How to Bolster Your Brand Influence in 2017

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

What are some key ways to bolster your online brand’s influence in 2017?

1. Tell Original Stories

Businesses that conduct original research and investigate interesting topics in their niche will have a powerful advantage in 2017. That’s because everyone remembers a good story. So, to bolster your brand’s online influence, you should invest in in-depth storytelling to educate and surprise your audience with new information, backed by data, unique anecdotes and hard facts.

Firas KittanehAmerisleep


2. Post About Successes and Failures

 Post about your successes and your failures. People are just as apt to click on something to find out what not to do as they are on a success story. Another crucial key is to start sending the ladder back down. Are you actively trying to promote new voices? Show points of view that may differ from your own? That’s how to make it to the top.

Maren HoganRed Branch Media


3. Gather Data

 In a world where most of your influence and marketing are digital, you need to be gathering data to optimize. Figure out which messages resonate with which demographics, which platforms are best at which times of day, and what kinds of visual content have the biggest impact. Make better underlying decisions to have a better overall outcome.

Brennan WhiteCortex


4. Optimize for Search Engines

I expect SEO to continue to be an even stronger channel for many of the top brands in 2017. Nailing the basics will bolster brands online presence and, in turn, their influence. By publishing great content — eg; thought leadership, Q&As and data-centered pieces — customers will naturally gravitate towards your brand more and more. And, thankfully, Google will reward you for it.

Corey EulasFactorial Digital


5. Create Collaborative Content

 Partner with complimentary brands in a collaborative article to boost each other’s traffic and influence. Create a piece of content, whether it be a contest or an article that spotlights actionable tips for the readers. Each brand shares the content to their subscribers and followers. Everyone benefits by gaining exposure to each others followers, gaining traffic and broader influence.

Aggie BurnettAB Creative


6. Cater to Your Core

 First of all, you have to cater to your core customers. If you are developing an app geared toward millennials or teens who are often on Facebook and Instagram, then LinkedIn is probably not your best platform. You have to be knowledgeable about who and where your core audience is, and then you need to increase your ability to capture that audience by using the right social media outlets.

Fabio VivianiFabio Viviani Hospitality LLC,


7. Tap into Immersive Experiences

 With innovative technologies like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear and Pokemon GO, virtual reality and augmented reality should be on every brand’s radar for 2017. Clients all want in on the action of the next best thing, so positioning your company as an early adopter of AR or VR will help you stay relevant. Not to mention AR and VR are popular on social media, and make for great content marketing.

Robert De Los SantosSky High Party Rentals


8. Speak at Conferences

 Speaking at popular conferences is huge in two ways. You establish your brand and expertise with your peers and potential leads in the audience. And, perhaps even more importantly, video of your presentation will be uploaded to YouTube. This video will be publicized via the conference organizer’s social media channels, and, if you’re lucky, by attendees who were impressed by what you said.

Vik PatelFuture Hosting


9. Produce Videos

 Producing creative videos — whether it’s informative, for a product, or pure entertainment — will definitely capture the attention of more browsers than text, even those with big, colorful letters! Don’t overthink the video. Just focus on the objective, keep it simple and, most importantly, produce a quality production. Unless it’s breaking news, steer clear of phone video.

Duran InciOptimum7


10. Establish Yourself Through Podcasts

 Podcasts can be a great branding tool. Whether you have your own podcast or you appear as a guest on one, it’s a growing trend in building your brand’s digital influence. It’s a great way for entrepreneurs starting out to establish themselves as thought leaders and experts in their field.

Brian David CraneCaller Smart Inc.


11. Develop an Influencer Network

 When I started reaching out to influencers, I was shocked to discover how accessible and friendly they were. Reaching out to influencers and developing relationships has directly led me to guest blogging opportunities, critical introductions, and even to having my own Inc. column. None of those would have been possible without some old fashioned, strategic networking.

Peter KozodoyGEM Advertising


12. Budget for It

Set aside a budget to use on digital promotion. More and more sites are adhering to the “pay for play” model, so it’s important to not get left behind due to a lack of proper budgeting.

Leila LewisBe Inspired PR



13. Spotlight Customers

 Something I recently started for my business is taking the spotlight off of us and putting it instead on our customers. We really want to show potential clients what we can do, and we are doing this by illustrating what we have done. We turn the attention on one client each month in our “Customer Spotlight” series, and showcase how our business is benefiting the client for years to come.

Zev HermanSuperior Lighting


14. Write a Book

 The most powerful way to build your brand’s influence is to help educate and empower your potential customers. Many companies do this through thought leadership articles and speeches, but today, nothing has more power than a book. Even in the internet age, there is no other medium that displays authority, impacts and influences others, and spreads a message the way that a book does.

