This post was written in April 2012. I’m just dating it so we can check in later and see if it’s still good. Yes, like a freshness date.

If I were a business person looking to understand how to use various digital channel making tools to build up my business, where would I start? What’s the right mix of tools to make this all make sense and work? What would I be able to accomplish? How would I work it all together? What would I do with my time?

Starting: Goals

For most businesses, I recommend using the human digital channel to promote media making, sales or memberships, and community/customer service functions. No matter the size of your organization, these are three baseline functions that should matter to you. The goals, then of those three functions are: exposure/awareness/helpful information, more sales or potential future sales, and any functions that will improve an existing customer’s experience with your business.

I’ll recommend some starting points for technology to point you in the right direction.

Starting: The Ecosystem: A Blog-Based Website

For media making, a blog makes a great tool for creating organic search engine optimization. It makes for a good “home base” for your online efforts. It provides a simple site infrastructure to let you build a website. You don’t HAVE to use your blog to write periodical updates and posts. I run several websites built on blogs that aren’t at all for posting or writing. They’re business sites for sales and sales only. But technology-wise, the blog software I recommend is an inexpensive/easy way to get onto the web. And in this case, I’m recommending a blog for media making.

I’d start with a blog running WordPress. Over the years, I’ve used several other platforms, often times the free ones where I just show up, pick a theme, and get going. I no longer recommend that. Here’s what I’m running on my sites and projects right now.

I highly advocate a simple custom theme like those provided by StudioPress (affiliate link). This site’s theme is Generate theme. I would pay for hosting based on the quality of service. For most of my sites, I use InMotion Hosting (affiliate link), who fixed a problem for me about an hour before I wrote this post. Inside of WordPress, I’m also running the Premise sales page maker (affiliate link). This helps me make very simple sales landing pages when I need them, and saves me a lot of time. One quick thing about setting up a blog: immediately make sure it’s equipped with either a dynamic mobile html theme (Genesis has many of these) or use some kind of plugin to ensure a great experience on mobile. I use wptouch on this blog to allow for that.

I would set up accounts to host and post video and audio. At present, I recommend YouTube primarily for video, because it’s not only simple, but it’s the #2 search engine in the world. If you want a second recommendation, I also really like Vimeo. For audio, I really like Soundcloud. I’m using it mostly for my music right now, but I also have used it for recording spoken word bits about business, and it works well, embeds well, and exists on several mobile devices.

Starting: The Ecosystem: Email Service Provider

Now that we’ve got the blog mostly set up, I want to move on to email marketing. I use InfusionSoft (affiliate link), which is a very robust and powerful email service provider. It might be a bit much for most people starting out. At the starting level, I’m a fan of both Constant Contact and Mailchimp. Many other people swear by Aweber. I think they’re great, too, but haven’t used them much personally.

Why have an email solution? Because it’s more intimate than interactions on social networks. It’s a way to maintain relationships with people. And no matter what you read about people switching more and more to social networks and SMS as a means of communication, email is still the backbone of the internet. Swing by [] and you’ll see my email capture form top and FOREMOST on my site. I live by this.

Starting: The Ecosystem: Outposts

I consider the social networks to be outposts. By this, I mean that you do a lot of communicating and connecting on these sites, but never should you consider them primary to your business assets. They are tools to help you do many things, and though you must keep a gentle hand, your foremost goal is whatever you’ve mentioned above. Is it sales? Then sales might START on a social network, but you need them back to the home base to have that transaction.

