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17 Free Online Tools to Help You Grow Your Blog to 1 Million Visitors

And what’s their price, you ask? How about . . . free?

Entrepreneur

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“Free” is the most awesome price of all. “Free” gets you started when you have nothing. “Free” took me from 0 to the first 1 million visitors to my blog.

“Free” is also the price that most people gravitate to when they are first starting out. But, the trouble is, most of those people also think that you have sign up for some big, expensive service once your audience numbers get serious.

Nope.

You don’t have any excuses, because free web services and products available today are so good that you can easily use them to build up your own blog to 1 million visitors. You can start today, from scratch, and use every single one of these every day along your journey.

Related: 6 Growth-Hacking Tips to Boost Your Website’s Traffic

From idea creation, to producing, publishing and designing your content, to sharing, marketing and promoting your brand, you’ll find these tools free and accessible.

Here are the 17 best ones I myself used to grow my blog at iDoneThis:

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Quora

Quora-logoAt its most basic Quora is a Q&A site – you go there, ask a question and get an answer. It offers a seemingly infinite array of knowledge. But, when you start using the site properly, and you’re interacting with others, Quora blossoms into so much more.

Quora is a great place for content ideas. You can search for a topic, see what others are asking, and answering and then write it up, adding to the conversation. But there’s more: Kevan Lee at Buffer recently set out all the ways you can use Quora to market yourself for your business.

Quora helps you establish yourself as a leader in your area, if you use it right. If you have a product, you can use the site to get feedback from users and to generate new feature ideas.

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Feedly

feedly-logoFeedly is the best blog reader around. You have to be reading a lot of other blogs if you want yours to stand out. Once you start reading the top blogs from key influencers, you will learn the right style that drives traffic, and what sets top blogs apart from the rest.

When Google Reader shut its door a couple of years ago, almost everyone flocked to the then-new Feedly app. You can sign up for blog feeds from the app, share your favourite posts, bookmark the ones you still have to read and read them, in Feedly’s intuitive, magazine style.

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Buzzosumo

Buzzsumo-logoBuzzSumo is an awesome tool,with one simple aim: It helps you find what articles people are sharing, and who is sharing them. From this simple start, you can gain a wealth of information: The best length, type and content for a POS. With the free account, you can only get limited information, but definitely enough to find out what works and what doesn’t.

The site can also help you target the key influencers in your area of expertise. One of the reasons I love BuzzSumo is that data is at the heart of it. The folks behind the site recently analysed all their data to find out what goes viral. They found that having just one key influencer share your post can increase your number of shares by over 30 percent. Just having three will double the number of times your post is shared.

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Quip

quip-logoThere are a trillion word processing apps available, but Quip has my vote as the easiest and most intuitive app to use. It is by your words that you are going to live or die. So, write them in style.

What’s unique about Quip is that it was designed, from the ground-up, to be a mobile-first word-processing app. Bret Taylor, the co-founder, says that, “Offline and online are no longer separate binary states.”

Quip works as quickly as a local app, but everything is in the cloud. This particularly works well for companies like iDoneThis, where team members might be thousands of miles apart but working on the same post. With Quip, we can all edit documents as if they were on our local machines.

Related: How to Make Money Blogging

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Hemingway

hemingway-app-logoThe Hemingway app is all about making your writing clearer and more accessible. For some people, writing flows naturally through their fingers; for the rest of us there is Hemingway.

The app helps you avoid complicated, hard-to-read sentences, passive voice and adverbs. Hemingway is ideal for people who have to explain complicated ideas to a lay audience.

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Trello

Trello app logoTrello is an organisational tool, letting you organise work via “boards” where different ideas, pitches, outlines, drafts and articles are in your publishing pipeline. Richard White, CEO of UserVoice, described Trello as “a very open-ended product.” Yep.

When you first open Trello, it seems both simple and daunting. But what wins me over to Trello is that so much of the organisation is left up to you – there is no right way to use Trello, just your way.