Zach ObrontBook in a Box

Amplify Your Content Marketing Efforts Through Engagement & Paid Media

“I like to think of content as currency. Here’s why. If you give valuable content, you will earn valuable customers.” -Julie Perry, Director of Social Media at StrataBlue


Engaging With Your Customers Through Content

Content marketing has been around for over 100 years. In 1904 an unknown brand named Jell-O gave away free cookbooks on how to use their product. Within two years of distributing the cookbook, Jell-O earned over $1 million in sales.

Not every brand needs to create a recipe book, but you do need to reach your audience where they are and help them solve their problems. Brands that share quality content with their customers are seen as experts in their field and are more likely to gain customer trust. As customers start to trust your brand and benefit from your content they are more likely to purchase from you. So how do you reach your customers on the limited time and budget of a startup?

You need to focus your content marketing efforts on where your customers are.  Sharing your content via social media is a great way for you to amplify your content and reach your customers. For fashion brands this could be Pinterest or Instagram. For B2B businesses this could be Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs. Most businesses’ customers have a natural gathering place based on the types of content that interest them. One area where all businesses should put some content is on their own blog where they own the space and can post valuable content like articles, infographics, videos, and more that their audience can share with others.

Engaging Through Content On Twitter

Twitter is a great place to engage with your audience in a low-cost (or no-cost) way. Before her journey into marketing, Julie Perry spent over two years as a superyacht stewardess and wrote a book titled The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess: Confessions from My Years Afloat with the Rich and Famous chronicling her adventures.  At April Smartups, Julie outlined how she amplified her content to promote her book, drawing on her 13 years of marketing experience for large and small brands in consumer electronics and other industries.


When Bravo TV launched a new show Below Deck that follows luxury yacht crews, Julie recognized an opportunity to connect with her audience and market her book. She followed the Twitter discussions on Below Deck in real time and saw some girls saying things like they’d “like to work on a boat”, “this was their favorite show”, etc. So, she favorited some of their tweets about the show, and when they saw that @WorkOnAYacht (her Twitter handle) favorited their tweet, they came over to her site. Books were flying off the shelf during that hour of TV each week thanks in part to her Twitter marketing efforts.

*Tips On Engaging With Twitter:
  • Retweet, favorite and follow your potential customers. By promoting them they will often research you and follow you back.
  • Always put a comment with a retweet, even if it’s small, so that the person feels valued.

Put Some Money Behind It

“No matter how successful your content, it’s going nowhere if you don’t put a little money behind it.” – Julie Perry

It is getting harder every day to get your content seen by customers. Just look at the controversy surrounding Facebook brand pages and how brands’ posts are being seen by a smaller portion of their followers. To get around this amplify your content with paid media.

Paid ads are a great way to overcome the noise that is out there on social media because of the amount of targeting they allow.

Amplifying With Facebook

During Below Deck’s season, Julie reached out to fans of Below Deck with Facebook display ads. She targeted the ads to young women between 19 and 31 who watched and liked Below Deck, and were not already connected to her page. She also created promoted posts (like the one below) where she took a quote from the show and connected it to her content about a detailed job description of a Yacht Stewardess.


Julie put $21.86 towards the promotion and received 185 website clicks, at about $0.11 a click, and a click through rate of more than 12%. This is a very cost effective way to reach a highly targeted audience. And at these prices you wouldn’t have to sell many books to make good money from the promotion.


Amplifying With LinkedIn & YouTube

LinkedIn and YouTube are also places to target potential customers and clients. LinkedIn can be a great option for B2B companies. On LinkedIn you should first create a company page where you can share your content just like Facebook and Twitter. Then, for your paid advertising, you can target individuals by job title, employer, company size, or even their interest and skills. As spends on LinkedIn can be higher than other channels, it’s a good idea to have a very narrow group you’re advertising to and send them to a very specific landing page.

On YouTube you can create pre-roll videos that are shown before viewer-selected movies. The content you use is up to you, but you can start out with helpful content you might already be making.

These videos can be skipped after only five seconds, so make sure you make the beginning compelling and information packed so that viewers don’t skip your ad. You can target people based on their age, gender, viewing history, interests and geography, and even remarket to people who have already visited your site.

You will not be charged for your pre-roll video until somebody has watched at least 30 seconds of your ad. So if you create a 32-second video that sort of cuts out at 28 seconds and your viewer skips the rest, you will not pay for that view. This effectively gets you more great brand impressions that you don’t pay for.

