Thomas J. Armitage

Digital Marketing Consultant | Utica, NY

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Low-Cost, High-Value Marketing Ideas

Low-Cost, High-Value Marketing Ideas

Digital Marketing

There are thousands of articles out there on the best digital marketing tactics. How do you decide which ones make the most sense for your material handling company? It’s a big undertaking.

[Download our exclusive eBook on how to prospect better in the digital age]

I’ll let you in on a little secret, too. Some of them – heck, maybe most of them – would fail you. And it might not be your fault.

Not all tactics work for every company. There’s a reason why street teams helped RedBull successfully launch the brand in the U.S. and why consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies continue to run free-standing inserts (FSIs) in Sunday newspapers. It makes sense for them. If they weren’t generating positive results, they would have cut those programs years ago.

There are many factors in deciding on the best marketing tactics for your business. They include:

  • Your industry
  • Your target audience
  • Your budget
  • Your resources
  • Your timeline

Our company has been working alongside material handling businesses for more than a decade, building marketing strategies and helping to carry out a variety of tactical efforts. We’ve learned a thing or two about what works, what doesn’t, what’s expensive, and what generates a healthy return on investment (ROI).

Here’s our secret list of low-cost, high-value marketing ideas for material handlers.

Local Optimization

Local optimization is the improvement of a brand’s presence in search engines, among local searchers. This includes ensuring Google MyBusiness and Bing Local pages are accurate and thoroughly built out. One should run a citation report to make sure that local listing websites feature correct and up-to-date information for your business. This can also include a program to encourage positive business reviews for your company. Finally, your website should be optimized through keywords, content, and metadata around geo-specific search terms. This will boost your rankings above competitors in the search engines, giving you an edge on the amount of free, organic traffic coming into your site. A recent study states that 18% of local mobile searches lead to a sale within one day. These are hot leads. Act appropriately.

Expenses: Set-up and management expenses

Outcomes: Increased organic traffic, better search presence, improved brand reputation through reviews

Remarketing Ads

You have probably been on the receiving end of remarketing ads but may not know them by name. If you’ve ever shopped on a retail website, let’s say for a band t-shirt, and then noticed an ad for that same t-shirt while on a totally different website, that’s remarketing.

Through code and cookies, it recalls what web pages you’ve visited and advertisers are able to personalize ads based on that historical data. It’s genius. Consider past web visitors who have browsed your site in search of used forklifts. Employ remarketing to stay top of mind among these prospects and re-engage at a later date when they’re more ready to buy. It’s a pay-per-click model so you can control the budget. Website visitors who are retargeted with display ads are 70% more likely to convert on your website.

Expenses: Recommendation of $500 – $1000/mo for ad costs through Google AdWords, management expenses

Outcomes: Increase leads, higher brand recall

[View our free slideshow on 10 reasons why your customers aren’t seeing your web content]

LiveChat

We live in a world where we value instant communication. We’ve been sensitized by SMS texting and social media and, generally speaking, customers are increasingly impatient. That’s especially the case when a prospect is suffering downtime due to faulty equipment, and he/she needs an answer…fast.

Consider implementing LiveChat on your site. Through this software, you can encourage web users to get in touch immediately with a customer service representative, rather than submit a form and wait hours or days to hear a response.

Plus, users can multi-task while they type, something very important to busy buyers. They can briefly describe their issues and get helpful information or begin moving forward with a purchase right then and there. From a buying sense, these are your hottest leads: they have a problem, and they need help now. Why delay that process? Some companies have seen improvements in conversion rates of 45% as a result of LiveChat.

Expenses: $60/mo for the software, set-up expenses, staff member(s) to manage customer service

Outcomes: Increase leads through the chat form, improved customer service, reduce wait time in the buying process

Automated Email Marketing

Most material handling companies have been in business a long time and I bet yours has too. Over that time, you’ve collected contact information from many past buyers. Let’s put that data to use.

According to VentureBeat, of all marketing tactics, email marketing generates the highest return on investment (likely because distribution is so inexpensive). When using an automation tool, you’re able to set up workflows that carry out actions without you needing to think or manually push buttons.

