A decade ago, simply having a website was enough of a digital presence for most businesses. Today, brands need not only a website, but robust social media accounts, email newsletters and original relevant content (among other things) – and it's easy to get overwhelmed.
On Dec. 5, 2017, Business News Daily attended the first Digital Tune Up, a seminar event designed to help business owners grow and thrive in the digital world. Representatives from Media Cutlet, a New Jersey-based agency focused on video creation, projection mapping and live event media, and digital marketing solutions provider ThriveHive, each gave a presentation focusing on different areas of a business's online presence and practices.
Based on their advice, here are four "digital tune-ups" you can do right now to get ahead in the new year.L to R: Austin King, Vincent Velasquez and Strato Doumanis of Media Cutlet presenting at the first Digital Tune Up in Somerset, New Jersey. Credit: Nicole Fallon
1. Conduct a cybersecurity audit.
From WannaCry and Petya to the Experian breach, 2017 has been a particularly devastating year in terms of cyberattacks. No consumer or business is immune from being a hacker's target, and it's critical to protect your data from falling into the wrong hands.
"Cybersecurity is not optional for businesses," said Strato Doumanis, CTO and creative director of Media Cutlet. "If you have a website or email address, you need to be aware of the threats that exist. All it takes is clicking on one wrong thing, [and] you could be putting all of your files and sensitive information at risk."
Doumanis noted that the most important thing you can do for your business's cybersecurity is to keep your systems up to date. Business owners might have plenty of excuses not to do this, such as post-update glitches or familiarity with the current version, but "to put your business at risk over one piece of software" is ill-advised, he said.
It's also critical to back up all your data regularly in case you fall victim to a phishing or ransomware attack. This way, you can get rid of any infected machines and restore the data from your backup versions on a new device, Doumanis said.
Updates and backups also apply to your business's website, so be sure your web hosting platform and widgets are running on the latest versions. This will patch any security holes that could lead to a website exploitation attack, in which hackers inject links into your site that infect your machine and others.
Can't tell if your platform is up-to-date and safe? "Ask a web developer," Doumanis advised.
2. Take advantage of LinkedIn.
In the early days of LinkedIn, most people used the site as a digital version of their resume. Today, it has evolved into a platform to showcase your work and establish yourself as a credible expert in your industry, said Vincent Velasquez, CEO of Media Cutlet.
To this end, Velasquez recommends writing original thought leadership-driven articles on LinkedIn's publishing platform. The main benefit of doing so, he says, is getting yourself in front of your network: LinkedIn notifies your connections when you publish an article, and the comments and likes in this area are heavily weighted. Best of all, you can use the built-in metrics to get detailed information on who is reading and engaging with your posts to make richer, more thoughtful conversations.
Of course, the primary purpose of LinkedIn is still professional networking. You can and should make strategic connections with people in your industry – but don't make it about what they can do for your business.
"Too many people [on LinkedIn] are asking for something," said Velasquez. "Don't be one of them."
Instead, he says it's best to connect without asking for something, and provide value to new connections in the form of recommendations, endorsements, likes and comments.
"The most powerful thing you can do on LinkedIn is engage in conversation," Velasquez said. However, he cautions professionals to do so wisely: Make your conversations strategic and thoughtful, and be sure to maintain those connections by checking in and following up.
3. Improve your social media strategy.
Most modern business owners have realized that they can't afford to ignore their social media presence, especially when it comes to customer service.
JP Canfield, a social media strategist at ThriveHive, says the most effective social media strategy for brands consists of "CPR" – Consistency, Professionalism and Responsiveness.
- Consistency is all about your content mix and timing. Canfield said brands should follow the 80/20 rule – 80 percent useful, industry-related posts, and 20 percent post about your direct business. All content should be aligned with a clear and concise brand voice. Canfield recommends posting two to four times per week on each of your social media accounts. Social scheduling tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, Facebook's built-in scheduler and ThriveHive's Social Suite can help you stay on top of this.
- Professionalism means recognizing that all of your activity is visible, and keeping all your interactions courteous. If a customer is getting upset on your public profile, you can always take the conversation to a private message to resolve the matter, said Canfield.
"View negative comments as an opportunity to better your business," he added.
- Responsiveness is a key component of providing good customer service on social media. Canfield notes that responding to messages quickly matters – particularly on Facebook, which automatically rates and displays your average response time.
"Show customers you're listening," he said. "You don't have to have the answer, [and] you can tell them that – but [also say], 'I'll look and find the answer."
4. Create a video.
It's no secret that video has exploded as a content format in recent years. In fact, Cisco research predicts that by 2019, video will claim more than 80 percent of web traffic – and most companies already have video as part of their digital marketing strategy.
"Video is not going anywhere," said Austin King, media director at Media Cutlet. "It's already here."
Video content can be used in many different ways, including on your website landing page, social media accounts, informational emails, and conferences and live events. It's a preferred medium for marketing because you can get a lot of information about your business across in a short amount of time. This matters a lot in the age of short consumer attention spans – "You only have a second to get someone's attention," King said.
King advises being consistent with your video creation. While you don't have to make it your primary activity, even creating one to use for recruiting, advertising, product highlights, etc. can be a good start. Experiment with different lengths, too: Longer isn't always better, and it's possible to create an effective short-form video of just 10 to 15 seconds.
You should also be sure to focus on search engine optimization (SEO) by labeling your videos properly, said King. With the right title, description and tags, you'll be able to rank highly in Google search and reach a wider audience. From there, share those videos across multiple platforms and be sure to track your metrics, said King.
Finally, King advised using the tools you have available to you to create your videos, but don't be afraid to find an experienced partner to help you out.
"You don't have to do it alone," he said.