At the end of the day, content marketing is a great way to market your business, but only if you know who you’re sharing your content with. So find the best ways to connect your content with your audience and add some paid media to make sure you get seen.

3 Lessons Learned About Getting Press From A PR Expert

“All startups have one thing in common: Great ideas. Small budgets.”

Those where some of the first words of advice spoken by Kelly Hendricks, the CEO of BLASTMedia, at Smartups last month. Startups are often spending every dollar they have on the product; so with their small budgets how far can a bright entrepreneur stretch their budget to get their great ideas and products in front of paying customers? That’s exactly what Kelly answered when he talked about PR as one of the greatest marketing tools for budget conscious entrepreneurs.

PR Is The Greatest Low Cost Marketing Tool For Entrepreneurs

getting PR for startups

photo credit: kenteegardin via photopin cc

The PR that we are talking about is the press coverage that companies get by pitching their message as a part of a solution to a journalist’s story. Of course you can pay a PR company, but that eats into the definition of a tool for the budget conscious. One of the great aspects of PR for the cash strapped is that you can do it for free. Kelly freely admitted as an entrepreneur you have no need to hire a PR company such as BLASTMedia. You can get a lot of the coverage you want and need on your own with a little bit of knowledge and a good story.

If You Want Press, Nurture A Relationship With Journalists

Start by following editors on Twitter who write about your space. By understanding their likes and dislikes, you have a head start on conversation topics.  Building a relationship can begin with a simple email along the lines of “Read your article. Very helpful. Thank you.” Hint: the editor’s email is usually at the bottom of his article.

Not only do you want to keep tabs on the editors, but also on your customers’ interests. By reading the articles they retweet, you have a better feel for topics/angles for your story. Kelly also recommended creating a wish list of target journalists you’d like to have cover your company. Doing your homework before you pitch to the media gives you the advantage when talking to an editor.

Remember, just because you might be a tech startup, doesn’t mean your list of journalists should include the writers of TechCrunch, TheVerge, and other tech blogs. Seek out the journalists who write to your customer base. You might have the greatest bit of technology in the world to help auto dealers, but no auto dealers read tech blogs. Auto dealers read car blogs and other trade publications. There are always new startups that seem to pop up out of nowhere because they were ignored by the tech press (such as Pinterest). The reason Pinterest came out of nowhere is because they knew their core audience didn’t read tech blogs; they read mommy blogs, fashion blogs, and other types of blogs that the tech press had never heard of. Bottom line, target journalists who target your customers.

Put Your Ego Behind You. Be A Storyteller

Digg famously told the story of hiring a developer on Elance for a small amount of money to create their hugely successful product. At the end of the day, every journalist wants a compelling story like this that will make news. So, be sure you know what story to tell. Keep in mind that journalists are on the receiving end of countless pitches from entrepreneurs. And, although it might feel like your product is going to change the world, ditch the ego and focus on giving them a good story. And a good story isn’t: “you covered my competitor so you should cover me.”

If you are having trouble framing your story, paying money to a PR agency might be the better alternative. But, if you can explain your story effectively, you can save money and get press that leads to customers.

Now, it’s your turn to create a million dollar PR campaign on a startup budget.

Bonus PR Pitching Tips:

  • You can start sending the editor information 30 days before your announcement if you have a relationship with them. If you don’t know them, then, it’s never too early to start that relationship.
  • Pick up the phone. Since 90% of pitches are through email, a call makes you stand out – with extra points for personable flair. Remember to be aware of time zones though.
  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to pitch your story. And don’t forget, Fridays can be ripe for phone calls. You may even strike gold on a Sunday night (proceed with caution).
  • Use to find journalists who might be writing stories about your industry.

Your Marketing and YOUtility: Jay Baer Tackles How to Help, Not Hype

YOUtilityMy first encounter with Jay Baer came when I was introduced to his book as required reading for my employee onboarding at Compendium (acquired by Oracle in October).  Little did I know then, I would not only go on to meet the New York Times best selling author but I would become regular acquaintances with him throughout the fall.

My experiences with the All Help NO Hype Marketer

My experiences with Jay have been all over the board, ranging from grabbing beers at a little hole in the wall spot in Louisville to hearing him address agricultural executives at a farming conference in Minnesota – random I know.  One overwhelming trait that stands out to me about Jay is that regardless of the situation or the audience that he’s addressing, his message is ALWAYS helpful and useful.  His advice, techniques and principles regarding marketing are timelessly relevant to any company regardless of size or industry.

