I spent a lot (and I mean a LOT) of time finding and reading the best books on social media marketing. The ones that stood out to me were Search and Social by Rob Garner and Optimize by Lee Odden. Both books are true treasure troves of tips on search optimization and social marketing. And both books insist (more or less) on the same first steps for promoting your business. And who am I to ignore the experts?
For two weeks now I’ve set all my current projects on hold (except for eating, sleeping, and watching Battlestar Galactica) in order to learn how to improve my marketing. This is what I did so far.
Step 1: Define Target Audience
With different websites and brands (Management 3.0, NOOP.NL, Happy Melly, DARE) I am trying to reach out to different people and different audiences. The first step for me was to describe those target audiences as personas. The total now stands at 25 personas, ranging from Derek the Entrepreneur to Tanja the Event Organizer, from Janet the Product Manager to Fred the Public Speaker.
From now on everything I do will be specifically aimed at better understanding and better serving these different personas, because they all have their own problems and needs. No brand and no website can be everything to everyone. The solution is knowing how to choose between options, and for whom.
Step 2: Find Search Language
In order to understand what my personas are looking for, I have to get in their minds and look for the specific questions and terminology that they use. I do this by talking with them face-to-face, by analyzing their written input on sticky notes and evaluation forms, and by creating word clouds of some popular books and websites that they read or visit.
Different personas will sometimes use different language. For example, Max the Top Manager could be interested in “key performance indicators”, while Radu the Technical Employee might prefer to look for “performance metrics”. It’s basically the same thing, but the jargon is different, and they express their needs in different ways. Therefore, a separate keyword list per group of personas can be important.
Step 3: Find Search Results
My own efforts at finding search terms resulted in a list of between 50 and 70 key search phrases for different personas. For example, I expect Cathy the Team Leader to wonder about “leadership skills” or “performance appraisals”. And I expect Chris the Freelancer to ask herself “how to influence clients” or “how to get stuff done”. I have spent some hours entering all these search terms in Google and analyzing the results. (Tip: Don’t forget to log out from Google first, because you don’t want to have the results distorted with Google’s personalization efforts.)
For different personas and dozens of keywords my heroic (and somewhat boring) work resulted in a list of 500 websites, and possibly a flag of suspicion raised at Google’s HQ. The 500 websites I found all managed to show up on the first page of the search results, either through cunning or coincidence, in any of my hundreds of queries. What I found was worth every minute of my hard and lonely work.
Another thing I noticed was that for my target audiences SlideShare, LinkedIn and YouTube offer a lot of content. Quora? Almost nothing. StackExchange? Forget it. Medium? Nowhere to be seen. Does that mean I should publish more stuff on SlideShare and LinkedIn in order to be found by Google? Quite the opposite, I think. When I publish on Quora or Medium I might be the only one in my category, and my texts could hit Google’s front page more easily. On SlideShare and LinkedIn I would be one among thousands.
Step 5: Discover the Unknown
One thing I’m always interested in is finding out about great news sites and blogs. Have you ever heard of WorkAwesome? Or Dumb Little Man? Or Pick the Brain? Me neither. 99U? Big Think? Creative Bloq? Never saw them before. But now that I found them, having discovered that they regularly write about similar topics as I do, I added them to my daily news feeds. Maybe some time later I can reach out to them, and maybe work together on something.
Last but not least, it’s always good to know who your competitors are. I’m not giving any names here, but it was interesting to see that a few sites popped up again and again and again. I may not appreciate discovering competitors who are much better at doing what I do, but I can certainly admire that they are much better at doing what I do! It’s up to me to learn from that discovery.
Step 6: Plan for the Future
What will I do with all that information? Well, my blog NOOP.NL is being redesigned, and I had already given it a new purpose. Now it’s a matter of always keeping in mind the target audience (personas), imagining what they’re looking for (keywords), and optimizing my articles accordingly.
Additionally, for Management 3.0, Happy Melly, DARE, and Management Workout it will now be easier for me to decide what new ideas and activities to invest in, and (even more important) what not to invest in. Saying NO to interesting opportunities is easy, when you have actual data that proves why it makes no sense to pursue them.
Step 7: Rinse and Repeat
As everything else in life, the process I described here doesn’t stop. It’s not sequential, and it’s not even cyclical. Everything I described here should be done regularly. (But I’m sure the frequency will depend on your business.)
I can use the lists of categories and tags on the websites I found in step 5 to generate new search phrases in step 2. The strategies I develop in step 6 will hopefully alter the findings next time in step 4. And the search results in step 3 already give me ideas for different personas in step 1.
There’s always a next time. Next time there are different competitors and new interesting websites. Next time there could be new brands, target audiences, personas, and keywords.
Next time my blog post will be better optimized to promote my work.