With 2011 almost behind us, it’s time to start thinking about the next year.
In the world of online marketing, the past 12 months have been a rollercoaster ride for small businesses and organizations.
People are looking for new ways to market content, social media, mobile platforms, and causes, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing new on the horizon, either.
That’s why we decided to ask managing editor Martin Lieberman and senior content developer Dave Charest what they thought would be the big thing that small businesses should focus on next year.
So tell us, what’s going to be the top strategy for online marketing next year?
Martin: Social media. Yes, I know we were saying that all year long in 2011, but next year will be the time to get serious about it. It won’t just be about building a large following or including share buttons and “Follow us” icons in your emails. In 2012, businesses and organizations will have to figure out what they actually do with their fans and followers, and how to use those connections to drive real results — not just conversations.
Dave: I’d have to disagree. Next year, the year after that, and the year after that, online or not, the answer is positively, absolutely strategic alliances. How’s that for definitive?
Martin: In a tough economy, we all want to do more with less. Dave’s right, one way to do that is with partnerships. But I think the best strategic alliance you can create is one with your loyal customers, clients, and supporters — people who are already using social media. They’re the most reliable marketing asset you have.
The goal for 2012 will be to focus on great interactions and experiences, so you can give your contacts great things to talk about and make them your marketing partner. Social media will be the tool for all of this.
Dave: Before I get to the why, let me define a strategic alliance just so we’re all on the same page. Essentially, a strategic alliance is when two or more businesses come together to help each other achieve goals.
Why is a strategic alliance so important? Because you’ll be able to supercharge your results. Let’s say you’ve started a blog to help support your business. Great idea, right? Except it’s not much good if no one reads it. So there’s all this work you need to do to build an audience for your blog. You could do it alone, but it’d take you a long time. Or you could cut down that time by reaching out to other bloggers who already have a large audience. How can you help with the work they’re doing? Perhaps you can create a special report for their audience or guest post on their blog. This immediately gives your blog a jumpstart, because you’ll reach a larger audience who all have the potential of becoming readers of your own blog.
Martin’s right; you want to get more social. But that’s only part of the story. Being social without goals and direction is simply a waste of your precious time. It may make you feel warm and fuzzy, but it may not help move your business forward.
How can businesses and organizations start focusing on this strategy?
Martin: Like Dave said, you should have a plan and a goal in mind when you start ramping up social efforts. What is going to be the result of your social media activity? Will you use it to drive more sales, communicate your expertise, or something else? Success starts with a goal. When you know what you want to accomplish, the plan for how you will get there will be easier.
Dave: Focusing on strategic partnerships all starts with identifying the people you’ll want to develop relationships with. It also helps to break it down into three buckets: peers, pros, and patrons.
Peers are the people at the same level as you. It’s great to develop these relationships and help each other out as you move up the ranks. Pros are the people at the next level. Relationships here have the potential to move your business up to that level as well. Finally, there are your patrons. These are the people who become potential customers, the ones Martin refers to. To form a relationship with your patrons, become a resource for them, so you’re the trusted source when they’re looking for what you offer.
Start making lists and then listen and observe to all of these people. Figure out where you can best fit in and nurture those relationships.
What’s going to be the most important tool for businesses and organizations taking this approach?
Martin: Obviously, the social media sites… but I’d say Facebook in particular. That’s where much of the word-of mouth activity is happening these days. And of course, email marketing will be important, too, because you’ll use that to drive people to your Facebook Page.
Dave: I’m a big fan of Twitter as a way to monitor the three groups I mentioned, because using lists is a good way to monitor the conversation and Tweeting is an easy way to have first contact with potential alliances.
Is the strategy going to differ for B2B, nonprofit, and B2C organizations?
Martin: The end goal of your social activity may be different, but the things you’re using for results, and the way to get there, should ultimately be the same for everyone.
Dave: I don’t think so. The people they’re trying to reach may be different, but the way to go about it essentially remains the same — at least from an online perspective.
What do you think is going to be one of the big online marketing strategies next year? Let us know ion the comments section below.