Taking Something With You

When you come out on the 13th to hear Jay speak you will undoubtedly leave with information that will be valuable to YOU.  You can expect to hear stories ranging from his experiences working with Fortune 500 companies all the way through to personal experiences from his living room.  His stories will more than likely be strikingly relevant as that has been my experience.  The same breadth of ideas and topics you get from hearing him speak, you will surely get from his book Youtility if you haven’t read it already.

What exactly is Youtility?

I’ll let you hear from the originator of Youtility about what it is exactly but I will say the two main quotes on the book are – “Why Smart Marketing is about Help not Hype” and “The difference between helping & selling is just two letters” and it doesn’t disappoint in providing helpful examples for any business.  The themes presented in this book are particularly critical for entrepreneurs & software startups to understand and I’ll tell you why:

The digital landscape has shifted from Outbound -> Inbound SO GET WITH IT!

Don’t know if you’ve heard of this company out of Massachusetts called Hubspot??  If you haven’t then you’ve seriously been living in a cave…  The company now has over 10,000 customers & 374,000 followers on Twitter – Incredible.  They managed to create this cult like following by employing inbound marketing and by simply being HELPFUL, which is what Youtility is aiming to teach you.  The companies rising above the noise in the marketplace have switched their marketing tactics from pushing -> pulling and from selling -> helping. Inbound Marketing & Youtility go hand in hand and in order to truly thrive in today’s marketplace you CANNOT have one without the other. IMPO a company that is doing an amazing job of this right now is Buffer because they’re the most helpful & transparent company out there.  Have you seen their post about Open Salaries? Amazing stuff.  Jay is an investor in Buffer– no coincidence here folks, his techniques work!


We’re excited to have another big name speaking to the Indianapolis startup community. Just weeks after we played host to the founder of Reddit and another big tech launch, Indy is at it again. See you at the Speakeasy!

Lessons from out West, Episode II: Precise Marketing in Action

wabash-trip-to-shutterflyRecently, a group of students from Wabash College went on a trip to Silicon Valley to learn about entrepreneurship from some of the most iconic brands in the tech space. Today, Wabash Sophomore Michael Haffner talks to us about his visit to Shutterfly and what he learned about building a successful email marketing system for a business of any size.

The selling of goods and services may be among the oldest professions in the world, but with advent of the Internet and social media, the methods and science behind selling are changing rapidly.  This became apparent during our Wabash College sponsored visit over the Christmas break to Shutterfly.

Most every company has excess inventory–goods that do not sell in the normal course. It may seem simple for a company to determine clearance prices for excess or obsolete inventory. Shutterfly has developed an impressive system of maximizing prices and yet “moving” the obsolete inventory.

The Best Marketers Have The Best Data

However, after visiting various companies out West through Wabash College, I learned that if you are going to remain competitive in this kind of commodity market, you must have the best data and expertly crafted, targeted email campaigns.  Mike Berry, a ’92 Wabash graduate, described the ins and outs of marketing at Shutterfly.  He alluded to the fact that entire “committees” were devoted to deciding what time of day would be most beneficial to send emails and to whom to send them.  As I came to understand, Shutterfly is a branch of a larger company.  Other branches are: tinyprints, Wedding Paper Divas, treat, and thislife.

While there are many branches in the 1400 person company, Berry’s small team is known as CRM technology.  He’s focused on determining automated emails.  As we listened to him talk, I noticed a white-board wall full of possible “clearance emails” that would likely be sent out that week.  Each one consisted of important details, highlighted by a proposed “percent off” the retail price.  When we asked how they determined how much clearance to give, Berry responded with a lighthearted laugh as to imply that a lot goes into these decisions.  Maybe more than we cared to know.


But Do You Know Your Buyers?

Overall, the main theme was to know your buyers.  It is crucial for a company, especially from a marketing perspective, to know whom they are targeting and who is buying their product.  For instance, Berry explained that after researching, very little of their sales came from professional photographers, but rather, middle-aged women.  Furthermore, he broke down percentage wise, what he called the 70%-20%-10% rule.  He said that 70% of your money should be put toward what works today.  You want a guarantee that 70% of your money is being put toward things that work.  Also, 20% of the money should be put toward something new that may need more funding.  Finally, the last 10% should be put toward something crazy that has not been done before.  The last 10% should be a unique and creative idea, which, as we found throughout the trip, is a major theme on the West Coast.

silicon valley beach

As the end of the visit neared, we were left with three last business tips.

