much more about posting highly useful, thoughtful ideas that result in lots of comments and active discussion.

Yes, you can and should build a following on social media platforms, but how many of those individuals will ever return to your page if you’re just reposting snackable articles and images from somebody else’s blog?

Sample goals for your digital strategy

If you’re trying to wrap your head around what goals need to look like for your business, think less about clicks and likes and bounce rates (we will get to these) and more about the actual, measurable results you want. Your goals may look something like this:

  • Generate at least 35% of the leads for my business from content marketing
  • Sell my training course to 5 new customers per month via paid ads
  • Upsell or cross-sell 2 of my current clients to more premium or complimentary products I offer via email marketing

Creating unique content

Content should actively support your goals every day.

Most of the business content that ends up on social media posts and web pages hasn’t been thought through. Its only reason for existing is to keep the channel active (“feeding the beast”). There’s little thought given to a call to action.

Every piece of content you post should have an associated call to action that serves one of your business goals.

I’m certainly not perfect at doing this. In fact, because I manage many social media properties and websites, it’s tempting to post something just to make sure people know that a given channel is still around. I’ve often failed at resisting this temptation.

An author/blogger I’ve followed for years who has become a bit jaded with social media refers to this as “proof of life.”

I usually want my calls to action to perform one of these functions (in relative order of importance):

  • Fill out a contact form to set up a call or meeting with me
  • Follow the link back to my website (why would you send your customer elsewhere?) and take some action there
  • Sign up for something (an event, an email list)
  • Fill out a form to download my thought leadership
  • Comment and engage with what I just posted
  • Share what I just posted
  • Follow my social media profile

How much content should I have to get started?

Building a backlog of videos and writing blogs sounds good in the abstract, until you actually sit down to start creating. Even seasoned writing professionals freeze up while staring at a blank page from time to time.

One technique you might try is something I’ve gleaned from another expert marketer, Neil Patel. His blog is well worth reading. He suggests focusing on creating one big piece of content each week and then breaking up that content to be used on multiple social media platforms.

For example, if you create a long how-to video, you could divide it up into smaller segments and use those individually on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Each of these platforms are highly interested in original video content these days.

And rather than creating a bunch of new videos, isn’t it easier to break up one big one into several smaller ones? This is a kind of snackable content that is yours. It’s original, and it can be linked back to your longer video.

You could do the same with a long blog, repurposing portions of it for your other social media channels and using it as a means to invite people to follow a link back to your website so they can further engage with your brand.

Should I use social media scheduling software?

As you are building out your inventory of content, it may be tempting to look at software like Hootsuite and others (see below) that are designed to help you save time by scheduling all of your platform posts ahead of time.

As a tactic, it makes perfect sense, but beware of taking a cookie cutter approach. Here’s what I mean.

If you’ve got a plan for each of your social media platforms, it means your content is going to look different for each platform. Scheduling software is useful if you use it to craft and schedule a separate post for each social media channel.

If you do choose to follow this marketing solution, you may want to check out these social publishing platforms as a starting point.:

All of the platforms above offer a free trial of at least seven days, so you’ve got an opportunity to check out a few before making a decision about which one is right for you.

Measuring your results

You’ve got goals, but you need a way to tell if you’re successful. That’s where metrics come in.

Beware the kitchen sink nature of analytics software. You can get sucked into a black hole of meaningless metrics that can dazzle and confuse. And while the addition of machine learning AI in Google Analytics means that the platform itself can help you to make sense of trends in your data, these are still pretty early days in the process of such helpful systems.

Here are a few things to pay attention to:

Bounce rates and landing pages are worth your attention. A bounce rate simply means that someone has visited a page of your website and immediately leaves because it’s not what they were looking for.

You can find bounce rates in your Google Analytics reports. Be concerned about an average bounce rate (across your website) of over 35%. If you have created landing pages, look at any pages with a higher than 50% bounce rate to start. It means you may need to find ways to better describe what’s on the page, improve your content, include a strong call to action, or any combination of these things.

Getting your bounce rates down is one of the most important activities you can be performing to improve your business outcomes.

If you’re looking to measure your social media outcomes, you’re better off ignoring just about everything except for comments and shares. You’ll also want to look at your Google Analytics for your social media efforts too, to see if your website visits are being driven from social media posts.

Generally speaking, if you’re just getting started with measuring the performance of your online efforts I’d suggest starting with no more than 3 to 5 metrics that you’ll look at and track each month.

Every 3 months or so, look for trends and adjust your content marketing tactics accordingly.

Conclusion

The most important thing is to get started and don’t be satisfied with conventional wisdom about creating content.

When I got started blogging back in the early 2000s I felt the same pressures to produce content that I do today. Ultimately, I decided that all of the blogs that I wrote just to keep the channel alive were unsatisfying to me, so they must have been useless to others as well! Write well for yourself and write something in-depth rather than something short.

But beyond getting started, you’ll be far ahead of the game if you have a plan that includes goals and how you’ll measure your progress. Without these, you’ll only make progress by accident.

Once you’ve established some results you are pleased with, you’ll want to start experimenting with paid media like Google or Facebook Ads. But that’s a post for another day.