Sometimes DIY Isn’t The Answer

As a small business owner, you’ve probably gotten used to doing it yourself no matter what “it” may be.  Whether that’s the part of your business that you’re passionate about — the thing that made you want to own your own business in the first place — or the accounting for your business, or the marketing for your business, or the technology for your business, or even the cleaning up the mess at the end of the day…you probably do it yourself, or at least you did for a long time way back at the beginning.  Whether it’s something that’s built into the DNA of most small business owners or simply a necessity from being forced to run as lean as possible, DIY is par for the course in the small business world.

But there are times when it’s not in your best interest.

blogging-428954_640While it’s always wise to understand every part of your business, there comes a point of diminishing returns when the specialized knowledge that your business really needs just isn’t worth the time or effort for you to develop it yourself.  Sure, given enough time and energy you could probably learn how to do it as well as the “real” professional, but who runs your business during the time it takes you to get there?  It’s demanding enough just to build and grow a business, but to do so while learning all of the new specialized skill sets necessary to make it successful is approaching the impossible.  For some, the knowledge in question is the accounting.  For others it might be the sales or marketing.  Technology is often something that isn’t a ready part of a small business owner’s skill set.  There’s a reason there are so many independent small businesses that provide precisely these skill sets!  Most small business owners eventually begin to outsource these more specialized pieces of their life’s work to specialized professionals — whether employees or not — because the cost of paying them is less than the cost of doing it themselves.  Blogging is one of those specialized pieces.

Yes, it’s true: in the year 2015, anyone can start a blog for free in just a few minutes.  You can even make it look pretty decent, too.  But, in today’s social media driven society where you have just a few seconds to connect with your blog’s visitors before they move on to the next thing, can you grab (and hold) their attention?  Can you keep them coming back day after day, week after week? Can you build a growing readership?  Much like working the drive through at McDonald’s, blogging sounds a lot easier to do than it really is.

For one thing, blogging is its own kind of writing.  It’s not high-minded or formal academic writing, but it’s not messy, sloppy, and nonsensical, either.  In the same way that even professional authors struggle to jump from novels to short stories to newspaper reporting, it takes a significant amount of time, effort, and experience to develop the right tone of voice and style for a blog.  This can be even more tricky when you factor in the exact subject matter and content of your own particular blog, but in order to have an authentic and consistent voice, that is exactly what needs to be done.  On top of that, the mechanics of the writing needs to be high quality.  It is not uncommon to find minor typos or grammatical errors even on websites of major companies, but the more of these a reader sees, the less credibility the blog carries with that reader…if they bother to come back at all.

But it’s not just about the writing skills.  If your readers leave comments or interact with your blog in any way, it becomes even more paramount that someone with experience is on the other side of the keyboard to curate and nurture those interactions in a positive way that not only builds your brand but also provides extra value to your readers.  We’ve talked before about how to do — or not to do — social media (here, here, here), and in many cases these disasters occur because of inexperience with the platform.  If you’re not sure you can manage the inevitable trolls — or if you don’t even know what a troll is — then you may want to think twice about doing your own blogging.

success-620300_640It’s becoming more and more important to enter the blogging and social media game on behalf of your small business, but it’s also critical to get it right.  If you outsource other specialized pieces of your operations, then it only makes sense to outsource your blogging, too.

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How to Share Your Content in Social Media Updates

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Your window of opportunity to garner the interest of the consumer is small. With attention spans shortening due to social media induced comprehension issues, that window has shrunk even further. What you say to the public has to grab them from the first phrase. And any excess wordage or concepts results in attention drift. Once that happens, you’ve lost them. They are already moving on to the next update in their feed.

Consumers don’t want their social media pages to be overburdened with posts they aren’t interested in. ‘What will interest consumers?’ is the question which every marketer has foremost in his mind. Not every post you make will produce a like or a share. But knowing what to say and how to say it has a direct correlative impact on whether or not consumers will find your posts interesting and worth sharing. Below is a short guide on how to share your content in social media posts.

