Connections Count

You need every edge you can get in today’s competitive global marketplace. As such bridal retailers are increasingly turning to LinkedIn and Google+ to connect with industry players and customers.
    According to John Nesler, industry researcher at Post Modern Marketing, a marketing and web development firm in Sacramento, Calif., Google+ and LinkedIn are relatively niche sites.
    “While they really aren’t appropriate as core social-media outlets due to their relatively weak user bases – either in terms of numbers or frequency of use – they do have important applications,” Nesler says.
    Indeed, successful salon owners are flocking to these sites because they offer a variety of benefits that enhance what can be achieved via traditional social media, including marketing, networking and community outreach opportunities.

The Many Benefits Of
A Google+ Presence
    Having a Google+ account is critical, as it’s an important local citation for identifying what your business does and where it’s located.
    “(Your bridal salon) is much more likely to show up in local Google searches for ‘wedding shops’ if you have created a Google+ account…that has an accurate address listing, a link to your site, and a detailed description of what services your business provides,” Nelser says.
    Brandon Schroth, digital analyst for seoWorks, a San Francisco-based SEO company, agrees that maintaining a business page on Google+, commonly known as Google My Business, offers many incentives.
    “Particularly for brick-and-mortar companies like a bridal retailer, it allows the business to be displayed in Google Maps,” Schroth says. “This provides the opportunity to be shown above normal organic search results in Google while also giving customers the chance to leave reviews, which are critical for the success of any brand.”
    Currently, Google takes up nearly 70 percent of the market share for all search queries, with more than two trillion searches performed annually.
    “Creating a robust listing on Google My Business positions your retail brand in front of a vast number of qualified leads,” Schroth says. “It can show up on the first page of Google, even if your website doesn’t. This creates high visibility in a congested marketplace while also allowing your potential buyers to call your business or easily find directions to your location.”
    Google+ also offers incentives to satisfied customers who write positive reviews, which can in turn encourage indecisive brides to visit your salon.
    “Another tool I’ve noticed that a lot of companies seem to miss is the ability to hyperlink text within your business description,” Schroth says. “This is a great way to steer customers toward high-conversion landing pages on your website.”
    Nick Brennan, founder and CEO of Watch Social Media, a social-media marketing firm in Chicago, says one of the biggest benefits of Google+ is the free business listing service.
    “These listings tie back to your Google+ page and go through a mail-in verification process to show consumers that you’re a legitimate business,” Brennan says. “That also means that being active on Google+ compounds the SEO benefits inherent to the platform. Finally, one of the biggest perks to utilizing Google+ as a business is that their management dashboard pulls in your Google Analytics and Google Adwords accounts, making it a bit of a Google marketing one-stop shop.”
    Google+ truly is a place where you can shine as a retailer, as anything you would post on your Facebook page is fair game on Google+ (images, links, blog posts, etc.). Brennan also says that you should make sure you utilize hashtags on Google+.
    “They’re incredibly important when it comes to search as well as the SEO benefits,” Brennan says. “We suggest one to two posts a day to ensure anyone who visits your page is always seeing something new and relevant.”

LinkedIn Is Also Valuable
For Retailers To Join
    LinkedIn is a powerful tool for generating business leads. Having a company LinkedIn page allows you to engage with your followers, share potential job opportunities, and be a trusted resource. LinkedIn can also be another avenue to share any new bridal products that you release and is a valuable resource for B2B communication with related businesses.
    “It’s also a great way to provide links back to your website,” Schroth says. “LinkedIn also can help you differentiate yourself from your competitors while helping you check up on what your competition may be doing.”
    LinkedIn allows you to connect with potential customers by sharing industry-related blog content, participating in Q&A sessions, or even displaying a call to action in your summary. As an added feature, LinkedIn provides analytics, which give you the ability to measure just how effective your updates are.
    “Another way to increase engagement is to make sure your employees are regularly posting industry-related content on their personal accounts, which are connected to your company page,” Schroth says.  
    Providing industry-related blog content on LinkedIn is an excellent strategy for gaining exposure from new audiences while catering to your existing network. But remember, the goal is to provide shareable content – something that your followers would be genuinely interested in sharing. The result is exposure that increases exponentially, particularly when content goes viral.
    Another strategy is participating in Q&A sessions.
    “This is a powerful way to build stronger connections and put your industry expertise on display,” Schroth says. “The key is to make sure you’re adding value to the conversation, and not just blatantly pitching your company or product.”
    According to Susan Tabor-Kleiman, LinkedIn profile strategist and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, many business owners don’t recognize the value of LinkedIn and feel they must have a robust company page to get results. But this isn’t the case.
    “You can establish credibility, visibility and approachability,” Tabor-Kleiman says.

• Credibility – Show your background and experience individually and through testimonials.
• Visibility – LinkedIn ranks very high in Google searches. Maximize this by strategically wording the sections most important to search results such as the headline, job title and skills.
• Approachability – LinkedIn says your profile is 14 times more likely to be viewed if it includes a picture. Other ways to make yourself approachable include writing the profile in a way that speaks to one’s audience and writing in first person.  

