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Three Posts to Avoid on Your Small Business Blog

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You have a small business. You’ve decided to start a blog. You’ve even done your research and learned how to use WordPress, search engine optimization, and social media. Congratulations! Blogs can be a great marketing tool, and although it takes time to build traffic, over time, it can bring in a lot of extra business.

But what should you post? As you stare at that blank screen wondering what to write, it can be paralyzing. Actually, small business blogging is more about knowing what not to write. Avoid the following three types of posts; any other post you write will only help you be successful.

1) Negative Posts, Especially About Competitors

Things aren’t always happy in the business world. You have to deal with angry customers, annoying regulations, and more – but your small business blog is not the place to vent. You especially want to stay away from talking badly about competitors in such a public online space, since it makes you seem petty. You can talk about mistakes you’ve made or changes happening within your company even if the circumstances aren’t great, and responding to customer concerns online can show that you’re dedicated to finding solutions to make everyone happy, but don’t use your blog to rant. You want readers to leave feeling positive about your company and your industry in general.

2) Word-for-Word Press Releases

As a small business, you probably write press releases occasionally, and there’s no better place to post these documents than on your own blog, right? Wrong. The point of a press release is to get lots of others to post it, and many won’t change a word (which is what you want, since you probably considered the press release language carefully). On your own blog, make your announcement special! Not only is it better for search engine optimization, but you can customize the announcement to really draw in readers, rather than using a press release, which is colder and less personal.

3) Personal Information

I’m a big fan of adding personality to any blog, even if you’re writing a small business blog. It helps readers connect to you and want to be loyal to your blog (and, in turn, your business). However, there is a thing as too much information. Make sure that every post you write directly relates to your business or your industry so it makes sense for your readers. It’s okay to talk about personal details occasionally, but if you write a blog about your restaurant, going off on a tangent about your cat probably isn’t interesting to your readers. Also, be careful about the personal information you share from a security standpoint. Don’t give out your home address (use a P.O. box or your business address) and think twice before posting pictures of your kids – make sure you can do so safely.

Do you write a small business blog? What’s your best posting tip?

Should Small Businesses Really Worry About Social Media?

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Session: Is social media still relevant for small business or is it just wasted time?
Speaker: Kirsten Wright

While the simple answer to the question this blog post poses is ‘of course’, I know the Blogworld community wants more than that, right?

You want to know why social media is important, what you should be worrying about and how you can possibly get it all done.

Let’s start with the why.
To find your audience. Most small businesses clientele are the average consumer. This means they are neither the richest or poorest 10%, they have a computer in the home and are probably among the 900 million+ people that are active in social media on a regular basis.

Next, let’s discuss the what.
Measuring conversation, engagement and analytics. Learning what your customers are saying is key to figuring out how to improve what you’re doing and to add more customers to your current buyers. In order to accurately and effectively do any of this, you need to be worried about conversing with them. This means 70% conversation, discussion and engagement (ie: about them) and 30% promoting your business and links to your content (ie: about you).

Finally, let’s cover the how.
With a strategy team. No one can do social media alone. It takes understanding the unique dynamic, having the tools for the analytics and having brand awareness that is a combination of you and their expertise. The monetary commitment into social media will vary but there is no free way to get involved. However, it is important to know that social is less expensive than a lot of traditional media forms which is why the barrier for entry is lower and therefore more reasonable for small businesses.

Of course, all of this just grazes the surface of social media for small business…but you didn’t think I’d tell you everything, now did you?
What struggles do you face in social media as a small business? I am happy to hear from the big businesses too!

Hear a bit more about Kirsten’s topic and why she is pumped to attend BlogWorld Expo L.A. in November:

Go to our YouTube channel to see what other speakers are saying about BlogWorld.

 

At 5150, Kirsten rules the social space, managing a team of content creators, analysts and project managers to bring passion and intelligence to the daily social activities, assuring that every tweet, status update, dialogue and video asset is ideally placed in your markets. Kirsten is a graduate of California State University Long Beach with a degree in Rhetorical Communications, and in her off time, loves taking her greyhound, Badger, for runs, and watching old movies with her husband. You can connect with her on twitter, facebook & youtube.