Which networks do I find work best for business? Your mileage will vary. Here are some thoughts:

  • Twitter – this is the serendipity engine. It’s brief, weird, shouldn’t work, and yet, it’s brought me more business than any other platform.
  • Google+ – the new guy on the block. I read more blog posts telling me this network is failing. It’s growing daily, backed by a vastly wealthy and interested-in-its-success company, and widely integrated into several of the top 100 visited websites we all use. I wouldn’t bet against it.
  • Facebook – I have never ever been successful selling on Facebook. It makes for a good community management page. There are many customer service functions that it can do well. I’ve never moved a single dollar from Facebook into any bank of mine.
  • Pinterest – talk about bleeding edge. This is a visual bookmarking site, widely reported to be unique because it’s very heavily adopted by women (a first in social networks). I think there’s a lot of there there. I’m not an expert on it yet, but especially if women were a key buying element of my business, I would learn fast, were I you.
  • LinkedIn – I’ve come to this: LinkedIn has about 150 million users, of which maybe 5 million use the service well. So, I think it’s a great tool used poorly by over 90% of its users. It doesn’t work well for my business, but I’m told that a steady hand and patience works well here.

That’s it for the “primary” social networks, but know this: to me, the magic these days is in finding niche networks that might serve your business well. If you’re selling hammers, hang out with the contractors and don’t worry about Facebook. Where are they? Google away. That’s what we do.

Starting: The Ecosystem: Listening and Analytics

I believe that the bigger opportunities in developing the digital channel into a human digital channel that promotes relationship-based business comes from the proper use of listening tools and analytics packages. In the case of listening, there are hundreds of systems out there. The current industry standard, I would say, is Radian6. It’s out of some people’s price range, so I’d also recommend Trackur, which is pretty decent, too. For analytics, I really haven’t found the best tool. Most people give me tools that let me count worthless things like views or likes or retweets. I need something more meaty than that. Maybe you’ve got recommendations.

Starting: Wiring This Into Your Organization

First, no matter the size of your business, align the use of these tools with your goals. Then, align those goals with who within the company is responsible for satisfying them. If you have a few employees, and one is responsible for marketing, while another is responsible for customer service, be clear who then touches what to get which results. It’s strange to say, but where many companies get this all wrong is that they put “one phone on one desk” and think they’ve wired up an office.

While we’re on this, realize that you have to have a conversation about what a salesperson will do with a comment found or a tweet or whatever that points to a customer service issue. Likewise, if a customer service person hears a potential sales lead, have the explicit conversation about next steps. This is the kind of stuff that wrecks it all. If you’re a company of one, this won’t be so hard (tee hee).

If you track sales leads, make sure to add spots for things like “blog, twitter,” and whatever else you want. If you are measuring handling times on your customer service calls, or time to resolve, etc, then make sure you account for these new channels. In short: wire it all in.

Starting: Strategy

Simple strategies are all I’ll give you here. For instance, if you want to promote your great home improvement company, then shoot video walkthroughs of before-and-afters on homes you’ve worked on. Write up a blog post, inviting people to contact you for a free 10-point checklist blah blah blah. Promote the post on the social networks you’ve selected. Use your listening tools to see if anyone’s seeking out what you sell. This is the basics of the homebase+outpost strategy.

Another strategy is the “keep community warm” strategy. Maybe this comes in building out a Facebook presence, backed with an email list. In this, you create interviews with people in your buying community. You follow their successes. You praise them. You write posts that help them do even more with your products/services. You answer most comments. You respond to emails via your email list. Your “calls to action” are minimal, but maybe you track sales by region, and/or use your customer relationship management software to match people on the social channels with buyers.

Another strategy is the “fill the funnel” strategy. Whatever metric you use to get more sales, use your digital channel to get more people into that funnel. If people buy based on referrals, then get more referrals. (Read The Referral Engine to do this better.) If people respond after a 30 day trial, then guide people to that 30 day trial.

Beyond that, my company offers strategic advisory and we’d be happy to talk with you about your business needs.

Just the Beginning

This post is already pretty long. Let’s make this a good ending point for now. We’ve talked about some tools, some strategies, some potential stumbling points. You’ve got a lot to chew on, maybe a lot to start learning about.

But what did I miss? What are you wondering that I forgot to cover? What else can I do to help you paint this picture more vividly?

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