Our goal for the rest of this year is to see how much traction we can get with the site. If we can gain significant traction (large number of visitors and followers) there are some commercial applications I may explore."
Right off the bat, I like where your head's at, David. You're planning with the end goal in mind (growing visitors and followers to establish the need for a commercial application). I can't stress how important goals are when putting together a plan. Goals are the foundation of what you're working towards. If you don't have them in place, your plan will probably collapse.
Based on what you've told me, I think it's important to first define the strategy (where the business is, where it wants to be) and then think of the tactics that will help us move in the right direction (basically, the plan itself). Let's start with the end game in mind, or where you want it to be.
Where you want it to be
I agree with you that a large number of visitors and followers will justify what type of commercial application you may implement on the site to inject in some sort of business model. Entirely on board with this. However, I'd iron out a few questions first:
- How many visitors will you need to hit on a monthly basis to reach this goal? Similarly, how many followers? I'd start answering these questions by looking at industry standard conversion rates for website visitors and social media traffic. This will give you a good sense of how many "customers" you can drive on a monthly basis to justify the investment in an application (*cough* HubSpot *cough*)
- What type of visitors and followers are you looking for? I'm guessing you probably want quality traffic and followers to reach critical mass. A bunch of teenagers with acne troubles following you and visiting your website is good. Even parents of those kids is a potential opportunity. However, you probably don't want someone looking to buy epidermis for research purposes (that was literally the only funny thing I could think of. Let's roll with it). So what I'd do to prevent the wrong types of people from visiting you and / or following you is to thoroughly define your target personas. This will give you a good foundation for who your target audience is and the initiatives you should do to make sure they're finding you.
- When are you looking to reach this number? A few months? A few quarters? By the end of 2013? By defining the number you need to hit and WHEN you need to hit it by, you'll be better off scoping out how much time needs to go into your efforts on a daily basis to ensure your success.
- How will you know you're on track to reach those numbers? You're already using Google Analytics, so that's good-- you'll be able to track and segment traffic types that are visiting the site. Facebook provides good growth / engagement metrics and Twitter is pretty basic to measure (mentions, RTs and follower growth). The only thing I'd recommend here is be cognizant of the analytics and to revisit them frequently (probably once per week) to make sure you're on track to hit your goals. If not, you should adjust your plan (which we'll discuss a little later) accordingly.
Where you are now
So after deciding where you need to be by defining metrics, setting a time period and ensuring that you're tracking analytics, you should definitely benchmark where you are currently so you can start to understand what it's going to take to reach your goals. First, I'd start by taking a snapshot of where you stand in terms of reaching your goals. In your case, key metrics are website visitors and followers.
- What's your website's traffic like? Again, Google Analytics or another tracking tool are going to provide the best insight as to how your website is currently performing. You'll understand where visitors are coming from (direct, referral, social or organic traffic) and what they're doing once they arrive. Getting a good benchmark of who's finding you will help determine what you need to work on to reach your goals.
- What's your social following like? With five Facebook Likes and no Twitter followers, the only direction you can go is up! Of course, where you want to be also depends on your long terms goals, but for the most part, you'll want to grow these two channels while simultaneously fostering engagement. Developing a community around this cause seems like the direction you need to go from a social media standpoint, so ensuring that you're also holding a conversation as you grow your following is imperative towards your long term goals.
- What's business like now? Think of the website visitor and social growth mentioned in the above two points as means to an end. We're looking to eventually grow the business, so we'll need to use the website visitors and social following as a vehicle to get there. Taking a snapshot of where the business is now (in terms of customers, dollars, etc.) and where it needs to be will give you visibility into what it's going to take to move the needle. Start drawing connections between both social equity (followers and likes) and website visitors and how each influences a new customer (or what you define as a customer). This will allow you to begin piecing together an average conversion rate that will ultimately help you make better informed marketing decisions in the future.
How to get there
Ah, now for the fun part! After benchmarking where you are and where you want to be, you can start putting together a plan in place to help you reach your goals. I recommend following a four step process to keep on track:
What marketing initiatives are going to help you reach your goals?