Want Bigger Sales? Try “Connected” Employees

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Many large companies have rigid policies prohibiting employees from any business-related social media activity. If that’s your practice, I recommend you reconsider.

My business is helping smaller B2B companies accelerate their growth by learning to sell bigger deals to bigger customers. Most of our clients have some kind of a complex sale, such as a software solution, a technology, a marketing plan or a training program, for a few examples. When they are selling into a large company, they find that many people are involved in the decision of what to buy and from whom or whether to buy or do it themselves in house.

One or two people will make the final decision but many more will influence that decision. Whoever ultimately decides will not choose a solution or a service provider that is not widely accepted among other internal influencers. The price of change is too high; the price of internal conflict is too painful.

The other influencers will make their recommendation based on their confidence in the capability and likeability of the people from your company with whom they would be interacting. So, they want to get to know these people. They want to check out the credentials of members of your project management team or your trainers or your customer service staff or your IT department or your graphic designers or whomever. They want to know their peers in your company.

Now here’s where social media comes in: they will look for your employees on LinkedIn and on Facebook and possibly on Twitter or JigSaw and they will check to see which employees contribute to your company’s blog or Facebook page or LinkedIn discussions. They will want to see a profile, work history, where people went to school, what kind of credentials they have. Especially on LinkedIn, they will explore whether your employees have received recommendations from past or current customers, supervisors, or co-workers. They will be interested to learn whether your employees are thought leaders; for example, do they comment on relevant industry blog posts, do they ask and/or answer questions on LinkedIn, and do they participate in special interest groups online. They’ll look to see how your employees are connected, to them and to others. They may ask to connect with members of your team.

If your employees are invisible online, or if their only presence is a personal presence, you will be at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to other competitors whose employees are visible and active online.

Of course you need policies and procedures, mostly guided by common sense. If you have a marketing team, someone there can draft policies and provide some training. If you’re smaller than that, find a blogger or a savvy GenY employee to take a lead. To start in a small, safe way, encourage your employees to create a LinkedIn profile. Teach them what a good one looks like, and help them get a professional headshot photo. Ask them to request recommendations. Show them how LinkedIn works, how to find groups, and how to participate appropriately. Make your expectations clear, and be explicit about how much time during business hours would be acceptable for professional social media activity. Even a limit of 10 minutes a day on LinkedIn will enable them to become well-connected (and LinkedIn won’t require a daily check-in).

The more your team “connects” with others, the more powerful your company will become in business development opportunities-more sales, bigger deals.

Image Source: SXC

How to Get Left Behind-B2B Sales and Social Media Predictions

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To be successful in B2B sales today AND tomorrow, you need to actively build your social media presence. I assume since you are reading this blog that you already know that, or at least you are interested in knowing more. But it frightens me how many small to midsize companies behave like ostriches when it comes to a serious evaluation of their social media strategy.

Here are five serious ways that you will be left behind:

  1. Thought Leadership. You are not actively engaged in developing a point of view about your industry on behalf of your company. You and/or your employees are not publishing articles and white papers, or participating in online discussions, or asking and answering questions in the leading social media sites for your industry and/or your state and locale. Therefore you will not become known as an industry leader and will increasingly be perceived as irrelevant.
  2. Website. It’s a marketing piece all about you. It is not interactive, inviting visitors to participate in any way. It doesn’t offer any links to unbiased information or free white papers or eBooks or any little way to promote extra value. It just sits there, doing nothing for you. Therefore, you are by definition losing ground to competitors who are upgrading their interactivity.
  3. LinkedIn. You have a minimal presence or none at all. Only one or two of your employees are engaged here. There is a lack of personal photos, complete profiles, and connections to other professionals. You are not members of relevant industry groups. If groups don’t exist, you haven’t taken leadership to create them and invite others. Therefore, interested prospects will not find you, nor will you find them.
  4. Google Alerts. You have not set “Google alerts” (they are free) to help you monitor what is being said about you personally, your company, your industry, and your key executives on the Internet. You do not have any system to monitor the flow of industry information and where you may, or may not, fit into it. Therefore you have no basis for an improved marketing strategy.
  5. Opt-In e-mail List. You are not actively building your list of friends, current customers, and prospects, so you have no reliable and inexpensive way to reach them with news, special offers, or simply thanks for their business. Therefore you run the risk that your competitors have a much better list and the capacity to reach your customers and prospects regularly.

