Is your brokerage riding the social media wave to success? Or is the fax machine the most modern thing in the office? Move your business into the 21st century with this must-read guide to all things tech and the modern-day broker …
‘The Future is digital’ could well be the anthem of our generation. But according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, although 90 per cent of businesses in Australia have access to the internet, only 47.2 per cent have a web presence. And it’s something that even the Reserve Bank of Australia is concerned about; in June it warned businesses to “go digital or risk extinction”. Sadly the sentiment doesn’t make getting there any clearer, particularly for businesses that aren’t tech-savvy.
Many business owners – particularly brokers – are used to selling their services face-to-face and getting a business across digitally can be a completely different ball game. So The Adviser decided to break down the process step by step and investigate some of the myths about digital, from the importance of social media (is it even important at all?) through to getting your site top of search results.
Jump in the deep end
According to Steve Sammartino, digital marketing expert and author of The Great Fragmentation: And why the future of business is small, the first thing to understand with digital is that anybody can understand it “If you can read, you can do it. If you can send an email, you can do any kind of social media. The technology is no longer the hard bit,” Mr Sammartino said.
He says that less tech-savvy people just need to get used to ‘Googling’ for answers. “We’re just a Google search away from instructions on how to do anything these days,” he argues. “We are lucky that most web services we can use for business, like social media, come with simple directions on how to use it.”
According to CEO of Stargate Group Brett Spencer, brokers also have the option of talking it through with their aggregator. “Most aggregators have a marketing presence and will have a digital social strategy,” says Mr Spencer. “Your aggregator will have seen it many times before from other clients, so in my opinion it’s the best spot to start.”
Have a website. A good one
Yes, a web presence is crucial for businesses these days. But where do you get started? What do you put on it? And how do you work out a decent design if you have trouble matching pants to shoes? Digital media strategist and director of social media agency Boom Video, Chi Lo, gave The Adviser his advice on getting started.
According to Mr Lo there are a few first approaches you can take. While he says you can find an agency to do it for you or to guide you some of the way, the cheapest and most flexible option is to build the site yourself. “The problem with agencies is that they have to split their time up between a lot of different brands and companies,” Mr Lo says. “When you’re a small business it’s hard for them to know exactly what sets you apart, so they tend to paint you in a general way. That won’t do your brand any favours.”
Whether you go the agency option or go it alone, understanding the process will give you more control over the end result. So to take mystery out of everything here’s The Adviser’s step-by-step guide on how to build an effective website for your business.
1. Find a software service
The first step is to find the right content management software. This is what you will use to build and edit your site so that it appears how you want it to. According to Mr Lo, many of these services are available for free online. “While people who do personal blogs use sites like WordPress and BlogSpot, there are plenty of business format versions of those.” One of the most useful features of these services is that they offer a large variety of modifiable design templates. So you don’t need to worry about the intricacies of matching colours with font.
2. Find a host
Everything on the internet has to be stored somewhere, and, yes, typically you will have to pay. Host services are data storage facilities, and the more you store with them the more it will cost you. How quickly the content on your website is accessed by users also depends on which host you use, as some offer faster services than others. Some software services like WordPress do offer free hosting, but it means you’ll typically be left with a lot of unprofessional-looking advertising on your pages, and limited control over how you want your site to look and behave. Importantly paying for a host means you’ll also be able to have your own domain name; so instead of www.wordpress.com.au/greatbroker, you can have www.greatbroker.com.au. You will need to find a host that is compatible with your software service, but some of the more popular ones are Smartyhost, Bluehost and Hostgator.
3. Add content
Choosing the content you put on your site is about conveying to existing and potential customers who you are. They’re the basics such as contact details and a list of services, but according to Mr Lo the most important thing on any business site is the story of that business. “Your own story is the most credible thing that sets you apart. That means, what got you to where you are, the way you work and the successes you’ve won for clients,” says Mr Lo. “The internet is a mass of niches, people looking for information and entertainment. So it’s important to publish content that sets you apart and is of use and relevance to the user,” he says. “A lot of people just build a website that says what they do. There’s so much more you can add including video, a facts section and helpful tips for clients.”
