Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know something about – or have heard of – social media and online marketing. You probably also know new tools are launched all the time that might help grow your business. But chances are you didn’t get involved with dogs only to spend your days on the computer, so here’s a quick run-down of some of the most useful tools and terms.
(By the way, if you’re a veteran blogger and spend hours on Facebook and Twitter everyday, this list isn’t for you. Just been dabbling in social media or thinking about getting started with online marketing? Then read on.)
Your potential clients now turn to search engines like Google instead of the local Yellow Pages to find dog pros, and a high Google PageRank will get your business closer to the top of the first page of search results. Google assumes that the most important pages on the internet have the most incoming links. To increase your PageRank, avoid tricks and scams and focus on creating quality content (blog posts, tweets, podcasts, photos and videos) that other people want to link to. Using the tools discussed in this article will definitely help.
Search Engine Optimization is the art and science of making web pages more popular with Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Improve your odds at being found by potential clients with SEO-friendly methods: write content containing specific keywords or key phrases (think “dog walker” or “dog boarding”) that clients use when searching online. Since Google assumes that the information at the beginning of each blog post is the most important, create succinct, informative titles (i.e. “Six Tips for Treating Separation Anxiety”). Try WebsiteGrader.com, a free tool that will grade your site’s use of SEO and suggest improvements. Or spend a little money to hire another small business owner – an independent SEO expert, who might do you a favor someday when her friends are looking for a dog sitter.
A little empathy goes a long way in marketing. Imagine a potential client in your town who’s just brought home a new puppy, searching on Google for training classes or daycare. What words does she enter? “Puppy Obedience Classes” and “Indianapolis,” maybe. To help her find you, use the right keywords in your blog post tags, titles of articles, and class descriptions. Unless you are marketing to other dog pros, avoid the terminology you learned during your education (i.e. resource guarding) in favor of terms most dog owners understand. To decide between similar keywords (“Housetraining” or “Housebreaking”), check out Google Insights, a free tool that compares the popularity of any search terms.
A blog is a website featuring regular posts, or updates, and is an excellent tool for growing your brand. Many domain hosts make blogging easy, featuring one-step installations of blogging software like WordPress, Tumblr, or Blogger – software that takes care of the programming for you; just write a quick post, then hit Publish. WordPress includes a sophisticated set of plug-ins, or tools, that can improve your SEO, tag your posts with relevant keywords, and keep track of your number of visitors.
Blogs with frequent updates attract the most visitors, so consider budgeting a couple of hours a week to blogging. Let diversity work for you; include links to helpful articles by respected peers in your industry, photos of daycare staff members, seasonal deals, case studies, or funny stories of dogs you’ve been walking. Let your writing reflect your own speaking style; with so much free and forgettable advice available on the internet, a casual, personable writing voice can attract loyal readers and potential clients.
Facebook is the current king of social media sites, a network of 600 million users who create online profiles, link to friends old and new, and share news, photos, and videos culled from the web. Create a fan page for your business, and use it to share updates or information that others might find helpful or entertaining. Keep in mind the “social” of social media; unlike more traditional marketing methods, the businesses most successful at social media rely less on constant self-promotion, and concentrate on building relationships. The focus shifts to the consumer, and solving her problems. Provide the occasional free article on chew training, point out a fellow dog walker’s site when your client list is full, or answer a question about your holiday hours.
Twitter is the social network for short attention spans, a running stream of tweets (posts) of 140 characters or less. Other users can choose to follow your tweets, which will show up on their stream. Social media is better at strengthening existing relationships than attracting new ones, and Twitter makes it easy to open dialogues, both public and private, with clients and other dog pros. Again, we suggest limiting self-promotion to about 25% of your overall posts, or you run the risk of getting tuned out. Answer a FAQ, tell a joke, post a quick free training tip, or solicit feedback for future public classes. Follow and comment on the tweets of peers in the dog professions, check up on current and former clients, and you’ll strengthen those connections most likely to give you the best word of mouth.
LinkedIn focuses on professional networking. Users create profiles that resemble employment resumes, and link to friends, co-workers, and employers, both current and past. Link to your trainer peers, the owner of your favorite daycare facility, or fellow students from your Dog Walking Academy. If you prefer to work with small dogs, establish ties with that trainer who’s got a soft spot for pit bulls, and send each other clients.
YouTube is a massive online library for videos and can be a terrific resource for introducing your business to potential clients. YouTube videos run the full spectrum of production values, and with the popularity of video editing software, you can throw together your own short video on your computer in a few hours. Share a typical day in the life of a dog walker, a training session from your puppy class, or a montage of your client dogs’ tricks. Never underestimate the appeal of cute dogs; videos that go viral (i.e. insanely popular, widely linked to and distributed by fans online) often feature animals. Create a profile with a link to your business site, and embed your videos on your blog or Facebook fan page.
Flickr is an online photo and video management and sharing application. You can upload photos to the site via numerous methods, and share them with friends or the public. Other users can comment on your photos or subscribe to your photostream. Tag your photos with those relevant keywords we keep harping on, and embed your photos or videos on your business site. Use Flickr to show potential boarding clients the best features of your facility, the friendly faces of your staff, or action shots of the happy dogs.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a format for delivering regularly changing web content. Many news sites and blogs freely syndicate their content as an RSS Feed to subscribers. RSS benefits you by gathering all the new posts from your favorite sites into one place, like Google Reader. No more clicking around the web, only to find the same old posts on your most-frequented blogs. Simply enter the sites’ URLs into the subscription manager. RSS can also benefit you by syndicating your own blog’s content, making it easy for fans, readers, and peers to stay up to date on your brand.
Yelp and Citysearch
Yelp and Citysearch offer customer rankings and reviews of local businesses within categories like “Restaurants” or “Pets.” Because of its focus on the customer’s experience, and because angry customers often feel more motivated to leave feedback than satisfied customers, stories of nasty grudge matches on Yelp have emerged. If you get negative feedback, avoid a tit-for-tat, and instead use it as an opportunity to turn the situation around. Offer a refund or discount, if appropriate. Own up to any mistake, reach out to the offended, and you might just get a loyal client (and a revised review) as thanks.
Foursquare is a location-based social network, a web and mobile application that allows users to connect with friends and update their location. Users can check in at your facility, and can post their check-ins on their Twitter or Facebook accounts, exposing your business name (and implying a personal recommendation) to their network of friends. Be sure to reinforce those clients who check-in at your business.
Consider this our quick introduction to social media and online marketing; further research can yield countless tips and tools to grow your business. The internet can seem daunting, confusing, and never-ending, but budgeting even a couple hours a week to online marketing will do wonders for your brand.