Monday, November 18, 2013

The 9 (Free) Tools You Need to Grow and Manage Your MSP’s Web Presence

This post is for managed service providers who...
photo credit: knitting iris via photopin cc
  • Have a website and blog.
  • Have a working knowledge of and presence on social media.
  • Feel like they don’t have enough time or resources to grow and manage their web presence.
  • Think there’s a more efficient way to go about growing and managing their web presence.


Once you setup the framework for your web presence – website, blog, social media – and understand how it all works and works together, then it’s time to save yourself. Save time, save money, work smarter not harder. Your key to that is free tools. And when I say free, I mean 100% free – no 30 day free trials, no one asking for your credit card “just in case.”

As the marketing/social media/website manager for our managed service provider, as well as MSP Builder, these are my favorite tools that I have accumulated over the past 2 years (I even discovered one of these last week!). I use almost all of them every day, and I hope you find at least one that you can incorporate into your daily routine.


Key

Each tool will be broken down into the following:
  • What it does for you: The bottom line of what you’re getting from the free tool.
  • How to use it: This isn’t always apparent! Sometimes it takes me months to figure out how a tool is useful to me, or I don’t realize it until someone tweets how they use it or a marketing friend explains why they can’t live without it.
  • Example: If after the “What” and the “How” you still don’t see how you could use this for your MSP, then hopefully the example will help you decide if the tool is worth your time.
  • Free until…: All of these tools start out free, but some of them have a limit on what you can do for $0. I very rarely feel limited by the free versions, but I want to make you aware of the next level available so, A) You can see how much value you’re getting for free, and B) You can get an idea of how much it costs to invest in a paid tool.
  • Bonus: Integrations, further insights about that particular site, etc.
  • Alternative: Everyone likes different stuff! If I know of a free tool that I think works equally as well for the same job, it will be included it here.

    The 9 Free Tools...

    1. Google Analytics

    http://www.google.com/analytics/
    • What it does for you: Know what’s going on with that website you put so much time and money into! You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and Google Analytics measures everything when it comes to your site visitors.
    • How to use it: Link Google Analytics to your site and watch the data roll in. See where your traffic is coming from, set goals, look at changes over time. There have got to be hundreds of ways you can slice and dice your stats with Google Analytics. Giving your site a makeover? Compare the before and after. Just SEO optimized your site? See if traffic from your target market increased.
      • This tool is absolutely mandatory (unless you’re using some other sort of website analytics tool). You NEED to be aware of how your site is performing otherwise you’ll never get what you want out of it.
    • Example: Advanced segments can be used to track local traffic. You can make different segments for a particular state, county, or city. This is great for MSPs since their target market is usually a specific area surrounding their office, and they’re hoping those local businesses are visiting their site.
    • Free until…: There is a “Premium” but you’ll probably never even get around to using all of the free parts.
    • Bonus: Google also offers Google Webmaster Tools for free, which link with Google Analytics. Webmaster Tools focuses more on your actual website and how it’s running.

      2. MailChimp

      http://mailchimp.com/
      • What it does for you: Email marketing with a super user friendly design component and detailed reports. (I have to say, I think out of all these free tools this is the one that I’m scared is secretly charging me. It’s crazy how much this free tool is worth to your MSP.)
      • How to use it: Upload your clients’ and prospects’ email addresses, organize them in lists and segments, and get emailing! Always wanted to start a newsletter? This is perfect for that, in addition to event invitations, alerting your clients to vendor deals, holiday greetings, client anniversaries, events, tips, welcoming new clients…
      • Example: Setup a campaign for Windows XP end of life; design an email complete with pictures, links, maybe even an explanatory video; schedule it to send out monthly until April 2014.
      • Free until…: If you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers, you can send up to 12,000 emails per month absolutely free. That’s a lot. MailChimp keeps track so you can see if you’re hovering near their limit instead of being unpleasantly surprised.
      • Bonus:
        • JoomConnect offers a solution that integrates MailChimp with ConnectWise. It’s a little pricey but it could be worth it if you’re sending a lot of emails and want more detail in your sales funnel.
        • MailChimp has one of the absolute best support sites. Their easily searchable knowledge base has detailed, step-by-step articles that always include videos.

