How to use the web better in 2009

Tips for how you can work and market better online in the coming months.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. So many of us tend to put off the things we should be doing anyway — working out, eating better, managing our inboxes [PDF from Good Experience] — and wrap it into a once-a-year extravaganza in January. Which might be fine, except when you pile too much into that system, it’s often over long before Valentine’s Day.

So I’m not advocating you take up these ideas as your New Year’s resolutions. But I will encourage you to think about how you can work and market better online in the coming months. If you start one of these ideas in January, so be it. Just go into your new efforts with a plan, and you won’t be disappointed in February.

Make your Web site all it can be: Take a look at your own site. Is the design fresh? Are you updating it several times a week, if not daily? Does it tell your customers everything they need to know about your products and services? This is one area you shouldn’t expect to ever declare “finished!” As you expand your web presence beyond a basic brochure site [i.e. one that simply replicates what you would find in a printed brochure about your organization], consider carefully how you can support each new addition. An events calendar is a great addition to a brochure site, if you keep it updated. So are sale notices and a blog. But make sure you’re using each part of your site well. If one area looks out of date, people will assume the entire site is.

Once your own site is robust, you can stop relying on the faulty assumption that people will be coming to your site. I know — on the face of it, that doesn’t make sense. But on any given day, it’s more likely your potential customers won’t visit your site than that they will. So, you can find them in other ways. This is where a social media strategy is your friend.

Before you jump in to social media, remember these tips:

  • Start small. You must be able to sustain whatever works.
  • Everyone doesn’t need everything. See below for ideas of the kinds of social media that will help you the most.
  • Be real. Social media — as the term implies — is much more about connecting with people who are interested in the same things you are than it is about marketing. Of course, smart marketers know that they need people more than they need to “market.”

The following list is shorthand. Your web strategy depends on your organization’s unique goals. But painting with a broad brush, these ideas can get you started. When you’re ready for more, let me know, and we’ll figure out the best plan for you!

Who Needs It

Facebook: Nonprofits and others trying to raise awareness. There are actually nonprofits raising a decent chunk of change on Facebook, but I wouldn’t recommend that as your first goal there. Instead, think about the power of networking. You want your supporters to spread the word about you to their friends, right? Facebook makes that simple. With a little effort on your part, your supporters’ friends will also be hearing about your events, fundraisers and causes.

Flickr: Anyone with event, organization and customer images to share. Flickr’s photo-sharing capabilities can serve many purposes. And many organizations don’t realize how many images they actually do have to share — until recently, there hasn’t been a venue for them. Sell a product that requires assembly? Photograph each step in the process and set up a Flickr slideshow [that you can also post on your own site]. Host events? Post the photos to Flickr and let your attendees network with each other, and with you, there.

MySpace: Musicians and selected other organizations appealing to young adults. MySpace remains critical for the marketing efforts of many independent [and affliated] musicians. If you’re in the music business, you need to be on MySpace. Many of its features specifically support songwriters and performers trying to get the word out about their work.

Twitter: Organizations with a large customer-service presence. If you have a consumer product and you’re not on Twitter, you’re already missing conversations about yourself. Whatever you sell, people are talking about it — complaining it and praising it — on Twitter. Rex Hammock has a great post this week with examples of companies using Twitter well.

YouTube: Anyone who can tell their story creatively. YouTube is exactly what you’ve heard — videos of cats playing the piano and the embarrassing exploits of college students. But it’s also full of creative marketing and useful how-to videos. It’s an old example, but I continue to point to anytime someone questions the validity of YouTube for business. The key is in the storytelling. No one would watch a video of someone talking about a blender. And the market for a video of someone using a blender to make smoothies or sauces can’t be too much larger. We already know [or think we know] how a blender works. Blendtec is so successful with its online video series because it’s showing us something unexpected — what we didn’t know — in an incredibly entertaining way.