3 Things Entrepreneurs Must Learn About Digital Marketing and PR Running a lean startup doesn't mean ignoring the essentials of promotion in the online age.

By Mel Carson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In running a digital-marketing consultancy in a tech mecca like Seattle, I work with larger companies and spend time with local startups hoping to crack the big time with their ideas and energy.

What's apparent, though, is that many startup entrepreneurs struggle to market their companies through digital channels. Many of these fledgling businesses are led by people who are perhaps great developers or salespeople but they lack experience with digital marketing and public relations.

If you're a budding entrepreneur, here are three things to know about marketing and PR to give your company the best shot at being competitive within your target niche:

Related: Simple Marketing Strategies to Fuel Long-Term Growth for Businesses Online

1. Understand the importance of web search.

OK, I'm sure you know how to use a search engine, but do you understand how they work? Check out Search Engine Land's video for a solid quick and dirty introduction to search engine optimization to understand how to position your company's website to rank for relevant search terms.

Did you also know that search engines collect a ton of related information on search trends and consumers' use of mobile devices that entrepreneurs can mine for competitive intelligence and to understand what their target audiences are looking for? That way it's possible to tweak marketing messaging to make it more relevant and engaging.

My client U.K.-based Majestic.com offers a tool called the Site Explorer that company owners can use for understanding which websites are linking to a corporate site. Many SEO professionals use it since search engines like Google and Bing value high quality links. The tool can be used to figure out which blogs or online publications are linking to your site or your competitors' so you can compile media list of relevant journalists and bloggers to contact.

Ignore search engines and the data they possess at your peril. They are fantastic sources of intelligence, which can help inform and propel your marketing strategy as you seek to grow your business.

Related: The Ultimate Hashtag Cheat Sheet (Infographic)

2. Comprehend that social-media marketing takes sophistication.

Entrepreneurs without much marketing experience operate under the misconception that a successful social-media program shouldn't cost much. They also have unrealistic expectations that every social-media update they post or blog post they write should instantly go viral.

But organic reach across social-media platforms like Twitter and Facebook has dropped dramatically as more companies leap onto these networks hoping consumers will catch a glimpse of their wares. More sophisticated tactics are needed to design compelling images and video that will translate into content people want to see and engage with.

The competitive intelligence, the design work, the tactical execution and success measurement require effort and cost money. And if your company's site can't attract organic traction, you will have to invest in Twitter's, LinkedIn's and Facebook's advertising programs to get eyeballs on your products or service.

Good quality digital execution costs money. Set aside funds to make it happen.

When spending money on social media, don't just think of return on revenue in terms of how many sales it brought you. Make sure you're counting the money saved on call-center costs or employing customer-service agents.

3. Know that PR pitches require savvy and context.

The lines between public relations and marketing have blurred, thanks to social and digital media. In their company's early days, a lot of business owners want a hybrid solution of marketing and PR services to help them circulate their message.

Too often, though, businesspeople consider PR execution an easy matter for someone with contacts at news sites. They think it's just involves sending out a few emails so that the next day a story will appear in The Wall Street Journal and Mark Zuckerberg will be on the phone trying to buy their company.

But journalists can write only so many stories yet have tons of pitches to choose from.

Learn how the PR process works and extract interesting stories from what goes on around and inside your company. Some new feature that your company just released is not a story -- unless your company is Facebook and the news will affect millions of people's lives.

A press release about your company should have a hook that says to a journalist why readers should care. Good PR has as much to do with context as with contacts.

Related: 4 Requirements for Self-Serve Media Relations

Wavy Line
Mel Carson

Founder and Principal Strategist at Delightful Communications

Mel Carson is founder of Delightful Communications, a Seattle-based social-media-strategy, digital-PR and personal-branding consulting firm. He is co-author of Pioneers of Digital and speaks about digital marketing and communications at conferences globally. He spent seven years at Microsoft as its digital-marketing evangelist.

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