Among the more challenging obstacles I face converting the doe-eyed into social media disciples is their willful and often arbitrary belief that building a Web site has nothing to do with marketing their businesses online. Even worse, many believe that the only way to raise and influence brand awareness and sentiment respectively, is to pay for banner ads and pay-per-click (PPC) programs. In the eyes of many small business owners, the exercise in building a Web site is the objective itself – ultimately just ambiguous, inert and quickly forgotten.
This stubborn subscription to the notion that a Web site has nothing to do with marketing is rooted in a healthy skepticism though. After all, my father Bill Dailey owned a liquor store for most of my life and he struggled mightily with parking lot construction, the closing of a popular neighboring Italian delicatessen, increasingly narrow margins and smart and savvy competitors. And through it all, there was never any shortage of seedy advertising salespeople pecking at his feet. It makes perfect sense that the small business owners I know would be apprehensive about doing much more than having the “Web guy” shut up and build the Web site.
However, in spite of your justifiable doubt in the Web site consultant’s intentions, consider my job as a hired Web site and content marketing authority. I have to design and develop a unique and memorable online identity for your business. I have to promise a creative concept that compels your prospects and existing clients to take action. This is achieved through a combination of thoughtful and stimulating conversion funnels, search engine optimized code and stylish and clever aesthetics. But as your adviser, I have another critical job to do that is often off most of my prospects’ radars. I must either make you aware of what I can do to help market your online brand or at the very least, I must inform you that if you do not take additional steps to market your now killer Web presence, your site could amount to a total waste of money. And while I love money and am happy to earn yours, I would not be your advocate and thus earn repeat business and referrals, if I do not arm you to succeed with this new online initiative.
A Web Site is a Living, Breathing Advertisement
So how do you ensure your Web and content marketing consultants are acting not only as your Web and marketing experts, but also as your advocates? What should you be asking them before hiring them? Before we ask this however, let’s take a moment to get some necessary language down so that as you begin to shop for the right consultancies, you are able to talk the talk to the required degree. And talking “nerd” is fun at parties too.
Web (site) Designer
This is a person or persons who design the actual look and feel of the Web site. The term Graphical User Interface or what us Web nerds call a GUI (pronounced, “goow-we”) is another way of describing the role of the Web site designer. She is responsible for what your site looks like as well as how users will navigate it. Wire frames are often used to illustrate the dissemination of content and are helpful in outlining how many clicks it will take to get from point A to points B and C. Finally a designer may also be responsible for designing logo concepts and other corporate insignias, graphics and icons.
Web (site) Developer
These are the professionals who code your Web site. I call these guys the “ones and zeros” people because their job is to program the site and make it do all the cool stuff you want it to. They are programmers who take the designer’s look and feel, disassemble it and reassemble it as a functioning Web site. The developers also create the functionality for your various calls to action. Site elements such as sign-up forms, subscription initiatives and other conversion funnels are all programmed by these guys. Often, developers will refer to your completed Web site as a Web application or software because once assembled, a Web site is, in many cases today, a living dynamic online tool that you interact with.
Social Media Marketer
These are the people who create a strategy for positively getting your brand under the noses of those you seek to support, influence and help the most – your audience. The social media marketer designs initiatives to increase engagement with your brand through your Web site and your social sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, blogs). Social media consultants worth their salt will use a combination of cold and warm data points to report on your brand’s success in being both encountered and interacted with. A good example of a cold metric would be how many people visited your site last month. A good example of a warm metric would be of those people, how many said nice things about their experience with your brand. There are companies such as HubSpot and Radian6 that specialize in offering small businesses sentiment and engagement monitoring tools. But the social media maven you hire should use an eclectic approach to monitoring your brand’s impression, such as cold and warm metrics and even pay-per programs to round off a comprehensive package.
Phew. Got a headache yet? No? Awesome! So now that we’ve agreed on some essential jargon, let’s examine three key ways to ensure your consultants are providing you with thought leadership too.
1 – Deploying a Web site is not the point.
A Web site is a tool – a paintbrush, let’s say. Facebook and Twitter are tools just the same. A blog is a tool and so is your laptop. Together they comprise the implements you use. Your expertise, your authority in your niche is the expertise, the grace, the craftsmanship with which you wield these tools. Your audience is the canvas, blank and awaiting your influence. Knowing these fundamentals takes you a good part of the way. The exercise is not simply deploying a Web site. A Web site, made lifeless and inconspicuous by the absence of any surrounding marketing campaigns, is a paint brush without a hand wrapped around it. It is a tool without a use. Remember this when you’re interviewing Web consultants. Is the extent of their stake in your Web site simply designing the GUI for example, or do they have any larger marketing programs in mind once it’s live? Likewise, does the Web developer just code the site and publish it to the internet and then let go, handing you the keys and wishing you well? Or does she work with online marketers to ensure that once production is complete, the site takes on a vital and sustainable social life.
