There’s increasing awareness of how social media can help businesses establish effective communication with their customers. The number of companies who have connected via LinkedIn, gathered friends/fans on Facebook and Tweet regularly on Twitter is rapidly growing. Added to this, articles abound stating that business leads generated using inbound social media methods offer significant financial savings over traditional outbound marketing techniques.
Many large businesses have found communication via social media channels has increased brand awareness, loyalty and that all-important end product, sales. More and more of the larger companies either allocate dedicated staff or use external agencies to manage their social media channels. However, I talk to many small to medium-sized businesses who seem to hold the opinion they can go it alone.
Certainly, getting started with social media is fairly easy, there’s usually someone who knows someone who’s set up an account on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Social media channels are free to set up and there are free tools to measure the effectiveness/reach of your social engagement. In fact getting a social media presence established successfully is fairly straightforward, or so it would seem.
I would venture to suggest that whether you DIY or employ someone else to do it all for you, unless you have an understanding of the overall aim of your social media interactions and know where your customers are likely to hang out, you could end up rather disappointed. The bottom line is that you need to establish a strategy.
The right and wrong way to use social media is not defined and there are no blueprints to follow for success. Unfortunately, too many businesses are not getting their approach and method right. If you’re already using social media in your business, answer the following five questions honestly:
• As a user of social media for business, are the returns measuring up to your expectations?
• Are you confident you understand the available features of the social media channels you’re using?
• Do you know why you’re using social media, beyond a general notion you should be seen to be connecting with people?
• Do you connect with people in a random and spasmodic way, when you get some free time?
• Are you actually engaging with your connections in conversations or just shipping out messages to them on a regular basis?
You’re far from alone if your answers give you pause for thought. Just because social media is free to set up doesn’t mean the knowledge of how to use it effectively comes as part of the package.
Sue Collini is director at Website Wings, offering social media advice and training.
Video is becoming extremely popular when it comes to internet marketing and it is easy to see why. Internet marketing is rapidly changing and it allows companies to communicate with their customers in a number of ways for an extremely low cost.
There are a lot of great advantages to marketing your business using an online video and here are just a few of them:
We live in a world where most of the content on the internet is made up of text and images which can often be a bit dull and boring. Videos are a great way for you to offer internet users something different and more engaging and therefore, stand out from the crowd. A number of reports have found that people stick around much longer on pages with video content and that they increase conversion rates too.
Videos allow you to directly communicate with your customers and they are able to see exactly who is behind the business. Whether you run a restaurant, hotel, plumbing company or any other business, there is no doubt that customers relate to direct communication and gain trust from this.
Once you have a great video for your business, you will be able to show it to the world. Videos that are hosted on sites like YouTube or Vimeo can be embedded on almost any other website using a small piece of embed code. This allows you to share your video on your own website, friends’ websites, social networking websites, blogs and forums.
A well-produced video will often attract a lot of attention. There have been many instances of videos gaining thousands, if not millions of views from being shared on sites like Facebook and Twitter and this could be the case for you too. Even if your video is shared on a local level, this will still often attract the attention of hundreds or thousands of potential customers.
Having video content on your own website is great for search engine optimisation (SEO). It is actually thought that within the next year or so, Google will apply more weight to websites with video content and any websites without video content might not rank for their desired keywords.
Joshua Hardwick is the Managing Director for ShortyMedia, a video production company based in the UK.
Having a presence on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin is unlikely to result in immediate sales. What social media does allow you to do is promote your brand to an audience who is interested in hearing from you.
Engaging with your customers is not going to be easy and it certainly won’t happen overnight. But if you put in an hour a day and approach it correctly you will be rewarded with subscribers, friends, or followers who understand who your company is, what it does and potentially why they should engage with it — hopefully leading to them becoming brand advocates.
A survey from the Chartered Institute of Marketing has revealed: 34% of 1,500 marketers questioned said that their social media activity in 2011 was “not at all effective”, while only 13% said it was “extremely effective”. However, small business owners should take note that the majority of those polled saw it as a tool of engagement (37%), or as support to other channels in a campaign (46%).