Consider these automated workflows:

  • Instant email: This is for those who submit for more information on your site and should ensure that his/her message has been received. You can supplement users with relevant reading material while they wait for your phone call.
  • Cold leads: Perhaps you tried selling parts to contacts in the past, but the deals fell through. They aren’t bad leads, just cold. Set up monthly automated emails to help stay top of mind and ensure they’re aware of your latest offers.
  • Cross-selling: Much like recommendations from Amazon for similar products, if your system recalls what customers have purchased in the past and you’ve properly segmented your lists, you can automate emails to cross-sell or upsell more strategically.

It’s best to think about these tools as an extension of your sales team. A software like Hubspot will let you email directly to leads, input customer information, and track stages throughout the buying process. The tool is intelligent and understands the pages and emails that prospects visit to give you a clearer insight into their wants/needs so you can act at the right time. The software also provides reverse IP lookup so you can see any large companies visiting your site even before they submit contact information to you. We call it professional stalking.

Expenses: $800 – $1000/mo for automation software, setup, and management expenses

Outcomes: Increased leads, shortened buying cycle, improved upselling

As a material handling professional, there’s a lot you can do to improve the relationships you have with current customers and generate new leads. But it’s like the Wild Wild West out there. You’re being faced with a ton of ideas and tactics, and there are plenty that aren’t in your best interest to pursue. Take our advice and look closely at the four that we’ve already tested that have the lowest costs and highest value for material handling companies. Need help? Give us a shout today.

[Download our exclusive eBook on how to prospect better in the digital age]

This post was originally published for Site-Seeker. To view, click here.

Define Your Target Audience: A 44 Point Cheat Sheet

Define Your Target Audience: A 44 Point Cheat Sheet

Market Research

Last September, Rolling Stone announced that it would be putting itself up for sale. The magazine that once focused solely on the music industry has changed its identity throughout its 50-year history, but its most notable transformation was during its “Perception vs. Reality” campaign, which focused purely on redefining its target audience.

Download the 44 point cheat sheet to identify your target audience

For Rolling Stone, they wanted to show that their readers were no longer deadbeat hippies – like before – but instead, consist now of a younger audience – yuppies, classy, professional, with money (an appeal to both readers and advertisers). And it worked.

Before beginning any marketing work, it’s always best to first consider your target audience. These individuals create the group that will be your heaviest of users. They are the ones you will [wisely] spend your marketing dollars on. They are the ones who become brand advocates and act as walking, talking salespeople that you don’t even have to pay (well, not in salaries, anyway).

A firm and stable understanding of your target audience is critical to strategizing and selling. We call this target market identification or, the buyer persona process.

Stop. Close your eyes. Spend a few minutes thinking about perception vs reality for your brand for just a moment.

You may perceive your audience as one that is far different than it is – either because of ignorance or because of who you want it to be. Or, your target audience may have changed over the years. Maybe your most lucrative buyers have aged out and are retired, and you’re now out of touch with the Millennials who have replaced them (you should refresh your buyer personas every three to four years).

An example of a completed persona for our client DeIorio’s, pizza dough supplier.

The various traits and makeup of a person can influence how you might want to reach and market to him/her. Many different aspects should be identified and explored and understood, and later combined, to create a profile of each persona. The sum is a detailed description of each buyer, how you might be able to connect with them, and vice versa, how devoted they might be to your brand, how much they are willing to spend on you, and how often.

A target audience is made up of both demographic and psychographic traits.

Demographics

Demographics are innate traits that make up a person. Many of these qualities are outside of that person’s control. This information is much more tradition to look at for marketing purposes, but still significant nonetheless. Some examples:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Education Level

Click here to see all 15 demographics!

Psychographics

Psychographics are a much newer way of looking at buyers. They are based on habits and lifestyle patterns. These are decision-oriented and can change over time. Psychographic qualities are extremely important to decision-making. Here are examples:

  • Political affiliation
  • Marital status
  • Children

Click here to see all 15 psychographics!

Where Can I Find This Data?