Both Sites Present
Inherent Challenges
    Google+ is managed through your Google My Business dashboard. One of the challenges for Google My Business is that they require verification before your page goes live. In most cases, they mail a postcard containing a pin code to your business address. Once received, the pin code must be entered online in order to verify.
    Schroth says the challenge is that sometimes these postcards get lost in the mail, thrown away by accident or forgotten about.
    “Another potential challenge is reputation management when dealing with a negative review,” he says. “If not handled with care, a negative review can really hurt your brand. But when handled with grace, a negative review can be conquered.”
    Brennan says the challenge with Google+ is that the time you put into the platform can feel a bit fruitless.
    “Many in the tech world consider Google+ to be a bit of a flop,” Brennan says. “In general, most people with a Gmail address don’t even realize they have a Google+ account tied to their address and therefore rarely utilize the social features tied to it.”
    He continues, “However, the search and SEO benefits that the platform provides – given the fact that Google owns the search market – are well worth the investment in time. The key is not to expect the kind of engagement you’ll see across channels like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.”
    Another LinkedIn challenge is the gap between your actual audience and whom you’re trying to reach. Unfortunately, the type of content that would generally be of interest to consumers isn’t considered appropriate business content. Instead LinkedIn is best for building relationships with distributors or manufacturers.
    Another challenge is the ability to create relevant, shareable content on a continuous basis. Unless you’re already dedicating a good deal of time to creating new content for your website, it may be too time consuming to generate solely for LinkedIn.

Common Mistakes
Smart Retailers Make
    First on the “no-no” list: creating a Google My Business page or a LinkedIn company page, then only logging in once every few months. It’s important to regularly engage with your audience on these platforms.
    Another key mistake is failing to update your business information. For example, if your phone number or address changes, and you don’t update it on Google My Business, potential customers could have no way to call you. Or even worse, they might drive to the wrong location.
    “Consistency across the web is key, so be sure that any other listings you have out there on other sites are matching what is displayed on your Google My Business page,” Schroth says.
    And when it comes to negative reviews, failing to respond is a no-no. Rather, you must acknowledge the problem and offer an apology or provide a solution.
    “Ignoring it may portray to others that you simply don’t care about your overall customer satisfaction,” Schroth says.
    With LinkedIn, Tabor-Kleiman says the most important thing is to be clear on your audience.  Possible questions to ask yourself:  

•    Are you general bridal, or do you have a particular niche?
•    Does significant business come through referrals from photographers, caterers, wedding planners, retailers?
•    Who is your target audience?
•    What’s the message you want to convey to that audience?
•    What’s the in-store/online customer experience?  
•    What distinguishes you from other bridal retailers?

    “This is where you want to be strategic and really shape your message,” Tabor-Kleiman says. “Use this information in crafting your profile, paying particular attention to the headline and summary sections. This prep work is what makes the difference between a mediocre profile that has no real impact and stellar profile that gets results.”
    A common mistake Tabor-Kleiman sees retailers make is thinking that people aren’t interested in their personal LinkedIn pages.
    “As we’ve all learned, people must know, like or trust you before they will purchase from you,” Tabor-Kleiman says. “You can use your individual page to effectively highlight the know, like and trust factor.”
    Another common mistake: Not personalizing connection requests. You should always understand why you are connecting with someone. For example, let’s say that Brad, a colleague of yours, recently connected with Angie, a caterer in your area. You may want to connect with her to add her to your network. In personalizing your request, just say, “Angie, I see you’re connected with Brad, and I’d love to add you to my network.” There may be other times you want to be more direct and ask for a meeting or call, but you don’t need to.
    “And when responding to requests, it’s great to ask people why they wanted to connect you with you,” Tabor-Kleiman says. “Ask nicely, but you can sometimes start a meaningful conversation with the person that can lead to business or other contacts.”

Trends Indicate These Sites Are Here To Stay
    Moving forward, Schroth says Google My Business will continue unveiling new features for its users. For example, they recently added a new section to “business hours,” allowing users to add a set of “special hours,” particularly useful for holidays or special events. The user base will continue to expand as more companies realize the critical nature of maintaining a listing.
    When it comes to LinkedIn, Schroth says, “I believe they will begin to expand and sell more product lines, and increase the focus on paid advertising for users.”
    Tabor-Kleiman agrees.
    “LinkedIn is here to stay,” she says. “There are 433 million members (that’s more than the population of the United States) in over 200 countries and territories, and someone new joins every two seconds.”
    It’s still an underused and often overlooked platform for business owners, but Tabor-Kleiman believes its impact will only grow.
    “LinkedIn continues to expand its offerings, make the platform more user-friendly, have more opportunities for visuals. The benefits of LinkedIn are enormous,” Tabor-Kleiman says. “Retailers who aren’t yet on board or using LinkedIn strategically are missing out.”
    Whatever you decide to do, go all in.
    “Putting a half-effort into a social platform can actually look worse for your business than not being on the platform entirely,” Brennan says. “Figure out whether you have B2B objectives (LinkedIn) or B2C objectives (Google+) and tailor where you put your time accordingly. But remember, even if you decide not to pursue a presence on either platform, simply creating your Google+ business page and getting it verified, can offer a small, and free, SEO boost.”


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