Whilst every company can benefit from some form of social media, not every form of social media will fit your company. It is therefore important to choose the platform where your audience is, not the platform that may get the most press.
Facebook is undoubtedly the king of social media. With the average user spending over 15 minutes generally surveying their Facebook terrain, you would think it was the perfect tool for smaller companies to engage with their target audience. Yet a quick look and you’ll find countless business pages with 50 likes and fewer comments. Sarah Orchard, from Orchard Marketing Associates, makes the point that:
“Facebook is a social space, so users are not as receptive to business-orientated messages. The question you have to ask yourself is: “is my business one that can tap into the emotional side of people’s lives?”
If your business fits this criteria then really try to make your Facebook page an interactive and worthwhile experience for the user. If you put on a quiz night in the local pub, for example, get attendees to sign up to join your Facebook page as they leave. Then, use your page as a hub for anything interesting related to your event to create publicity.
Croatian-based music festival Outlook is only five years old and it already has 54,000 likes on its Facebook page. Outlook uses Facebook as a marketing tool hosting DJ competitions, posting reviews of artists scheduled to play and uploading videos from last year to create a buzz around the event.
With its focus on business networking, Linkedin is a great tool to keep in touch with former colleagues and find new prospects. The Q&A function allows you to highlight what your company does and how it does it, as well as gaining useful advice to better run your business. Being a member on Linkedin also allows you to start, join and participate in group discussions. If you provide unique insight on a given topic on a consistent basis you will become an authority on your area of interest — you can even become a Linkedin designated expert. A potential client may be looking for information on your area of expertise, stumble across a post of yours that really connects with them and contact you as a result.
The site allows users to post images of your company’s product and link them back to your website. It acts as an online catalogue, except that images can be (much like Facebook) commented on and “re-pinned” to other user’s boards. It may be relatively new — the site was launched in 2010 — but Pinterest is already being touted as the most valuable marketing tool for smaller businesses on the web. There are already seven million registered members. The major drawback of the site is that if your company’s product or services are not particularly visual, you may struggle to get across what you offer. On the other hand, it gives you a chance to be more creative, using evocative images that intrigue other users into finding out more about your company. Here are 15 of the most popular pictures on Pinterest.
Twitter is a great way to keep people interested in your business or project and remind them of what you are doing. Your followers will be able to see your tweets on their Twitter feed. The great thing about this is that they do not have to consciously go to your page for you to get your message across to them and already have chosen to be receptive to your messages by actively following you. With clear and informative tweets you have the power to reach your client base and build up a picture of exactly what your company does, which creates brand exposure.
Business blogs are a no-frills way of sharing your company’s expertise and knowledge with a wider audience. The software is incredibly easy to use (e.g. WordPress, Blogware etc.) and cheap (and in most cases free) to run, meaning you don’t have to learn HTML or spend huge amounts on a web designer. If you post interesting content, people will return to your blog, retweet it or share it on Facebook. A great example of a blog giving real value to the business is Stony Field Farms (Organic Dairy Products).
Mark Mylam is a sponsorship executive at Slingshot Sponsorship.
Timeline for Facebook Pages arrives at the end of March “Like” it (excuse the pun) or not, so is your business ready for the changes?
Timeline hasn’t been greeted by everyone with open arms. However, since this implementation is definitely going ahead, perhaps this is a case of embracing the inevitable. Along with the Admin feature, one of the main things that will be of interest is the actual timeline that allows users and brands to tell their stories. If you’re curious, you can build your timeline up before choosing to publish it — keeping in mind that ready or not, it’s coming at the end of March.
This is where businesses can become more creative. Facebook wants to be the destination online for both consumers and brands, with Timeline just one intricate part of the jigsaw in making this happen. If the social network can encourage brands to invest time in producing their stories through its Timeline functionality they create the environment to increase stickiness, engagement, and interaction which bodes well to sell in other services, not least advertising.