        3. Bitly

        http://bitly.com
        • What it does for you: Saves short versions of links (“bitmarks”), complete with analytics that tell you when people are clicking on your links and what platforms they’re coming from. This is a must if you are sharing links.
        • How to use it: Install the Bitly boomarklet on your browser and Bitmark EVERYTHING you share. Even if the link isn’t from your own website, Bitmark it anyway to get an idea of how much your followers are really interacting with your posts and what topics interest them. Most followers are passive, they just click on links that interest them but never respond or repost. Bitly also lets you know if anyone else has Bitmarked the same link as you; so if, for example, someone Bitmarks your blog post and shares it, you can see the stats from that as well.
        • Example:
          • See which social media platforms you’re getting the most interaction on. This can give you a feel for which accounts you should be nurturing, investing more time in, or maybe ignoring all together.
          • Use Bitly as a big link archive – it’s easy to search through your Bitmarks. Recycle links you’ve shared before! Every follower doesn’t see every link, and the best kind of content is always relevant.
        • Bonus: Integrates with Buffer (#4)

          4. Buffer

          https://bufferapp.com/
          • What it does for you: Schedules your social media posts simultaneously across all platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+) and posts them at the times you have set. Keep your Buffer full and let it do the work for you.
          • How to use it: Install the Buffer bookmarklet on your browser and schedule all your posts with 1 click, whether it’s sharing a blog post or retweeting a vendor (Yes, you can schedule retweets!). I don’t know what I would do without Buffer. It has exponentially increased the frequency with which I post, especially to Google+. It allows you to schedule the same post to be tweeted and posted to Google+, all without having to actually logon to G+. Same goes for Facebook and LinkedIn.
          • Bonus:
            • Integrations: Bitly (#3), Followerwonk (#6), Mention (#7), Feedly (#9). (Started with the bonuses on this one so I can use them to demonstrate how great Buffer is with the Example.)
            • Also, The Buffer Blog is one of the best and their content is universal. (Subscribe with Feedly #9)
          • Example: You’re on Feedly (#9) reading a blog post you think your followers would enjoy. You highlight a statistic in the post, click “tweet” in the box that pops up, which opens the Buffer post dialog box that contains your highlighted text and a Bitmarked (#3) link to the post. Select which platforms you want to post to, click Buffer, and your post will be scheduled to appear when your Twitter followers are most active, according to Followerwonk (#6). This may sound lengthy but that’s only because Buffer is doing so much! This process only takes a few seconds. 

            • Free until…
              • More than 10 posts at a time in your Buffer for each social media account; Multiple of the same social media account; Different times for different days when scheduling; More than one account login
            • Alternative: Hootsuite is another free tool that allows you to schedule posts across multiple platforms. It also allows you to view your feeds on your dashboard and create segmented feeds. Some prefer this to Buffer because it doesn't limit your post number but it’s a little too busy for me, and it doesn’t have a bookmarklet which really makes posting convenient.

              5. Nextly

              http://nextly.com
              • What it does for you: Makes it easier to browse your Twitter timeline. Nextly enables you to view your timeline, click on a tweet, and then see the link or picture from that tweet in the same tab without having to leave Nextly. You can also curate webpage collections that can be browsed in the same way.


                • How to use it:
                  •  Instead of scrolling through your timeline on Twitter, connect your Twitter to Nextly and use that as your timeline. You don’t have to wonder where links are leading you to or open up 20 different tabs of articles. You can just tab through the tweets on your timeline using your keyboard arrows, or scroll through and click on the tweets that pique your interest, and see the linked pages or pictures without leaving the Nextly window.
                  • Add the Nextly bookmarklet to your browser and start adding webpages to your collections. This is a great substitute for bookmarks. I'm guilty of being a bookmark hoarder and it becomes a very time consuming habit - organizing bookmarks into folders, having to open 10 different tabs of 10 different bookmarks to find that one resource I'm searching for. Nextly simplifies the process by allowing you to browse your collection (equivalent to a bookmark folder) all from the same page. Plus, you can share collections. Non-Nextly users can view it the same as Nextly users.
                • Example:
                  •  Nextly is a great tool to make a part of your morning social media routine. It saves so much time because you’re able to stay on the same tab. It also prevents you from loitering on Twitter when you should move on to your next task.
                  • Amassing a stockpile of blog posts and Microsoft web pages on XP end of life? Make a Nextly collection using the Nextly bookmarklet. This allows you to quickly look at each resource, all in the same window, as opposed to having to open bookmarks in separate tabs or clicking on links from a Microsoft Word document, trying to find that one that you want to send to a client. You can even send the link to the collection to clients so they have all the resources at their disposal.