Formal market research is always a great idea. Large agencies will follow a very structured process to build questionnaires that will address important business problems within a company (in this case, understanding who your brand currently appears to, and/or how they feel about your brand). Quantitative and qualitative research would be conducted, and questionnaires would be built and carried out to develop both valid and reliable data on the demographic and psychographics of your target audience. The only problems are: true market research takes time, and it can be very expensive.

A second option – you can lean on an agency to perform digital-based research, conduct interviews with your team and build buyer personas. This establishes target audiences and provides insight into how you might be able to reach and market to them. This is also a formal process, but is less expensive and can be turned around more quickly since much of the insight is generated by internal insight from sales/marketing team members, rather than from questionnaires among consumers themselves.

Finally, you can lean on readily available online resources to access data on your own. These can be owned channels or third party sites. There are a number of sources to use to perform self-market-research and gain a deeper understanding of your target audience. Good news: many of these resources are free or inexpensive, allowing brands to more easily gain a deeper insight of customers and build accurate buyer personas.

Check out this slideshow to find out eight free tools to help with market research

What Can I Do With This Data?

All the data in the world is useless if there are no decisions made because of it. If you and your team is going to spend time researching, interviewing, and building buyer personas – you have to put them to work. Resorting back to the 4 Cs of marketing, here’s some example of what buyer personas can help marketers answer:

  • Consumer: What does your buyer want out of a product? What are his/her pain points and what can your product/service overcome? What is the shopping/buying experience like? Is it positive? How can you improve it? How long does it take them to buy and what goes into that process? How can you make it easier?
  • Cost: Are you charging the right amount for your product/service? Can you charge more? Less? What accessories or add-ons do you provide? How can you upsell better? Not just to make more money but to provide a better experience for your buyers. What are other fees involving in buying? Travel? Shipping and handling? What can you do about those extraneous costs?
  • Convenience: How does a buyer learn about you? How easy is it to get in touch or to work with a salesperson? Or, to trial your product or service? Convenience doesn’t stop at the cash register. What type of post-purchase services do you offer? Support? Help Desk? What do you consumers need?
  • Communication: Are you leveraging channels where your buyers are present/active? Are you advertising in the right place? Are you setting the right targeting parameters when creating advertising audiences? How can consumers get in touch? Phone? Text? Twitter? What software are you using, what can you use instead?

There are so many questions that can be answered when buyer personas are developed. In doing so, you can be more strategic and effective in your marketing and have a greater return on investment.

Need help?

Download our 44 point cheat sheet and get started today!

This article was originally published for Site-Seeker. You can find it by clicking here.

Pressed on Time? Top 5 Website Metrics to Track

Pressed on Time? Top 5 Website Metrics to Track

Analytics/ROI

Every marketing program is different. Some, with lots of tactics and movement, can cause marketers to spend dozens of hours building reports. Just last month, my team and I logged 25 hours on a single quarterly report. There was just so much to cover (or rather, uncover).

Thoroughly gathering and analyzing data isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s necessary for any successful marketing program. In doing so, you can help determine how users are behaving on your site and what your most effective marketing tactics are. It also allows you the ability to notice trends and patterns of your best customers. By interpreting data, you can make better decisions on how to improve and remove any guesswork from the equation.

I’m not stupid though. I’m a realist. I know most marketers and business owners don’t have 25 hours to spend on a single report. So I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s our team’s five favorite web metrics to track. These are the key performance indicators (KPIs) that can most quickly give you the insight you need to keep tabs on your activity and hint at what to do next.

1) Goals

Goals are the most important actions on a website. Setting up goals inside of Google Analytics (or related website tracking software) at the very start of your program is critical to maintaining true data. Every program will have different goals.

  • B2C businesses with e-commerce integration on their site will almost certainly have transactions and/or wish list entries as goals.
  • B2B brands with longer sales cycles typically have form fills as goals.

Take time to identify what type of goals you need within your program and set them up properly in Google Analytics. Name your goal, accurately depict the action that should be recorded, and place a value on it. Almost all of your views throughout the software will allow you to see what is driving goals and at what rate.

