Online Success Means Finding Your Online Voice

For a small business owner content marketing – “creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience” according to (who else?) Content Marketing Institute – sounds like a luxury only big brands can afford. Constantly fine-tuning the tone and verbiage of the web site is something that the little guys don’t really have time for, right?

Wrong, actually. Content marketing is something that matters as much to small businesses as it does to a CPG. In fact it may matter more because in addition to being the best way to reach directly into a consumer’s life, it is an increasingly important way Google and Bing determine how to rank search results. So your online voice matters, and it matters now more than ever.

This sounds like good news for the principal of a small business because authenticity and transparency are what these companies should have most of. The rub has been that for most small businesses the web site is rarely thought of as being more than a brochure, and hardly worthy of the principal’s focus. Over the past decade the Internet has evolved from being an interactive delivery mechanism to being an important part of almost everyone’s behavior pattern. The web is where people go to get things done, whether it’s questions answered, items purchased, problems solved, or time killed. Thus, a small businesses web site is the place where authenticity and transparency matter most.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with search engine optimization. Both Google and Bing adjust their algorithms for what gets to the top constantly. The only consistency for both of them is that authenticity and transparency of content matter most. The search engines don’t want you to try to game the system, so they reward sites that have good quality, clear, refreshed, relevant content with higher placement on search result pages.

“Content is King.”

Bill Gates made this concept broadly understood in an essay on the Microsoft website in 1996 and it is more accurate and relevant today than ever.*

For decades, the concept of authenticity in corporate communications was almost déclassé: we were trained to keep the reader at an arm’s length, to deliver only what we want them to know, and to protect the unsaid. This was because to be human was seen to be less credible; that trust comes from authority.

But social media changed everything. With the connections between each of us and our personal relationships expanded and strengthened by the likes of SMS, Facebook and Twitter, we became able to seek advice from a trusted friend or associate with lightning speed. No longer was trust based in authority, it was based in familiarity. And familiarity now came with immediacy, as feedback from distant friends and relatives could arrive mere seconds after the initial ask.

All of this points to a small-business content marketing program including a healthy dose of other social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and even LinkedIn. There is no need for a small business to be on all of these; the strongest, most relevant 2 will do, and the top 3 would be ideal. This is because your audience seeks relevance, not immersion. If your audience sees you everywhere in their social media lives your brand goes from being a trusted associate to being an advertiser.

Here’s the key: In social media nobody starts off being an advertiser, but it takes only 60 seconds to be discredited as one. Then it takes several years to lose the stigma. Thus it is vital to strive to be a trusted associate, then back off a little, but only as necessary.

Does Your Web Site Allow You To Engage Fully?

“Hey, let’s redesign the web site!” may sound like a pile-on of tasks and duties for the small business owner. It actually is not. But what is being called for here is an evaluation in line with the way people use the web today: Does it enable you to deliver fresh, relevant content to current and potential customers? Does it work equally well on a nice 23″ monitor as on a smartphone? Does it help your customer (and customer-waiting-to-happen) know how to engage your company in the fastest, easiest way possible?

Chances are, one or more responses end up being “no” and that’s ok. Take it as a sign that it’s time to effect the evolution of your online presence into one that aligns with the behavior patterns of your current and prospective customers: mobile, fast-moving, engaged, looking for solutions. The brochure you have been so proud of has served its purpose. Now it’s time to actually engage in a conversation.

Coming up next: Designing Your New Web Site and Social Media Management for Small Businesses.

* – A huge debt of gratitude goes to Craig Bailey for surfacing the one true way to find the original.