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The Marketing Spark

6 Low Hanging Fruit Ideas for Small Business SEO

fruitFor many small businesses, having a solid presence in search engines like Google and Bing can provide a steady flow of new leads for the business. However, one of the biggest obstacles of maintaining good search engine optimization is that it is a lot of work. If you only have time for 1-2 online marketing tactics right now, here are a few low hanging fruit opportunities that can make a difference without consuming a lot of your time.

Create Question and Answer Content

One of the most common reasons that people go to Google or Bing is to find the answer to a question. There are tons of questions that your potential customers are asking search engines. You can attract those individuals to your website by answering the important questions people ask relating to your product or service. Keep a pad of paper around to jot down any questions you hear from your customers over the phone or in person. When you have some time available, write informative answers to these questions and add them to your website on a frequently asked questions page or a Q&A section on your blog.

Provide a Scholarship

Creating a scholarship related to your field is a win-win-win opportunity. The college wins by providing scholarship opportunities to their students. The student wins by receiving money to pay for their education. And your business wins by getting links and exposure from colleges.

Interview Other Business Owners

This is another win-win opportunity that can increase your search visibility and traffic. The idea is to feature another business owner on your blog or website in an interview format. You could interview someone in your industry if they are in another geographic area or a top blogger in your field. Alternatively, you could interview people in a related field. This provides some visibility to the individual’s business and often the interviewee will link back to their interview on your site.

Join Organizations

There are countless organizations that you can join nationally and locally. Several organizations will provide a link back to your business which may help increase the authority of your website in search engines. An example of this is the Better Business Bureau which is fairly expensive. You can also check out your local Chamber of Commerce which may have a member directory that will link to your website. Additionally, you can donate to organizations and many of these sites have a donor’s page where they link to their supporters.

Submit Your Business Information to Local Directories

Google’s local search algorithm considers the number and consistency of your business listings in local directories such as Yellowpages.com, Yelp, Google Places, Bing Local, and Citysearch.

You can do a quick check of your citations in the top local directories using the Moz Local tool at https://moz.com/local/search (formerly GetListed.org).

Ensure your business is listed correctly in all of the top local directories to optimize your visibility in local search.

Ask Your Customers for Reviews

Another important factor in Local Search is the number of reviews by customers on sites like Google Places, Yelp, and similar sites. It is a good idea to ask your customers to provide their feedback with a review. It is against Google’s guidelines to offer people an incentive for reviews so it is best to just ask nicely.

6 Passive Ways to Build Links to Your Site

While it is often more effective to actively pursue links to your content, there are things you can do to encourage people to link to your site without having to ask them to. Natural links are more scalable and less expensive to acquire which can help you grow your search traffic faster. You can also build links passively by outsourcing activities to talented interns and freelancers. Read on to learn about six effective ways to passively build links.

passive-links1. Use Zemanta

Zemanta is an excellent tool for bloggers that dynamically recommends related articles that bloggers can link to while they are writing in WordPress. Often bloggers will have a section at the end of their article that links to related articles. As a content publisher you want to submit your site to Zemanta so that it can be recommended to bloggers who are in the middle of writing about similar topics. There is also a sponsored option that will recommend you more often. Once your site has been approved, you can hire writers to write articles on popular topics or news so it is more likely to be picked up by a blogger using Zemanta. You can submit your site through the preferences section of your Zemanta account.

2. Write Catchy Titles

You may have heard the tip that you should spend as much time on the headline as you spend writing the article. People make snap judgements on whether your article is worth reading and a great title can attract a lot more readers even if the content is just okay. In the same way, linkers often choose to link to articles with great titles that make the content sound epic. For example “The Ultimate Guide to Landing Page Optimization” sounds like it is an epic piece of content and earned 28 linking root domains. “12 Things That Will Kill Your Blog Post Every Time” by Neil Patel earned 163 linking root domains. Read this post by Dan Shure of Evolving SEO for some great tips on writing great article titles: Are Your Titles Irresistibly Click Worthy & Viral?!