  • Have great content. It doesn’t matter how much your update garners consumer attention and interest if the content you send them to is subpar. They’ll soon stop bothering to read your posts altogether, much less share them, if they’re disappointed on the follow through. What makes great content? The marketing rule is that it must teach, entertain, or inspire. If your post rambles, is a mere narrative about your day, or otherwise fails to teach, entertain, or inspire, consider writing or hiring experienced content writers who can start filling your website or blog with content worth reading.
  • What posts you share are important. Don’t take for granted the content you have that can remind consumers of your company’s existence. Share your about page, your testimonials page, your most clicked on posts (see what those are via analytics), and the posts that consumers found the most useful.
  • Keep posts short. Twitter length is a good rule of thumb. Consumers skim through their social media feed, which means they spend about two seconds reading a post before the decide whether it interests them.
  • Post updates with a link attached, but draw them in with your words. Don’t rely only on content you’re linking to. Even if the content is important, consumers need to have a reason to click on your link.
  •  Ask a question you think your target audience will agree with. Ego is an important part of the sales process because consumers have to feel good about the product they buy. If the audience can give a resounding Yes or No to your question, odds are, you will be getting more clicks.
  • Make a statement that will surprise your target audience. ‘Surprise statements’ cause curiosity, and curiosity equals clicks. Get familiar with presenting the unexpected, but don’t mislead the consumer as to the nature and slant of the subject matter.
  • Keep your updates clear and easy to understand. Pick a single point to emphasize rather than multiple points that leave your reader confused about why they should click on the link. Use the simplest word and the shortest sentences. Simple and clear beats out elaborate and confusing any day of the week.THAT MOMENTWhen your updates start
  • Use hashtags. Not all social media has ease of use with hashtags (Pinterest is a noticeable hashtag exception to the hashtag rule). Research which hashtags are the most used and visited hashtags in your industry. Add a minimum of two of hashtags to each update and make sure they are appropriate to your content.
  • Know your business. And not just your business. Check out the updates of competitors and peers with a high number of followers. Pay attention to which of their tweets are retweeted, which of their FB updates receive a high number of likes or shares. Figure out why. Are there good ideas you can implement there?
  • Share updates that link to content similar to your own. Part of having a social media page for your business is not just about linking to your own content, making announcements, or offering discounts, it’s proving to the consumer that your business page is worth perusing more in depth for other articles they might find relevant or of interest. And it helps to sell your brand by creating a mental association of your business with a specific industry as a whole.

Knowing what to share and how to share it can take some finesse and a good sales sense. If you don’t think you have those kinds of chops, stop by our page. We can help with that!

Social Media Marketing Strategies in 2015

Social MediaMarketingStrategies 2015

If there is anything we can count on in the digital world, it’s that it changes quickly. As the speed at which information is exchanged improves, consumer response to that information becomes faster and businesses want to be the first to know, and react in kind, to the consumer response.

Analytics are and will remain important for businesses. Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest all have rolled out analyzation tools for their users. The new information will allow businesses to pinpoint which aspects of social media are drawing interest, and which are falling flat. In order to use this information effectively, businesses will have to be flexible, willing to discard strategies that aren’t working and acquire new ones, sometimes implementing strategies that are novel and creative.

Businesses have to be aware, and not just aware, but engaged with the public profiles of their employees. As businesses learned from this past year, a business, and the public profiles of its employees, don’t have a private life on social media. Everyone markets. On a public profile, employees of a company are representatives held up to consumer expectations.  Consumers have the expectation that the companies they buy from reflect their own values. Which means employees have to be careful what they post on their public profiles and how they represent the brand.

Consumers are also wanting authenticity because it’s more relatable. As video and visuals become more common, there will be an upswing in the number of promotional videos that “sell” via real customer reviews, or through telling a great story. Consumers give greater points to a company that is doing more for the community than just making money off them.  They will want to see the human, personal side of a company because it gives the impression that it’s local and approachable, versus an immense and untouchable thing that happens to employee people. Companies will find their videos going viral if they can make the consumer’s heart melt, by promoting caring rather than persuading them to buy.

But attention spans among adults are starting to change. Studies have shown that we actually read differently after a constant exposure to social media.   Businesses concerned about consumers losing their ability to “read deeply” might focus on having quality posts of a longer length. But businesses who want to tap into the consumer trend of focusing on the most pertinent information in the shortest number of words, will use focus on implementing shorter posts and more of them. Microblogging, especially, will be useful for businesses interested in shorter, more frequent, posts.

