• Finding an avenue: Seek out your opportunities to succeed

    Finding an avenue: Seek out your opportunities to succeed

    What your business can learn from the teen Microsoft Excel champion.

    CNN recently covered the story of Kevin Dimaculangan, a 15-year-old who has just become the world’s Microsoft Excel champion.

    How does one become a Microsoft Excel champion?

    Well, firstly, there has to be a competition to enter. And there is one: the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championships, held in Kevin’s home state of Florida in the US.

    (By the way, what a great bit of marketing for Microsoft to set up a competition to crown champions at using their software.)

    Then a kid like Kevin has to be interested (or, sure, pushed) to excel in, well, Excel. In Kevin’s case, it’s because his teacher offered prizes to high achievers. In fact, he says he didn’t even know the program until that class.

    All this is to say that in order to be great at something, there needs to be an avenue for that skill to flourish.

    Avenues

    Nobody became the best at the piano until the piano had been invented. Then we had piano prodigies.

    Nobody knew how heavy someone could deadlift until someone set up a competition to test it.

    After that happened, there was a number to beat and people do it consistently.

    For myself, I know that when I’m writing a short story, knowing I can submit it to a journal or story competition gives me a word limit, a deadline and a goal to work towards. Maybe I’d write a story anyway, maybe I wouldn’t.

    Another example: When I started at Hook Media, I really wasn’t familiar with video editing. But because that’s one of the major things we do, I was provided an avenue to learn and now I edit some portion of the video work we do for our clients.

    So, what’s this got to do with business?

    For one, keeping your eye out for opportunities that you might succeed at could be a boon for your business. Entering your work in a competition, going to a corporate function you usually wouldn’t attend, taking on some pro bono work — any of these could be the chance you need to take things to the next level.

    For two? Not being put off by the constant stream of new platforms and services that are constantly cropping up.

    For some businesses, it’s been nothing but a hassle entering the digital sphere. Some might even wish things would return to a simpler time, before social media, maybe even before websites. But there’s no getting that genie back in the bottle.

    Adapting

    Like the print media before it, many small business were slow to adapt to the promise that digital and social offered.

    But the smart ones saw it was a new avenue. And therein lay opportunities.

    Even for businesses like ours, built around harnessing the power of the digital for businesses, we too can get overwhelmed at the sheer number of new platforms and services.

    But we give them a go and often they flourish.

    For you, this might mean simply putting yourself out there. Take on a client that’s in an unfamiliar industry. Offer a service that you’re good at but would like to get better at.

    Try Instagram Stories. Try boosting your social media posts. Heck, try actually managing your social media if you’re not already (of course, there are places that can help you out with that, hint hint.) Engage that content agency and see what they can do for you.

    On the flipside, if you’re a potential client, take a chance on an unsolicited email or cold call. Take that meeting. You never know when the right avenue will open itself up.

    Takeaway

    When you have a reason to do something, you might surprise yourself as to what you can achieve.

    So seek out the avenues that will help you succeed (or at least have the potential for you to succeed.)

    And if you know what you want and no avenue exists yet — create one. (My former colleague Ali Adey is doing great things at the moment with her SheMentors events, for example.)

    Give yourself the opportunities that might allow you to succeed. That allow you to, well, excel.

    If you want to find new avenues for your business, get in touch today.

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  • Communication is key: get the basics right

    Communication is key: get the basics right

    If you want communication from leads, be contactable. If you don’t want to be contacted, don’t offer a way to do it.

    Have you ever wanted to contact a business and not been able to do it?

    I remember years ago wanting to contact Channel Nine to complain about their coverage of the Academy Awards. (Long story short, they cut out many categories, seemingly arbitrarily. This was cause enough to inspire my anger in 2009.)

    But when I looked for an email to reach someone at the network, their website was no help.

    These days everyone has a social media presence but back then, a message to an official Facebook account was not guaranteed to get a reply. So, did I give up? No. Pedant that I was, I wrote a formal letter, printed it out and mailed it.

    Unfortunately, unlike the supposed policy of the ABC, Channel Nine has no obligation to reply to complaints. And, to be fair, my complaint was very tongue in cheek. (Judging by their current website, it seems they still have no email contact.)

    But you know what? Fair play to Channel Nine. They didn’t want me to contact them and didn’t provide me an avenue. (What that implies about their respect for their viewers is another matter.)