3. Hire an Online Marketing Intern

Interns are a great resource for building links because they are inexpensive but hungry to do great work and prove themselves. You can post a job on Craigslist for $25 for an online marketing intern or part-time marketing assistant and receive dozens of motivated applicants. College career centers will also promote your internship for free if you contact them. One of the best tasks to utilize interns is to have them research a list of link targets and conduct link outreach (this is what I did during my first SEO internship). It helps if you provide some good one-on-one training at the beginning of the internship and a healthy dose of feedback throughout. You can also direct them to link building resources like Link Building Strategies – The Complete List by Point Blank SEO to help generate ideas for building links to your content.

4. Hire a Team of Freelance Writers

The number of freelancers has exploded in recent years and you can find many talented freelance writers on marketplaces like Elance or oDesk. Once you have found some great writers, have them create guides and long-form content that can attract links by providing great utility to readers. The more high quality content you produce, the more likely people are to naturally link to you. You can also have your interns conduct outreach and request links to your best content from fitting sites. Another idea is to have your team of writers work on guest posts on high authority sites like the Huffington Post or leading blogs in your industry.

5. Become an Industry Thought Leader

In Paddy Moogan’s 2012 Mozcon presentation, he said that Rand Fishkin’s favorite link building tool is the publish button. When Rand Fishkin publishes an article, people immediately start linking to it as if it is content gold. Becoming a trusted and leading authority in your field can have a similar effect and lead to quotations, citations, and natural links. You can also be contacted by press for quotes in news articles or be interviewed by bloggers in your industry.

6. Create Definitive Guides on a Topic

People love helpful and comprehensive guides that help them learn essential information about a specific topic. The classic example in the marketing industry is Moz’s “Beginner’s Guide to SEO.” This epic guide has been hugely successful with over 2,000 sites linking to it. Tap into the expertise of your staff to develop a great guide for relevant topics in your industry. If the guide is high quality, it will be shared by people in your industry and also potential customers.

Charles Sipe is a marketing specialist in Seattle, Washington. He shares interesting marketing links on Google + and Twitter (@charlessipe).

7 Actionable Ideas for Earning Links to Your Small Business

link-buildingFor small businesses, Google can be one of the top referrers of new customers as it has replaced the Yellow Pages as the main tool to search for local service providers. However, the challenge for small businesses is that they need to learn the important factors that Google uses to rank local businesses or their business may not be easily found by searchers. This is not easy for many small businesses who are already putting in long hours just to keep their business running. The good news is that small businesses can help themselves rank better just by doing a few things right like creating relevant content on their site, listing business information in local directories, and getting links. This article focuses on the most difficult yet critical task: getting quality links pointing to your website. Here are seven simple ideas that small businesses can execute themselves in just a couple hours per week to earn links.

Interview Local Businesses on Your Blog
Find local businesses (not a direct competitor) and invite them to participate in an interview on your site where they can share information about their service. Email them a brief list of interview questions then publish their responses directly to your blog with a short introduction that describes what they do. Afterwards, ask them if they would mind linking to the interview from their website. Often they will be happy to reciprocate since you just helped to promote their business.

Interview Local Bloggers
No matter where you are located there are probably bloggers who live in your area including sports bloggers, mommy bloggers, and even farm bloggers. You can ask these bloggers if they would participate in an interview on your site to discuss local topics like favorite things to do in your town or favorite restaurants. Not only is this great content for your visitors, but you can ask if they would mention the interview on their blog.

Sponsor a Local Organization
There are probably several local organizations or non-profits in your area who have a website. This can include a school PTA website, youth sports team, or club. If the organization has a website they will often link to their sponsor’s websites. You can find these opportunities by using the following search query in Google: Seattle site:.org inurl:sponsors

Request Links from Business Partners or Vendors
If you work with other local businesses who provide you services, ask them if they can link to you from their website. If you would recommend the company, you can approach this from an angle of offering to provide a testimonial for their website. If they publish your testimonial, ask if they will include a link to your business.

Organize an Event
Events can be a great marketing tactic that can also help your site earn some links. Kane Jamison wrote an excellent article about this titled “The Complete Guide to Link Building with Local Events“. Local news websites often have a section dedicated to local events and you can submit your event to earn a link. Some city websites also allow you to submit events that can be posted on their website like this one at Seattle.gov.