Bigger companies will rely on an approach that incorporates both the digital tech and creative aspects of marketing. This means knowing a modicum of html speak will be of huge benefit to the social media marketing job-seeker. At the same time, smaller companies will discover that social media and blogging companies are catering to the DIYers by making their interfaces more user friendly.

Regardless, some argue that the age of the blog is starting to wane as companies discover other avenues of social interaction that work better for their business, and microblogging via tumblr and twitter take over. New social media outlets that are specific to certain subsets of people will begin to become more common. Purchase of ads tailored to these subsets of people will increase as consumers begin to make use of the hobby/interest-specific social media.

Hence, business owners will have social media managers who are given specific parameters of interaction – as much to ensure that there aren’t any social media faux pas which escalate into media debacles, as to ensure that the interactions are appropriate to the audience.

Immediacy continues to be an important aspect of digital commerce and, as such, will continue to force the direction of digital technology. As social media outlets attempt to shorten the distance between idea and action by experimenting with platforms that allow direct purchase of products, we’ll see the beginning of the end of third party distributors. Consumers will no longer have to go to a different website to purchase the product, but can purchase it right from their media outlet of choice.

This in turn will lead to a rise in ad sales on social media, as well as opportunities for individual bloggers to make more through affiliate links and acting as distributors of products endorsed on the blog. Because of this, authenticity will be even more important to the consumer who may not trust a blogger whose sole purpose in owning a blog is to make money off followers.

Overall, in 2015 we can expect to see a more tailored approach to the individual consumer. With every generation that passes the exchange of information has steadily grown swifter. The speed of that exchange has made a huge impact on the marketplace, both digital and otherwise. It will continue to do so and businesses will need to be prepared to take advantage of improved social media changes. Technology stops for no man.

Sources:

http://www.business2community.com/social-media/7-top-social-media-trends-will-impact-marketing-2015-01107054

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/social-media-in-2015-predictions-and-potential/

http://www.toprankblog.com/2014/05/digital-marketing-2015/

http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/7608-2015-small-business-predictions.html

 

That Mom and Pop Feeling…

A shop a kid can grow up in...Remember the old days when you walked down the main street of town and the shops you went into were all owned by people who lived there? Everybody knew everybody else, their children knew everybody else’s children, if there was a problem, the locals could fix it for you. People provided good products and great service, because they were all neighbors! And a bad reputation would quickly put them out of business.

Actually no, most people today don’t remember those days. We read about them in books, or hear stories of them, a fond remembrance (or a complaint) from our elders who do remember. Larger companies who could sustain the loss undersold them, lobbied for regulations whose costs they could absorb, while the mom and pops couldn’t keep up. The big stores hired an army of employees at low wages who could move more product than the smaller shops could even dream of. The government rewarded the large shops with tax-breaks and other things, but more than anything else, the mass of people chose large shops over small by jumping for lower prices and lower quality goods. And they did so with little regret. More paycheck left in their bank accounts after shopping was enough to sweeten this deal.

Then the internet revolutionized everything, both for good and for ill. It leveled out the playing field, at least for a time. Little mom and pops could now market and sell their products online to a potentially unlimited market, far beyond the borders of their towns and cities. Sadly, as many of us know, it wasn’t to last. Just as the large shops conquered communities, they conquered the web, pre-eminently Amazon, which is a mixed blessing. Just as Wal-mart could force companies to lower prices below what they want or even considered profitable by means of the threat of not carrying their products, Amazon too can lower prices as it wishes. If you don’t like it, what are you going to do? John Q. Public’s bookstore is not going to have a flashy app, or cut their prices 20% to compete because they have bills to pay. Amazon can cut prices and absorb the cost. Amazon wins.

Despite the fact that the place that takes the smallest bite out of one’s check will usually win the customer, consumers still want to feel that mom and pop feeling. They want to have their cake, at a cheap price, and eat it too (albeit only with real butter, cream and sugar). And they want to see the face of the baker and think that their purchase is helping sending his or her kid to college. Many Americans say they would like to shop local and support local businesses, but talk is cheap. You have people like Occupy Wallstreet protestors who bought their sign materials at Wal-mart and skipped the locally owned coffee shop for Starbucks. And this seems to be the way most of America is at this point. They want that good old-fashioned feeling, but they don’t want to pay for it.

