The COVID-19 crisis has amplified the importance of digital marketing for any organization, in particular small businesses. Sharing content on social media can increase engagement, bring traffic back to your website, and help drive greater donations and profit and utilizing these channels for engagement is even more crucial now that organizations cannot meet with their audiences in person. To explore this idea the COVID-19 consultancy invited Yasmin Ali, founder of Skillspire, and Kelley Myers, director at Microsoft, for a conversation about digital marketing using Skillspire as a case study. Yvonne Yiyao Xiao, UX content designer and CommLead alum, moderated the event.
Kelley brings over 20 years of experience working for global brands. Her skills include social media management, digital marketing, product management for both web and mobile, and product marketing. She has worked in the technology, retail, entertainment and food/beverage sectors providing strategic support in everything from redesigning global websites to developing social media training and also to building experiences for omnichannel retailers.
Yasmin Ali is a generous community builder and connector who appreciates the power of education in improving one’s quality of life. After receiving her Master’s in Computer Science, Yasmin enjoyed a successful career in IT. After stepping away from her full time job to be a full time mom, Yasmin applied her energies to homeschooling and raising her children while leading the education committee of a diverse community organization she helped establish, the Muslim Association of the Puget Sound (MAPS) for over a decade. As a volunteer and leader of the education committee, she helped start an evening school which, to date, has served over 1000 students from diverse backgrounds. While developing the MAPS program and curricula, Yasmin came across people interested in working in the IT industry who needed training and access to tech jobs with real career potential. Yasmin’s mission then became to help the under-privileged segment of society who had the intelligence and desire, but not the access to training and connections.
Skillspire’s mission is to advance the careers and futures of underrepresented talent: women, immigrants, and people of color. They envision a tech sector that better reflects the population it serves by training and supporting diverse, historically underrepresented communities in their journey to enter technical careers. They believe that every individual – and especially those from underrepresented communities – should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams in the tech sector.
One of the key challenges Skillspire is facing right now is scaling up the organization which requires building partnerships with larger organizations to increase funding opportunities. “Being a very small startup- how do I get across our mission? How do I scale?” Yasmin asked. Kelley suggested that any small organization looking to grow needs to identify what differentiates them from others. “ What differentiates you (Skillspire) is that you have a high degree of personal touch”
Kelley also discouraged small businesses from comparing themselves to large ones. “Don’t compare yourself to Google or Microsoft… what are your goals, what do your successes look like?” Small businesses also have more ability to stay connected with their community. The combination of business and social good will help small business lead in the future, and Skillspire is doing just this. Yasmin calls herself a “purpose-driven entrepreneur” and highlighted Skillspire’s increased agility as a mission driven for-profit business over the non-profit model.
Another challenge Skillspire is facing, that many small organizations now face, is recruitment for their programs. To boost recruitment through digital channels Kelley suggests:
- “Survey your current cohort.” Find out how they found out about you and keep using those methods. Get rid of strategies that aren’t working.
- Know your audience and use channels that make the most sense for reaching them.
- Former students are your best advocates- utilize their stories, particularly on social media where it is possible to let others speak for you in the comments.
- Consider paid digital media. “You will never break into circles outside your own without paying for boosts.”
While Kelley highlighted the importance of paid media online- she also recognized the limited budget many small organizations have, especially in light of the current crisis. “It really comes down to who your audience is and what you’re trying to accomplish with them… knowing your goal will help you compete in a way that makes the most sense.” Brand building through digital content that customers can interact with simply through liking or sharing is something organizations just need to keep working at all the time. “If your goal is to actually have them transact on social, the bar is higher.” When it comes to social media specifically, your success really depends on what you are putting into which social channels, and if those are the right channels for the audience you are trying to reach.
Additionally, it is important to prioritize the type of content you are putting out with a limited budget. Articles and blogs can help build brand presence and help your organization become part of the larger digital network but the content should always go back to your mission. Hashtags can be utilized effectively to increase viewership, but only on Instagram and Twitter. Think of them like a search function. Do some research to find or create ones that tie into your brand already, and don’t use too many. “I look at hashtags with half my mind excited… and the other half waiting to see what inappropriate content will show up” noted Kelley.
Finally, traditional PR can be useful but you need to have a clear message and know which outlets your audience is reading. “The job of PR is to land your story in a news outlet, not necessarily to your key audience.” To better reach your audience Kelley suggested organizations look at online bloggers as potential PR as well.
To wrap up the conversation, Kelley listed three key takeaways for small organizations:
- Know your goal and be able to articulate it.
- Social media is just one part of the mix in outreach.
- Digital is great- but it is not always what you need. Know where your key audience is and reach them there.
Watch the recording of the event below and be sure to check out our upcoming events.
Written by Hannah Wheeler
Hannah helps grow and develop the UW Communication Leadership COVID-19 Consultancy through outreach to the broader community, creating mentorship opportunities within the program, and assisting with digital communications. She’s a part-time student in the Master of Communication in Communities and Networks program and works for REI leading the Experiences team in the Bellevue store. She is also passionate about outdoor recreation and the environment and volunteers as a board member and communications chair of the Issaquah Alps Trails Club.