For your goals that track information about sales leads – like request more info or content gate forms – you’ll want to make sure you are using software to properly track and follow through on those leads. Consider marketing automation, lead nurturing and customer relationship management (CRM) software to better manage the sales process at it relates to your web-generated prospects.

“Goals are the most important part of any report, for any client. Organic traffic, paid traffic, social media activity – none of it really matters if you can’t measure the effectiveness of your efforts. How you do that is through the tracking of goals. This can include form fills, LiveChat touches, mobile click to call, and more. By placing a value on those actions, you can even equate goals to true dollars and better measure your return on investment. Of course, you’ll want to identify cost per acquisition first.” – Trey Didio, Digital Marketing Specialist

2) Events

A square is always a rhombus, but a rhombus isn’t always a square. I love that analogy. I use it all the time but I think this is the first time I’ve ever worked it into a blog post. Go me! Events can (and often are) used as goals, but don’t have to be. Our team typically uses them as quality verifiers. These are less important actions, compared to goals, which take place on a site that help understand a user’s behavior and help you improve the user-experience.

Think of things like PDF opens, usage of certain features like nutritional calculators, video views, etc. By exploring usage of these assets or features, you can understand what is improving your on-site experience, keeping users engaged, and potentially assisting in a conversion on your site.

“Measuring events is one of the most important keys to success when measuring website performance and calculating ROI. It helps you discover if your site is pleasing to your audience. Tools like Google’s UTM builder and/or Google Tag Manager make is easy to organize and track events as you start to build and measure your marketing campaigns. You can easily see these under your “Events” and “Campaign” tabs in Analytics, and you can run a number of metrics against these items. When you invest money into building content and assets like videos, ebooks, landing pages, etc. it’s best to keep a watchful eye on the effectiveness of them.” – Jessica Amidon, Senior Digital Marketing Team Lead

3) Medium/Source

Medium/Source is the breakdown of where traffic/visitors originate. It’s a very popular KPI to explore since it helps judge what efforts are best at driving traffic to your site. Going one step further, you can explore what type of traffic sees the most conversions and therefore has the highest quality visitorship.

There are typically five different media: direct/none, organic, paid, email, referral. There can be dozens, if not hundreds, of sources, which is a drilled-down view of those media. For instance, within organic traffic, you may have organic/google, organic/bing, and organic/yahoo. Within referral, you could see referral/amazon.com, referral/facebook.com, and referral/yelp.com.

“As a marketer, you have to understand which sources and media are producing the best return on your investment. Don’t just look at traffic numbers, but look at goal completions too. If organically your site is doing well from a traffic perspective, it is definitely a good thing. But, you should dive further and see if that organic traffic is of good quality i.e. are those visitors converting or taking valuable actions on the site? What type of actions? Are we getting contact information from them to help them enter into our sales funnel? Furthermore, look at the pages that are not converting, or are converting at a lower rate, and try to spruce those up to mimic the conversion rates on better pages.” – Priyanka Kapadia, Operations Manager

4) Organic Traffic

Not all marketers or business owners engage in paid online advertising, so we’re not featuring it in our top 5. But, on the other hand, everyone should be monitoring organic traffic. Organic traffic is made up of visitors coming from search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. It’s essentially “free” traffic because you aren’t paying for the clicks.

You do, however, need to put time and attention into your site to improve it in such a way to achieve higher search rankings and get more of that free traffic. This is done through search engine optimization (SEO), or technical, textual and creative improvements made both on your site and on other sites that link to your site. Having a solid SEO strategy and solid rankings in the search engines can lead to great traffic volume over time.

“Looking at organic traffic can give you a snapshot of how your SEO efforts are doing. If the traffic is stagnant or slightly decreasing, that’s a good sign that SEO efforts need a boost. I would perform an SEO audit and competitor analysis and come up with a new strategy based on the results. If it’s falling sharply, you should drop everything you’re doing and check to make sure you’re not being penalized by Google, or in noncompliance with a recent algorithm update(s). It could also mean the site has been hacked, the site has accidentally been set to “no-index” or has disallowed search engines from crawling via robots.txt. If organic traffic is increasing, then check to see if there’s a particular reason why, and double down on what you’ve been doing. If organic traffic is increasing sharply, you should pop open a bottle of champagne then call me and with the secret ingredient so we can make millions selling an ‘SEO Hack’ book.” – Dan Weber, Account Manager

5) Top Organic Landing Pages

A landing page is a page that’s crafted to receive traffic from an external source – like Google or Twitter. When building landing pages, it’s important to remember that a user may not have seen any other page on your site yet. Therefore, these pages should offer a great user experience, give the user what he/she needs to know about your brand and product/service, and provide the ability to learn more or buy.