You may not need a Facebook page. You may not need a Twitter account. Those channels depend highly on the nature of your business and where your audience is engaging online. But even if you think today that your market is offline, I challenge you to think again and to investigate or ask your youngest, newest employee to investigate on your behalf.

Today’s communication channels will change, as did the mail, telegraph, telephone, cell phone, etc. They will continue to evolve. But the basic premise that you need to be connected will not change. If you’re not sufficiently connected, the steps you take today will pay you back many times over!

Do you have a connectivity story or comment to share? We would love to hear from you.

Eight Great Sources of Social Media Content to Boost B2B Sales

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Here’s a challenge: suppose you are a manufacturer of machine tools. You’re not a consultant, you don’t sell to consumers, you’re not a marketer, so what does social media have to offer to improve YOUR sales?

I have argued that your customers and prospective customers are hungry for relevant, easily located information. Therefore every company should have a content strategy-a method for providing extra value to customers, especially when customers are shopping online. That doesn’t mean they are buying online, but they would much rather get information about your products (and those of your competitors) online than from your salespeople. Your customer is not “the company,” but rather the engineer or the factory manager or the purchasing agent or the tool-and-die maker who uses your products.

But if you don’t have a big marketing staff and if you don’t want to create new content, how could you provide them with relevant information to make their lives easier? How could your website become known as a “place to go to” when they are investigating?

One way is to offer a industry-relevant links and embedded content. Here’s what I found on my tour of social media sites looking for content about “machine tools.”

  • First, I Googled machine tools blog and found CR4, “the engineer’s place for news and discussion.” The blog is up-to-date and the associated forums are very active. At the moment I landed there, 243 visitors were online! Link to this space and introduce your customers to some useful conversations.
  • I went to Alltop and searched for “manufacturing.” Alltop is a site that aggregates the most popular blogs on a wide range of subjects. Link to that site and show your customers where to find relevant blogs.
  • How about YouTube, the online site for sharing videos? What does that have to do with your company? Well, I found a series of five videos about machine tools and their history, Modern Marvels. YouTube videos can be embedded into your own website or blog (as illustrated below!)
  • I tried SlideShare, the online site for sharing slide presentations, and found an analysis of the global machine tools market. Like YouTube, SlideShare permits you to embed content into your own blog or website.
  • Searching Twitter @MachineTools, a stream of tweets about buying and selling used machine tools.
  • On LinkedIn, I found a Machine Tools Group featuring discussions with 348 members.
  • Turning to Facebook, I located Machine Tools Mart, whose CEO lives in India and offers global information about buying and selling machine tools.
  • At amazon.com I searched for books on the machine tools topic. On the amazon.com site you can create your own list of favorites that you recommend (search for Listmania) and feature it in your profile. You can also create a bookstore on your website or feature books in your blog with direct links to amazon.com where your customers can buy them. Incidentally, you can earn a commission on those sales.

Please note, this post is not about machine tools. no matter what your B2B business, you can improve your sales position through social media, even by using social media very passively. Make your website, your blog, or your Facebook page a source of timely, relevant information. It will be relevant because YOU selected it, because YOU know what your customers are looking for.

Remember Danny DeVito in OPM (Other People’s Money)? Well, you can boost your sales strategy with OPC (Other People’s Content)!

Small Business Social Media Profile: Deschutes Brewery

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The Small Business Social Media Profiles is a series where BlogWorld talks with small businesses about how they’ve incorporated social media into their website, marketing, and promotion. We ask for their input and hopefully encourage you to further your social media reach!

This week we are talking with Deschutes Brewery, a brew pub founded in 1988 in downtown Bend, Oregon. They are very prominent in social media with over 15k followers on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. They’re also active on Flickr and have put together a Deschutes Brewery film that ties local landmarks to their beers.

When did you start integrating Twitter and Facebook into your business marketing and outreach?
We started a Facebook account in Mar. 2009 and Twitter in June 2008.