  • It is a lot easier to sell a product that you actually believe in and would use.
  • Find a cofounder you believe in.  Berry spoke openly about this point, giving an example of his first business with a cofounder that he often questioned.
  • Lastly, I learned to be sure to have a sufficient cash reserves for the company.  Businesses fluctuate in terms of revenue, and therefore, a business that attends to its cash flows will prevail through rough times.

So the next time you receive an email about a product at a particular time or day, discounted by a certain amount, and maybe packaged with other items that you might find of interest, be sure someone meant to “target” you at that time and in that way.  Far less is random or coincidental in the science of marketing than I might have thought.

I thought about asking what I might be hungry for at dinner the next day–but I was afraid they might actually know.  Thanks to Shutterfly and Wabash for an incredible trip!

Recruited Veterans Versus Vetted Rookies: What to Look for in Your First Marketing Hire

The way most entrepreneurs feel making their first marketing hire

It’s one thing to convert a ground-breaking idea into an equally impactful product. Developing a company to adequately support such a product, however, can be the most challenging opponent to success you will face in the startup world. Laying a sturdy foundation – a solid-yet-flexible marketing strategy – is one of the first, most treacherous steps in building a sustainable company.

This responsibility falls on your Marketing Director, but how do you find a Marketing Director that can successfully build and scale your company? What if you have no marketing experience yourself? What should you be looking for in your first marketing hire?
Fear not, new executive. We’re here to help

Marketing 101

Marketing is more than finding a competitive mental angle that will propel your product to top-of-mind status, or laying out a coherent marketing direction – a lot goes into a solid foundation. But, for our purposes here, that’s an acceptable paraphrase of the biggest components.

A great marketing candidate will understand that this initial branding can be paramount in cultivating a market’s ideas surrounding a product, and approach it with tireless energy and zeal; an ideal candidate might also be able to demonstrate having successfully developed a marketing strategy from the ground up, including having identified a competitive mental angle, drawn a coherent marketing direction, and led a team, ensuring it consistently moved together in that direction.

Tackling the task of finding – let alone attracting – the candidate who is most compatible with your vision and values can be daunting, so I tracked down an industry great to get some perspective.

The Right Candidate: A Veteran’s View

marketers should focus on benefits, not featuresMike Bauer is a true veteran of Indiana’s startup space. A 1969 summa cum laude marketing graduate of Ball State’s Miller College of Business, Bauer has served as cofounder, president, and CEO of Auctor Corporation, a recipient of Indiana University’s Growth 100 award each year from 1995 through 1997. Since, he’s served as Vice President of Marketing and Sales at two successful software and consulting firms, one of which being long-established Anacomp, Inc. Considering all of this, it seems wise to take note when he warns against what he believes to be the most hazardous pitfall when selling a new technology:

“Engineers always want to explain how their product works, but nobody cares…Tech companies are trying to sell to non-tech users…and those users want to know about why it’s better.”

You might think this sounds like more Marketing 101 – that’s because it is. Bauer believes it’s worth repeating, and while he concedes that it can be tough for an engineer to, “…embrace the tech without getting tied up in how it works,” he firmly believes that focusing on your product’s benefits to your customer’s lifestyle is foundational for successful commercial- and consumer- technology marketing.

Enter your marketing director: someone who understands how to interpret the merits of your product into tangible benefits for your customer, in plain and practical terms. Even if you’ve already been at it for awhile, she will be able to leverage your product with your current market, rocketing your brand to the tops of consumers’ minds.

But how do you get someone like this – a real game-changer? You could spend your time vetting and training fresh talent, but Bauer suggests an “attractive” alternative.

Rules of Attraction

Did you know you could attract better talent to your startup by offering equity?

Did you know you could attract better talent to your startup by offering equity?

One way – the best way, argues Bauer – to build a strong marketing team is to attract high-level, established talent to your startup by offering large incentives. Bauer explains that this approach simplifies the hiring process, given that these candidates’ proven track records will tell you all you need to know. You can really only do this, he says, by competing with big companies from a nontraditional approach to compensation.

Early in his career, Bauer was mentored by Anacomp cofounder and then-professor at Purdue University, the late Dr. Ron Palamara, from whom he learned something he says he will always remember:

“Dr. Palamara aspired to have every marketing and sales person in the company make more money than he made through commissions.”

The underlying idea here is if you offer a hefty incentive for your head of marketing and sales to convert your potential (i.e. your product) into revenue, then where she is already creative and hard-working, she will also be more considerate of long-term consequences, more passionate, and more team-driven. All of this stands without mentioning an invaluable corollary for both of you: if you haven’t got a lot of initial capital, you can reconcile her small salary with a generous commission on gross margin or net revenue dollars.