A common misconception of websites is that everyone comes to the homepage and navigates from there. It’s simply not true. For some of our client sites, as much as 40-60% of traffic goes through landing pages, rather than navigating through the homepage. Optimizing landing pages is a giant but critical task for the improvement of any website. More importantly, organic landing pages, or those pages that are ranking in search engines and receiving traffic directly, should be given extra attention.

“It’s important to measure top performing landing pages so you know which pages are best at driving traffic to your site. In a way, these are your heavy hitters – your best pages. Consider adding prominent call-to-actions on these pages. In doing so, you can track more than just page visits, duration, bounce rate, etc. – you can see if the page is effective at driving conversions. Are they watching the video? Downloading the case study? Filling out a form? This helps measure true success of the pages. Also, don’t forget to look at how you have these top performing pages built so you can replicate that strategy on other pages and help drive even more organic traffic to your site.” – Melinda Aiken, Account Manager

You must always keep tabs on your website’s performance. It’s the single most important element of your online presence and, depending on your product or service, could very well be more trafficked than even your storefront. Make sure to set up a dashboard, and auto-reports, inside Google Analytics to track these five metrics, as well as other KPIs that you deem as valuable to your marketing efforts.

Here’s How To Set Up A Dashboard:

  1. Sign in to Google Analytics: https://analytics.google.com/analytics/web/
  2. Select the property and website you’d like to view.
  3. Navigate to “Customization” and “Dashboards” in the left hand sidebar.
  4. Create a new report, name your report, and then create a dashboard.
  5. Set up modules for the metrics you want to track. This may take a little time, especially if you’re a novice, but it’s worth it.
  6. Click on email and arrange for the reports to be sent to you and how often.
  7. Whenever you sign into Analytics, you can now view this dashboard for a quick pulse check on your digital marketing program. Remember to select the date range you’d like to view.

This article was originally published for Site-Seeker. To view the original post, please click here.

When It Comes to Online Ads, Things Are Getting Personal

When It Comes to Online Ads, Things Are Getting Personal

Online Advertising

Let’s say, on a typical day, you wake up at 6 AM and go to bed at 10 PM. That gives you 16 hours during the day to live life. But check this out. During that time, the average American spends 10.5 hours in front of a screen, which is more than half of the day! That includes a smartphone, tablet, computer and/or TV.

Because of this trend, it’s becoming more and more impossible for brands to find success with traditional ad spends – billboards, street signage, terrestrial radio, etc. Instead, advertisers are spending those dollars more wisely on ads within social media, audio streaming services, streaming TV networks, websites, etc. And they should!

If you still aren’t advertising online, I’d say you’re not too far behind the times. Maybe only by about 20 years. But the good news is that, of about 15 of those years, most brands weren’t (or still aren’t) doing a good job with targeting. So there’s still time for you to catch up and find success. Remember, not every product or service is appropriate for all web users. In fact, there’s 286 million internet users in America. Even with a very popular product or service, your brand is probably still only applicable to 10 to 20%.

You can’t just blanket your ads on any ‘ol website. Especially the local news station or newspaper (gross!). Instead, you need to be smarter. You need to use technology that’s become available to take targeting to the next level and get your ads onto the screens of only those who may find interest, take notice, and take action.

When it comes to ads, artwork and messaging are extremely important (whether static or video). Let’s focus today though on placement. Here’s four emerging ways that you can do a better job at targeting with online ads.

Tailored Locations

Not all, but many businesses sell in certain geographical areas. Whether you’re a restaurant that typically sees customers come from within 10 miles, or a forklift distributor who reaches buyers across a three-county region, geographical targeting is critical to online advertising success. You can run location-based ads by zip code, DMA, or through geo-fencing.