Related: 7 Obscure Facts You Should Know About Facebook Advertising

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WordPress

WordPress-logoThere are countless content management system (CMS) options, but WordPress is still the best. Once you have got your site up and running, you need a way to publish your stories. Somewhere like Tumblr is great for your own personal blog, but if you are looking to get north of a million visitors, then you need the type of platform WordPress provides.

On WordPress you can customise your site and add plugins for a ton of different needs, from SEO optimisation to image presentation, from email forms to capture.

Plus, other apps on this list, like SumoMe and Google Analytics, have one-click setup plugins to get you up and running immediately.

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Canva

Canva-logoCanva is a design service for people who can’t design. An image in a post will increase shares, and increased shares means more visitors. Ergo, you need images. So what happens if you are artistically-challenged? Welcome, Canva. Anyone can use it for anything: A sheriff even used the site to design a wanted poster.

The site uses simple drag-and-drop principles to help you create art and design for your site, allowing you to choose from thousands of images, fonts and colours to get exactly what you need to illustrate your story.

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Stencil

Get Stencil-logoImages are also the best way to share ideas on social media, and Stencil lets you create amazing text-based images, helping you get more engagement and shares on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

You can create quotes and daily inspiration messages, or just have a line from your latest blog post as a teaser. You can also take in information from images ten times faster than from text alone; and because visual processing is what our brains are designed for, sharing ideas as images immediately invokes a reaction in your audience.

Related: Why Your Business Website Needs To Rank Organically

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Death to Stock Photo

Death-to-Stock-Photo-logoDeath To Stock Photo is what stock photo services should be like. A few years ago Wired published an article about stock photography, or laughing-stock photography as it should be called.

When the Wired article came, out Death To Stock quickly contacted the editors to say that not all stock services are bad. And they were right.

Death To Stock Photo shows that you can have awesome image content for your site for free. As I said earlier, images increase shares, and having great images will definitely get your blog noticed more.

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Typeform

Typeform-logoTypeform helps you build contact forms and surveys, meaning you can interact with your audience and become a meaningful place for dialog. Tasked with surveying some of the top business leaders in the world, Mia Mabanta at Quartz turned to Typeform.

She got a survey completion rate of 55 percent (which is awesome) and surveyed 940 top executives. She spent zero dollars doing this.

Her team chose Typeform because responders could easily navigate it whether they were on a desktop or mobile, and users could stay on the page throughout, rather than wait for the next page to load – one of the main reasons people bug-out on a survey.

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TinyLetter

TinyLetter-LogoTinyLetter is a super-simple app that lets you create and distribute email newsletters, which are a great way to get your ideas into everyone’s inboxes each week.

Alexis Madrigal, deputy editor at The Atlantic, has grown his own newsletter to thousands and thousands of readers using this tool. TinyLetter let him get set up the moment he had the idea and distribute the newsletter to all his readers; it even lets people sign up straight from Twitter. The simplicity and ease of use of TinyLetter is why it is a great place to start building a following.

Related: 7 Ways That Facebook Ads Can Rock Your Business

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SumoMe

sumome-logoSumoMe is a suite of apps that lets people interact with your site better using share and social buttons. It also helps you build up an email list with popups, and can even tell you where people are clicking on your site.

Noah Kagan, founder of SumoMe and AppSumo, and employee #30 at Facebook, built a massive email list of over a million emails for AppSumo, so he obviously knows what he is talking about.

SumoMe gives you an in-depth analysis of what works on your blog and what doesn’t. It also integrates with other services’ email lists so you can seamlessly build your email list to grab all your visitors.

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Wisestamp

wisestamp-logoWisestamp lets you link to your online presence automagically in your email signature, adding links to your social media, blog and latest posts.

A story illustrates its use: British Cycling used to be terrible. When Dave Brailsford took over as performance director in 2003, Britain’s best Olympics haul in cycling was still the one it had achieved in 1908.

But since 2003, British cyclists have won 18 Olympic gold medals, 59 World Championships and – though it hadn’t ever won the Tour de France in the race’s 112-year history – British cyclists have won it three out of the last four years.

