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Those planning now will reap future rewards

by Garland M Baker on July 5, 2010

Businesses, including hotels, real estate agencies, tour operators and developers, to name a few, need to plan their long-term Internet strategies today. Social media is transforming the world dramatically, and a simple Web site is just not good enough anymore.

Web sites, online advertising and Internet promotion have for many years been the primary means to market a product or service in Costa Rica to an international audience. The Internet is cheaper than print advertising, and it is an effective medium to reach a mass audience in the United States and other parts of the world, especially those persons in the planning stages of a Costa Rica vacation or retirement.

Being in the middle of a real estate down cycle might not seem to be the best time to promote or spend money on marketing, but most experienced businesses know otherwise. The things one does during the down market will determine how well they do in the up market.

Small business owners in Costa Rica who are looking to weather the storm are also best advised to start thinking about their long-term marketing plan. While it is difficult to earn a profit today in Costa Rica from the money spent on advertising or a slick Web site, there will be a time when vacations and dream homes on the beach will become hot commodities again.

In the old days of the Internet a Web site might retain a small fraction of viewers who would bookmark and quickly forget a page. If one was lucky, a prospect might send an e-mail message requesting more information and get added to a mailing list.

The good news is now, thanks to social media, a business can see a long-term return on an investment in Internet marketing. A measure of success is not what is sold today, but how many people subscribe to a blog, newsletter, Facebook or Twitter. Once the audience is captured, it is just a matter of occasionally reminding them about a product or service with an entertaining article, photo or video.

The trick to turn on social media is to get these kinds of marketing efforts beyond traditional e-mail campaigns and onto a page where the entire world can search, link or comment on the content. E-mail is still a powerful distribution method, and leveraging it with a blog allows readers to express their approval by posting to their Facebook, Twitter or own personal blog.

Personal endorsement is at the core of social networking and is effective because often people trust the recommendations and opinions of their friends. Social media accelerates this kind of interaction through the Internet, and its growth erodes the value of traditional advertising. This is why Facebook is now the No. 2 Web page on the Internet, according to the Alexa rating service, and social media has replaced pornography as the No. 1 use of the Internet.

Setting up a blog and promoting it is easier than ever thanks to services like Blogger (blogspot.com), which is rated the No. 8 Web page on the Internet by Alexa. Unlike a traditional Web site, a blog publication does not require any knowledge of things like html code, and expensive software like Dreamweaver and Frontpage.

While a professional may design a blog, the work of updating and publishing it is something that a business owner may do personally or hire out to another person at a much lower rate.

Free services like Feedblitz and Google Feedburner give a business the system to take e-mail subscribers from a web page, distribute a blog, and manage the technical and legal issues of mass e-mail.

Apart from the opt-in mailing list, it is a good idea to create profiles on services like Facebook and Twitter and then post links and new blog articles. These services work in parallel to the e-mail list, and many people prefer them for their ease of use and rapid social interaction.

A new blog or a Facebook page alone will not get much traffic and needs to be promoted using advertising. The important thing is when the market comes, a business will be starting with an active e-mail list with thousands of prospects. The world Internet audience will more clearly understand who has the established presence in Costa Rica.

Competitors, if they are not doing the same, will start from zero with a cold list of prospects and little social media reputation. The other guys, even if they have been on the ground for years, will be viewed as newcomers by the mass media, and pay high ad rates in a hot market just to stay afloat.

In summary, business owners with Web sites need to upgrade them by adding a blog, setup an opt-in mailing list, and promote on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, not to mention A.M. Costa Rica. The trick to keep a readership audience is to publish a few times a month and entertain but not overwhelm.

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