Create an Awesome List
My wife works in apartment management and I created a list of the Top 16 Things to Do in Kent, WA. It usually ranks #1 or #2 in Google for “things to do in Kent, WA” and attracts visitors who may be new to the area. It hasn’t been linked to from other sites yet, but it has potential to attract natural links by being the best resource on things to do in the local area.

Write a Guest Article on a Local Blog
Depending on your area there may be some local blogs that cover local events and news. You could offer to write an informative article on a local topic. I contacted the blog iLoveKent.net and asked if I could write an article for them about upcoming summer festivals in the area. They were happy to publish my article titled “5 Great Summer Festivals Near Kent in 2012” and they linked to my wife’s apartment website.

Submit Your Site to Powerful Directories
There are some authoritative directories that can provide your local business with a helpful link. One warning on directories is that not all directories pass link value. The ones that are more likely to pass link value are highly trusted directories like the Better Business Bureau or niche directories like your local Chamber of Commerce. A side benefit of submitting to the BBB is that you can put their badge on your website which makes your site look more trustworthy to potential customers. Avoid directories that will accept any site since this can do more harm than good.

Examples of powerful directories:
Better Business Bureau
Yahoo Directory
Business.com
Best of the Web
Seattle Chamber of Commerce

Get a Listing on Local Directories
Local directories don’t always provide a followed link. Often they will add a “no-follow” attribute to the link to tell Google that it shouldn’t count as an editorially given link. Although the link itself probably doesn’t improve your search rankings there are several benefits to submitting to local directories. One is that your business listing is considered by Google as a local citation, which is a factor that Google considers in its local search ranking algorithm. A local citation is essentially a mention of your business name, address, phone number together. A great resource for finding local directories to submit to is GetListed.org.

Local directories include:
Yelp
SuperPages
Citysearch
Yp.com

Charles Sipe is an online marketing specialist in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on Twitter at @charlessipe. He can be contacted at csipe84(at)gmail.com.

Goodbye Google Reader, I’m Better Off Without You

ByeOn July 1st, Google Reader, a beloved companion and trusted friend to many, will be sent out to pasture. At first, hearing the news was a downer; although no actual tears were shed, the once cheerful day now had a dark cloud hanging over it. What will I do? How will I get my news? Not CNN or ESPN news, but the good stuff: the blogs, the feeds, the TechMeme posts, the riveting commentary of the highly trained paid and unpaid writers at The Atlantic and BuzzFeed… one can not simply survive on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit alone. Curation tools have their limits, but not Google Reader, the workhorse that never sleeps and never stops.

But really? The truth is, I’m probably most definitely better off without an RSS reader. It’s not that I’m a consumption addict (or am I?), but it can be argued that I’m not nearly as thoughtful or tactical in my reading habits as I should be (admitting that there’s a problem is the first step, right?). Over the years I’ve gathered feeds and have done little in terms of maintenance to cut out the garbage and assure that only the best material sticks around. To this extent, an RSS reader can quickly transform from what was once a massive productivity tool, to a magnet for distraction. Most articles, most blogs, most news sources, hurt more than they help. Is reading another Huffington Post or TechCrunch article going to make me a stronger marketer or programmer, a better person, or give me the ability to make my clients happier? Maybe, but probably not.

Information vs. Entertainment, There’s a Difference

Too much RSS consumption, just like too much television, is obviously detrimental. How much is too much? Hard to say, that’s best determined on an individual basis, but it’s my non scientific observation that those who work in and / or tend to internet marketing always seem to error on the side of over-consumption  It’s not just possible, but very likely that a culture of digital indulgence has become the norm.

Tami Baribeau says it best:

“I’m a product of internet culture. I spend much of my days and evenings reading the web. I have a staple set of 10 or so websites that I check multiple times throughout the day. I follow RSS feeds and aggregate sites, combing over Hacker News and Reddit and Google Reader. I am always plugged in to Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and when something new happens in the world (as impacting as a celebrity death or national tragedy or as silly as another spat between game journalists on Twitter) then I am one of the firsts to know (and retweet). I’ve been told that my name is synonymous with the internet. It’s not synonymous with the ‘real life’ though.”