    I much prefer this kind of stonewalling to the alternative: contacting a business through one of their provided channels and receiving no response whatsoever.

    Potential business

    Recently, I came across this when trying to get in contact with a company about potential business.

    It went something like this:

    The company has a ‘Contact’ tab on their website, where I have the choice to fill in a form or email directly an address, usually info@ or contact@. I filled out the contact form and waited a week or so. (We have the same thing on our own website.)

    No response.

    I then went for the other option, and emailed. No response.

    I then took to Facebook and direct-messaged one of their many social accounts. Finally, I got a response from someone managing their social. They gave me a new email to contact a particular person. A week later, still no response.

    What happened?

    Why would this happen? Why would a business allow this to happen? I could be a potential lead.

    Now, maybe I’m a very annoying — though persistent — person and I’m being deliberately ignored through all these channels.

    I can understand that. I’ve worked as a magazine editor where I would receive unsolicited emails and phone calls left, right and centre. And sometimes I would have to ignore these just for sanity’s sake.

    But I daresay this company isn’t getting that much correspondence.

    So maybe I’m not getting a response because their business model doesn’t require them to get back to potential leads and opportunities. This makes complete sense. What doesn’t make sense is giving new potential business a way to contact you — and then not replying.

    Besides, it’s not hard to set up an auto-reply, just to let people know your message has actually come through and not become lost in the internet ether.

    I would, in fact, hazard a guess that nobody is monitoring these incoming messages. And thus, this company is potentially losing business because they don’t know what they’re missing out on.

    They might hate what I’ve offered but because of their unmonitored email, they haven’t had the chance to even make the decision to reject me.

    This is comms

    Having a communications strategy actually does involve basic communication like email. If you offer one, monitor it. If nobody’s going to be able to reply for a few days, set up an out of office or an auto-reply.

    It’s unbecoming of your business to not reply to potential clients or leads. In fact, it’s rude.

    If you’re serious about communication, be serious about it. Reply to enquiries, comment on your social media pages and invite conversation. And if your business doesn’t need that — though I would argue that it almost certainly does — remove contact details from your website.

    It’s simple: Don’t want to be contacted? Don’t provide contact details. It worked for Channel Nine.

    If your business needs help with communication, get in touch today.

    Image: Pexels

     

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  • The low cost of social advertising will be short lived

    The low cost of social advertising will be short lived

    There’s this pervasive belief that social media has been and should remain a free platform for people to promote their businesses, as well as a space to share with friends, family and followers. For many, paying for this service is simply out of the question.

    I get where people are coming from. As a content creator, I took pride in achieving great organic reach for my clients, by producing good quality content in the form of blogs, video and strategy. It was a cornerstone of my business.

    With Facebook’s recent changes, which made organic reach even harder — near impossible — to achieve on the same level, marketers and business people, myself included, felt betrayed by the Zuck, many deciding to move away from the platform, exclaiming that Instagram and LinkedIn would be their focus. I have no issue with either of those platforms. In fact, businesses should definitely be playing there. We are.

    But Facebook’s move was not about shutting out marketers specifically. It was about ensuring that they keep people on the platform, and keep winning new users. It was critical for their business that they did not see people leaving their platform in droves, as a result of newsfeeds being filled with people posting advertorial type material constantly. Instead, they want companies to pay for it. They want people to see what their friends are doing first, and what Nike is doing second (unless Nike pay a lot of money to be there constantly).

    Something that really struck me recently, having worked in the print industry earlier in my career was how much investment companies would make on print advertising for access to a potential audience, and they’d do it without a second thought. Not only would they drop tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands on this medium annually, they’d also spend huge amounts on creative, strategy, execution, without really knowing what impact it was having other than the bottom line down the road, than the numbers they were being fed by the publishing companies themselves.

    Fast-forward ten years, and these same companies refuse to spend a fraction of that money on social media advertising, even though they are getting more of a guarantee on who is seeing it, where they live, what their interests are, how old they are, what gender they are and for how long they are engaging with it. And further to that, they are getting information about what actions these people are taking after seeing your ad. They are refusing to do so, I believe, because of this idea that social media should be free for all, but also, this belief that social media probably doesn’t work for them.