Bauer identifies for us a fundamental problem with this, namely that, “Highly skilled sales and marketing people aren’t interested in startups, which are too high-risk.” He quickly provides a possible solution, though. Since they’re likely already making a lot of money, offer them something big companies cannot: principality – a stake in your company.

“I think the way you attract that kind of guy…you have to bring him in as a principal.”

By offering a substantial amount of equity to an experienced marketing professional, you not only offer him a strong incentive to work for you, you offer him a reason to fight with you; you might even inspire his entrepreneurial spirit and long-term interest in your success. The best part is, once you’ve established a sustainable company together, you both come out on top.

Sometimes, though, you just can’t offer much compensation – funding is finite, after all, and even a lot of equity in a small, young company holds at present little real-world value. But fear not. In Bauer’s view, hope remains.

Vetting the Rookies

In 1989, Bauer cofounded a consulting venture that later became the aforementioned Auctor Corporation, an IT consulting and software development firm that now serves state and local governments across the country; in the late ‘90s, he led The Venture Club of Indiana as its president; today he resides as Chairman of the Board at Auctor. Needless to say, he’s been doing this for a long time. But he, like the rest of us, was new once, and didn’t have unlimited amounts of capital to invest in top marketing talent.

In fact, Auctor boasts a 23-year standing relationship with its first VP of Marketing and Sales, and Bauer insists this was initially maintained by said VP’s entrepreneurial, team-driven spirit. “…maybe equity players would be interested, but let’s face it, it’s very difficult for startups to attract big talent.” You need to find someone with a driving entrepreneurial spirit, who is willing to grow with you, take risks, and learn along the way.

There are merits here: for instance, a young candidate might understand less about the established market, inspiring innovation and paradigm shifts. While this could create a disconnect between you and existing competitors in the industry, in the startup space, we would call this disruptive – and it’s good. If you choose wisely, you also get the boon to morale and creativity wrought by a young candidate’s bottomless well of spirit, positivity, and enthusiasm.

If he doesn’t possess such a well, he probably isn’t a good candidate for you.


Whether you’re targeting a seasoned marketing veteran, or the greenest recent graduate, in the end, “What you want to look for is someone who has an entrepreneurial spirit…who doesn’t mind taking risks,” summarizes Bauer.

To summarize in turn:

When hiring a marketing director, look for a candidate with the following:

  • The ability to explain in practical terms how your product benefits your customer
  • A strong entrepreneurial spirit
  • Genuine passion for your product and the industry
  • Appreciation of the team and the assertiveness to lead
  • An understanding of technology without a fixation on it

Startup Sales and Social Media: Building a Social Media Persona

social media startupsAll of you old school salespeople: this series is for you. You folks are some of the hardest working in the business. You can hit the phones all day, cold call after cold call, and never miss a beat. You don’t get downtrodden if you get turned down all day, and you know you can turn it right around with one successful call.

But in this new age, there are a lot of new ways to make sales, other than just pounding the digits. Social media has changed the way we interact with one another, and there are plenty of ways to use it to your advantage for making sales. There’s a good chance you passed on getting to know social media when it was in its infancy, but there’s no better time to learn new tricks than now.

This series will help you individual sales folks learn tips and tricks for getting integrated into social media and how to leverage that into making sales. But first things first, and that’s creating a social media persona.

The Persona

Building your social media persona is the first step in getting you where you need to be in order to make sales using it. It’s a variety of steps that will help you figure out your priorities, and will help get you moving in the right direction.

Remember, before we start, that you can’t just pick to be on Facebook or Twitter or Google+. You have to go where your customers are. This will help you find out where.

The Research

1. Why are you doing this? Are you looking to social media for leads, or in order to become an expert and share your knowledge? Pick a number of reasons—maybe one, maybe five—and list them out.

2. Who is your audience? Who are you going after? It will depend a lot on your industry. My friend Larry, for example, is looking to automotive sales reps, influential people in the automotive industry, automotive event teams, and salespeople in general. He can design his entire social media strategy around his audience.

3. Who are your top connections? Here, you need to list two types of connections: the important industry people you already know, and the top voices in the industry you want to know. You’ll leverage the people you know to grow your social media following from there.

The Social Media

After you’ve got your list of why and who, it’s time to research the what and then get down to being social.

1. What are your top news sources? List as many industry news sources and blogs as you can. These will be articles you’ll want to share with people in the industry, because the news is important. You’re marketing yourself as a news channel. You’ll add these news sources as an RSS feed or to Hootesuite, which I’ll address in a future post.