This is super important to define and will most likely shift as you slowly uncover what works and what doesn't work.
For website visitor growth, I recommend the following:
- Keyword Research: Define the strategic keywords that your audience is searching for and begin to track keyword metrics using an analytics tool. You'll want to make sure the keywords are aligned with your target audience, aren't too difficult to rank for and have some significant traffic volume. By selecting a substantial group of keywords that you want to be found for, the On Page Optimization and Blogging Strategy (the next two steps) will be setup for execution. If you want to learn more about picking the right keywords, definitely check out the blog post I just linked to strategically (for SEO credit).
- On-Page Optimization: This is rather easy (if you haven't done it already) because it's rarely an ongoing activity. You can read up on best practices for SEO optimization just about anywhere on the web, but I definitely recommend www.moz.com. Those guys know their stuff.
- An Ongoing Blogging Strategy: This is the most crucial activity drive more website traffic. I have a plethora of blog posts on blogging (meta, right?) but I think this one on strategic blogging is the most comprehensive.
For social following growth and engagement, I recommend the following:
- Content Publishing: The crux of any social media growth strategy lies in the content you produce and publish (blog posts, videos, eBooks, etc.). You'll want to ensure the content is aligned with your target audience and includes a healthy ratio of your own content vs. other folks' content. I recommend a 60/40 divide between your own content published and the audience content you source for resharing. This will show that you're producing your own original content but also acknowledging other folks in the space to help build social connections and rapport.
- Following Target Accounts: Your audience won't follow you if they don't know you exist. This is where proactive following of target social profiles will help you get noticed. Try to keep a 1:1 ratio of following to followers on Twitter-- you don't want to look desperate. I'd also recommend using a platform like Twellow to source a list of target followers that you can start to follow on a monthly basis. Facebook is a bit tougher, as you'll need people to "like" your page after hearing about it. Paid ads have been working less successfully on Facebook, so I'd recommend figuring out an incentive for people to like you and then feed them engaging, shareable content. Push people to the page (via Twitter, LinkedIn, the website, email newsletter, etc.) and ask them to like it in exchange for some incentive (i.e. a monthly giftcard raffle). Provided your fans find your content engaging enough to share, they'll be your own brand advocates, subjecting your content to connections in their networks (with the ultimate goal of converting these connections into new "likes").
- Engagement Strategy: Once you have a solid strategy in place for growing the social following, you'll want to determine exactly how you'll be interacting with the growing connections on your social channels. I always recommend thinking of the social-sphere as a virtual business cocktail party. Nobody likes the guy who talks strictly about himself. The same goes for social network etiquette. Ask questions, share other people's content, comment on feedback in a tasteful way. Talk about yourself to some degree of course, but don't let that get the best of you.
Who will drive the marketing initiatives?
This is an important point to consider and scope out, especially before you begin executing on any of the above tactics I've recommended. Inbound Marketing activities require a hefty amount of manpower. There's content creation, execution, subscriber engagement, lead generation, reporting--the list goes on. And the best/worst part? It's never done!
Although everyone is different, I've seen moderate success when someone invests around 15 hours per week (minimum) into Inbound Marketing initiatives. So my advice is to find an additional hand on deck to do some of the execution work (content creation, writing and social engagement) and have yourself as the captain, overseeing the whole project and jumping in where necessary. Typically, a college student fits this role nicely (with a major in communciations, marketing or just writing). You'll be an Inbound Marketing captain, traversing the high seas of the Internet with a competent first mate. See? It's not as daunting when you can pretend you're swashbuckling pirates.
How often do you execute?
So if I recommend 15 hours (minimum per week) how often do you do each Inbound Marketing Activity? It's hard to say exactly. In fact, I could write an entire blog post about it, detailing the specific activities and giving you a formal daily, weekly and/or monthly breakdown of the required time investment. Instead of doing that right now, I'll just point you to a fantastic blog post that outlines a daily and weekly Inbound Marketing Activity Checklist. It was created by the Weidert Group (they're fantastic marketers) and I think they're dead on with the recommendations. Someday, I'll write my own Marketing Activity breakdown blog post. Someday.