    Something I’ve had to adjust to is the idea that the same content, or even better content that we are creating now, needs dollars behind it to reach people on Facebook. Yes, there’s still organic value on Instagram, but in addition to the other main inhibitors of the Instagram platform, namely that you can only post a video that runs for 60 seconds, it’s less copy based so you have to nail your messaging in different ways and that it’s a mobile platform rather than a desktop one, Instagram is also owned by Facebook. As marketers and businesses flood Instagram with content, changes to that platform akin to the recent Facebook changes, are merely a matter of time. Both LinkedIn and Instagram are going to have to go through a similar process as Facebook if they intend to keep eyeballs on their feeds into the future.

    The point is, the situation isn’t going to get better for you to promote your business on social media, and it certainly isn’t going to get cheaper. Quite simply, now is the time to be on these platforms and paying money for the reach, while it’s still dirt cheap — and it is dirt cheap.

    Ultimately, advertisers go where the people are, and more importantly, where people’s attention is. The big companies of the world will work out eventually that people’s eyeballs are on their phones and on social, and your newsfeeds will be chock full of ads by the usual culprits that own the TV and billboard space currently. Because the competition for this space will heat up, so will the cost of entry, pushing the little guys out and back to square one.

    That hasn’t happened yet. Don’t let this opportunity pass your business by.

    If you’re looking for a business that knows how to manage your next paid campaign, contact Hook Media at info@hookmedia.com.au.

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  • Why your thing has to be good first

    Why your thing has to be good first

    If you want people to pay in the future, your free thing has to be really good: LinkedIn, Spotify and the freemium model.

     You know what I find strange? That the freemium model of business — that is, you get a base level of something for free and you can pay for a better version of it — seems to be built around the idea that ads are terrible and nobody wants them.

    So, on Spotify’s free service, you’ll get barraged with ads in between songs, including in-house ads that say things like ‘Isn’t life so much better without ads?’ Yes, I agree Spotify, it is.

    But don’t the clients for these ad-supported services get annoyed that their audiences are constantly being told to upgrade so they don’t have to endure ads? You have to wonder.

    Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that, in the freemium model, the free version in general is deliberately hobbled in some way.

    After all, while ads are the way many freemium services pay for the ‘free’ part, sometimes it’s additional features are the lure.

    This is the case with LinkedIn.

    Now, I have to assume that part of LinkedIn’s strategy is to make its base model functionality really annoying so you upgrade. However, at $55 per month, I’m not yet in a financial position to find out if that’s the case, so I’m just speculating.

    (By the way, are they kidding with that price? That’s what you pay for Adobe CC.)

    Considering Facebook is free and LinkedIn isn’t, let’s do a little comparison in terms of UX.

    Free LinkedIn vs. Free Facebook

    Despite being free, there are basic things that Facebook gets right that LinkedIn doesn’t seem able to. For example:

    • Notifications opening in a new page, instead of a floating panel. This means that if you want to check your notifications, you have to leave your place in the newsfeed or open them up in a new tab.
    • Tagging. Uniformly, tagging sucks on LinkedIn. Nine times out of ten, if I type @ and then the name of the company or individual I want, it either won’t provide me a list of the correct accounts or nothing will happen at all.
    • Data on sharing. Did you know you can share posts on LinkedIn, just like on Facebook? Have you ever been notified directly of this? Probably not. It’s even worse if you have a business account.
    • The way articles display. That is, not at all. Wouldn’t it be great if all the articles (formerly ‘Pulses’) that LinkedIn’s users create existed on an easy-to-find main page, much like Medium’s home page? You’d be able to see which articles are getting people talking, what’s been recently published and it would give less-popular users a platform to generate some reach outside of our own networks. This would be one big way LinkedIn could really differentiate itself from other social networks, beyond just it being ‘the Facebook for professionals’.
    • Groups are even worse. On Facebook, posts from your groups will show up in your feed, so you can see what the conversations are. On LinkedIn, good luck even finding where your groups live. Discussions from them don’t appear in your timeline, meaning there’s little engagement with posts and you rarely get notified about them beyond a weekly email.

    So, are these just bugs or has LinkedIn made the platform worse for free users?

    Make your free thing good

    The irony is, if I was sure of a better service/UX with an upgrade, I might consider it. None of this is to denigrate LinkedIn. On the contrary, I enjoy LinkedIn for its business insights, connections and general no-nonsense communication (at least compared to Facebook, people are relatively polite). It’s just that when they can’t seem to get the basics of a social network right — or how people actually use social networks these days (i.e. mobile-first) — it doesn’t inspire confidence in me to upgrade.

    This brings me, in a roundabout way, to my actual point: if you want people to pay for something later, you have to make the free thing really good first.

