How to cash in on Web 2.0 tools even when cash strapped

Today Canadian firms of every size and type have experienced how smart social networking can boost brand and business.

Large and high-profile firms – such as Royal Bank of Canada and Bell Mobility – have been using Web 2.0 tools for some time now, and with amazing success.

Last year alone companies with 1,000 employees or more spent around $764 million on these technologies, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based analyst firm Forrester Research Inc.

What about smaller firms, though? Are there simpler ways for them to use these tools effectively without breaking the bank?

The answer is a resounding “yes”, experts say.

What’s more, with a little creativity, small and midsized businesses (SMBs), on a shoestring budget, can get some of the same high-powered benefits from Web 2.0 apps as larger enterprises.

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Harnessing sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn to market your business requires little capital outlay and “minimal training,” according to one expert.

Tech savvy isn’t a prerequisite either, said Joe Panettieri, editorial director at MSPmentor, a marketing advisory firm focused on managed service providers.

“You can always ask or hire someone to open up the appropriate account and set up the equipment.”

Panettieri was speaking at Ingram Micro’s recent Seismic Partners Conference in Dallas, where he offered some quick Web 2.0 tricks

Blog baby blog

“One of the simplest tricks is to blog often on topics relevant to your space,” said Panettieri in a presentation titled Top 10 Managed Services Trends.

Most Web searches are done through Google, he noted. And the top five or seven spots on the search site’s very first page are the most highly coveted ones.

Criteria used by Google to select which items display in these prized spots aren’t static.

But for now, Panettieri said, it’s safe to say that items with the following qualities get priority:

  • Content that’s always fresh or updated often
  • Topics frequently searched for by surfers
  • Sites with numerous links or that are linked to by other sites

At the very least, businesses and knowledge workers seeking to capture online traffic need to blog often on topics relevant to their space, he said.

For those new to blogging, Panettieri highly recommends keeping a daily journal of company activities or industry news.

Once you’ve collected a month’s worth of material, he suggests sifting through the collection to determine which issues would be worth discussing further.

If you’re bashful about launching your own blog, try commenting on other people’s blogs. “This helps establish your online profile — just as in the real world, people get to know you when you speak out.”

He said it’s crucial that you link your own new blog or Web site to other industry or topic sites, so people become more aware of your site.

And writing a blog post needn’t be an arduous task at all, Panettieri said. It doesn’t require countless hours expended on composing material.

Consider the following possible blog items:

  • Your comments or opinions on industry related issues
  • Customer success stories
  • New hires and promotions in your company
  • Annual time lines and milestones
  • Names and contact information of key personnel who can help customers

“Gun for at least one post or press release each month,” Panetierri said. “Just don’t post PDF files because Google doesn’t rank them highly.”

Virtues of “viral”

Over time this your material will build up on the Web, he said.

“The next time you’re with a potential client who wants to know more about your company or team, just tell them ‘look us up in Google’ and your company is likely to appear on the first page.”

The media expert also suggests going viral by posting videos on online. Possible video material could cover new company products or processes, customer case studies, testimonials, or even video blogs.

Don’t keep videos confined to your Web site though, he said.

Give them wider visibility by posting them on YouTube. “When you post a video to your site, only visitors will see it. On YouTube, it’s open for the world to see.”

The best way to use social networking tools, says another online marketing specialist, is to create “communities” or groups of like-minded folk who eventually follow your posts.

“A decade ago the trend was to get the company message out,” recalled Wayne Carrigan, vice-president of ThinData Inc., a Toronto-based e-mail marketing firm. “Today it’s on allowing clients or customers to have their say.”

That’s why it’s vital to tap into relevant online communities and get “respected” bloggers to endorse your products or business, he said.

This, Carrigan said, will involve greater online interaction and commentary on blog sites relevant to your industry or campaign.

The company doth blog too much methinks

While blogging does often boost a firm’s online profile, Panettieri cautions smaller companies against overusing blogs to market products and services.

“Let’s face it, many operations have limited personnel and resources. If being online is dragging down your business, then my suggestion is to blog less.”

As in any campaign, he said, business operators need to strike a healthy balance between marketing the businesses and doing business.

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