How to get found online

Wherever your canvas, you need to find a way to stand out
Wherever your canvas, you need to find a way to stand out

Whether you are a small business owner, brand manager, entrepreneur or artist, you face a common challenge: how to get noticed online. How do you connect with the people you ultimately hope will become your clients (and pay you in money/love/attention) if they don’t know who you are? It’s a huge challenge but as a photographer who works a lot with businesses trying to do just that, I’ll try to share what I’ve learned in this (and future posts) on the theme of helping your business stand out and be found.

To begin, let’s understand that there are three main ways your business can be found online: paid media, owned media and earned media. In the following brief post I’ll explain what each term means, ending with a call to action to create great content.

Paid media:

This can be any piece of digital marketing you pay for.

Currently there is a global battle raging for your advertising dollars. As traditional avenues for advertising (print, to some extent television and radio) lose ground to the digital world where the vast majority of consumers now spend most of their time, an entire ecosystem of agencies, ad-tech companies and digital marketers have erupted — all offering your brand ways to engage your elusive, ever-distracted consumer who moves seamlessly from the virtual to the real world.  As a business owner or brand manager, you now have the ability to target extremely narrow micro-niches of customers yourself, or with the guidance of an agency or savvy digital marketer who understands how to infer customer behaviour from petabytes of data.  You can pay to boost a post on Facebook, run a Google AdWords campaign, or hire a firm to target customers in very specific locations using geo-location data beaming from their phones, to in-store beacons and extra-terrestrial satellites.

Owned media:

This is any online presence you create, personally or as a business, that gives you a platform to publish content to, tools to build an audience for, and electronic means for distributing that content.  The most obvious example is your company website, but there is now so much more a business can do online that a website is looking increasingly passé.  Of course your business will look and seem utterly fantastic on your own company branded website, but most customers will completely bypass your site initially – seeking instead content in the form of recommendations and reviews from their friends and other reviewers whom they don’t need to know to trust. Visitors now will seek out, not just (if at all) your corporate website but expect you also to have as a minimum, a blog, and very likely a presence in any one of the myriad socially powered platforms where they choose to hangout (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr and on and on and on).

Earned media:

Finally the next and arguably most important place for your business to have a presence is in the universe of earned media – a space you cannot directly control. Earned media is any form of online activity your business generates – reviews, comments, shares, pins, tweets, etc, etc – where users take independent action to communicate something about their experience/opinion of your business/product/service to their friends, personal and professional networks and to the world at large via public comments and posts.  Here is truly where the internet’s magic happens. It is the world’s bazaar – a thriving, bustling, chaotic maelstrom of babbling humans. And it is in this palace of distraction that your business needs to stand out.

How, you may be asking yourself, can you ever penetrate the noise and be found in this crushing swell of humans, always connected, always talking sharing and mashing up any piece of content that wriggles into existence?

We no longer live in the kind of world where you can hive yourself off, create something (a product, a work of art, a meal) put it out into the world and have it be received on its own merits. Whatever is created today will be immediately consumed and broken into a thousand re-imagined bite-sized pieces, endlessly. We are producing for piranhas, but often think we are feeding whales.

It’s amazing and also overwhelming and if you are a small business owner whose responsibilities cover everything from creating and delivering the product/service you sell as well as marketing, just trying to understand what to do can seem like a frightening and daunting task.

Where do you even begin?

The answer, or at least the beginning of the answer to this seemingly simple yet complex question is both very short, and very long.

Create content that is helpful (even beautiful) and that people can connect with because it helps them connect to others, to what they value in their life, and ultimately leads them to the feeling – if not the manifestation – of a more meaningful life.

Easy right? I’ll pick up the narrative from here in future posts on content creation, but I think for the sake of keeping my own content digestible it’s time for a break.