Brailsford puts this down to marginal gains: If you break every problem down to its components and improve each by just 1 percent, you will have a significant improvement when you put it all back together.

When I saw Wisestamp, it reminded me of this story. Most people won’t see their email signature as a way to gain traffic, but that is exactly how Wisestamp sees it.

If you want to hit a million users, you have to look for every single marginal gain. Find all of Brailsford’s 1 percent improvements and add them up and they will eventually lead you to your million visitors.

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Print Friendly and a PDF

Print-FriendlyPrint Friendly is a Chrome extension that will transform your blog into a PDF, getting rid of all the extra crap and just leaving your audience with a well-formatted booklet of your posts.

A great way to gain a following is to create an ebook that’s a “content upgrade,” in the form of a PDF that visitors can download and read offline – in exchange for their email address.

This is an awesome trick that Noah Kagan used to gain thousands of more subscribers from his guest posts. This might seem like an major extra hassle, but thanks to Print Friendly, it doesn’t have to be. The strategy is particularly great if you have a long, detailed post that would work well as an ebook. You just need a couple of clicks with Print Friendly.

Related: 4 Digital Marketing Trends to Pay Attention to Right Now

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Buffer

buffer-logoBuffer seems like a simple tool to manage your online social media presence. But, in the right hands it can be turned into a demon of analysis, allowing you to reach more people with your posts and tweets and optimise your content for social sharing.

Madhav Bhandari handles growth at Hubstaff, and is using Buffer to analyse the site’s posts. Hubstaff has used Buffer to boost its social traffic by 350 percent, simply by analysing what makes posts shareable and what doesn’t. Once you start to analyse your posts at this level of depth, you will quickly realise what is worth the effort, and what is a waste.

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Google Analytics

Google-AnalyticsSo, how do you know when you have hit that cool million? You need Google Analytics. In fact, you need it way before then. You should be checking out your visitor numbers from your very first post, analysing what posts get the highest views and where those views are coming from. Then, you can start to tailor your operation around those ideas. Keep what works, and throw out the rest.

Google Analytics is the most extensive suite out there, and even the biggest sites are still using it. Google obviously knows its numbers, and if this is a major place your visitors are coming from, who better to tell you the good news?

Resource: The Complete Guide To Writing A Marketing Plan

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

Online Marketing

How To Choose The Right Digital Agency

The need for specialised digital marketing has inspired an increase in digital agencies and the hunt for the right digital agency is on.

Darren Mansour

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Finding a digital partner is crucial. Many business leaders find digital marketing challenging as they are spread thin when taking on their own digital marketing efforts, resulting in half-baked digital campaigns that can often do more harm than good. The need for specialised digital marketing has inspired an increase in digital agencies and the hunt for the right digital agency is on.

So, how do you choose the right agency?

1. Understand Your Needs & Budget

The better you are able to establish your digital marketing needs the better the conversation will be with potential agencies. Consider your website, SEO, advertising, social, and design needs in order to understand the costs involved.

Set and lock down your budget accordingly. It is important to remember that there is no set price, but, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. A great digital marketing specialist will be able to work with reasonable expectations and within a reasonable budget.

Related: Crisis Management In A Digital Age

2. Demand Transparency

A lack of transparency is an immediate red flag. First, take a look at the agency’s website. If location, about me and profiles, client and agency lists, and testimonials are nowhere to be seen, then move on. If it looks like something is being hidden, it more than likely is.

Be wary of big promises on delivery, at the most affordable rate, as it is not always the best option as a large amount of new clients choose agencies with little to no experience. Full transparency should be top of your list when it comes to partnering with the right digital agency.

3. The Importance of Credibility

How credible is the agency you’re looking at and what kind of experience do they have under the belt? Dig a little deeper and read through online reviews and client testimonials. Ask yourself if it all seems authentic. If there are no client references on their website and Linkedin, ask for them.

If the agency allows contact with clients where it didn’t go too well it should be perceived as positive. There is no such thing as perfection and it shows transparency while adding to credibility. Consider the agency’s website and how well it appears in search results. Look at the agency social pages to get more insight into what you can expect.

