All business owners and leaders know that decision-making is what makes and breaks a business. We're often faced with what not-to-do, and that kind of effort takes up more brain power than worrying about what TO do. Think about it. Things are running well and you come up with a hundred new ideas to expand. Things go poorly, and you find yourself grinding through dozens of ideas of what will fix it. But the success you'll eventually experience will come from understanding those decisions deeply.
The same is true in deciding what you're going to do with the online world with regards to marketing. There are tons of ways to use your time. You could fill your days with a laptop, and still find yourself out of business in a few months. But wait, you think, isn't this all the rage? Aren't people finding bags of money out on the sidewalk now that Twitter has come along? Only people making good decisions are finding success with the social tools. Same as all business.
Decisions About Online Marketing
If you're going to use the web to market, the first decisions might be to decide which channels and methods to use. Pretty much everyone will agree that having even a basic web presence (a Web site) is important. But what kind of site? Do you do a big "products" site with all kinds of pictures of your stuff? It helps. Do you write a blog? That improves your organic search optimization (SEO) but takes time. See? It's all about choices.
If it were me, I'd probably use a blog as my "main" site, because it means I can create fresh content every day (or whatever your schedule will be to create), and that means I can make opportunities to build relationships that might convert to sales. This works for business-to-business companies just as well as it does business-to-consumer. A blog is just a safe, easy bet on creating something that will improve your discoverability on the web.
So, let's say that you've decided to buy a URL, decided to build a Web site, and/or decided to build a blog. What else should you do? Well, here's where it's up to you, but I'll help.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Oh My
Over 700,000 new people join Facebook every day. Most of them are in the ages of 31-60. Most of them are female. Most of them don't really want to buy your whatever; they're there for the photos. So why does everyone tell you it's a good place to be? Well, numbers help. The site is sticky, for another thing (meaning people like spending time there). The sharing feature (that little plus sign near the bottom of pretty much anything worth doing on Facebook) is powerful. And it's really easy to set up a group or a fan page.
Personally, I've not had a lot of luck making business via Facebook. Maybe I need more lessons. Other people seem to do well with managing a community, with using it for announcements (like your own little PR network), or the like. But I rarely hear anyone say they've made serious business from it. So, if you came to me for advice, I'd say that it doesn't hurt to have a presence on Facebook, but it's not exactly my first place to spend time.
Twitter, I like. It's fast-paced. It's easy. There's not a lot of options. Why others seem not to like Twitter is that they rarely go look at Twitter Search, where all the real action is. Search lets you find prospects. It lets you talk to people talking about you (or your products). It lets you get more into your community, who in turn, will get more into you. I make plenty of money for me and my clients via Twitter.
One last piece of advice about Twitter. Stop using the Web site and switch instead to either Seesmic (my favorite) or TweetDeck. That's how people really start to understand and "see" what's going on there. You'll get it once you try.
LinkedIn can be really good for business. There are lots of people there acting professional. There are lots of ways to use the Q&A area to drive business, to find prospects, to network. There are many benefits to using it. Where people miss out with LinkedIn is that they think of it as a place to store their online resume. Talk about the least interesting way to use the service. There can be some great value there, but it takes management.
Flickr and YouTube are great places to store pictures and video related to your business. You might not think this is necessary, but I'm finding that it means the world to how people interact with us online. It helps us build relationships because people can see us, they can watch a video and hear what we sound like. They can get our face into their mind so that when they see us at events or out and about, they know the name to the face to the Web site or blog. I use both strategically and tactically all the darned time.
I didn't mention email marketing above, but I use email marketing with most of my community because it lets me connect with them somewhere outside the social web like their inbox, which in turn lets me reach them more likely on their mobile devices, as well. I didn't talk much about webinars as a lead generation tool, or online courses as a way to make revenue from the knowledge that surrounds your product (for instance, if you sell yarn, why not sell knitting videos?). Those are there and are very important.
This is one of those decision points: learn that you can't do everything. Decide what you want to tackle, how much time you can devote to it, and how you'll choose not to abandon it. These decisions are vital.
I spend two hours a day (minimum, but I don't want to scare you) doing online marketing of some kind or another. If I had to give you a simple formula for what I do, it would be broken into three parts: listening, connecting, and publishing.
Spend 25 percent of your time on listening. By this, I mean use the social search tools talked about in this post about how to grow bigger ears. This is the gold, and helps with the other two decisions you'll make.
Spend 5 percent of your time connecting. By this, I mean do everything from talking to people on Twitter (not just about your business, but about them, and their lives and challenges), and in your Facebook groups, or in LinkedIn and in the comments of your blog and other people's blogs. Connect and don't just sell. Make a relationship that will potentially lead to business, and value that longer yield over the faster transaction.
Spend 25 percent of your time publishing. By this, I mean, create blog posts and make YouTube videos and make free eBooks your prospects can use to do whatever it is they want to do that would also go nicely with what you're selling. Write email newsletters that matter instead of ones that just sell your things. Publishing is perhaps the biggest chance to make the web work for you, because search will uncover your work and guide people to your site while you sleep, and that's gold.
By making these kinds of decisions, you'll find some value. You'll see how the social web can work for you. You'll be able to silence that sense that you're putting in your time but getting nowhere. And hopefully, you'll feel better about all you've put in to this point. The rest is up to you to decide, but that's why you're in business, right?