    The reason, perhaps, we’ll put up with ads on free Spotify is that the base model is actually a really good and valuable service if you’re a big music fan. And if you do upgrade, you’ve likely done so because you recognise that Spotify Premium is what you already like but better.

    Similarly, whether you choose to upgrade on LinkedIn or not depends to some extent on how good the base platform is (you know I love you, LinkedIn, I’m just foolin’).

    All this applies to social media marketing too. If all you give your followers for free is sales-speak and ads, they’re not going to want to click through to your website. Or buy your product. Or sign up for your newsletter. They’re not going to want to join your premium closed group that costs $10 a month — Unless you’ve shown them value in what you’re giving away.

    This is where content creation — good content creation — beyond just advertising and marketing can really help your business. This isn’t a new idea either. It goes all the way back to pre-digital media.

    Adding value, adding customers

    My publishing hero is William M. Gaines, who published Mad Magazine without ads for 44 years. And when he finally had to succumb to market forces and put ads in the magazine in 2001, people largely accepted it because the audience knew that Mad Magazine had great content.

    So don’t think of a great thing, then deliberately make it less good just to charge money. That’s just gross — not to mention uncreative. Plus, it most likely won’t work. At least not in the long term.

    You have to demonstrate that you can deliver what you’re offering by making your free offering great. Then find a way to augment and add value to it so that your built-in audience of fans and followers will want to pay for that access, that product or that service. (Podcasts do this really well, by the way.)

    If you can show people through quality free content why your business is worth investing in, before long you’ll have some very loyal customers.

    If you want help with your social media content creation and management, get in touch today.

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  • Stick to what you do best: the business lesson of Gibson

    Stick to what you do best: the business lesson of Gibson

    Gibson has filed for bankruptcy. Is it a dark day for the music industry or the beginning of much-need course-correction?

    The iconic guitar brand Gibson, maker of the Les Paul, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Tuesday, May 1. The company had debts between $100m and $500m.

    Why has this happened? There are a few possibilities to consider.

    One is the fall in popularity of guitar-based music in the wider music industry. Younger people, who drive a lot of new business for brands like Gibson, are increasingly interested in non-guitar-based music, with EDM and rap more in vogue than rock.

    And, sure, this will have some effect on any company that sells real live musical instruments.

    It’s true that the guitar industry in particular is in trouble. Fender is also in debt. In this sense, it’s not just a Gibson issue.

    But some things are particular to Gibson.

    A major reason for Gibson’s current situation is just plain bad business decisions by Chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz. This included purchasing the electronics brand Philips to make headphones and other consumer audio goods. This is the source of many of the company’s woes since the creation of the Gibson Innovations brand in 2014.

    At the time, getting into electronics might have seemed like a good idea, since so much music is now made with all the benefits of increasingly-cheaper technology including software, headphones, interfaces, synthesisers etc.

    However, there’s something to be said about doing what you do best and not letting that fall by the wayside. No matter what other bright and shiny industries you think you should diversify into.

    Because Gibson’s diversification took the focus off the core business: music and musicians.

    Isolating your core market

    Word from many musicians is that Gibson took its eye off what it was good at and didn’t listen to its fans and customers. The introduction of an electronic tuner, the G-Force, built into new guitars — which Gibson is currently being sued overenraged most everyone who played one.

    In addition, musicians have been criticising Gibson’s recent output as taking a big dip in quality.

    For example, when Gibson unveiled its 2017 Les Paul Standard (with a price tag at $4799 USD), it used a promo photo of a damaged guitar, calling into question its overall quality control.

    In 2016, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Gibson’s credit rating to a ‘negative outlook’ because of its growing debt, which might explain some of this corner-cutting.

    But moreover, it seems the corporate culture at Gibson has become toxic and that’s affected every aspect of the business.

    Bad reputation

    The support Gibson once had for brand ambassadors started to disappear. They started to get a bad reputation among musicians — not a great look for a guitar company.

    Soon enough, artists left Gibson and got contracts with other gear companies that would support them — or start their own companies.

    One high-profile Gibson ambassador was former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde, who left the company to start his own guitar line in 2015.

    In 2017, Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher ended his endorsement deal with Gibson in favour of ESP. (Metallica’s James Hetfield jumped from Gibson to ESP himself many years ago.)

    Kelliher’s flat assessment? “They treat their artists like shit, basically.”

