When it’s good to be a sheep. And when to break free of the flock.

2015 Year of the Sheep Welcome to the Year of the Sheep on the Chinese lunar calendar. The Chinese consider sheep to be lucky animals – they spend their time following each other from one green patch of grass to the next without too many cares or worries. They never have to do any hard labour, which is left to the Ox.

 

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

 

We don’t like to admit it, but humans often act like sheep: just following the flock unthinkingly towards the latest patch of grass – wherever it looks greenest. This happens a lot in business. When we’re not sure what to do, it’s easy to peek at what everyone else is doing and try that latest shiny thing.

 

When to follow the flock

There are times when it makes sense to follow. For example:

 

1. Follow standard layouts for your website and navigation.

It’s good to following accepted conventions, so that visitors feel comfortable and things work as they expect them to. Some of these include:

  • The business name or logo is placed top left or centre, and always links back to the home page
  • There’s an About page and a Contact page
  • Breadcrumbs reveal the path taken to sub-pages
  • Social icons are easily recognised and make it simple to share content

 

2. Follow where your customers are flocking.

Facebook might be making it harder for businesses lately, but the fact is that Facebook fans still like to check you out via their favourite platform. They want to make sure you’re one of them and not a wolf in disguise:
see these sheep turn the tables on a lone wolf

 

Same goes for Twitter, or Pinterest, or LinkedIn. Find your flock and start rubbing shoulders with them. Share juicy bits of green grass with them and they’ll thank you for it.

 

3. Follow where there’s enough grass to go around.

With the audience being so large on social media sites, there’s plenty of (news)feed for all. If you’re not there, then your competitors will get all the good stuff themselves.

  • See what other people are doing well on Social Media, even in other industries. You can follow their lead while using your own content and images relevant to your business.
  • Don’t try to cover all the social media fields, but find the ones where most of your followers will be. And don’t be afraid to pick the ones you enjoy the most, so you’ll be more likely to stick with it.

The grass isn’t always greener…

Bear in mind that the business sheep who all follow the same well-worn path aren’t all getting the good stuff. Sometimes those who got there first have taken their fill of the best blades of grass and left slim pickings for the rest. It gets harder to gain benefits when you’re not in the lead.

 

Facebook used to be free and easy for businesses, but with recent changes in the newsfeed algorithms, it’s becoming a “pay to play” platform. That’s why you’ll find deserted Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of those disheartened stragglers who gave up on each patch and jumped on the next social bandwagon (“ooh, Pinterest looks green today!”). They’re left scratching their heads about why they failed, but they don’t want to put in the hard toil to make it work.

 

This is when sheep need to toughen up, shear off their cosy woollens and make like an Ox. Social Media, blogging, email marketing – they all require perseverance, consistency and fresh ideas to stand out from the pack.

 

When to break away

If you want to be the alpha ram, you need to lead, not follow. Breaking through fences and finding new fertile ground requires guts. And innovation. It may not require a lot of heavy Ox-like work, but it will need some hard thinking. (Surely sheep have plenty of thinking time while they’re chowing down on grass all day…)

 

Concentrate on what will delight your customers. So many websites are just a list of features; not many explain their benefits clearly; even fewer provide real value to their visitors. Useful content – in easily digestible form – will keep your followers happy.

 

Grab their attention with headlines. Sheep have pretty short attention spans. Humans have even shorter ones – we’re down to 8 seconds now to grab and keep someone’s interest. Just make sure you truly deliver on the promise of your cleverly crafted headline, like “Where to find the greenest grass in the county”. You’d better ‘fess up a few secrets, because sheep will distrust you forever if you mislead them.

 

Refine your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). That first page of Google is the pinnacle of the highest, greenest mountain. It can be a hard climb, but worth the effort. Make sure as many sheep as possible can find you by including the right keywords within your titles, pages and captions. If you’re not focusing on SEO, the others might sneak up behind you while you’re not paying attention:
look what happens when you're not paying attention

 

Get a website that stands out from the crowd. So many websites look the same these days. I’m not sure that “black sheep” holds the right connotation here, but aim for anything-but-grey and boring. What about being the red-dyed sheep? That would stand out:

2015-year-of-sheep
Stand out from the flock in the Year of the Sheep

 

Check your competitors’ websites and then work out what unique angle you can apply. It doesn’t only mean adding a “wow factor” in the design. You can differentiate with humour, with engaging videos, or with high-value content.

 

If you want to break away from the flock, get in touch with Right Hand Design to help you with strategies that will give your business a head start in the Year of the Sheep.

 

Author: RobynRHD

I’m a small business web design specialist with interests in social media and other online marketing methods. As my blog intro states: “Steering small businesses in the right direction with what I hope is practical, realistic advice and useful tips, amidst the constantly changing noise and hype. I’d like to help you sort out what you really need and how to go about it.”
I’m a proud Aussie, living in Sydney, and an avid fan of Column 8 in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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