Related: Is Your Content Golden Enough?

4. Implement The Beer Test

The connection between the business and it’s creative team needs to be based on more than the marketing of a brand. Do the beer test by inviting the key players from both sides around a table for coffee, tea, a drink, or a meal, and test to see if you can work together.

It helps when the people who work together can get on with the work and each other. Choose an agency who is aligned with your brand, persona, and availability. A brilliant business partnership goes beyond the company. In business today, it is a totally acceptable concept to buy into people. Great working relationships contribute towards producing outstanding results.

Get in touch with So Interactive to set a beer test and discuss your digital needs.

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Online Marketing

Creating Power Digital Campaigns

Here are some general guidelines on how to create a digital marketing campaign that has a real impact on your bottom line.

Darren Mansour

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Innovative ideas work only if there is a plan in place. In order to grow your brand and your industry it is important your planning focuses largely online, since digital campaigns provide valuable data, feedback and results that can help you stay agile, thinking ahead, and reactive in an increasingly volatile market space. Here are some general guidelines on how to create a digital marketing campaign that has a real impact on your bottom line.

Establish Your Mission

Define your overall business and marketing objectives. Your digital marketing mission needs to fit into your grand plan and business strategy. What are the goals you want to achieve through your digital marketing efforts? This is your mission.

Analyse Your Past & Learn From Mistakes

You shouldn’t go into the planning phase with your eyes closed. Do your homework. Analyse your digital marketing strategies, your past successes, and your failures in order to focus on setting reasonable KIPs. Set a time period you would like to look at, it is often best to make it the same length of time as the campaign you are planning. Establish if you are going to analyse a 12 months period, the previous year, a quarter, or any given month in the past year. This data is all priceless.

Related: Beginners Guide To Digital Marketing In South Africa

Know Who You Are Talking To

Determine your target market, personas, and audience. You need to put your audience at the heart of your marketing strategy and campaigns. Once you’ve identified personas, focus on their emotional needs and strive to satisfy specific desires. Develop accurate personas by considering demographics and consumer market research.

Ask yourself what the problems are that you can help your target persona solve. Establish the emotional desires, goals, likes, dislikes, and what resonates with your target persona. When you have your target persona down it is the best time to identify your influencers.

Know Your Budget

It is crucial that you define your digital marketing budget based on your strategy. Establish your paid, unpaid, and earned digital media. Allocate a reasonable portion of your budget to the specific digital channel you want to use. If needed, be prepared to make changes while your campaign is running and rolling out. Should a particular element of your paid marketing underperform, revisit your strategy and budget, then reallocate that budget to the channel or channels that are bringing you the results you need.

Establish Your Channels

Determine which of the digital marketing channels you are going to use and which are most suitable to reach your desired target audience. Clearly establish what the digital channels you choose to use are trying to achieve, and the overall benefits of using each of them. Ensure you have at least one KPI attached to each of your digital channels.

Related: Dylan Kohlstädt Of Shift One Marketing Weighs In On Digital Marketing For Start-Ups

Plan To Be Flexible

Off the bat, no plan is perfect. Not every prediction is going to be spot on. And, although you have taken all the steps in the right direction by putting together a plan that is based on measurable data, results, insights, and analytics, you won’t know exactly how consumers will react, behave, and respond to your campaigns. It is essential that you monitor progress of all your campaigns and continually measure your performance, so that you can you can be flexible enough to adapt and change your marketing plan as and when need be.

Use a Digital Marketing Calendar

Take the time to highlight the key campaigns in your strategy, see which digital elements work well together, and allocate timeframes. Google calendars and spreadsheets are a great way to create timelines, share accurate production schedules, distribute information quickly, and effectively back up documents and data. Google docs allows you to share planning and scheduling with your team and make edits if necessary.