For years Facebook has never been seen as a destination for B2B, particularly for SMEs, with dedicated business social networks LinkedIn and other niche resources a preferred choice. The new approach in the form of Timeline could be a way that Facebook could win over a B2B crowd. But where to start, and how can businesses work with Facebook Timeline for Pages, rather than against it?
Web design and development agency Integricity has created its “10 things you need to know about revamped Facebook Pages infographic” offering practical guidance and tips.
A business should always review its social media resources and work out how to integrate them into business operations and promotions. With Facebook changing things up again, this is a great opportunity for a business to do this.
Five tips for businesses using Facebook Pages:
Above all, think about your brand’s stories and heritage and find out how Timeline can help you share this with your customers. Facebook can be a great platform regardless of the size of the brand as long as you don’t impose limitations upon your imagination.
Tim Gibbon is founder and director at communications consultancy Elemental.
To see the infographic up close, click on the graphic to link to the original and then click on it again to see it in detail.
I recently discovered that I was infringing trademark law on my website. We make homewares from recycled and vintage fabrics, and like many craft-based companies, one of our products has a Union Jack-inspired design. We had written: “Celebrate the Olympics in style with our Union Jack cushion”.
Having read the guidelines, I promptly took down the text in question and quickly removed every other mention of the Olympics on my website.
You can read my blog on what these regulations mean for businesses on Law Donut.
But how do you mark this massive occasion without breaking the law?
Traditional business advice for small businesses regarding PR and product marketing advises us to be “on trend” — getting the right messages out at the right time to the right people and engaging with our audiences and customers on the issues and events that attract and concern them.
For example, if we at OriginalStitch didn’t find ways to ensure we had promoted our products for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Easter and Valentine’s Day, hadn’t followed cues from the weather and the seasons; if we didn’t jump on Back to School, or take advantage of the Golden Jubilee, we would be missing a trick — and that has a direct effect on our bottom line.
Staying within the guidelines
Most of you, like us here at OriginalStitch, have no desire whatever to be on the wrong side of the law — but clearly, being terrified away from the most significant world-stage event to occur on our shores in most of our lifetimes would be a shame and a waste. Many of us, far from wanting to mercilessly exploit the Games, want to feel that we are part of it; and most of you, like us, know that it is laughable to imply that your products are in any way endorsed by the Olympics.
So, my advice is to carry on with your marketing efforts, and join in the fun, but tread carefully. Hopefully, many of you will be adept at working on your company’s key phrases for SEO, marketing, social media or PR, so you now need to turn those language skills to the events or products you are looking to market.
Here are some ideas you could use:
• Use verb + time phrases such as “celebrate this summer”, “enjoy the events this summer”, “be a part of the sporting landscape this month”, “entertain yourselves in style at the events tonight”.
• Employ phrases and puns with a sporting theme, such as:
get a head start on your day...
be a good sport and buy the kids a...
don’t get stuck at the first hurdle....check out our...
avoid bellyflops in your business with our finance software....
race through your to-do list with our scheduling software
don’t get stuck on the back foot…
hit your target with...
lap up the atmosphere with our fabulous sausages…
everyone’s a winner with our...
• Be positive about the events, not negative: show support, be welcoming rather than jingoistic and share that enjoyment with phrases such as “Go, Team GB!”, “Welcoming all newcomers to Great Britain!” or “Flying the Union Jack!”
• Celebrate Britishness. If your products are made in Britain, ensure you’re telling the story; find a way of anchoring what your company does to a sense of pride in our hosting of a world event, even if you’re not a fan yourself. For example, our products are handmade in Britain; but it could be a supplier, a client, your local area or a local charity. Find a story and tell it.
• Launch or flag up a product with a patriotic feel to it; or consider renaming one of your offerings for the duration of the Olympics? If you make food products, can you top them with a Union Jack, or shape them into an oar, a tennis racquet or a bike? You have to be super quick to respond to events, but even a small line in fun products can work when you team it with social media, PR, and get local newspaper coverage. Our local butcher changes the decorative pastry leaves on his Chicken-en-Croutes to hearts for Valentine’s Day, and he sells many more! And, if you do this, ensure your SEO reflects this too.
