If you’re trying to decide on the best social media strategy, you’ve probably missed this crucial first step…

This is a pretty common scenario: I’ll get on the phone with someone to consult with them about their business and somewhere in the conversation they’ll ask a question.

The question usually sounds something like this: “Should I get a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn profile? What about Pinterest? Or Instagram?

It’s a good question to ask… unfortunately, business owners frequently ask it too early in the process.

My response is always this…

WHAT DOES YOUR SALES FUNNEL TELL YOU?

Your sales funnel is the most important part of your business. It’s the flow of your customers from first hearing about you… allllllllll the way through developing a relationship with you… allllllllll the way to the point when they buy from you, and beyond.

It’s the step-by-step sequence that people go through as they become leads, then prospects, the customers, then evangelists for your business.

I think most business owners know that (at least intuitively, even if they don’t know their sales funnel as deeply as they could).

However, business owners also encounter an onslaught of messages that tells them: “You need to be on social media and if you’re not on ALL social channels, your business is as good as dead in the water.

THE MYTH OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE FACT OF BUSINESS

Social media is a means of communication not a universal business strategy. It’s a way to engage with people, to connect with them, to listen, to have conversations, to advise, to help, to share… and yes, even sometimes to sell. Because it’s a means of communication, it’s also a useful marketing tool… but it is NOT a universal business strategy.

The reason is: Not all of your prospective customers are active on every social media channel or even ON every social media channel.

One client found that his target market of older professional men with an interest in cars were active on LinkedIn but not Facebook and definitely not Pinterest. Another client found that his target market of a specific group of real estate investors was active on Facebook but not Twitter or Instagram. One client found that his clients weren’t on social media at all.

Consumers use social media to connect and learn and share. But not all consumers do. Some don’t get it, others don’t feel the need, others don’t have time.

Many business owners seem to assume that ALL of their customers are on ALL social media ALL the time so they invest a lot of time and energy and money into building social brands. They discover a significant lack of engagement and zero return on all of that marketing investment.

The truth is very different: Some target markets are using some social media some of the time. (Sometimes more than others).

There are situations when a different approach works better. From direct mail to print ads to cold calling, just to name a few.

HERE’S WHAT TO DO INSTEAD

Before you invest heavily into every social media channel, figure out where your best customers spend their time. Are they hanging out on Twitter? Are they hanging out on Facebook? Great. Invest there. Or, as I suggested in another blog I run about copywriting or real estate investors, if your target market is spending more of their time at their kid’s softball tournaments, then skip social and sponsor the team.

Invest time thinking about where your audience’s attention is focused and that will tell you exactly how to connect with them.

It might be one or more social media channels… or it might not.

The quicksand principle: 12 on-site strategies to draw people deeper into your blog

Quicksand! In cheezy action shows, it was the vilest of naturally occurring killers, slowly drawing people deeper and deeper to their own demise.

In the online world, YouTube is excellent brilliantly devious at applying the principle of quicksand. I’ll start watching one video and an hour later I’ll find myself watching crazy cat videos plumbing the weirdest depths of YouTube.

YouTube has perfected the art of quicksand: Of offering viewers quick and easy ways to access even more content that they might like.

If you own a blog, you should apply the same quicksand principle to your blog. After all, you worked hard to get readers to your website and you don’t want them to click away… you want to draw them deeper into your blog, encouraging them to read more posts. How do you do that?

I’m not talking about putting people onto your site (such as with marketing) or getting previous readers back to your site (such as with autoresponders)… I’m talking only about keeping eyeballs on your site when they land there.

TOOLS AND STRATEGIES TO DRAW PEOPLE IN

Quicksand strategy #1: Back/Forward buttons: Perhaps the most useful default quicksand method is to add a “previous post” and “next post” link on your site, especially if it displays the title of the blog post too. It’s interesting to me how I use this button: When I’m reading a post and get to the bottom, I can always tell how much I liked the post by whether I hit the “previous” button. There are a small handful of blogs that I do that almost always.

Quicksand strategy #2: Search: Adding a search bar on your blog is one way to get people deeper into your site. The assumption is that they go to your site and search for something they’re looking for. In my experience (based on the types of blogs I write for), this isn’t used very often because people usually get to a site for a reason and stay there for a reason… and searching seems to be something they’d likely go back to Google to do. But if someone really loves your content and wants to see what you’ve written about it, they may use your search line.

Quicksand strategy #3: Displaying more posts: This is another simple strategy that is usually cooked as a default into blog platforms: Quite simply, how many blog posts do you display on your blog? On the current version of AaronHoos.com, people see five post excerpts. Depending on the design of your blog, you might display 2-5 full blog posts or as many as a dozen excerpts (and some themes do a great job of encouraging this strategy with how they display blog posts and post excerpts).

Quicksand strategy #4: Categories: These are the high level key ideas in your blog. Mine, for example, are built around business, finance, and real estate — the three topics I write most about — plus a couple of other categories. Whatever you do, AVOID an uncategorized category because that kind of sucks.