A lot of ink has been spilled on this topic already, but the death of Google Reader makes for as fitting time as any to step back and think about poorly chosen habits vs. smarts habits and quality information vs. junk information.

Earning Attention the Hard Way

I’m dedicated to a life of learning and never want to stop taking in books, blogs, podcasts, videos, lectures, or any other resource that proves itself as a valuable medium for education and personal enrichment. Despite this, there’s still a delicate balance to be made. Time and attention is finite and thus should be allocated appropriately. I want everyone who is generous enough to take out time of their day to check out something I create, be it here on Sparkplug Digital, or elsewhere, to come away with something new and useful, no matter how small it may be. Finding a replacement reader shouldn’t be difficult – that’s the easy part, but setting a precedent for what is and what isn’t worthy of attention… ah, now that’s where the real challenge is. If there’s a lesson to be had in Google Reader’s death it’s one of caution. Always consume with caution.

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Death of the Salesmen: Will Inbound Marketing Finally Eliminate the Need for Cold Calling?

sales by appointment onlyAsk a non-sales person what comes to mind when they hear the term cold calling and you’ll run into grunts and sighs, half joking but not really joking insults, and an endless trail of unreal horror stories; the notorious salesman / saleswoman who doesn’t take no for an answer, getting rung up by the same carpet cleaning company 5 times within the span of 3 weeks, the fast talking insurance guy who swings into the office unannounced with dollar signs in his eyes. Sales people, the harbingers of unpleasantness. Maybe you’ve met some of these characters?

I should I know, I was one of these characters. I took a job out of highschool as a rep for a company that promised to get clients to the top of Google by marking up and reselling monthly AdWords packages. The pitch was simple, “Hello, would you like to be on Google? … Great! It’ll only cost $299 a month. What credit card would you like to use today?” Maybe I was naive (OK, it was a stupid decision), but I thought it might be fun. Unsurprisingly after a week I began hating myself and loathed having to get up in the morning. Each rep was making 70 to 100 blind cold calls a day and not one customer ever felt happy to hear from us. 50% of those who bought ended up canceling their order within the first 5 hours. I’m sure there are worse companies to work for, but I can’t think of many. After two weeks I left without giving notice and vowed to never do sales again if it meant crossing the line on what I thought was ethical behavior. Remember the golden rule? Treat others how you want to be treated, as in don’t sell to others in the same way you hate being sold to.

Sleazeball sales tactics aside, it’s unfathomable and unreasonable for most companies to eliminate their sales force and set in systems for outbound prospecting. Sales is the engine that makes the whole thing run. Make no mistake, I can live without marketing and PR, bookkeeping, and tech people, I’ll find a way, but throw out sales and the ship is sunk. Recruit a good sales team and you’ve got the building blocks for a successful company. NOTHING happens without sales of some kind, so any talk of eliminating or replacing it altogether is utter rubbish and can’t be taken seriously.

However, is it time to rethink and change how sales is conducted in relation to inbound marketing? Heck yes it is. I’m a fan of how online consultancy Software Advice framed the debate recently with one of their Google+ hangouts, the synopsis being that inbound lead generation is still experiencing heavy growth and has ushered in a new school of thinking based in permission marketing and sales.

“As the Web continues to empower B2B buyers, we’re likely to see a continued shift toward inbound marketing. But using intelligent, data-driven calling to generate leads shouldn’t be ruled out just yet.” – Derek Singleton

Cold calling will always be around, get used to it, but from a marketing perspective there’s still much to be done in terms of humanizing the process. Maybe it’s cliché, but isn’t sales supposed to be a conversation, one in which both parties are communicating wants and needs, setting expectations, and finding middle ground? A give and take where both sides walk out ahead? It’s a bit romantic to think that sales and online marketing can join forces when each have different objectives, however at the end of the day it’s still all about moving the needle. The question here is what can be done to eliminate friction and make sure that leads are overqualified, even to the extent that a sales call borders on being enjoyable. Years ago I’d do anything for just one warm conversation as opposed to a frustrated, rushed, and chaotic one. Today I’m of the opinion that nobody, on either end of the line, should have to settle for the latter. If that’s not the case, maybe it’s time for a change of scenery or a shakeup in how business is done. Do you sleep well at night? I know I do.