4. Get people to your site
One of the most well-known strategies for attracting more visitors is using search engine optimisation (SEO). It’s important because websites appearing higher up in search results have a better chance of getting more visitors. There are two ways you can do this: first you can pay search engines like Google or Yahoo to make your website more ‘findable’. The second option is to do it yourself by incorporating commonly searched keywords into the content of your site, such as “Sydney broker” or “first home buyer”. The trick, according to Mr Lo, is to use terms that customers are likely to use themselves. Another key driver of visitor traffic is referrals from other sources, be it business cards, social media sites, web advertising or business partner sites. However the best way to draw numbers, says Mr Lo, is to continue publishing content that is relevant and interesting for your client demographic.
While it’s a big achievement to build a website, experts warn not to be too optimistic about immediate results. “For people starting out there’s this expectation that if they make a website, they’ll start seeing returns straightaway. It’s not the case,” says Mr Lo. Instead he argues businesses will often need to be publishing content for six to 12 months before they start to build an audience.
Get on the social media train
When people talk about ‘going digital’ what they usually mean is getting onto social media, according to Stargate’s Brett Spencer. “From a broker’s perspective I think building a digital presence really refers to the social aspect – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn,” says Mr Spencer. It’s a topic that has been rehashed a lot in the last decade, but data from the ABS shows that only 26 per cent of businesses in Australia have a social media presence. The Adviser’s 2013 Software and Technology Report showed brokers fared better than the national average, with 45 per cent saying that they used social media, but only 18 per cent of those said that it had actually improved their businesses.
The question remains: is social media the right choice for every broker’s business? Not always, according to the experts. “When used well, social media can be very good. But when used poorly, it’s very dangerous,” says Mr Spencer. Experts say that unless businesses plan to continuously update their social sites, they shouldn’t set up a page. “There’s nothing worse than logging onto someone’s website that has a Twitter or Facebook feed, and the data is two years old,” according to Mr Spencer. At a minimum, he says, the latest update shouldn’t be more than two weeks old.
Mr Spencer says people need to remember that social media is just one source that customers can use to find you. “A lot of brokers make the mistake [of thinking] that it’s going to get them a lot of business,” says Mr Spencer. “Social media is just one avenue that provides the consumer with a credible source of information about you. It’s not a lead generation source.”
Mr Sammartino’s advice is to choose the social media platform that you think will reach your target customers, and learn to use it well. “You need to become an expert on that [platform] and build an audience in one place. Facebook, LinkedIn, SlideShare, Twitter, YouTube: they all have incredible value,” says Mr Sammartino. “What you first need to understand is where you think your audience want to hear about what you do, choose the forum, and then start creating value for them in that forum.”
Is Facebook the answer?
Facebook continues to be named as the most popular social platform by businesses. According to 2013’s Social Media Marketing Industry Report some 49 per cent of businesses said that Facebook was their most important social media tool. Brokers too named it their favourite platform, with 47.3 per cent saying that it was their preferred choice in The Adviser’s Technology and Digital Report.
There’s good reason for this. Connective’s director Mark Haron says that Facebook provides an enormous opportunity to reach new clients. “Given that 13 million Australians spend at least seven hours a month on Facebook, that’s a lot of people who are used to connecting using that medium,” Mr Haron says.
RP Data’s director of digital solutions, Lee Wade, says it’s Facebook’s functionality that makes it such a drawcard for brokers’ businesses. In particular he points to its ability to easily update customers. “You can regularly post status updates about your business, changes in processes, the latest lender offer, or you can publish market statistics,” says Mr Wade. “This can really help to increase both your personal and business brand awareness.”
However, digital marketeers warn that if Facebook isn’t used properly it has the potential to do more harm than good. “While it can certainly help your brand, you need to commit the time, effort and resources,” says Mr Wade. And despite Facebook’s popularity, according to the Social Media Marketing Industry Report, only 37 per cent of businesses say it’s been effective in increasing business.
According to Mr Lo, Facebook’s low customer conversion rates arguably means two things – expectation rates are too high or businesses aren’t using it effectively.