2. Where can you contribute? Part of being in social media is becoming an expert in your industry. Experts share their knowledge via news sources—potentially the same news sources as you draw a lot of your content from—and you’ll want to see if you can contribute to them. Go in and look: how do you submit your own articles? Who do you have to work through? Make friends and use them.

3. Where can you hang your persona? OK, this one’s a lot simpler. Find a place in your cube or office to hang your persona that you’ll see it every day. This persona is essentially a list of goals, a list of things to consistently keep in mind. Check it every day, just like you would your other goals.

After you have your persona in place, you’ll be ready to start tackling the various forms of social media, and learning the ways that you can interact with them, making sales along the way.

What is Google Plus and Why Does It Matter to Startups?

Brian is a sharp dude. He’s also fearless (at least it seems that way).

Jumping ship from a growing tech company to go start your own business is a gut wrenching experience. Yet, that’s exactly what Brian Deyo did a few months ago. And he’s not looking back.

In fact, Brian rarely looks back, because he’s always focused on what’s next and how he can be a part of it and contribute. We recently got in a conversation about “What is Google Plus” and “Does Google Plus really matter to startups?” After a lengthy debate and healthy discussion, I invited him to write this post. I can’t think of anyone better to scribe the first Google Plus post on this blog.

Enter Brian on “What is Google Plus and Why Does Google Plus Matter?”

You should really join Google.

Sounds odd, huh? Join Google? You read that right. You should join Google.
It may be obvious, but what I’m referring to here is Google+ and my call for you to join isn’t just because it is the next big thing or because I want more friends. The point of this post and my call for you to join Google+ is because it is for your own good, for our community’s good, and for the good of our startups.
Why Join Google Plus

First of all I need to explain the reasoning for the ambiguity about Google vs. Google+. Much discussion has taken place about the reason Google created Google+. On one side, people think Google just has Facebook envy and wants to be the big player in town again with their own social network. While that sounds nice, I think Google is a little more rational and intentional than that. They don’t undertake big efforts like Google+ without some end game in mind.

On the other side there are those saying that Google+ is just a way for Google to improve search results; bringing social and search together but keeping the interface of search intact and just adding social indicators to the algorithm. About two months ago it might have seemed that these were reasonable assertions. Now, however it is clear that Google+ is so much more than just a social network or one more piece of a larger search algorithm.

So what is Google Plus?

Google+ is actually just what the title implies. It is Google plus all of the things you don’t immediately think of when you think of Google – Gmail, YouTube, Messaging, Reader, Blogger, Picasa, Talk, Voice, Places, Android, Calendar, etc.. All of those apps are, or will eventually be, integrated into one service. The process will take time, but we already see it happening with simple things like messaging and video chat.

Contact groups in Gmail are now circles and sharing in all apps happen on Google+. Talk and Chat happen in all platforms and Picasa will soon be gone entirely to be replaced by what Google Plus is doing with photos. The experience is so tightly integrated into Android that Google promotes it as a major selling point of their latest version (4.0)

It is also plus more. Meaning it is traditional google search plus so much more. Search Plus Your World (SPYW), Google’s latest search algorithm update, is not about just integrating a few Google+ result into search engine result pages (SERPs). The point is to bring all of your content into one place; bringing your pictures, posts, articles, blogs, music, apps, etc. under the umbrella that is search.

Google’s mission is to “organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Up until now, that just included the public facing web. Now that includes an increasing amount of your own information whether public or private. Your Google search bar is personalized to your content. That’s a big shift and important for all of us to understand.

What Makes Google Plus Different?

Google+ on the surface looks much like Facebook. There are fairly long form posts with comments and likes. You have people, chat, messaging, photos, videos and a stream. It isn’t quite that simple and a few fundamental differences have created a very unique environment that is different than Facebook. I’m going to focus on two aspects of Google+ that distinguish it from Twitter and Facebook.

User relationship Model

First, Google+ shares much more in common with Twitter’s user connection model than it does with Facebook. Until a recent change including a subscription option with Facebook you had to have a mutual relationship with someone. I would ask you to be my friend and once you accepted we were mutual friends.

With Google+ and Twitter, the relationship is much different. Instead of mutual friendship there is a following (circling) model. Our relationship is really much more like it is in real life. I have the option to follow what you do publicly and until you decide to do the same for me, we are in a one way relationship. Practically, that just means that like on Twitter, you have to work for your credibility and followers. It is a little more difficult to get someones attention and grow your influence, but those who do can really influence a lot of users.

Long Posts and Active Conversations

Why use Google PlusSecond, Google made one very important decision when they launched Google+. They allowed long form posts with basic formatting. It may not seem like much, but this has blurred the line between what is a blog and what is a social network post (see relevant discussion here).