Geo-fencing allows advertisers to place ads within a specific radius of a selected location (which is most often the storefront). You can do 10 miles, 20 miles, 30 miles, whatever distance you want. You can do multiple fences too. What makes this great is that it’s targeting IP addresses across devices. Here’s two options.

When someone on a device enters the geo-fence (desktops are stationary but mobile moves across points), they will see the ad. Alternatively, you can set up a program where it builds a list of all those who enter the geo-fence. It will recall their IP and allow ads to be served to them later, even if they have left the fence. Now you know you’re only exposing your ads to people who are in arm’s reach of your location (or who may be returning to arm’s reach). You can even have different ads that are served to different locations, called geo-aware ads, that are more impactful since the messaging can be more appropriate.

Contextual Targeting

This type of targeting focuses on the content that exists on a website – rather than the website itself. It looks for keywords found within the text of articles and places your ads on top, beside, or beneath. The hope is that the readers of the article will find relevancy in ads that relate to the topic of the article. This can be overlaid with geo-targeting and can run across multiple devices.

Let’s say you sell lawn care equipment: weed wackers, lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, etc. Instead of your ads appearing randomly across usatoday.com, you would only appear alongside usatoday.com articles that relate to the keywords you specify. I’d probably choose keywords like: do-it-yourself, home improvement, real estate, landscaping, lawn care, lawn care equipment, etc. Now, when someone is reading a relevant, related story (i.e. “5 Ways to Improve Your Landscaping this Summer Season”), your ads will appear alongside and seem much more appropriate to the reader. Remember, your audience will be much smaller than normal if you were to advertise natively on usatoday.com, but the quality of your impressions and clicks will be greater.

Competitor Targeting

Geo-targeting to the Nth degree, this type of targeting looks at consumers who visit other businesses that you specify. It’s hyper-local. These can be businesses that pose as competitors, who are nearby, or those who complement your brand. Ads can be tailored to visitors who have shopped at one of the locations you indicate, or those who enter the geo-fence and are currently in those stores.

Let’s say you’re a restaurant in the same plaza as Macy’s. Consider the impact of running ads for people who are shopping inside of that store at 12 noon. They’re going to need to get something to eat for lunch when they’re done shopping, and now, your restaurant next door is top of mind through the ads that appear on websites or mobile apps. For related businesses, consider running ads for your landscaping company among those who shopped at Home Depot. The data can be stored to recall audience members who met the criteria in the past 30, 60, or 90 days, or even the past full year (for those who have longer sales cycles).

I would suggest building your list out of all the businesses within a mile or two radius, then adding in all of your competitors (radius will vary depending on your service area), and finally filling out your list with complementary businesses or services. You should have a minimum of 40-60 businesses listed, even for small companies. Overlay this targeting with geography and/or contextual targeting, and you can get even more specific customers. It’s a great model and has proven to be more successful than standard display advertising.

Remarketing

Remarketing, or retargeting, are ads that appear on a user’s device (on websites, apps, or social media) based on past browser history. Typically, if you’ve been on a website looking to buy a product or service, you’ll see ads from that company later as your move about the web. Remarketing reinforces messaging around recent interests and hopes to push you closer towards a sale.

If a business is good at it, the ads should be highly specific to the pages a user has been on. So instead of ads that are just about the brand (that send you to the homepage), they should instead be tailored to the actual product or service of interest. This is great if you have a funnel-based website and you have remarketing setup on your product pages or on abandoned shopping cart pages. Remarketing increases frequency, leading to higher recall, and drives people to your site to finish where they left off – with a purchase!

Summary

Remember that messaging within ads should be tailored to each of the audiences above since you have a bit more insight into where they are located and/or what interests them. Consider static ads as well as video ads. Make them highly attractive and very to-the-point. Pricing for these types of online ads is a CPM (cost per thousand impression) model. The greater the budget, the more impressions your ads will earn, which in turn, will lead to a greater number of clicks and conversions. Overall, it’s a great way to get onto the screens, during the 10.5 hours per day, of your most coveted consumers.