“Businesses have the tendency to treat Facebook as a traditional advertising channel when it’s a ‘social’ platform,” Mr Lo says. “People don’t go onto Facebook to listen, they go to participate.”
Reasons to use Facebook
1. Easily keep customers updated about changes to your business
2. You want to interact with clients in a more personable way
3. Build an image as an ‘expert in the field’ by posting industry news and useful information
4. Make yourself more ‘findable’ by linking to your website
5. Post other media such as images and video that relates to your business
Reasons not to use Facebook
1. You don’t have the time or resources to update it at least once every two weeks
2. You can’t think of anything interesting or useful to post
3. You’re not 100 per cent sure how Facebook works or what impact it can have
4. Your demographic aren’t typically Facebook users
Tweeting your way to new customers with Twitter
Twitter is typically named as the least favourite social media platform by businesses. In 2013’s Software and Technology Report, only 1.2 per cent of brokers said that it was their preferred social media platform, compared to 47.3 per cent for Facebook and 28 per cent for LinkedIn.
Experts say that the reason could be that Twitter only has a very specific function: users regularly post or “tweet” short messages of 140 characters or less to a group of followers. These messages can then be shared or “retweeted” to others, creating a quickly spreading grapevine of information.
While Twitter is a well-known platform, Mr Lo says that companies shouldn’t use Twitter just for the sake of using it. “Some businesses like Coca Cola and McDonald’s utilise Twitter very well. But businesses, particularly smaller ones, shouldn’t get into it unless they’re actually doing something good with it,” Mr Lo explains. He adds that it is best used when companies benefit from a very regular flow of dialogue with a wide pool of consumers.
Reasons to use Twitter
1. Engage in a regular flow of conversation with consumers
2. Gain a better understanding of what your customers are talking about
3. Keep regularly updated on what your competitors are up to
Reasons not to use Twitter
1. You don’t have the time and resources to regularly post and read messages
2. Unsure of how Twitter works
3. Unable to find something to post about at least once a week
Learning to love LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a business-to-business networking tool, rather than a platform for friends like Facebook, or a tool for spreading information quickly like Twitter. It allows users to share their employment history with others and also create a company presence.
According to Mr Wade it’s a valuable tool for those looking to engage with other industry members. “While it is less ‘social’ than other social media tools, LinkedIn is an effective way for colleagues to stay connected and updated on the interesting work being undertaken in the industry,” he says. “It is also useful for keeping up to date with important employment status changes within your professional network.”
One positive aspect of LinkedIn is, unlike Facebook and Twitter, you won’t need to constantly update your page. While some people use it as a tool to post updates about the industry, LinkedIn is more about letting people know your credentials and employment history. So if those credentials haven’t changed, there’s no pressing need to make updates.
Reasons to use LinkedIn
1. Networking with other professionals
2. Promoting your business profile to other professionals
3. Keeping updated about industry news
Reasons not to use LinkedIn
1. Interacting with customers
2. Promoting your business to the general public
Beware potential digital disasters!
There are always going to be mistakes made when starting something new; to make the process easier try to avoid these common blunders.
1. If you don’t understand social media, don’t use it: you’re likely to not only waste time and resources, but improper use can damage your professional reputation.
2. Infrequently update your social pages: having old content on sites can make your business look unprofessional or ‘non-functioning’. Update at least every two weeks
3. Get professional help if you need it: having a bad digital presence can make your company look unprofessional. Get help with your page if you need it
Mixing business and pleasure: keep your business and personal profiles separate. An old piece of advice, but one that continues to cause problems
Getting your digital ‘house’ in order
While the digital revolution may already be upon us, experts agree that the finance industry is likely to see a vast array of changes in the coming years.
According to Mr Haron brokers need to look at new technologies as a way to improve business efficiencies. “A classic example is the broker on the road. Using portable platforms like tablets means that they can receive updates and apply for applications with the click of a button,” he says.
However, Mr Haron believes that as technology makes everything more efficient, a consequence of that will be that clients will expect far greater turnaround times too. “The key for brokers will be to make sure they’re really good at providing that information and communicating to their clients in a speedy manner,” says Mr Haron.