How did you begin promoting your account and encourage fans to follow you?
I would say, we post engaging information, facts, photos, and events that beer people want to see. We also have over 300 employees of which most follow us and get their friends to follow us too. We also have 2 pubs with information about how to follow us as well as an icon on our website and our e-newsletter.

Do you run any contests, or specials, or have other interesting activities in place for social media?
We have not run any contests but when we ask for suggestions and get some great ones, we’ll send off some swag as a thank you for the idea! EX: I was cooking dinner one night and asked fans to send me their recipes that use beer. I chose one that suggested Beer Cheese Soup and I made it. It was awesome so I send off a t-shirt for the idea.

Do you have a social media plan and/or policy in place?
Not written but we only have 2-3 administrators that can make posts on facebook & twitter and we’ve been to trainings about what to and what to not post.

Do you have social media goals for your business?
Our goals are primarily about interactions, not how many people follow or “like” us. We could have 1,000,000 followers but if there is no interaction…what’s the point? Some goals we’ve set for 2011 are 100 fan interactions per week on facebook, 50 retweets per week on twitter, 1-2 video posts per week, photos from around the brewery, and all upcoming events get posted as well.

Do you have a dedicated employee for social media or do you all interact?
We have 2 full time people dedicated to social media (Digital Marketing Director and Social Media Coordinator). We also have 1 staff at each pub that update beer, menu and pub happenings.

How important do you think social media is for a company, especially restaurants?
VERY, VERY, Mega Important! If there were no fans, there would be no Deschutes Brewery. We love keeping up with what people are saying about us and about other craft beer in the US and the world. Our fans are our “brand ambassadors”. Word of mouth spreads more quickly than any visual ads so when people have great things to say about us via social media, it quickly spreads and that’s the idea!

How do you deal with questions/concerns/complaints via social media? Do you ever fear being too accessible?
Our team has 2 different schedules: I work Sunday-Thurs and Jason Randles (Digital Marketing Manager) works Mon-Fri and we both check in on Saturdays or schedule tweets to go out on that day so every day of the week is covered via social media. If there is a question, comment, or complaint, we answer it right away. It may be as easy as a quick comment on twitter or facebook but if seems like a larger issue, I give out my e-mail address and ask them to tell me about their experience via e-mail & they always do. Then we figure out how we can help and defuse the situation right away so it doesn’t spread any further into cyberspace. Usually we make fans for life that way. I also answer all of the “contact us” e-mails that come in through our website (50-100 per week) and I get to everyone w/in 48 hours as long as I am not on vacation. If there is an issue, I again handle it right away and if a refund is required, I get that out right away with a hand written note and fans love it. We both love what we do so fear of being too accessible is not an issue right now but we do plan on expanding our distribution further east into the US (we are only distributing to 17 US states and BC now) so it may become an issue later on but maybe the staff in this department will grow with our distribution growth as well.

If you’d like to have your small business profiled, please shoot me an email with your name and website!

Small Business Social Media Profile: The Mermaid Inn

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We’re starting a new series on the BlogWorld Blog called Small Business Social Media Profiles. I’ll be talking with small businesses who’ve incorporated social media aspects into their website, marketing, and promotion – asking them for their input and hopefully encouraging you to further your social media reach!

First up is The Mermaid Inn in NYC – a casuallly sophisticated urban fish shack located in the East Village and Upper West Side in New York City as well as the Mermaid Oyster Bar located in Greenwich Village. Very prominently on their homepage they have links to their Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr accounts – plus a link to their Oysterpedia app!

I think their website layout and flash elements are very fresh and sophisticated. I was excited to talk to them further!

When did you start integrating Twitter and Facebook into your business marketing and outreach?
We started our twitter and facebook outreach about two years ago.

How did you begin promoting your account and encourage fans to follow you?
At first we reached out a lot to people in the food community – food bloggers, oyster lovers etc and they helped get the word out about the account. Also we made sure everyone on staff was aware of what we were doing and supported/promoted it in the restaurant as well.