Some people DO put their money where their mouth is, and a movement is born. Harold Pollack, a Chicago professor, shops only at small retail stores online, saying: “I don’t feel they [the big box stores] behave in a way that I want to support with my consumer dollars.” (Source) Buy local, shop local movements are beginning to gain momentum, especially in touristy towns where small shops still exist because they are quaint and attract visitors. In this movement, people consciously choose to sacrifice quantity for quality, especially when there is a face attached to the business they are supporting. A big faceless corporation like the run of the mill big box store starts to lose appeal in the long run.

Even people who say they cannot afford to shop at the Mom and Pop shops heartily support them in spirit. They like the “feeling” and the “idea” of them being around. Whether it’s the quaintness of a nice old building, or the personal touch of an etsy online shop, mom and pop says personalized customer service, one-on-one attention to detail, someone that cares about you finding the thing you want and will do what it takes to rummage around the shop to find something that will make you happy. In addition to all that, most consumers DO like knowing their purchase might be paying someone’s school tuition.

Companies that share their story, even put up pictures of their children (the family you are helping to buy groceries for) and show how their shop is a valuable part of society are becoming very popular. People naturally wish to have a personal connection with the place they buy their products from. Social media helps to build and keep this connection established. A simple communication device between the mom and pop shop and the small guy customer. Suddenly, big box stores take note of this, and go… “why can’t we use this tactic to make us look like something special to the small guy?” That mom and pop feeling can be an illusion, and we as a country sometimes fall for it.

An advertising trend over the last five years, big box stores have hired experts to help create an illusion of their being a mom and pop-like establishment. Personal touches like stories of how CEOs started out as small farm boys and worked their way from the bottom up to the top of the ladder really help to build up an image that you would probably have never seen without Facebook. Tweeting about their numerous donations to local charities make it seem like they have the local neighborhood’s well being at heart. Aw. Well, why not shop at Costco then? They have a real man CEO with a real heart, and he even knows about the importance of providing organic eggs to us at an affordable price. We get our organic eggs cheap AND support a real bona-fide farm family, a win-win situation! It’s that olllld mom and pop feeeeeling. It feels good, it feels right. The guys that study consumer buying trends are aware of this, and as long as they can make us feel good in conscience about where we are purchasing, we as a nation will continue to do it.

With social media at your disposal you can create pretty much any image you want to portray. You can’t go wrong with that mom and pop feeling.

How Many Connections Should I Have On LinkedIn?

That, my friend, is an excellent question!LinkedIn

There are two primary schools of thought on this: quality or quantity.  Those who lean toward quantity will try to create the biggest list of connections possible in order to expand their network as far as possible.  This could come in very handy when looking for jobs, especially targeted searches for particular companies or industries – obviously, if you have thousands of connections, a single post to your LinkedIn page is going to reach far more people than if you had just a couple hundred connections, thus increasing your chances of finding your target somehow.  LinkedIn has also become quite the gathering ground for business- or industry-related articles and opinion columns.  Having a lot of connections means a lot of eyes will see whatever you post, and increase your chances of getting interactions and notice from others in your industry.  However, there are some downsides to having a huge network on LinkedIn, and they need to be considered, as well.

For one thing, one of the best ways to connect to someone new and grow your network is through LinkedIn introductions.  Normally, you would ask one of your existing connections to write a brief introduction message and put you in touch with someone you’re trying to reach (who is a connection of theirs).  If you have a vast network of connections but don’t really know them very well, that introduction message is likely to lack a certain heartfelt genuineness that could put off the recipient and fail to bring about an actual contact in real life.  Second, when you connect with someone, you can see all of their connections…and they can see yours.  Whether or not it’s fair or right, the people with whom you associate do reflect on you, so if you don’t know your connections well, it’s possible that their actions, words, or histories could be damaging to you without you even knowing it.  Finally, studies show that it’s usually the quality of your connections rather than the quantity of your connections that are more likely to land you a job.  It’s those personal recommendations from people who really know the kind of person — and professional — you are that carry weight with those making the hiring decisions.