Read The Data & Measure Results

Read past reporting, analytics, insights, data, and statistics, when strategising, changing, and planning campaigns. Keep a record and create reports during and following each campaign. Create a measurement and monitoring plan aligned with your KPIs. Add required information as you need it and make changes when it is in the best interest of the brand and bottom line. Measure the success of your individual digital marketing elements, identify what is not working and what requires change. Create clearly defined KPIs.

Your Creative is Everything

Your creative is your brand voice, and it is vital that you are always on top form. Content being king is that marketing phrase that just always rings true. What you say, how you say it, and who you say it to forms an important part of how you market your brand, it’s a vital step in the process of creating powerful digital campaigns. Quality digital content is both affordable and when managed properly it’s completely priceless.

Get The Professionals Onboard

So Interactive is a leading digital agency based in Johannesburg. Get in touch to create powerful digital campaigns that push your brand forward.

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Online Marketing

4 Key Social Media Mistakes You Might Be Making – And How To Avoid Them

Social media can revolutionise your brand presence, or do more harm than good, depending on your strategy and execution.

Terena Chetty

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Whether or not you’ve already embraced social media in your business, the facts can’t be denied. Not only is it the fastest growing global communication medium, but it’s completely revolutionised the way brands and consumers interact.

The problem is that for many businesses — large and small — it remains unchartered territory viewed with uncertainty and even a degree of suspicion.

SMEs in particular seem to struggle with social media. This could be due to a misunderstanding of the role that social media plays in business, underestimating the sheer power of it and not using it effectively as a business tool.

Here are four common mistakes many SME social media pages display and some of the solutions you can implement to overcome these shortfalls. Why should you care? Because social media is a relatively inexpensive way to really boost your brand presence — if it’s used effectively.

Let’s get started.

According to www.imagibrand.com:

“Social media marketing done the right way requires skilled talent. Your brand should never hand its social marketing over to an inexperienced marketer or marketing team without making sure there exist true capabilities and talent to develop, design, produce and execute the volume of creative needed to have successful social channels.”

1. Misconception and misuse of social media

The problem: Social media is often (and incorrectly) perceived as a ‘nice-to-have’ but unnecessary by many SMEs. I’ve met many business owners who are sceptical about social media and its place in the business environment. Sometimes, the only reason that the brand even has a social media presence is because its competitors do.

Social media is also typically viewed as a platform for brand-centred content. Some use it purely for hard-sell advertising posts, while others use it as an online company bulletin board. Both are completely ineffective ways to use social media.

Related: 10 Laws Of Social Media Marketing

Why you should care: A lack of understanding often leads to misuse, and this is particularly true of social media. A vicious cycle results: Social media is already viewed as a waste of resources, but it’s still used (incorrectly) to push sales or publish fluffy content. These strategies (or lack thereof) do little to promote business goals, strengthening the view that social media has no place in business. An example of a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one.

Worse still is the misconception that your social media pages are there to solely promote brand objectives. This could cause serious brand damage as social media users expect, no, demand, attention and value from brands. Failure to meet such needs risks losing current and potential clients that perceive the brand as being ‘self-centred’.

What you should be doing: Social media is a powerful business tool and should be treated as such. It has the capability to serve as an integral component of your organisation, and as a key catalyst for growth. For SMEs, social media holds incredible value, including the options of extensive audience reach, detailed consumer targeting and sales generation. Effective, well-strategised use of social media is the path to achieving these tangible returns.

From a content perspective, the main point to remember is this: It’s not about you. Unless you’re Kim Kardashian, nobody cares.

Social media is all about the user experience. When creating a post, view it from an audience perspective to ensure it has user-value of some sort. Ask yourself these questions: Is it informative? Is it interesting? Is it useful? Is it entertaining? If you can’t answer yes to at least one or two of these questions, don’t post it. Research your audience and craft posts that they are likely to engage with (i.e. like, comment and share).

According to dreamgrow.com, 46% of users will stop following a brand’s social media platforms for sharing too much promotional content.

2. Assigning management of platforms to junior and/or untrained staff

social-media-marketing-advice

The problem: Most SMEs view social media management as a non-essential, non-priority task. The general practice seems to be assigning this role to junior and/or untrained staff, such as interns, receptionists or any employee that happens to be available.