On Facebook and Twitter it is clear that the posts are intended to be short. Facebook promotes  quick comment responses in place of line breaks in comments to promote speed over depth. Google+ from the very beginning attracted a much more detailed and thorough post type. People would add significant commentary to articles or links. That, combined with a small community, created a lot of conversation around each post and the conversation has not diminished as the platform has grown.

Even though Facebook has now opened up posts to a nearly uncapped length (5000 characters), the environment just isn’t quite the same. The posts on Google+ are more formal, more detailed, and more active.

Now that we can see that Google+ is different and not just another social network, why is it important to you as a founder, marketer, mentor, or investor and why should we care as a community?

Why does Google Plus matter to you?

Google+ is important because it is influential. Just like understanding SEO or being an expert at e-mail marketing or knowing how to run a successful PPC campaign, this is one more area where your ability to influence the world around you is being expanded. In the case of Google+ it is especially important because the reach is so great and because it marks a monumental shift in the way Google views content and authority.

Google Plus Your Business

Google famously patented Page Rank, what has gone on to be one of the most studied algorithms in the world. Now with the new Agent Rank or Author Rank, your credibility online may be greatly defined by your influence on Google+ or at least your connection between your site and Google+.

For founders and marketers, that means we have a great opportunity to be a part of something that is now small but growing rapidly and will be very influential in search. Google+ needs to become an important part of your personal branding strategy and your company’s.

While you may not end up with as many likes or followers as you have on Facebook and Twitter right away and you may not see immediate referral traffic grow, Google+ already influences search and if it helps you win a few more terms for your product it could lead to success.

Google Plus Search Results

Beyond that, it is also a place where you can still be heard and be influential. Very popular tech icons are getting just about equal traction and response on Google+ as they are on Facebook. The difference is that you can get them to engage with you and respond to comments while Plus is still new. That is a huge opportunity to promote your product and brand and should not be missed.

The overarching point here is that smaller startup and technology communities, like Indianapolis (where I live), have an opportunity to be influential within the tech community at large. Right now, a disproportionate amount of that community is on Google+ discussing everything from smart phones to the best task management app.

The voices of the smaller tech communities need to be a part of those conversations because it provide a unique perspectives, which often lead to insight. Over time, these contributions will help smaller communities build more influence in the global tech community and, over time, help these smaller startup communities gain recognition as technology and startup hubs.

Google (Plus Your Deal Flow)

For investors and mentors, Google+ could become a great place to find and learn about potential companies and up-and-coming founders, while engaging in the most relevant topics of the day. For reasons that may be obvious, there are not many good places for founders, investors and mentors to congregate and communicate.

While live events foster that kind of engagement, there is massive potential for benefit from online engagement between both parties. Google+ could become a great way to follow and get to know people who may make great business partners in the future. The topics are focused and the conversation is low pressure. And on top of that you can see someones body of work and what they care about when they aren’t pitching.

As Google+ grows up, I’m confident we’ll see engagement from the whole community and not just the marketers and founders. The question is: Will smaller startup communities be ahead of the curve here, or a lagging indicator?

Most of you understand the value of being on such an influential platform for business reasons, but beyond that it is a great place to engage in detailed and complex discussions about the technology and businesses we all care about so much. In my startup community in Indianapolis, we have wonderful places like Verge startup events and local startup clubs like the Speakeasy startup co-working space, but we don’t have a good place online where we all congregate and share ideas and get to know each other. Wouldn’t it be great if Google+ became that place for us?

Google Plus Tips (via Jeff Jockisch)

Ready to kick-start your Google+ engagement? Here are some great resources and Google Plus Tips to use as a starting block…

General Google Plus Tips:

Google Plus Formatting Cheats:

Google Plus Chrome Extentions For Power Users:
Replies and more for Google+
Extended Share for Google Plus
Google+ Notifications

+1’ing (yes that is what it is called):
Learn about the +1 button and badge and how they work with your content and website

Brian Deyo is the Founder of Last Bite and co-founder of the Wedding Music Project. Last Bite is a location based service that lets users rate, remember, share, and discover specific food items at restaurants. Prior to Last Bite he worked for two years at ChaCha search. He loves new technology and understanding trends in the digital world. You can find him on Google+



We’ll be hosting our first Verge hangout on Google Plus this Friday to talk teach, startups, and whatever else inspires the moment. Are you on Google Plus? You can find Verge on Google+  and Add a link to your profile in the comments below and we’ll add you to our circles.