How To Stay Afloat In Shark Infested Waters!

Had a lengthy discussion with my business partner today about the state of play with our business and how exactly to proceed. This conversation was sparked by a call from a media company who specialise in writing and distributing professional articles for the purposes of increasing website exposure and popularity. They were extremely professional in their approach, calm, confident and knowledgeable. For the princely sum of £1,000 per month they would write 20 articles on our subject, peppered with our keywords. This was to be a one year contract, with 6 months notice of quiting but as a favour to us would drop the notice period to 3 months provided we make up our minds by the end of the month. It sounded good. In a struggling economy and us fighting for every order, a tsunami of exposure across the social network focussing on fashion and celebrity sounded like just the help we needed to attract the well-heeled hoards to our door! They almost had us on board!

So why didn’t we bite?

Quite simply because it was too much money, the commitment was a tie and we are managing to make steady headway all by ourselves.  But the invitation and the thought that it provoked was interesting and I thought I might share it with you.

First, let me say that I am not an expert, all my knowledge is self-taught and I am still learning.  I am still a little confused about marketing through social networks but my understanding grows daily and what I am about to share with you is purely from experiences and what I’ve learned from them.

It is clear that a global change is happening on the internet, steered mainly by the phenomenal success of social networks such as MySpace, Facebook, Delicious, Twitter etc. Indeed, Twitter are so vast now that Google have expressed an interest in buying them out and are already talking about including relevant tweets in the search engine results, invoking a new algorithm of “Real Time” search results. But that’s another story.

For us however, it seems that we must embrace a number of additional tasks to run and grow our online shop. Far be it from me to attempt to swim against the current, so I have opened the relevant accounts at various social networking sites and tweet friends and fans like the rest of the planet, in answer to the question “What are you doing?” I haven’t had any direct responses yet but hey, things are moving so fast I probably missed them during my KitKat break!

I do think though that it’s very easy to get caught up in a frenzied new trend. If you work in e-commerce you will know that probably 98% of what comes from the internet is at best gross exageration, and at worst, downright lies. It is the easiest thing in the world to create a professional looking website and say your goods or services are the best in the UK, or wherever. Pretty much every commercial website does it and of course it has become a meaningless lie from all but the one.  Perhaps the need for “Real Time” search results, compiled from popular discussion and opinion from the social network is a genuine step towards acquiring information that might otherwise be ancient history or spam.  How many times have you been seeking information on a website only to notice after concentrated reading that the item is 3 years old!

Nothing in the world can replace the dynamic of face to face exchange. It demands integrity and courage, two ingredients that are surplus to requirements on the internet. The social network revolution does offer something new to the future of the internet but the fact still remains that you can say what you like as much as you like and you don’t even have to put your name or phone number or email address to it, nor even your face.  Until this is addressed spam will continue unabated, bumping the queue in search results and leading genuine searchers up the garden path.

In the months that followed joining Twitter I managed to accumulate around 6,000 followers. One day I checked my Google Analytics account and was surprised to see that Twitter was the second largest referrer of traffic to our website. Of course I was delighted. I was targeting individuals within our demographic with relevant mini-blogs containing appropriate landing pages, so I was obviously doing something right. Or was I? For one reason or another I kind of neglected it for a while. It was a couple of weeks later I noticed that Twitter had dropped to around 10th position and was sending a fraction of the traffic it so gloriously delivered at the start. Curiously, in spite of this our sales steadily increased. But would you not have had even more sales if Twitter had held their position, I hear you ask? Maybe! But curiously, when Twitter were in second position, there was no increase in sales at all.  I am still scratching my head over this one and if I find the answer I will let you know.

So we write weekly blogs now, which we enjoy doing, but it’s going to take some time before the blog is big enough or recognised enough to make any significant difference to our fame and fortune. I apologise if I’m stating the obvious but the only really significant differences in traffic conversions occurs as a result of search engine position, because search provides results for people actually looking right now, for what we are selling!  All other soliciting is like cold calling via a telephone directory or knocking door to door!  In either case “cold” is the operative word, whereas searchers are “hot” to buy.  I don’t mean to say that there is no value in cold calling or soliciting via social networks.  Often one can build new contacts and though they may not be interested in buying right now, they may come and look, and if your site is pretty and engaging and easy to navigate with lots of choice at affordable prices, then the chances are that contact will return and become a customer.

The beginning of any new approach is tricky, time-consuming and slow to bring results. So when your website is your only means of bringing home the bacon, it’s good to be aware that getting caught up in lots of additional tasks can seem to waste a lot of your time and force you onto a starvation diet!  Don’t make the mistake of setting up accounts on every network there is and attempt to milk them all, because it doesn’t work.  Choose one or two and get to know them, well!  Remember that you are dealing with individuals so be interesting, “converse” about your business don’t try and “present” it.  Change the subject, be humerous, listen, be engaging, as if you were at a party or social gathering.  That way you’re not forcing yourself or your wares on anyone, you’re opening the door for them to come back to you and that’s what makes both loyal friends and customers.

There’s no quick road to success, especially not today. A unique idea with perfect timing such as Ebay, The Million Dollar Homepage, YouTube, ASOS or Twitter will make your fortune, but for most of us, the glory days are over, the dot com bubble has long burst.  If what you’ve been doing is still working then be cautious about how you divert your time. When a new paradigm turns huge and successful it is hard to ignore and maybe at your peril to do so.  But be aware that at times like this the sharks are circling in the water. Professional SEO companies and media specialists offering fast solutions to social network integration, increased popularity, hot leads, targeted traffic and increased conversions.    As far as trusting your beloved and nurtured website to a smooth-talking sales rep remember that they are hungry too, and they want your money. If you really need outside help, make sure you get sound references, independent evidence from third parties of a successful result with that company before you sign on the dotted line and part with your hard-earned cash. Ask for at least 2 references and actually speak to them, on the phone or better still, face to face if you have time! Get a solid unhesitating recommendation, because otherwise those sharks will eat you up, drain your bank account and move on to the next unsuspecting victim without giving you a second thought.

As I said, if what you are doing is working then don’t allow yourself to be pursuaded into thinking that you need help just because things are changing and you may not know what’s going on.  Carry on yourself and persevere with learning a new way of working.  That way you’ll remain at the helm of your own ship and sail into the new age of social networking with a fuller understanding of it’s modus operandi.  You’re safe, your website’s safe and you’ll be able to share some of that bacon with your new found friends!