Social network connections by pnx - NetworkingThis leads us to the quality school of thought.  In addition to the recommendation aspect previously mentioned, there is the flip side, as well.  If someone asks you to introduce them to one of your connections, but it’s not someone you know well enough to thoroughly endorse, then why bother having them as a connection in the first place?  Similarly, you don’t want to introduce someone to one of your connections that ends up being a total flake; that makes you look bad!  Actually knowing all of your connections is probably the single biggest thing to keep in mind when it comes to either side of the recommendation coin.  Of course, there’s a threshold below which being choosy in your connections becomes silly – if you only have three or four connections, then you’re kind of wasting your time on LinkedIn.  Find a happy medium that works for you.  There’s also that association thing at play, too; you don’t want to be connected to someone who turns out to be a serial killer, and you certainly don’t want to introduce them to anyone new!

In all seriousness, though, the bottom line is that when you’re setting up your LinkedIn network, first stop and think about how you plan to use it.  Is your goal to get as big a network as possible because you plan to post industry relevant information on a regular basis?  Is it just to have a convenient online resume that people can see when need them to?  Is it to make (and help others make) genuine connections in a way that jobs are found and lives are improved?  Bottom line: what’s your purpose?  This question will go a long way toward guiding your decision-making process on who your connections should be and what threshold you use for determining which connection request to send or accept.Contacts by roshellin - Contact Book

One more thing – don’t be afraid to remove connections.  It’s probably a good idea to sweep through your LinkedIn contacts list at least yearly to remove contacts with whom you no longer keep in touch.  Think of it as a digital spring cleaning.  If nothing else, use that sweep to first try to re-establish contact with people and renew those relationships.  If they don’t respond, then you know it’s time to remove them from your list.

LinkedIn is a terrific tool, but like most other tools it is only really useful in the right situations and in the right hands.  Develop your purpose, make a plan, and then execute it.  You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

Do’s and Don’ts for a Happy Social (Media) Life

If you just started up a blog, twitter feed, or Facebook page for your small business, congratulations! We applaud the desire to broaden your customer base using this avenue of interaction. Are you a newbie to the social media world? Do you have a full calendar of posts or topics ready to go? Are they everything they 1should be? Do you have no idea even where to begin or what the protocols are to maintaining a social media page?

The advice below might seem like common sense, but being aware of these do’s and don’ts can make a big difference with likes, sharing, and customer approval of your page.

Don’t get too friendly. That doesn’t mean page managers need to be cold, or even cool, to visitors. It does mean they need to stay professional and impersonal. Scale back on TMI (Too Much Information). Remember that this isn’t a personal blog or twitter page, this is one of your business faces – quite possibly your most user friendly page, making you easily accessible to millions. Customers don’t want to know what you ate for breakfast, unless it pertains to your business.

Do have fun. People like positive, happy people. It comes through in a person’s writing voice, regardless of their intention. It’s especially important that whoever manages your social media page does so with a balanced perspective. Customers will be offended if a page manager takes a serious issue too lightly. They’ll also be turned off by a manager who regularly treats lighter issues like he’s Atlas holding up the world. A zest for life is beneficial to the success of your social media page because it acts like a people magnet. Think, ‘Young at heart.”

Don’t be antagonistic. Being snide, patronizing, or sarcastic toward those who comment is a sure way to narrow your customer base. As customers, we want to believe we are respected, and the first step in respect is a suspension of negativity. Even if you profoundly disagree with a customer, do so with respect and professionalism. If you really want to be safe, don’t limit this rule to engaging with commenters.

Do engage with commenters. If someone leaves comments on your page, even negative ones, be happy! They cared enough to respond, rather than just clicking out. If it’s a criticism, acknowledge their complaint, and tell them what is being done to deal with the issue, or why nothing is being done. Customers might disagree with a company’s reasons, but knowing them is the first step to transparency. And transparency creates a reputation of reliability. Whatever you do, don’t ignore visitors! Thank them every so often, perhaps even with a product discount.

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Don’t engage in flame wars. Sometimes a commenter might leave an inflammatory comment on your page. It sits there loaded and waiting for just the right spark to blow up your page. Leaving it on your page can cause a commenting thread that goes crazy. But that could result in more shares, and more shares are always good. On the other hand, leaving it without responding to it could make it seem like your company waffles on the issue. If you do engage, be careful. Be professional.

