Connecting with prospects online – are you making it easy or hard?
Now, don’t get upset. When I say “like” you, I’m not talking about the fact that I think you’re a nice person. (I definitely think you’re a nice person.) I’m using “like” in the Facebook sense as an umbrella term that covers all kinds of social “liking,” sharing, and otherwise interacting with your brand. Are you making it easy for people to make these connections? Let’s find out, shall we?
Smoothing the road to a relationship
Good business is built on good relationships, and each relationship starts with an initial point of contact. That initial point of contact can take place on your website, your blog, or a third party social network. No matter where a prospect discovers your brand, you want to make sure you have laid out the proverbial welcome mat, and not inadvertently shut the door in her face.
In most cases, you only have a few seconds to make a connection with an online prospect. Time is short and our attention spans are even shorter. You’ve probably heard that the best way to attract the attention of a prospect is to create outstanding, relevant content. (If you haven’t heard that, then we have a lot to talk about, my friend.) But, what needs to happen after you’ve grabbed their interest with a great headline?
You want the person to do something that furthers her connection with your brand. You want her to leave a comment, share your post, connect with you on LinkedIn, subscribe to your newsletter, or even – gasp! – reach out to you directly to inquire about working with you or buy your product.
Single call-to-action vs. covering the bases
Before I walk you through my (epic) laundry list of tactical suggestions for putting out the welcome mat, one caveat: Your content pieces (blog posts, newsletters, emails, landing pages, etc) should each focus on ONE CTA (call-to-action) – the something you want the prospect to do. If you clutter an email, for instance, with four different calls to action and six different links, you will likely confuse the heck out of the reader and they won’t take any action. If you instead focus that email on a single message with a single CTA, your reader will know exactly what they are supposed to do, and will hopefully do it.
However, your brand’s online presence – your website, blog, and any other places where you show up on the Internet – should offer a variety of ways to connect with you. People like options. Some people like social media, some don’t. Some people want to engage with you directly, others just like to lurk. Providing multiple points of access to that deeper relationship increases the chances that someone will click the link, hand over her email, or participate in one of your online conversations.
The laundry list of “welcome mat” tips, tricks, and tools
So, without further ado, here is my laundry list of things you should and shouldn’t do if you want people to engage with your brand online:
On your website/blog:
Social Profile Links
DO: Include icons (usually high up in your sidebar) that link off to your various social network profiles and pages.
DO: Have that link pop a new browser tab so that the tab with your site in it stays active.
DON’T: Include links to social networks where you don’t have a current presence. (Don’t laugh – I see this all the time – people linking to out-of-date locations where their last interaction is dated six months ago.)
DO: Include links and/or icons so people can subscribe to your blog by RSS or email (Feedblitz is a good way to do this) AND/OR subscribe to your email mailing list/newsletter.
(Aside: If you currently use Feedburner (which I do, but not for long), you may want to read this post from Jay Baer: Feedburner to Feedblitz – Why We Migrated our RSS Feed.)
DO: Feature these options prominently and persistently on your site.
DON’T: Use homemade systems for your mailing list. CAN-spam is a real thing and you don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of the law. Using a mailing list provider like Mailchimp (free up to 2,000 subscribers – see site for details) covers your you-know-what AND makes managing lists and newsletters so much easier than DIY solutions.
DO: Have a simple contact form so that people have an easy, familiar way to reach out to you with questions, opportunities, and comments.
DON’T: Send these contact emails to an inbox that you don’t check often. Sometimes people use multiple email accounts in multiple places and things get misplaced and overlooked. If they don’t already land there, make sure that your contact form emails get forwarded to your primary inbox so you can respond promptly.
Sidebar Bio/Welcome Message
DO: Have a brief sidebar bio (with headshot, please!) to give your business a face and provide a quick overview of who you are/what you do for first-time visitors.
DON’T: Ramble on and on in the sidebar. A couple of short sentences will do, and then you can link to your About page for more details.