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Making Video Part of Your SEO Content Strategy

Making_Video_Part_of_Your_SEO_Content_Strategy

Making Video Part of Your SEO Content Strategy

Companies of all different sizes are adding video to their marketing plans in the form of vlogs, online advertisements, or noncommercial additional content. Today’s searchers are seeking out branded videos and it’s up to search engine optimizations (SEO) to make the most of the trend.

Marketers need to remember that the process isn’t as simple as recording, uploading and pressing ‘play.’ They should actively optimize everything for maximum SEO potential using the equation: applying SEO basics + knowing your goals + doing it well = SEO video success.

Apply SEO basics

There’s no reason to be intimidated by videos. Search engines rely on the content surrounding a video, the number and sources of inbound links, and its community engagement so it’s important to do a few things.

First, incorporate keywords into the title, surrounding text and tags. Then, post multiple hosting sites, and allow for interactions such as comments, rating and voting, sharing, video responses, embedding and more. Finally, pursue links in the same way you would for text articles.

Know your goals

It’s a good idea to lay out your goals before production begins. One way to stay focused on those intentions is to bookend your video with information.

This means that the viewer in the first five seconds should know who you are and how to find you and at the end, you should include a call to action, such as “watch the next video,” “subscribe to our blog,” or “visit our website.”  This action can be enabled when using YouTube by inserting a video annotation with links to direct viewers where to go.

Remember that even when promoting a specific product, it’s important that a video is entertaining, original, and useful to the viewer, or otherwise they will click away, or not share the video with their friends.

Set up a way to measure success after you know your goals. Use analytics to see whether your traffic increased, or your subscribers went up directly after you released the video. Being able to see if your video is working will help you know whether to keep exploring your current method or try a new approach.

Do it well

Try applying the following blogging and copy-writing principles to video editing:

  1. Watch for typos. Make time for the editing process to avoid mistakes in your video.
  2. Check your syntax. Check that your video makes sense. Every scene should lead into the next and the editing should be clean.
  3. Stay current. Avoid fads and pre-packaged graphics because they may have worn out their worth by the time your video is uploaded. Do check to see what others have done that is similar and work from that.
  4. Use what you can. It’s fine if you don’t have the highest quality equipment. Use the equipment you have creatively and work from the ground up.
  5. Tie your form to your content. Think of the best ways to get your message across to your viewers.  Is this a how-to? How about an interview? Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Of course there’s more than one way to achieve success using video for online marketing. Try out these ideas and find what works best for you.

 

Content Marketing in 2012: Good Job, but Let’s Make 2013 Better.

happy new year

Content marketing has been around for as long as the consumer internet has, but perhaps unlike any other year, 2012 felt like a definitive, elephant in the room, here I am, stop ignoring me, breakthrough period. People who never spoke of it before, at least not in public, began talking and writing about it. Marketing conferences, professional consultants, digital agencies, and top marketing blogs, many of which rarely mentioned content marketing a couple years ago, began putting increased emphasis on the topic in 2012.

OK, but are we better off?

Maybe. It depends where you look. There are some organizations and people who are doing excellent work (42Floors, Treehouse, and Buffer, are all standouts in my book), but such examples are still the exception rather than the norm. When it comes to producing quality content: webinars, blog posts, ebooks, informative landing pages; many of us our still wandering around in the dark. Not to discredit those who are at minimum at least making some type of an attempt, overall however most of us can still significantly step up our game a notch or two.

Content 1st, Marketing 2nd.

When it comes the outlook for content marketing in 2013, I’m an optimist. The glass is half full, it’s a new year, and I’d like to see everyone succeed, however I know everything worth while takes work. The biggest challenge ahead I believe, is the actual content itself, never mind the marketing of said content. In the spring of 2011, right after Panda, the folks at Google published a post outlining what makes a high quality site a high quality site. Among the questions for site owners were:

Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?

Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

How much quality control is done on content?

If this doesn’t dispel any and all doubts about creating valuable content, nothing else likely will. The best advice in 2013 for site owners, SEOs, or really anyone who wants more traffic, is to invest time and resource into web copy that resonates with people. Fortunately or unfortunately, the jig is up on other routes. Eventually content quality will have to be addressed. If 2012 wasn’t the year, 2013 makes for a great time to start.

 

P.S. Not sure where to start? Here’s some recommended reading.

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How To Identify and Fix Duplicate Content Issues for Startup Websites

Google Duplicate Content Comic

Duplicate content is what search engines impose when they find large amounts of text that have been copied from other sites

Duplicate homepages can be credited as individual pages. The sites http://www.homepage.com or http://homepage.com need to be one or the other to ensure your homepage is getting the praise it deserves. Creating many versions of the same article to distribute to sites and networks is one popular link building technique. But, sometimes search engines can see correlations between the original and the copies and discount those included links..

Also, some shopping cart content management systems can have different paths to get to the same product or category page. If those two different URLs are going to the same product, then those are duplicate pages.For blogs, search engines understand that different categories will have duplicate content. When you have more posts about those categories the more the content will be mixed and the less chance you’ll have any duplicate problems anyway.

If you’re interested in finding duplicate content that has the potential to hurt your site, then try typing your URL into Copyscape. It will not give you results of duplicate content you have on the same URL that you submitted your query for but it will show you the result for the page you entered.

If you are getting penalized for duplicate pages, you can work to fix the problem. Locate your .htaccess file and add the following code to redirect all your www-URLs to the non-www URLs: RedirectMatch: 301 ^(.*)$ http://domain.com RedirectMatch permanent: ^(.*)$ http://www.domain.com

You’ll need to replace “domain.com” with your URL as well as change whether you want everything to go to www or non-www. If you need to get rid of your /index or /homepage page problems you’ll need to implement a simple 301 redirect. This will also need to be specified in the .htaccess file using the code below:

Redirect 301: /badurl.htm http://www.example.com/

Change the example URLs to make sense with your particular situation.

Redirect 301 /index http://www.example.com.

For more clarification, it’s telling the site to permanently redirect your /index to http://www.example.com leaving you with a clean URL structure. Now, all your duplicate homepages should go to either http://homepage.com or http://www.homepage.com.

You can fix other duplicate pages using the Rel=Canonical Tag. Using it will tell the major Search Engines that the page that copies your other page should be treated as one in the same. For example:

If www.site.com/thincrust/pizza/pepperoni isn’t the correct page, and you would rather have www.site.com/pizza/thincrust/pepperoni be the main page, you’d want to put a rel=canonical tag on www.site.com/thincrust/pizza/pepperoni. This way the Search Engines understand that it’s a user-generated duplicate page and the search engines be confused on which page to display or give credit too.

Using the rel=canonical tag is an alternative to programming a 301 redirect. A 301 redirect is still the preferred way to guarantee the search engines understand your intent to move content from one URL to another.

While some have argued that Google’s duplicate content penalty does not exist, duplicated content can be fixed if you find you are being penalized and your site isn’t receiving the merit it deserves.

Social Media Won’t Save the Day

Whoooooosh

Hear that? It’s the sound of dollars, tons of dollars, being shifted from old, traditional (boring) advertising and marketing channels towards social media. Oh how sweet it is.

A couple years ago (2007 – 2008ish) if felt like those who “got it” were in the small minority. Then, things started to change. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and eventually platforms like Pinterest, Foursquare, and Instagram, became household names. Today it’s as if everyone (save for a few ignorant holdouts) wants a part of the action. There isn’t an executive Fortune 500 marketing or PR team on the planet that hasn’t been briefed on the topic. Almost overnight it’s as if every other television and billboard ad has a #hashtag stamped onto it, like a sort of self proclaimed badge of honor. A number of companies, big and small, are finding incredible success, while others are still floundering. That’s just business, but hey at least there’s a clear sign of effort and investment.

So this is it – Social Media Has Had the Last Laugh?