This article was original published for Site-Seeker. You can find it by clicking here.

How I Lost 2,000 Twitter Followers and What I Learned In the Process

How I Lost 2,000 Twitter Followers and What I Learned In the Process

Social Media

My story.

At my “Twitter peak,” I had around 11,000 followers. That was in late 2015. Today, I’m down to 8,980 and counting and I typically lose a few followers each day. Here’s what happened, and here’s why I don’t mind seeing them go…

I graduated from college in 2009. It was a tough time to be a college graduate due to the Great Recession that hit earlier that year. Thousands of companies were laying off so when positions did happen to open, those who were laid off with plenty more experience under their belts, were acting as competition.

On the flip side, this new thing called social media was beginning to gain traction. Though many platforms were a few years old, it was the period when businesses wanted to try to understand and exercise the benefits of these channels. I was instructed by several mentors to get involved, learn the tools, appreciate how businesses can take advantage, etc. So I did.

How I gained my following.

I set out on a – what would soon become a seven-year journey – to be a Twitter all-star. I treated it like a second job. I would get home from work each night and devote at least two hours to the cause.

I’m not Twitter famous by any means. I’m not even verified. But for someone who wasn’t/isn’t a full-time blogger, member of the media, or a celebrity, I think having several thousands of followers was a nice feat. It certainly helped give me credibility when I spoke to clients about social media marketing.

Throughout the time when I was highly active, I was often asked my peers and clients how I accumulated such a following. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a magic bullet, and it didn’t happen overnight. I don’t mind sharing some of my best practices for gaining a following:

I talked to everyone.

I would use the search tool and hashtags to find people in PR, marketing, and technology, etc. Then I would engage – the good ‘ol true definition of the word. I’d reply to people for hours on end, asking questions, commenting, getting involved in professional conversations with my opinion and limited expertise. This was before it was all too common to use the “fav” feature (now “like” feature) so it was all real commentary. Many users came and went. Some I continue to talk to today. (Shoutout to @jesslaw ‏@aubzim ‏@Courtz112 and @bitty_boop ‏ for holdin’ it down since day 1.)

I participated in a ton of Twitter Chats.

#PRChat, #JournChat, #ContentChat, #PPCChat, etc. These were/are weekly chats focused on a variety of topics in my industry – public relations, blogging, marketing, technology, etc. I’d answer every question and stay involved for the full hour. After each event, I would follow all users who I interacted with throughout the chat. Most would immediately follow back.

I hijacked live events.

There were many users who would list and/or follow users who were participating and tweeting about certain live events. This could be music festivals (#WarpedTour), TV shows (like the #Oscars), or trade shows (#NRAShow) and industry conferences (#INBOUND). By using the owned hashtags for the event, my tweets would be noticed among other participants (both live and online) and cause quite a few follow backs. I also participated in a few live Tweet-Ups, gatherings made up of active Twitter users in a certain area.

I followed relevant people.

I wanted to follow (and get follow backs from) people who were in my industry. As a shortcut, I knew that people who engaged with marketing/ad agencies would be related to my field. I used Twitter lists like mad to classify and organize my following. I followed tons of those who were connected to local/regional agencies. I also used Twitter directories to find relevant handles based on topics. Having a professional headshot, detailed bio related to my job, and a website with supporting material helped ensure that I was legitimate and wasn’t a bot. It helped me get noticed.

I created and shared a lot of content.

I’ve seen Twitter users who tweet a lot, but it’s nothing meaningful. Content creation is important because people look to you as a source of rich information, as a thought leader. I created/shared blog articles, short videos, photos, charts, infographics, etc. Some on behalf of my business, some that I did on my own time simply to support my Twitter initiative. I also used relevant hashtags when posting. These pieces got shared, caused reactions, and led to follower growth.

There’s been a ton of articles over the years on ways to develop a following. Do a quick Google search. Blogs from 2009 up until yesterday. Many of them have decent suggestions, beyond some that I mentioned above. Here’s one.

How I lost my following.

I’m not sure if it was the changing usage patterns of Twitter or maybe I had just grown tired of reading tweets from total strangers. Either way, for me, Twitter had lost some of its luster. I decided to make a change.