DO: Please, please, PLEASE include your name. I see SO many About pages with no mention of the author’s name. Don’t assume the visitor knows who you are. Include your name in your opening line or under your headshot, but make sure it’s there!
DON’T: Make “you” the focus of the About page. Although it is “about you,” it’s really about what you can do to help the prospect. Tell her about your experience and knowledge and philosophy, but do it in a way that stays centered around her needs.
DO: Include your name as the author of your blog posts. This is especially handy for people who are reading via RSS readers or email instead of on your site. It keeps your name front-and-center so that they know who they are “talking to” and – again – helps them put a face to the brand.
DO: Consider including your Twitter handle in the byline. As someone who reads blogs via Reeder and then schedules tweets via BufferApp, I really appreciate it when the author’s Twitter handle is right there for me to see – saves me from having to go look it up for my tweet.
DON’T: Leave the byline as “admin.” Just don’t.
DO: Make commenting easy and barrier-free. Install spam protection on the back end of your blog to protect yourself from the evil comment bots.
DO: Consider commenting systems that will recognize return visitors and pre-populate the name, email, and website fields for them. It’s a nice way to welcome them back and make commenting even easier.
DON’T: Make your readers jump through hoops to leave a comment by requiring log-ins, captchas, or other barriers.
DO: Consider one of the many social commenting plug-ins. Commenting platforms like Livefyre, Disqus, and Triberr add a social level to your commenting section that can keep people engaged longer.
DO: Install a “follow comments” plug-in so that readers who are interested can be alerted to new comments and replies via email. This is another a great way to prolong post engagement.
DON’T: Go all crazy tagging people left and right. Only tag people who are already involved in the conversation.
DO: Include sharing tools as part of your blog post template.
DO: Either position them at the top and bottom of the post, or use a “floating” option that allows the sharing icons to “follow” the reader’s cursor on the page.
DON’T: Use sharing tools you don’t need. Remember what we said earlier about having too many call-to-action options in the newsletter? The same applies here. Only install the sharing buttons that make sense for you and feature them as individual items (vs. as part of one of those fly-out boxes with a gazillion tiny, social sharing icons) so that it only requires one click to share.
DO: Remember to include an engaging closing line on each post. Ask for opinions, ask for examples, ask for additional answers to the question posed by your post. Prompt people to leave a comment by giving them something concrete to respond to.
DO: Include a persistent offer box as part of your post template if there’s something specific you’d like to highlight for blog readers. Do you have something to share – a free ebook, a special offer, a newsletter sign-up? Include a quick description and link in an offer box at the end of each post to increase response rates.
DO: Consider including a list of related posts to encourage readers to dig deeper into your content. There are plug-ins for this, or you can do it manually.
DON’T: Ignore the three DOs I just gave you.
Other places around the Internet:
Link to Your Site
DO: Include a link to your site wherever appropriate. Leaving a comment on someone’s blog? Include a link to your site. Sending an email? Include a link to your site. Have social profiles here, there, and everywhere? Include a link to your site. Those “outposts” are all great, but you want to extend an invitation back to your “house” on the web.
DON’T: Make people search everywhere and Google you to find your website. Most people won’t bother and those who do will be annoyed.
Clear “About” Statement
DO: Have a brief, accurate, and unique blurb that you can use in various places around the web (social profiles, guest posts (see below), etc.).
DON’T: Make people wonder if you have multiple personality disorder by using different blurbs in different places.
DO: Be sure to include a brief bio (with links to your key online haunts) with any guest post submissions. Most blog owners/editors will be happy to include this as a thank you for the free content you’re providing.
DON’T: Miss an opportunity to customize your bio to the host blog’s audience. If you are blogging about a specific area of your business, include a link to a specific and relevant piece of content on your site. Better yet, build a custom landing page to welcome new readers from the host blog and direct them to the most appropriate content and CTA.
What did I forget? What makes you crazy when you’re trying to connect or engage with someone online and they make you jump through hoops or do your Sherlock Holmes impression? What engagement techniques do you like best?
Image Credit: Come In/Go Away door mat from suck.uk