Not quite…

Just being in social isn’t enough. It never was, but now the truth has become blatantly obvious. There’s too many credible examples to ignore, ex: General Motors struggles, while Ford continues to execute at a high level.

It’s the same story for small business and startups alike. I’d need more than two hands to count the number of local restaurants in Seattle that I’ve come across who are using social media, but are 100% clueless when it comes to strategy. I’m in a nice mood today so I won’t name any of the embarrassing examples, but on the reverse I can give huge credit to places such as Taco Time (300+ locations) and Canlis (just 1 location, but famous for their use of social media) who are doing great work.

Difficulty and Deception

Anyone can get in the game, but delivering positive ROI to justify considerable investment is tough, real tough, with social. If I sound like a naysayer, it’s because, well… I am one. I’m not a skeptic, because it can work, however there’s still a strong majority of marketers, both newbs and veterans – traditional and digital practitioners alike, who have grossly underestimated what it takes to excel.

My advice? Be active in social, put a little Facebook URL on your business cards, rally up some type of online following, etc… do whatever you think you need to do.

But if that’s not enough, as in you’d like to use social media to meet a real business objective and aren’t satisfied with playing on the level of the majority, be mindful that to find success it’s going to take a lot of thinking, a lot of planning, and a hell of a lot of patience. Social media won’t save you or your business, but put in the effort, give it some considerable thought, and your chances of making it worthwhile are much greater than just shooting from the hip and being active just because everyone else is.

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Has Your Startup Fallen Victim to “Me Too” Syndrome?

There’s a virus spreading around, and not just here in the valley, it’s been spotted in Seattle, New York, Boston, and all across the country. The scientific classification… I’m not sure, but I’m calling it me too syndrome.

Never heard of it? It’s when a startup gives up on innovation, throws in the towel on creative thinking, and says “me too” to whatever everyone else is doing. If unchecked for too long the side effects become nearly irreversible.

Symptoms to watch out for

Do you find yourself not just watching the competition, but excessively imitating their every move?

Competitor A has a Pinterest account –  quick! let’s create one, spend hours every week pinning random garbage, and soon we’ll be just as awesome.

Competitor B has an iPhone, iPad, Facebook, (insert name of platform here) app – quick! let’s pay a freelance developer $1000 to build one so we can seize the opportunity.

Competitor C has X amount of inbound links, Twitter followers, or positive reviews – quick! let’s make it a top priority to have just as much, if not more.

Competitor D is blogging 5 times a week and has just released an incredible infographic – quick! let’s work 20 extra hours a week, stock up on energy drinks, ignore our families, and try and do the same.

Treatment

Warning: Treating me too syndrome isn’t always easy, especially if an ignorant coworker / founder is calling the shots, however if you catch it early enough it *might* be curable.

Step 1. Get back to your unique value proposition

What makes you unique? What does your startup do that nobody else can, or in what way are you different than all of the competition? Is it outstanding customer service, or incredible value for the price? Maybe it’s minimal design or a compelling, feels good, giving back to the world type of mantra. Whatever it is, narrow in on it and let it guide you on what to do next.

Step 2. Advocate for quality

It doesn’t matter what marketing campaign or big branding move you want to pull if it ends up bombing. Take some time, have a plan, and execute to your teams fullest capabilities. If this means spending a couple thousand (thousands, not hundreds) on a whitepaper, then so be it. If this means working with some fresh talent to better express your ideas, then so be it. Make sure that whatever you do, be it small or big, is of high quality.

Step 3. Stop copying the giants

Airbnb can work up plenty of jaw dropping marketing initiatives, because well… they’ve got a super talented staff and over 100 million in funding to pull from. You and me though, our startups are just babies (maybe not, but probably). The game is much different. To stand out you can’t just simply copy the competition, it’s not going to be enough. Stick to what works, but never be afraid to experiment with new tactics.

Always play to win

Saying me too is a giveaway that you’re following and not leading. Playing for 2nd or 3rd or the N’th position in a crowded market can still be rewarding, but there’s nothing like being out front. If you’re not playing to win, it’s likely that you’re not going to.

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