Quicksand strategy #5: Tags/Topics/Labels: Tags are another way to label your blog posts (and, in fact, I think they’re sometimes called labels on some blogs). Categories are pretty important and I think WordPress requires all posts to be categories as something, tags are optional. But I like tags a lot. I think people have stopped using them as much but the use of hashtags in social media has a lot of similarity so maybe we’re using tags again. You can present your tags in a few ways — usually at the top or bottom of a post, embedded in your blog copy, and in a tag list or cloud. I’m a big fan of tag clouds — especially the ones that increase the size of the tag text based on the number of posts tagged with that word. Until recently, I used a tag cloud and would probably go back to one again except that I’m blogging a lot with a few tags that are disrupting the user-friendliness of the tag cloud.

Quicksand strategy #6: Date-based organization: You see this on some blogs. This is where the dates are listed down a blog’s sidebar and when you click on the date, it expands to reveals the blog posts for that date. On some blogs this is appropriate if you’ve been blogging for a while because it adds a layer of credibility to demonstrate how consistent you are. But I’m not convinced of its usefulness otherwise. In most cases, what are users there to do? Rarely will someone look for dated information; I think most readers are on your blog for topical information. Unless you write news or very date-centric content, this certainly is a way to draw people in but I’m not sure how effective it is.

Quicksand strategy #7: Recently posted/most popular/most commented: This is a power strategy that is really several strategies but I’m lumping them together because the functionality is the same and the user-experience is the same: These lists are derived from data gathered from the blog post (such as the date or how often it’s clicked) and displays it in a widget, usually on a sidebar list. I’ve listed three but there are way more… most shared and most mentioned are two more I’ve seen.

Quicksand strategy #8: See also: This often appears at the bottom of a blog post and lists similar articles (usually based on information drawn from categories or tags). I like using this tool when I’m on other people’s blogs, except I don’t like that this functionality is now often being co-opted for click-through advertising, which I think diminishes the value of the blog.

Quicksand strategy #9: In-text links: This is where you write a blog post and then link to previous blog posts whenever you mention something relevant in the copy (as I did earlier when I talked about avoiding the miscellaneous category and then I linked to a previous post about that topic). This needs to be done intentionally and it can be quite effective.

Quicksand strategy #10: View all posts by: This is usually used when you have a blog that hosts numerous authors, so each author’s name is clickable, giving readers the ability to view all posts by a specific author.

Quicksand strategy #11: Your own groupings: This is a strategy I need to do more with. I really like it and I think it’s effectively. Basically, you group together similar blog posts and link to each of them from a single landing page. Then this landing page gets a link in different places (such as your sidebar or your menus or whatever). Think of it as a table of contents built around a series of blog posts that may or may not have been intentionally related when you first wrote them. It’s a great way to quickly pull together content that might not immediately seem related, or to pull together content into a strategic topic. For example, I might do that about sales funnels on my website. (I fully intend to, just haven’t got around to it yet). I like this strategy because it creates so much control over what you present (plus you can add more text on the landing page, which can add further context for the links). And as an added bonus, this method can become a powerful tool in search engines to help attract readers.

Quicksand strategy #12: Link lists in popular posts: In some ways, this is a mash-up of two of the strategies above — see also strategy plus the your own groupings strategy. Start with some of your most popular blog posts and then add a list of related content to the bottom of that post. That way, people who land on that post will see the list and may be drawn deeper into your site.

HOW TO USE THESE STRATEGIES TO PULL PEOPLE DEEPER

These are tools and strategies to add some eyeball glue to your website. Although they won’t all work in every situation, the more you use, the better. People will have different experiences on your blog and they’ll pay attention to different things. One person might click through a link embedded in a sentence, another person might click through a “See more” link, and another person might click a tag. Each user users these tools/strategies because they want something specific from your site.

And one more key point: I wish it goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway: you need to make sure you post great content on your site! As you build a library of great content, link back to it regularly from your future content to encourage people to read more.

Aaron Hoos’ weekly reading list: ‘Local search, press releases, and the future of content’ edition

Aaron Hoos: Weekly reading list

Here are some of the things I’ve been reading this week:

  • Local search ranking factors: There’s a big push back to the local market and I’ve been watching it increase in importance over the past couple of years. Well, the good folks at Moz have surveyed and analyzed the factors that influence local search ranking. There is really good stuff here and, like a lot of stuff that comes out of Moz, this should go into your to-do list for your website if you are targeting a local market.
  • Google’s new SEO rules for news releases: I’ve been relying on press releases releases for a long time — to help me build awareness and quality links for my business and my clients’ businesses. Recently, Google announced that it was changing the way it would pay attention to news releases backlinks. Jayme Soulati discussed this on her site and she also linked to a blog post at PRnewswire. If you write news releases, be sure to read them both. The best quote is: “We believe the value press releases provide is in discovery, not links.” This won’t change how I write press releases but it will change why I write press releases.
  • How to make yourself a marketing Einstein. This is a humorous article that builds off of a quote loosely attributed to Einstein. The premise is: If you invest 15 minutes a day studying something, you’ll end up a year later having spend the equivalent of a year in college. So this blogger is spending a full hour a day studying a topic (marketing). In his first post he mentions 2 excellent resources — The massive guide to getting traffic and How to increase website traffic. Great stuff at both sites… and I love the hour-a-day for a college-education-in-a-year approach!
  • The insider’s guide to the future of content: The folks over at Steamfeed wrote a great article about how content is changing and what we can expect it to be like in the future. As a writer, I’m mindful that the content I create may not always be consumed as text (I also write audio and video scripts for businesses and I’m increasingly asked to do so). Smart content creators will pay attention to these predictions and adjust their businesses accordingly.