Do you run any contests, or specials, or have other interesting activities in place for social media?
We have Social Media Mondays in which we tweet a password or phrase as well as put it on our facebook page for a 20% discount if a customer says this phrase to their bartender or server. We also have the best foursquare deal in the city – check in for a free side for your table or steal the mayorship for a free lobster sandwich (a $26 entrée!). We also have an iPhone and Android app called Oysterpedia that is a guide to over 200 North American oyster varieties, with tasting notes, photos, and rating system to save your favorites.

Do you have a social media plan and/or policy in place?
Our social media policy is to connect and communicate with our customers – both current customers and potential – and to do that in an engaging, fun way that promotes the Mermaid brand as a quality, laid-back neighborhood seafood restaurant.

Do you have social media goals for your business?
Our social media goals involve increasing our social media presence and quality of interactions, sharing (and learning) about topics relative to us – such as oysters, etc., staying on top of what is going on in the social media world, and finding new ways to promote our brand as well as listen to our customers.

Do you have a dedicated employee for social media or do you all interact?
Many of our employees are on social media and post their own things about the restaurants but we have one dedicated person who is the voice of the Mermaid and her personality through our official social media accounts.

How important do you think social media is for a company, especially restaurants?
I think social media is important for companies because it’s a great way to interact with customers as well as get new customers, and hear feedback about your company and the things you’re doing. For a restaurant it’s a great way to share information about what is going on – such as new menu items and special events – and having other people (your followers) promote it too.

How do you deal with questions/concerns/complaints via social media? Do you ever fear being too accessible?
We deal with questions/concerns/complaints on social media the same way we would if we heard the complaint at the restaurant. We respond in a timely manner and if there is anything that needs to be resolved, we resolve it as well as answer any question asked to us.

I don’t fear we are being too accessible. We’re a laid-back, fun and casual restaurant environment and we’re not too stuffy to hear what our customers have to say. It’s fun and it gets people excited about the restaurant.

If you’d like to have your small business profiled, please shoot me an email with your name and website!

Ten Tactics to Drive B2B Sales with Social Media

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Hello BlogWorld readers, and welcome to my new blog post series on how social media can drive your B2B sales. I’m pleased to be invited to contribute and look forward to interacting with all of you here.

I work with small and midsize B2B companies learning how to grow their business by making bigger sales to bigger customers. Most of my customers are new to the social media world and especially confused about how it can possibly relate to the B2B sales environment.

So thought I’d start by introducing the topic and giving you my list of the Top Ten tactics that will help you use social media to drive B2B sales. My Top Ten list also forms the topic list that I’ll be blogging about/hope you will add to it!

  1. Position your company as a thought leader/team of experts in your field. Invite several of your subject matter experts to create newsletters, blog posts, white papers, discussion board posts, slide decks and/or videos about their knowledge and expertise in your industry. Provide them with policy guidelines and training for creation and have a system for distribution.
  2. Develop a content strategy to add value to the customer experience. Learn how to leverage your website, blog, and social media sites to present content that your company produces and to share content from others that will be of interest to your customers.
  3. Learn how to use social media to generate high quality leads. For example, use social media tools to invite members of your target audience to attend a teleconference or webinar and give them high quality, relevant information. When they sign up and attend, you have a warm introduction and a reason to call them.
  4. Engage your prospects and customers in conversation about their needs and their desires. Social media platforms make it easy to conduct surveys, to ask simple questions, and to comment on your customers’ observations in real time.
  5. Request and publicize referrals and recommendations through social media. Ask your key employees to request Linked In recommendations from current and past customers, for example, and suddenly you’ll have 10 or 20 or 50 points of view about the quality and capabilities of your team.
  6. Conduct sales research about prospective companies and their key employees. The networking sites give you unprecedented access to information about people at work. Just keep in mind that your company will ‘get’ only as much as you ‘give,’ so encourage your team to be contributors.
  7. Build customer loyalty through multiple social media touch points. Wherever you find your customers on the Internet-and wherever they find you-be prepared to engage in a multi-channel conversation.
  8. Keep up with trends in social media and sales/understand sales 2.0. Lots of small business owners are still hoping it will all go away. But I believe we have hardly begun to tap the potential of the Internet and social media activity for B2B business engagement. The most successful companies will be those that intend to learn and grow with the phenomenon.
  9. Use your social media resource sites to find industry reports, data, and predictions that will interest your customers. Make great resources easy for them to find through you, and you’ll add great value to their experience.
  10. Connect with ravens and mavens. Ravens are guides and protectors of the whale hunters; they want you to win big sales. Mavens are passionate knowledge brokers who know what’s what and can advise you on the trends. Subscribe to their blogs, follow them, ‘friend’ them, ‘like’ them. Most of all, allow them to help guide you through the social media territory.

How are you using social media to support B2B sales? I look forward to your comments!

Overheard on #Blogchat: Share People Stories (@ScLoHo)

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Do you participate in #blogchat? Every week, this weekly discussion on Twitter focuses on a specific topic and bloggers everywhere are invited to join in. Because I often have more to say than what will fit in 140 characters, every Sunday night (or Monday morning), I post about some of the most interesting #blogchat tweets. Join the conversation by commenting below.

(Still confused? Read more about #blogchat here.)

This Week’s Theme: What company blogs can learn from personal bloggers with @1680PR

This week, #blogchat was held LIVE at SXSW. Sad face that I couldn’t go, but happy face that there was still normal #blogchat at night for those of us stuck at home! Actually, I was so busy apartment-hunting that I didn’t get to the online version either, but moderator and host Mack Collier is nice enough to link to the transcript every week, so I was still able to pick out some awesome points to share with you all!

One that stood out to me just a few minutes into the chat:

@ScLoHo: Every business has people. Share people stories on your business blog

Business blogs are too often outlets for company press releases and nothing else. Think about your favorite brands in the world. I like Hershey’s chocolate. I like Gain laundry detergent. I like Dell computers (don’t judge me, that’s a debate for another day, haha). But really, I don’t like any of those companies enough to read announcements about their products every day – or worse, multiple times per day. It’s sometimes nice to know big changes that are coming, but I don’t need constant content that is little more than ads for your brand.

Corporate bloggers, write this down and post it by your computer: A blog is not a commercial.

Adding personality to your corporate blog is, in my opinion, the only way to go. But if you’re a major brand (like Hershey or Gain or Dell), doing that can be tricky, since you have a corporation to represent (not just yourself) and since you’re probably one of several people working on posts. Even as a small business owner, it can be tough to know how to go about adding personality to your blog.

That’s what I love so much about @ScLoHo’s tweet. Telling stories is something I do regularly on my own blog, After Graduation, and companies can definitely learn to do that as well.

  • Share the story of how the company was founded and how the business owners helped it evolve into what it is today.
  • Share awesome stories from people who work at your company. Feature everyone from board members to factory workers. Feel-good stories that fit your brand well are interesting and help promote your products.
  • Share stories from your customers. Not only are you promoting your brand, but you’re starting to build a community by getting your readers involved.

I think that personal bloggers can take some value away from this idea as well. Don’t be afraid to share your story and the stories of readers if they are relevant to your topic. It’s one of the most basic ways we can connect as human beings. Between the press releases, some human interest stories go a long way for corporate blogs, and for personal bloggers, this is a way to spice up your content, doing something different and interesting for your readers.

Book Review & Giveaway: ‘Perspectives on Social Media Marketing’

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Perspectives on Social Media Marketing isn’t your average social media how to book. It provides easy to digest topics with both an agency perspective and a brand perspective (with a guest perspective thrown in for added viewpoints). Stephanie Agresta (from Porter Novelli) and B. Bonin Bouch (PepsiCo) come together to talk about understanding social media, how it has changed the marketing landscape, how to implement a tactical and strategic social media plan across your organization, how to best measure the ROI of a social media campaign, and more. Each topic has short and concise answers, with concrete examples and tips – so you can start implementing social media marketing in your business today. We have a copy to give away, details below!

Audience: Large Businesses, Small Businesses, Individuals – There’s something for everyone, including start-ups and successful businesses.
Tone: Conversational with some personal views, humor, and case studies sprinkled throughout.