• Make sure you’re being enthusiastic about other nations’ teams too. Look out for interesting news articles about the Olympics that reflect your ethics. If you specialise in products for women, turn your attention to individual women athletes who have overcome hurdles (no pun intended!) to be at the Olympics; if you have a supplier of products from another country that you’re proud of, flag up some of their athletes — maybe they come from the same town as your supplier?
• Use your social media strategies to enjoy the events. Use Facebook, your business blog or Twitter to share enjoyment of the Games with your customers. Use polls, ask fun questions, get your followers to post pictures of themselves doing sport, or jumping hurdles wearing something British — anything that’s fun and engaging.
• Find an innovative way of watching the Games with your customers. A pub we know has a promotion where they serve all pints half-price until the first try of all their televised rugby matches — it’s a great way of pulling in the punters, and results in both a cheer and a boo when the first try is scored, even when it’s the team they’re supporting!
• Avoid all trademarked phrases (see this blog on Law Donut for a full guide to the law). Use only your company insignia, and double check all your marketing activity to ensure you haven’t tripped up. Don’t be tempted to outsmart the law by using alternative spellings of clearly prohibited phrases.
Overall you need to shift your focus from “piggybacking” the Olympics, to engaging with it. But don’t be scared off. This is an event that belongs to us all, in spirit if not in the law, and your message calendar should include it.
So go on, knock yourselves out, but make sure you stay inside the safety ropes!
Those of us that are self-employed soon learn that the true currency in business is not money, but time. If we can learn to manage and manipulate this most precious resource, then the money will flow, as if by magic. The problem is that most people find learning to manage one's own time is the most difficult part of setting up as a business.
This is likely to be an issue for a lot of people at the moment. The new year is a time when many people take the heady step of striking out on their own, often either because they are bored with their current lifestyle or they are forced to through being made redundant.
In a corporate environment, time management is enforced by a higher power, a process which always also generates plenty of good excuses for not meeting externally imposed deadlines. There are invariably genuine and easily documented evidence of having been let down by customers, suppliers and co-workers.
These pressures apply in equal measure to the self-employed, but the downside can be an immediate and fatal cash flow crisis rather than a missed quarterly profit target. So the first and most essential personal skill for the aspiring entrepreneur is always one of time management.
This could mean realising sooner rather than later that all our efforts should be directed towards generating revenue, or that extra hours need to be applied to complete a project and thus receive an agreed stage payment. The trouble is that the importance of time management is often undervalued among those considering entrepreneurship.
People tend to think they will make a good founder because they are bursting with new ideas and enthusiasm. This is an essential first step towards starting a business, which always involves the making of promises, but it is not enough.
What characterises a successful entrepreneur is their ability to actually deliver on their promises, which typically involves engaging a second person who is adept at project management. In the meantime, the creative entrepreneur is forever rushing from one place to another and invariably arriving late for appointments.
Fortunately, my own career in start-ups was predicated on punctuality, as I was always responsible for sales. Confucius might well have said that "the salesman who turns up late for a client appointment will never close a big deal", so a wise sales manager will always arrange time management courses for new team members.
When I became self-employed, I was forced to master the basic spreadsheet, not only to monitor my own sales pipeline on a daily basis, but also to manage my own personal time in the form of a daily, online calendar, accessible on whatever device I might be using.
Personal discipline involves my making a specific diary appointment for every promise that I make, ensuring the system pings me audibly when that promise is due. Then, I make an instant value judgement as to whether that task should be done immediately or postponed to a quieter time.
This approach is exemplified by the most effective day in our working calendars, the day before we go on holiday. There is always a towering list of things to do, but we are forced to apply a ruthless filtering mechanism to each item, prioritising, delegating, and even deleting where necessary.
As we finally get on the flight to somewhere warm and sunny and look forward to a few days of uninterrupted sleep, we are happy in the glow that we achieved everything we could on that last day, but rueful that not every working day was as effective.
My advice would be to find a good book on time management and have that as your holiday reading.
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright © Mike Southon 2012. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.