                  6. Followerwonk

                  https://followerwonk.com/
                  • What it does for you: Search Twitter bios, analyze your followers and who you’re following, see how your Twitter stacks up with the competition.
                  • How to use it: Link it to your Twitter and get the details on your followers and who you’re following – where they’re located, when they’re most active, the age of their account, etc.
                  • Example:
                    • My favorite use of Followerwonk is periodically cleaning who we follow. See which accounts you’re following haven’t tweeted in over 6 months or over a year. If you have 50 followers, it looks a lot better to be following 70 than it does to be following 170. If they’re not contributing to your timeline, it’s time for them to go!
                    • Find and interact with potential clients by searching Twitter bios for local keywords. Maybe your MSP specializes in the legal vertical – search for “Boston legal practice” or “Boston lawyer.”
                  • Free until…: There are some parts of Followerwonk reserved for users of the paid tool Moz Analytics.
                  • Bonus:
                    • Integrates with Buffer (#4)
                    • Followerwonk’s parent site, Moz, has a blog should be a go-to resource for any business managing its own website. They also host free weekly webinars geared towards search engine optimization (SEO) and social media.

                    7. Mention

                    https://en.mention.net/
                    • What it does for you: You may have heard of or already use Google Alerts, which notifies you when new content matches your chosen search terms. Mention is a more interactive version of that.
                    • How to use it: Choose your search terms and Mention will create a tab in your account for each one. Mention can be used to keep track of your brand’s web presence, see what’s going on in the channel, and find content to share.
                    • Example:
                      • Track your company name and your President’s name to stay on top of brand related content that you can share, and to make sure your brand is being represented by others the same way you would represent it.
                      • Does the health services vertical make up a large part of your client base? Track HIPAA related terms so you will stay up to date on their needs as well as have a supply of relevant content to share with them.
                    • Alternative: Google Alerts, which some people prefer to or use in conjunction with Mention. It lacks a dashboard but has more email alert options.
                    • Free until…
                      • Free Plan: 600 mentions per month, 3 alerts, 4 languages, 30 days of archive
                      • Lite Plan, $5.83 per month: 2,000 mentions per month, 5 alerts, 3 languages, 30 days of archive
                    • Bonus: Integrates with Buffer (#4)

                        8. Storify

                        http://storify.com
                        • What it does for you: Storify is a content curation tool that enables you to easily compile tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, blog posts, and links to easily create “Storifys."
                        • How to use it: Login with Facebook or Twitter or create an account and start telling stories. Storify is a great way to beef up your blog if you’re lacking in posts, especially interactive and/or “fun” ones. Use Storify to create posts about a conference, event, holiday, or just to spice up a “regular” topic and make it a multimedia experience. You can embed your Storify into a post on your blog.
                        • Example: Twice a year, our MSP’s President attends Ingram Micro’s VentureTech Network Invitational. He shares the itinerary with me and I use that as an outline to create a Storify for the conference. I chronologically compile news articles, tweets, and pictures throughout the event from attendees, vendors, and presenters. It provides a resource for people who couldn’t make it and a fun recap for people who were there. It’s also a great way to “meet” new people by letting them know I used their content in our story. (See MSP Builder's Storify for more examples.)

                          9. Feedly

                          http://feedly.com
                          • What it does for you: Feedly is a free reader that you can use to subscribe to blogs, news sites, YouTube channels – anything with an RSS feed.
                          • How to use it: Follow feeds that have helpful content for you as an MSP as well as feeds that have content your followers will benefit from. Instead of bookmarking blogs you like and checking them when you remember, subscribe to them using Feedly. Now you only have to check one site for new posts.
                          • Example: Follow channel and MSP-related blogs, blogs relevant to your clients’ industries, vendor blogs, tech news, etc.
                          • Bonus: Integrates with Buffer (#4) and Pocket, which is a great little tool that allows you save articles and posts in your “Pocket” to read for later.

                           


                            Bonus: Here is a Twitter list of all the tools included in our list. Plus, a Google+ circle.

                            --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------< What free tools have helped you grow and manage your managed service provider's web presence? Any of the above? Comment below or tweet us your favorites.