Man goes where water flows, they say. (At least it says so on a parched, withered billboard in California’s Central Valley along the I-5. But I digress.) Ditto for the flow of information: People are attracted to informative, quality content, and businesses and nonprofits that provide it gain a crucial competitive edge. It’s that simple. If your photography business has a blog with twice-weekly posts about different camera techniques, for instance, or well-organized, regularly updated links to unbiased product reviews, you’ll not only gain web traffic but you’ll develop a reputation of being helpful and informative, which is hugely valuable in establishing trust with customers and building a strong brand.
The downside is that being informative is time-consuming and resource-intensive. To produce informative materials you have to become a publisher at some level, which isn’t easy. So the trick is to find efficient, streamlined ways of sharing valuable content with your audience of potential customers. If you can maintain a blog or a newsletter, great. But there are lots of other ways to communicate with your peeps that might involve slightly less of a commitment, but can be similarly powerful. Consider the following (note that I typically recommend going paperless with all communications unless there’s a compelling reason to print and distribute a hard copy):
- Articles: Contribute occasional articles to other information outlets. Doing so on a semi-regular basis — say every month or so — is a considerably smaller commitment than starting a blog or publishing a newsletter. Don’t promise any regular publishing schedule, otherwise you’re venturing into “newsletter” territory. Contributing op-ed pieces is a great way to get your name out there.
- White papers: These are similar to articles but with a more research- or technical-oriented bent. Writing high-quality, in-depth reports is a great way to connect with niche audiences and demonstrate your specific expertise. Nonprofits in particular can benefit from publishing professional reports.
- How-to videos: Web video has become bigger and bigger, and as of mid-2012 is really a hot traffic area. If you can come up with ideas for simple videos featuring useful content for your audience — say, a lighting tutorial for the photo biz mentioned earlier; or a how-to video on laying a brick patio for a landscaping supply company — give it a go! Post them on a YouTube or Vimeo account and promote them via social media and traditional outlets, and you will almost definitely get a big branding boost.
- High-quality documentation: Don’t forget the importance of having excellent manuals and other user documents. Businesses that have great documentation (and, often related, customer service) tend to win customer loyalty and develop great word-of-mouth. Consider going beyond just user manuals and put out informative reports or tutorials on topics related to your business, which can overlap with some of the ideas discussed above (articles, how-to videos, etc.).
- Facebook: Facebook makes it easy to add posts since you’re limited to just a few sentences; plus it streamlines adding links to other sites, photos, embedded video, etc. Facebook has so many users that it provides a great opportunity to tap into your community — provided that the content you share is truly useful (or at least entertaining), not just an endless stream of self-promotion.
- Other, constantly evolving social media sites: It’s worth doing at least periodic check-ins to the latest communities that your customers tend to be using — LinkedIn? Twitter? Community Ning sites? Industry listservs? — and figuring out how you can participate meaningfully in those places.
- Print or online newsletters: Newsletters can be powerful marketing vehicles, helping to strengthen relationships with existing clients and to broaden your customer base when current customers pass on the newsletter to others. On the flip side, newsletters do require a fairly sizable time commitment, and possible expenses if you need to hire someone to help. (See Tip below.)
- A regularly updated blog: I include this last because it’s probably already on your radar, but you might feel it’s too much for you or your business to take on. Ideally a blog will be updated at least a couple times a week; if you post less than that you’ll find it hard to develop traffic. Depending on your type of business, you might be able to think of a format that doesn’t require too much time-consuming writing. For example, a friend of mine who specializes in food photography posts “A dish a day” shots on his Facebook page, featuring beautiful plates of food from local restaurants. The text is minimal, making it easy for him to post regularly, and the photos are so mouth-watering that they do a great job of capturing readers’ attention.
TIP: Don’t promise an “e-newsletter” if your emails are essentially promotional in nature. I get peeved when I receive purely marketing information after signing up for a “newsletter” which implies more substantive topic-based articles. Marketing-oriented emails are totally fine, as long as you tell people that the emails will be promotional in nature.