Here are just some of the 89 specific topics included:

  • What is Personal Branding and How Important Is It?
  • How Has Social Media Changed Customer Service?
  • Do Consumers Really Want to Communicate with Brands? Why?
  • What Tools Are “Must Haves” for Every Social Media-Marketing Effort?
  • Should Strategy Come from PR or Marketing?
  • How Can Companies Use Social Media Internally to Improve Employee Morale?
  • Should Your Company Follow People on Twitter, or Just Be Followed?
  • Is There a Direct Relationship Between Social Media and Sales?
  • Is It Ever Too Late to Start Social Media?
  • What Would You Consider to be the Worst Social Media Campaign Ever Run?

An excerpt from the book (reprinted with permission):

Topic #27 What Advice Would You Give a Manager For a Company That Has So Far Ignored Social Media But Now Wants to Get Up to Speed?

B. Bonin Bough: The Brand Perspective
The first step is to make sure you yourself participate in the platform. Don’t kill yourself, though, trying to participate in every platform. Figure out which platforms you care about and focus on those. Also, understand that as an individual, you can be a part of social media without necessarily putting a lot of content into the space. I think one of the best rules of thumb is the 1–9–90 rule. It says that 1 percent of the people create the social media content, 9 percent of people participate in that content, and the other 90 percent are passive. It’s okay to be passive—although as a marketer, you want to be sure you understand the nuances of what it means to participate. I’m not the most prolific Twitter contributor, but I’m a freak about following it, so much so that that I have data visualization in my office that I can follow like a news ticker.

Next, you want to identify people in your business or industry who are influencers and power-users. If you can find folks who represent your passions, that’s even better. Start to fan, follow, subscribe. Search online to find recent articles that talk about the players in your area who are doing social media well and identify experts who discuss social media marketing in general. If you are a brand manager, bring in as many agencies as you can find time for.

I know that becomes very difficult after a while, but bring them in to talk to you so you have a sense of your options. Nobody has the one answer in this space, and you want to understand what all the different players bring to the table. Look for an agency that sounds different and that provides ideas that are not just based around their traditional business structure. And if they are a social media agency, look to see if they understand the scale necessary to drive your business objectives. Do not be afraid to be very clear about the resources that you require to actually make your program successful.

Another important piece that gets overlooked a lot is going to conferences. I spend my life going to conferences—talking to people, mingling with people, meeting new technologies. It’s a great way to be exposed to the culture of the space. For example, if you go to a social media conference, there will almost certainly be a Twitter screen behind the panelists. They are talking and tweeting at the same time. Everybody at the conference has a laptop, and they’re talking and tweeting and reading different things. That level of multitasking is completely lost inside the walls of a lot of marketing agencies right now; that’s a proof point that as a group we aren’t spending enough time at the conferences where new ideas are being formulated and thought about and behaviors are being transformed.

Finally, you want to follow and analyze your competition. You want to identify the best-in-class examples, and you want to find where the gaps and opportunities are. Also, look beyond your direct competitive circles and look at comparative circles. For example, with Gatorade, we are not just thinking about Gatorade and what might be perceived as other beverage competitors; we try to figure out who shares the mindspace of our core targets. In the case of Gatorade, that is elite athletes, athletic directors and coaches, and sideline moms. Who else are they listening to? Are there programs they are part of we can align ourselves with? That’s some of the best advice I can give for getting started.

Stephanie Agresta: The Agency Perspective
If you want to get up to speed with social media, the first thing you need to do is to get started with your own social media efforts. By that, I mean create personal accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These three platforms are the most widely used. For media consumption, check out YouTube and Hulu and photo-sharing sites like Flickr. If you’re feeling ambitious, try starting a blog and posting a few thoughts. Sites like blogger.com and wordpress.com offer free blogging solutions. Create media and upload it. Share it with your friends. Also, read, read, read! There are so many great blogs out there, and the best part is, the content is free! Check out AdAge’s Power 150 list (http://www.adage.com/power150) for a complete list of top-notch marketing and PR blogs. Also, take note of what people are tweeting and re-tweeting on Twitter. Often, the best content is curated by people who are in your trusted network. Tools like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn basically create a river of news from your friends, colleagues, and family members. More and more, people are using this as a main source of information. Posts on these networks may just clue you into what is going on at a very high level, thereby allowing you to do further research on search engines and professional news sites.


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