2 – Does your consultancy ask questions that explore topics beyond their role?
Whenever I am meeting with a new client, I begin the discussion by asking the same questions. What’s the goal? What are you hoping to achieve? And when the prospect tells me that the goal is to get a Web site built, I ask again.
I don’t mean to seem snarky gang, but consultants that ask questions involving the who,what, where, when and why of it all truly separate the good consultants from those that just want your cash.
I was on a call recently with a marketing executive for a medium to large company. I cannot mention who. The client asked us to manage a direct email campaign they were planning. They didn’t want our input at all however. Rather, they wanted us to manage the third-party email blast software they owned and all related campaigns, so that they wouldn’t have to assign anyone internally to do it. Of course we told her that we were happy to shoulder the role and were more than capable of handling it, but we also asked her to describe the ultimate goals of the campaign. She went on to tell us in good detail that the objective was to put emails into the hands of qualified leads. We then began to ask the client if they would consider a larger conversation involving a more comprehensive and social campaign to compliment any email initiatives they have in mind.
In the end, we carefully encouraged the client to consider participating in an audience exploratory through social media tools. We didn’t discourage their ideas. We enhanced them by inspiring the client to fashion email content in response to brand sentiment, not cold, “qualified” lists. At the start of the call, we were the guys who were going to press, click and send. By the end of it, we earned their confidence by encouraging, not discouraging, a larger, more focused campaign aimed at uncovering their audience’s problems, needs and wants and adapting content accordingly.
We packaged ourselves as advocates by counter proposing with a thoughtful alternative to simply pointing, clicking and blindly sending emails. Adding focus enables them to learn something from the campaign and that reassures the client that, while we could have just taken a paycheck from them, we opted instead to earn our money by adding value to the dialogue.
Your consultants should be your advocates. They should professionally, thoughtfully guide your great ideas until they become phenomenal ones. If your Web designer, developer or marketer is not cautioning you when you require their leadership, then keep up the search for the right people for the job.
3 – Does your consultancy make promises they can keep?
Recently I was asked to interpret the unsolicited proposal of a search engine optimization firm. That it was an unsolicited proposal was the first of many red flags. I was sent a copy of the proposal and got to work deciphering. In short, it was peppered with promises on achieving high search engine rankings, submissions to niche-based directories that have not been vetted and commanding positioning in PPC advertising programs. And while the majority of it didn’t actually come out and say what would be accomplished by hiring the company, it created a clear impression that the client’s Web site would be setting the trends in their space only if they took “advantage of this exciting offer.”
As you’re exploring your options, reemploy that healthy skepticism we discussed at the top of this post and aim it directly at point number three. What are consultants promising? There’s nothing really wrong with making any promise. By all means listen to the promises your consultants are making. Just ensure that they can deliver on them and on those they claim they will deliver, ensure that the delivery date isn’t five years from now. Being an advocate means your consultants are strategizing in the areas that your expertise does not extend to. There is a level of trust established in allowing your consultants to lead your strategies, where you do not possess the know-how to lead them yourself. But be aware that because you do not possess the technical acumen your consultants assert they do, you need to be diligent in probing the guarantees the experts are making.
Now don’t get nervous. You do not need to share your consultant’s passion for all things nerd. You can ask questions like, “And how will you achieve that?” or “Can you demonstrate your success in this area in previous experiences?” Remember, having a piano in your home doesn’t make you a pianist, any more than having a creative, technical or marketing consultancy makes them experts in any field.
It may seem like a ton of work, memorization and commitment guys and I suppose this process does take commitment above all, but it’s really not as bad as it may appear. Keep it simple. Today we discussed how having a Web site is, by itself, tantamount to having the tools, but no application for them. A carpenter, for instance, can have a saw, a hammer and some nails, but without imagination, without an objective, he’s just got a bunch of unused tools. We then explored some of the common terminology consultants use to describe their roles in creating, programming and marketing your Web site. Knowing this glossary will arm you to have intelligent conversations on the subjects surrounding the launch of our Web site. And finally, we examined three important ways you can ensure the consultants you hire are those that can deliver on designing, deploying and marketing your killer new Web site.
So what do you think? Have I left something out? What processes do you use in evaluating your Web and social media marketing consultants?