In the early days of the Internet the web was pretty simple and straightforward. You bought a URL, you put your products and services onto a website and you waited for the phone to ring. But with the evolution of web, search, social and integrated marketing there has been a required change, which basically comes down to this…
If you want your business to be found, seen and heard online, you need to connect at the human level. Educate, inspire, communicate and deliver content that is relevant to your business but also has an element of human interest. In order to do this you need to be strategic in how you connect paid, owned and earned channels in order to build awareness, brand evangelism and of course the Holy Grail, which is best defined as measurable sales.
Let’s Consider An Example Of A Media Hub
While there are many examples of brands acting as media hubs, there are few doing it better than American Express’ Open Forum.
If you visit the Open Forum you will find a vast landscape of video, articles and other visual content from a diverse group of business leaders, executives and entrepreneurs. While much of the content is interesting and terrific, it would be hard for the average reader to truly make the connection between American Express and an article like 3 Keys to Mobile Small Business Success?
And then beyond just the content there are opportunities for readers to ask questions of their forum experts and join into live chats and events. Basically a menu of ways to get more involved in the community and gather more information about whatever small business owners may be thinking about.
In theory this is great for the small business owner, but what is in it for American Express?
Really, it is quite simple. Business owners are the most likely candidates for most of American Express’ products. Who needs small credit lines and business credit cards more than business owners, and where are the most businesses? Small business. So just like that the connection is made and we have now tied what is in it for American Express, but again, why go through so much trouble?
As I mentioned when I started this article, in the modern web we don’t connect with brands and sites that are just bombarding us with “Me, Me, Me” style content. In today’s world it is more about sharing and collaborating and with that generosity comes interest, loyalty and commitment to a brand. In essence the Open Forum created a loyal community of small business owners that are now at arms reach from AMEX to eventually earn their business or grow their business together. BRILLIANT!
At this point you may be nodding your head in theory, but thinking, I’m a small business so how does something like this benefit what my business is doing?
The answer is that more small businesses need to be taking a “Media Hub” approach and while building your own Open Forum may not be realistic in the short term, there are ways to build a more media centric site that talks about more than just your products and services but about your whole purpose, industry and vision. The kinds of things that make people say, “Yeah, I want to be a part of that!”
Building Your Very Own Media Hub
So what can a small or midsize company do to get into the “Media Hub” game? Well there is plenty and here are 5 that I recommend.
- Start Blogging: Okay we are going to ease into these, but if you aren’t blogging and allowing employees, customers and executives to tell stories and share interesting ideas then you are missing a massive opportunity to connect with your customers. The blog can live as an extension of your site or, as some companies are doing it, as a separate site dedicated to content and community leaving only a minimum tie back to the brand site.
- Think Visual: For some companies it is hard to sit down and write a lot of content. Another great way to tell your story is to utilize video. Brands no longer need elaborate technology to record a conversation. An iPhone and a YouTube account can often do the job. Start talking about the industry, the challenges, the opportunities and interesting world events that can be tied back to your business. People want to get to know your brand on a personal level!
- Be Social: For small businesses wanting to get more exposure the investment in creating content often doesn’t go unnoticed and the question that follows is usually who is reading/viewing this stuff? A great way to start building an audience for the content your brand is creating is to be social. Your employees, customers, partners and friends are a great way to start. Once you have them sharing you need to use brand owned social channels and strategic growth of those accounts to help content go further. Giant online brands like Mashable were built entirely on the back of social engagement. And while they are big now, they weren’t always.
- Foster Community: As an extension of being social, the best media hubs have an approach to help them build community through interaction. While many companies have mastered the art of using social to promote themselves, few do a good job of using social to hold events, drive conversations or just strategically connect to their target audience. An important distinction when it comes to building community is to remember for most brands the right audience is more important than a large audience. For some businesses acquiring just a couple of new customers can mean 6, 7 or 8 figures in new revenue. Why try to boil the ocean when making one cup of tea will do the job?
- Go Mobile: People are now spending more time on mobile devices and subsequently mobile apps than ever before. This means making your sites, content hubs and applications mobile friendly. Including taking into consideration the importance of simplicity, fast load times and easy navigation. People on mobile don’t have much patience for slow loading mobile sites. For some innovative small companies this opens the door to using a dedicated content app for interested consumers. By creating a “Your Brand App” you can actually have a dedicated site where your community can explore your content fast, easy and in a mobile friendly environment.
- Think Consistency: If there is one thing that small and midsize businesses mess up at more than anything else where their media strategy it is consistency. The old adage about needing to see something 7 times is still true and in a world where we see more and have more options than ever before we need to be even more diligent. Most of the media hubs that are really doing great are extremely diligent when it comes to regular content, events, engagement and other activities. So maybe you can’t do something every day, but whatever you commit to, see it through. This will build your content library, social influence and community in a more methodical and predictable manner.
A Media Hub For A New World Of Marketing
While many brands are dabbling in social and content, few brands are realizing the power they can have as a media outlet.
In the past investments in media were paid to media companies because of their audience and reach and although some still have large and targeted reach, many cannot connect to the few right people that your brand needs to connect with. This is why small businesses may have the most to gain by being their own hub for content, and by creating their own assets that they own in perpetuity.
Think about this: Once you build the readership, it is yours. It is on your channels and it is your content. How powerful is it to have a loyal readership interested in the products and services that your company offers?
This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.