It took me about four hours (since they got rid of all the mass unfollow tools) but I cleansed myself of about 8,000 following. I only left remaining: 1) those who I personally knew, 2) those who I had developed Twitter relationships with over time, 3) trusted media outlets that I often read, 4) select businesses and brands that I pay close attention to. I left myself with about 200 following.

A lot of users on Twitter play the “I only follow people who follow me back” game. It’s not a bad form of etiquette. If you don’t care about what I have to say, why should I care about what you have to say? It’s not like Facebook or LinkedIn. If we don’t know each other, there are no real repercussions if one of us hits “unfollow.”

After I had cleansed my list, I watched as 2,000 followers slowly unfollowed me over the course of about three months. Since then, a few followers fade each day. I still have 8,000+ but, more importantly, I have true connections with many that have stayed and I continue to engage with them regularly.

I had preached it for years but I wasn’t living it – until now. Quality > quantity. The number doesn’t mean anything if those individuals weren’t paying attention, engaging, sharing a connection, communicating. I have no interest in spectators – on Twitter, in business, or in my personal life, so the following number means nothing to me. It’s all about the conversations.

How Twitter has changed.

Twitter is very different today than it was in 2009. From my experience, it’s become much more of an article exchange center rather than a source of original content. What I mean is there’s a few creators, namely big bloggers or media outlets, and the rest of users simply add to the commentary with a RT, like, or reply (remember the 90-9-1 rule?). The ability to reply with animated gifs and emojis has only fueled this behavior since you don’t need to leave Twitter to find these reactions. Of course, Twitter as a source for instant news is still a critical function, especially with the addition of live streaming – but again – most people sit back and watch the 1% do their thing.

Jay Baer at Convince & Convert predicted this as soon as Twitter updated its software to algorithmically show certain tweets ahead of others. He also alluded to the rise of Twitter ads to help businesses find their way to the top of user feeds.

Here’s what I feel Twitter still does really well and where I feel it struggles. This can help you and your business decide if/when to use Twitter and how much attention to give to it.

Pros:

  • Customer service. Those on Twitter expect instant responses. That’s the nature of the tool. It’s real-time. Business can/should use Twitter as a way for customers to ask questions. The only caveat – you should be ready to respond immediately, at least within the hour.
  • Skews younger. If you’re a brand whose target audience is tweens, teens, and twenty-somethings, this is a great outlet. It isn’t as shiny and new as SnapChat, but it does boast these users in great numbers. Plus, Twitter outweighs SnapChat with the ability to add call to actions, have versatile content, and remain top of mind longer.
  • Show off your brand voice/personality. I’m sure you’ve read about Wendy’s on Twitter. It’s amazing. They are sassy, sarcastic, even sometimes rude, but it fits the personality they want to convey. Their target audience is younger, more urban, with less income. It fits them. Other brands should follow suit, find a voice that makes sense, and embrace it wholly.

Cons:

  • The novelty is gone. Twitter still continues to claim that it has 320 million users. But it doesn’t take a Twitter expert to browse around and see all the dormant, dead accounts that exist. Not to mention the crazy amount of spam or fake accounts. I think the numbers are inflated. The newness of Twitter has faded and many social influencers have taken to Instagram or SnapChat as an alternative.
  • Short life span. Despite the “In case you missed it…” feature, the very nature of Twitter means that tweets have a short life span. Within hours, sometimes even minutes (depending on the user), the tweet is buried and gone. This requires users and brands tweet often to stay top of mind and more resources are needed to make that happen.
  • Challenging ad interface. It’s not challenging to use. It’s challenging to find success. Unless you’re a company with a very broad target audience, it’s tough to find your niche. The targeting features on Twitter aren’t nearly as good as Facebook and LinkedIn. You can use keywords, related followers using handle names, geography, and interests, but even just a few keywords or handles will put a lot of people on your list that aren’t relevant. When I used Twitter ads, it took some time and a lot of babysitting and adjusting to find my sweet spot. You can certainly find success, but you may waste money in the process.

This article was originally published for Site-Seeker. You can find it here.