Even the current pope understands the importance of social media. 

During a digital marketing class for area business people on Thursday, the instructor, Jeff Illes, showed slides of two different popes. The first was a photo of Pope Benedict taken in 2005. Among the hundreds of admirers in the crowd is one arm holding up a flip phone, recording the pope’s appearance. 

A photo taken just a few years later showed the current Pope Francis, standing in front of an equally large crowd, most of whom were holding up their cell phones recording the event as a keepsake.

As the internet changes so much in today’s world, Pope Francis may already understand its power to convey his message. He was the first pope to take a “selfie” photograph of himself and post it on Twitter. 

“Even the pope understands that the relationship to people who need to be part of his flock has changed,”  said Illes, regional digital director for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., the parent company of the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. “If he wants to be relative and relate to people, he has to be in that space too.” 

Illes was explaining the ever-evolving world of digital marketing to those trying to do business in this era of cell phones, laptops and online interactions. 

“The right response makes all the difference,” said Illes, who held the digital presence training session for about 20 local business people on Thursday at the headquarters of the Niagara USA Chamber on Inducon Drive in Sanborn.

“Let’s talk about people coming to find you,” he said. “About 85 percent of the journey starts online.” 

More than 70 percent of online searches are unbranded, he explained, with people searching with words such as “gym near me,” or “assisted living near me,” and for those whose businesses don’t show up on the first page of Google search responses, it is hard to compete.

He encourages businesses to take a look at their online presence, including how their website looks on a cell phone, how far up in a Google search their business appears and how to improve that. Those who Google their business and see the words “own this business,” should actively engage Google on the creation of their Google page.

All roads lead to Google, Illes said, but understanding how that works in the ever-changing digital marketing landscape is key. About 85 percent of the marketing journey starts online, he said. 

“We can get really close to identifying through technology, that we sent someone your ad and they actually walk through your door,” he said. 

The first thing businesses need to do is check their website on a cellphone. If the site doesn’t fit in a cell phone screen, it’s not mobile friendly and Google will not place that business as high in the search listings.

Next, he advises businesses to look up their listings on other search engines, including Bing, Yahoo, Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon and other search engines online. If they have recently moved the business, there may be inconsistencies in the listings, which is bad for any business as the world get increasingly digital. 

The hour-and-a-half free seminar seemed to prove a valuable for attendees including Liam O’Mahony, the director of communications for The HomeCare Partners, a management services company which works with four health care agencies, including Niagara Hospice. 

“It was a great seminar,” O’Mahony said, noting that as the internet marketeer for his company he was using some of the information provided but not all. “The internet changes all the time and you need continuous education,” he said.

Michael Klepp, owner of The Plant Man, is a landscaper working on growing his business as an instructor of plant-related matters. He is in the early stages of creating his digital marketing plan. “I’m not very tech savvy,” he said after the workshop which he found very helpful. “I want to be able to engage people.”

There is no comprehensive digital handbook, Illes said, but he cited the current 10 commandments of digital marketing.  They include these: 


1. Be ready for smart phone consumers. Ensure your site is responsive. Seventy-six percent of online searchers will act within 24 hours. 

2. Claim your Google business listings. Optimize your page and every listing, using a consistent name, address, phone; and add business categories, photos and videos.

3. Invite reviews. They are the key ranking factors. Don’t be afraid to ask customers and have them share with their Facebook friends and Yelp.

4. Maintain your digital house. Maintain your website like its your digital house to get the most from it. Upgrade with regular relevant blog posts.

5. Add video. Video is a key ranking factor on your site and social media pages while educating people about the unique personality of your business. Video can increase visit time by 88 percent with eight times more engagement than those sites without it. 

6. Commit to social media. The secret is to add content and post three or four times a week. Make an appointment with yourself and then boost and promote key posts to increase reach.

7. Follow the rules of three. For Social Media to drive engagement, provide expert advice, leverage community connections and stimulate activity through promotions. 

8. Invite local shoppers. Use local sites, social media and email marketing. Stay connected to loyal customers, driving referral business. Focus on shopping local.

9. Make sure you have a LinkedIn business page. Post regularly, especially business to business and add Twitter into the mix.

10. There is strength in numbers. Leverage the power of an integrated marketing strategy.

For more information and details on upcoming free digital marketing seminars, contact Illes at jilles@cnhi.com. 

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