    “All the guys I worked with over there – the A&R guys were getting fired left and right and the company just seemed to be falling apart to me,” Kelliher told Ultimate Guitar. “There were new guys who would come in and they didn’t know shit.”

    He cited massive dysfunction and bad communication within Gibson, including manufacturing his signature guitar line incorrectly.

    “Kids would get my guitar in the mail and ask me how to tune it because it wasn’t tuned and then I would tell them how to tune it and they would say it still doesn’t sound right and it’s because they’re not putting my gauge strings on there.”

    What’s next?

    Gibson’s declaration of bankruptcy will eliminate the Gibson Innovations electronics division and restructure around its ‘core brands’. Gibson hopes this will save the Gibson brand with a new company so that it can have a renewed focus on guitars. (Indeed, Gibson apparently has agreements with the holders of 69 per cent of its debt so that it can continue to operate.)

    In a statement, Juszkiewicz, who appears to be sticking around, said:

    “The decision to re-focus on our core business, musical instruments, combined with the significant support from our noteholders, we believe will assure the company’s long-term stability and financial health.”

    Could this be a sign of course-correction? Only time will tell. One at least hopes Gibson has learnt its lesson about trying to be a tech company.

    Diversifying is fine but losing sight of what you do best can be a business killer. Calvin Klein makes many varieties of clothing but it makes sure that its most famous, popular product — underwear — is still its cornerstone.

    Not everyone needs to be in tech. Lonely Planet still make most of their money from selling those big print travel guides. They’ve kept a toe in the digital space but they know which side their bread is buttered on.

    As Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler said: “What really pleases me is that Lonely Planet is still going very well. It hasn’t made a complete shift into the digital world, but then there’s a lot of the digital world that doesn’t make money.”

    Do what you do best and don’t lose sight of it. Otherwise you soon might not have anything to sell at all.

    If you want help communicating what your business does best, get in touch.

    Image credit: Pexels
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  • One simple social media concept many people get wrong

    One simple social media concept many people get wrong — and how to get it right

    These days, many people have a social media business page that is a separate entity from their regular, personal profile. Unfortunately, all too many of them don’t understand the distinction between the two — and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the fitness industry.

    In the current social media landscape, most athletes have to operate as their own brands, even those with sponsorships. Maintaining a professional and effective brand should be job number one for fitness industry personalities.

    However, what you’ll often see is so-and-so professional or semi-professional athlete sharing what might seem like benign memes and pictures (though also potentially inflammatory political rants or just plain bizarre non-sequiturs) that make that athlete’s fans wonder why they follow your page in the first place. Even if they’re entertained briefly, they’re losing the sense of what the athlete represents.

    Think about it this way: imagine a car company doing that. Imagine Honda, in between sharing its new model roll-out, posting that viral video of the sloth trying to cross a busy road. Funny, right? Professional? Not so much. Even if you wouldn’t be offended or upset, you’d probably just be put off by the plain weirdness of it. You might even stop taking the company less seriously. One thing’s for sure: you might think twice before purchasing something from them.

    There have been cases of high profile athletes losing sponsorships because of inappropriate content posted online on their business pages.

    You might think you would know better than to do something stupid like that and risk your employment but you never know a) what will offend your audience and b) what unintended effects your posts might have.

    So, what is the one simple social media concept many people get wrong? Your business page is, now get ready for this…for business.

    As an athlete with a business page, you have to work out how you’re going to present yourself online as a business. Decide early and have rules about what is appropriate content — this isn’t about scolding you for what you shouldn’t do, it’s thinking about what your followers will not only expect but WANT from someone like you.

    If you’re a bodybuilder selling personal training spots or training programs, your social media content should be in the realm of instructional videos and exercise tips. That’s why people follow you, right? That’s where your money will come from. So, why sabotage that with material that is (get ready, I’m about to use a buzzword) off-brand?

    Similarly, if you’re a company that sponsors athletes, give them clear guidelines on what they can and cannot be posting on their business page. If they’re a bit of a hothead or a big mouth, maybe suggest they keep their personal page set to private so it doesn’t impact on your business. In fact, everyone should do this anyway.

    Remember: the internet is written in permanent ink.

    After all, if you really want to post memes and dumb joke, that’s fine. That’s what your personal page is for. Seriously, it’s not that hard to set your privacy settings so only your Friends can see what you post.

    TL; DR? Don’t post dumb stuff to your Facebook business page. Save that for your personal page.

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