Why you should care: Consider this. A social media page is potentially the single most impactful touchpoint for a brand, making it a highly critical, powerful and very public portal. And then consider that many SMEs assign complete management and control of this critical contact point to junior or untrained staff. Can you spot the reason for concern?

Not only does this open you up to risk ranging from an undesirable public reaction to an unsuitable post or response, but in serious cases, could also result in legal action.

Aside from such drastic situations, poorly or inadequately managed social media pages generally lead to a negative consumer perception of the brand as a whole.

What you should be doing: Treat the position of social media manager the same as any other role: Assign it to an individual with the required knowledge and experience. As most SMEs are unlikely to already have a social media expert within their team, this could mean recruiting a new employee or agency.

While this sounds like an awesome solution, it may not be practical for SMEs with budget restrictions. In this case, consider ways to use current resources. For example, get managers of different departments to provide input and suggestions for content, as well as approve relevant posts. If possible, assign non-critical tasks to junior staff as a means to free up time that senior staff can then dedicate to social media.

Related: 7 Social Media Marketing Secrets No Marketer Wants To Admit

3. Not using paid advertising

The problem: SMEs often allocate little or no financial resources to their social media activities, such as Facebook paid ads. Instead, they rely on organic reach or inbound audiences.

Why you should care: For someone to see an unpaid post, they would need to actively search for your page themselves. This is the equivalent of leaving a stack of printed flyers on a table in a corner and hoping that people would stumble across it.

The recent Facebook Feed change further necessitates the need for paid advertising — the new algorithm restricts the organic reach of business pages. This means that the only way to get any real exposure is through paid promotion.

What you should be doing: Paid advertising means that you actively distribute your message to consumers. Your content appears directly in users’ content feed — they are exposed to your message even if they have never heard of your brand. What’s better, targeting means that you can restrict this to your desired demographic — it’s like handing out those above-mentioned flyers to a room full of people who have already indicated interest in your product or service offering. The result? High conversion potential and little to no wastage on irrelevant market segments.

(At this point, you may be shouting that you don’t have money for paid advertising. But keep calm and read on.)

Social media advertising is highly affordable. For example, Facebook promotions start from as little as R100 a post. Even though realistically you would need to invest a bit more to get decent results, the point is that it’s accessible even on a shoestring budget. Important: Read up on the dos and don’ts when attempting paid advertising for the first time (especially regarding setting spend limits).

4. No structured social media strategy

The problem: The vast majority of SMEs have a social media presence that lacks any sort of structured strategy. This is evidenced by a number of factors, including erratic frequency of posting, unclear purpose of posts, and even content that holds little relevance for a brand.

Why you should care: Without a planned strategy, your social media activities lack purpose. Any business task that serves no clear function or purpose is a waste of resources. It’s no wonder that decision-makers are reluctant to invest in social media as a result.

“Almost 90% of marketers say their social marketing efforts have increased exposure for their business, and 75% say they’ve increased traffic.” — www.smallbiztrends.com

Related: 5 Tips To Generate Sales Leads Through Social Media

What you should be doing: Rather than being an isolated function, social media activities have to form part of an integrated strategy linked to core brand objectives. The starting point is to identify priorities across your entire organisation, and then list key focus points. For example, if you have a current promotion, you can drive sales by targeting consumers through a paid social media ad. If you are looking to grow brand awareness, you can create user-centric content crafted for high reach and engagement. If your current focus is on product development, send out a poll to gain insight into consumer preferences.

Once planned, content then has to be crafted and scheduled to form a well-balanced strategy. This then needs to be tactically executed accordingly, incorporating a budget for social media ad spend to realise tangible results.

A result-driven strategy means that you can now measure return on investment. This includes social media generated stats (such as engagement rates and brand reach), as well as business data (such as sales volumes or leads). And once the numbers are out, my prediction is that decision-makers will become much more willing to allocate resources towards social media activities.

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