I’m a big fan of the principles of inbound marketing. In contrast to traditional marketing, which blasts out messages in an attempt to interrupt people’s attention, inbound marketing purposes to attract people to your business by providing content about then building conversation and community around issues that matter to your customers. Inbound marketing earns a customer’s trust and permission to eventually share marketing messages by first approaching the customer with a sincere motivation to provide valuable and helpful information, not to sell.
Your company website is the “hub” for your inbound marketing efforts. A blog on your website provides your business with relational capacity – the ability to continuously publish helpful content and to develop conversation and community with customers around that content. Your customers and employees can serve as “spokes” off of your hub, taking your content and sharing it in their social networks, and drawing the people connected to their hubs back to yours. Strangers become friends, friends become customers, and they spread the word about you and your business in places you never imagined you could reach. The content you produce at your website becomes trusted when the people connected to your hub - your friends - share it with their friends. (the picture is adapted from the work of Brian Solis).
If you want to get the full value from inbound marketing for your business, you need to be personally involved in the effort. Hire or develop at least one good “digital citizen” to help you, but do not neglect personally engaging in the effort.
If you keep social media at arm’s length, you will never fully understand what people are doing, why they are doing it, and how to leverage that knowledge to give your company a formidable competitive engine with your use of the relational web. If you let others filter this understanding for you, your company will most likely spend it’s time copying what others are doing instead of forcing your competition to copy what you are doing. Its the difference between competitive parity and sustainable competitive advantage.
Until you develop a few internal digital citizens and become one yourself, a good PR or internet marketing firm can help you get your inbound marketing campaign off the ground. In his exceptional book “Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs,” Dharmesh Shah suggests the following three filters you should use when selecting a PR or marketing agency (pp. 182-183):
1. Evaluate the senior leadership and every member on the team assigned to your company to see how fully engaged each of them are on the web. They should all have individual and active Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn accounts and the firm should have a blog. If they are not digital citizens, how can they help you become one?
2. Make sure they practice what they preach. Run the firm’s website through Website Grader to see how well the firm’s site performs. If they can’t manage their own site well, don’t trust them with yours.
3. Ask the agency for names of their other clients or examples of their best work. Run their clients through Website Grader to see how well the sites perform, taking particular note of the inbound links section.
I would add to #3 the following: do the sites the agency says represent it’s best work have remarkable and current content, with mechanisms for active conversation around that content? Is the site an active relational community that attracts and engages people or simply a digital billboard that could only serve to blast out broadcasts? If not, you should be skeptical of the agency’s claims of inbound marketing competence. Move on.
Don’t be fooled by slick websites with fancy graphics. Check under the hood and kick the tires. Your PR or marketing agency needs to keep the engine of your inbound marketing campaign in top operating condition – not just wax the paint and wash the windows.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!