Do pick your battles. If you really care about an issue, showing that you are willing to take a stand can gain you the admiration of the public. Whatever the issues are, make sure posts are representative of what the company stands for. Saving face is never fun for anyone. Defending your position on things that matter to you will help define your company. But that doesn’t mean be defensive. So when you do feel like you need to assert your opinion on something controversial, do so with as much reason, and as little undue emotion, as possible. Customers don’t want vanilla, they do want respect and professionalism.          

Don’t clutter with inconsequential posts. This can be a hard rule to follow for a person new to the social media world. Where is the customer’s “I don’t care” line? Similar to the “TMI Rule,” not posting inconsequential things means staying away from trite commentary, information disconnected from your product, or useless information. If we are fans of your rental equipment page, we don’t want to be seeing shares on ISIS (unless terrorism is somehow affecting your business). Whatever the post is, if it doesn’t seem relevant to your business, make sure you show the connection, or risk leaving your customers scratching their heads.

Do pick one of the big marketing three with each post: amuse, inform, or inspire. Our society is notorious for being short on time. Hence the tweet (aka, the mini blog). We want things fast, yesterday, and if time consuming, as streamlined and to the point as possible. Keeping your posts to one of the three above (inspiring, amusing, or informing) ensures your social media posts are pertinent to the reader. If they are going to like your page, it is because they have discovered some sort of utility involved – be that of education, enjoyment, or hope. Give them a reason to engage with you, to share your posts and your page, and to come back for more.

Hashtags: you should be using them

When I began to notice friends’ Facebook posts ending in wacko stuff like #husbandsjustdontunderstand #lovemyhouse #hatemylife I closed my eyes and my ears. I most certainly did NOT want to know what new thing they were all coming up with, nor did I wish to find out I would need to use them. So, like an ostrich, I buried my head in the internet sand and happily lived without using one… single… hashtag… ever!

What’s nice, is that I was in good company. Plenty of us older twenty-somethings/younger thirty somethings, i.e., the dinosaurs of this new technological age, have had it with new weird things we “have” to do. Facebook, sure. Twitter, sure. Add in Google+ and LinkdIn, umm, oookay, if we have to. Throw hashtags into everything? I give up, man! I can barely figure out how to call someone on my dumb smartphone, let alone put hashtags on the end of my tweets and posts. As if I needed one more thing to do!

Part of the reason I didn’t want to use them at all ever, was that I didn’t understand their purpose. Gibberish, that’s what they were. And then I started thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could find all of the random posts I’ve ever posted everywhere? Too bad there isn’t a way to tag them all so I can find them on Google.” Oh wait. Someone has already figured it out. And those are the dreaded hashtags.

Of course, it’s also a way to share similar content with hashtag groupies. If people like stupid pictures of popped balloons, there’s a hashtag for it. If there isn’t, you can make one right now. #stupidpicturesofpoppedballoons There! It exists! And everyone can start tagging their pictures of popped balloons with it. It’s a really cool organizational tool (I know I date myself whenever I say cool. Sorry. I used to be cool).

Now, the juicy part. How do these things work from a business angle? There are analytics, strategies, do’s and don’ts. How can you make hashtags work for you? After reading a ton of stuff about hashtags, here is what I took away for myself:

  • Although you can put a hashtag on anything you want, they are only really effective via Twitter (highest), Instagram, and Google+. LinkedIn didn’t really like them. What about Facebook? Studies keep showing that interaction drops out when Facebook users add in hashtags (perhaps it’s a symptom of tech dinosaurs). Other social media users haven’t really caught up, so if you’re sticking with mainstream, there you go.
  • Limit yourself to TWO hashtags. Analysts show the level of engagement is highest when there are two, count’em, two. Not so much at one, and then hashtag overload past two.
  • Make one of your hashtags your brand and another one something trendy.

That is as simple as I can make it for my brain-on-four-kids. If I can figure it out, so can you!

I like to leave my readers with a laugh. In case I’m not the only one who didn’t see this until yesterday, this video clip is pretty funny. Note: bad word bleeped out at the end.

Click on me and watch funny movie clip#haha

Have fun playing with hashtags. Signing off.