4 ways to monetize your content curation

There is a ton of content on the web and it’s almost overwhelming for people to find the most useful stuff. So curation is becoming increasingly important to help people make sense of it all. (Check out my recent blog post on how to curate).

But can you make money as a curator?

Here are a few ways to monetize curation (although not all of them are commonly used right now).

  • Advertising: One of the most obvious and common ways is to make money from ads people click when they’re visiting your website (i.e. AdSense or Amazon).
  • Free curation as a positioning effort: In this method, your business is to make money from something else (i.e. consulting, coaching, content creation) but you use curation as a way to help position you as an expert. This is pretty common today.
  • Gate keeping: This is where you curate content but charge a fee for people to see your curation. It might be a monthly subscription or an ebook-style one-time purchase. You really need to prove your skills as a taste-maker first to get people to trust you enough to pay for your curation. Of the methods I’m listing today, this is the least-used way that I’ve seen but we could see it increase in time as curation proves to be more valuable.
  • Help others curate: This is the business model of Scoop.it and I think it is a big growth opportunity right now. With this business model, you get paid (through subscriptions or perhaps based on some other metric) to offer up preliminary curation so that other people can further curate.

How to curate content: The best ideas, resources, and tools

Have you ever walked into a restaurant and been unsure what to order because there are so many options? People can become overwhelmed by choice to the point where they cannot easily make decisions or act.

A similar thing is happening on the web today. There is so much content out there on the web, and even more is pouring in daily. (I should know… I’m writing a bunch of it). People aren’t searching anymore, because it’s so easy to find information on something. Instead, they are trying to make sense of it all. That’s a big difference.

Enter content curation. This is where people take the content that is already out there and pull it together to help people make sense of the information. It’s a science as well as an art, and you shouldn’t think of it as simply just putting up a list of links. Curation requires more.

Different sites are approaching content curation in different ways: Google is constantly tweaking its algorithm and in a way, they are very much in the content curation business. Squidoo is Seth Godin’s early take on content curation. Twitter offers a type of real-time content curation. Pinterest is a type of visually-oriented content curation. Facebook (at least among my friends) seems to be turning into an exclusive meta-curation club. Scoop.it has built a hub to help people curate and share.

Just to clear the air for those of us who see ourselves as content creators: I think there is still room for that. Curating is like only being allowed to marry your cousin. Eventually you’ll need new blood or everyone will be walking around your family compound with three arms. Even the guy from curation website Storify thinks that creators are still going to be valuable in the future.

So how do you curate content? Well, I’ve curated a list on exactly that topic:

First of all, you should download and read Seth Godin’s ebook Everyone Is An Expert. This ebook is written in 2005 so it predates a lot of the curation tools out there but, in classic Seth Godin form, he was talking about curation long before anyone else was. Check out the book and read the first 18 pages. (After that, he launches into a bit of a pitch for Squidoo, which you might want to read but can safely skip).

Once you’ve done that, watch this video. Although the video’s presentation is a little dry, they go through a very valuable step-by-step overview of content curation. In other words, reading the first 18 pages of Godin’s ebook and then watching this video gives you probably the best “crash course” in content curation.

Next, read this “content curation 101” blog post by Beth Kanter, which is one of the best examples of content curation I’ve seen. Beth explains what content curation is and why we need it (which you’ve already read) and then she describes how to do it well. Great stuff from Beth! Beth mentions in her blog post an excellent article from ClickZ that I think is worth highlighting again — How to become a content curation king. This article’s real value is down at the very bottom, where the author provides 9 very helpful tips on how to curate content effectively.

And check out this excellent article from WebbyThoughts about the 5 different types of content curation and how to excel with each of them. (Plus the article has some great tips and tools for content curators!)

Curation gives you some valuable benefits as a business owner:

  • There SEO benefits of content curation
  • Curation relieves the pressure of having to develop something new
  • Curation establishes you in the higher-order role of taste-making evaluator rather than someone who constantly pushed out content
  • You can monetize your curated content (I’m going to write a separate blog post about this tomorrow

Be sure to also read this article from Forbes — 4 reasons why content curation has gone mainstream.

Even if you don’t want to switch over entirely from being a content creator to a content curator, you can dial in a bit of curation into the work you are doing now, to change things up and to experiment with this new-to-you approach.

There are a bunch of tools to help you curate content. Check out these articles that list some curation tools: