Tapping into the Valentine’s Day trend on social media

Taking Advantage

As business owners who want to stay relevant with current trends, you plan ahead of time to take advantage of holidays. But maybe you struggle with Valentine’s Day because you don’t see how it fits in with your business. Further, you see the advantage in using social media, but don’t know where to start in contributing and drawing attention to your brand.

First of all, have something to say. We always want to add value to the consumer’s life. This is what gets us shares. Especially on Valentine’s Day when we are competing against hundreds of other companies for consumer attention, we have to come up with something unusual, creative, and completely shareable.

Whether or not you personally want to “buy in” to all the Valentine’s Day hoopla, it’s smart business to encourage what consumers see as a day of hope for humanity.

  • Set up a series of inspiring quotes with trendy graphics relevant to your business. For example, if you own a computer store, your quote could be a cute quote on love or a corny romantic-themed joke, but your graphic should be of something like two computers running off together holding hands. Check fiverr.com to get something drawn up quick. Post your graphics on social media throughout the day. These should be completely shareable and only include your website in a discreet way down at the bottom somewhere, if at all. Selling your business to the consumer is only the remote goal of what you’re trying to do here. The proximate goal is getting them to agree and love whatever it is you’re sharing.
  • Highlight your business’ support for couples and participation in Valentine’s Day festivities by offering couples-centric discounts. Or offer freebies for those who stop by your business between certain hours. Your participation in Valentine’s Day with a discount for the public is the bare minimum of what the consumer expects. Graphics are cute, and you’ll get clicks for something shareable, but you need to cement people spending money for your product, not just have them like your page.
  • In all social media posts, include appropriate hashtags. #ValentinesDay and #Valentine are obvious ones, but other hashtags, like #WhatIsLoveInFourWords, are starting to show up. Check out hashtags.org to see what is trending from hour to hour. Appropriate hashtags would also refer to hashtags common to your target market. This post will be shared with the Valentine’s Day tags and #SmallBiz.
  • It’s probably too late for your small business to get a short video together, but if you have that kind of ability, don’t underestimate the power of the video. With Facebook, if you promote a short video – something humorous, something moving – your traffic can increase a ton because users will now see your content streaming in their feed, regardless of whether or not they click. Seeing a bit of what they are getting provides incentive for them to engage.
  • Instagram, a picture sharing site, is more heavily used by the younger crowd, so if you’re wanting to tap into this market more and use Valentine’s Day to do it, try ramping up your editorial style pics and making a social commentary on love with photos. Even if this only means taking your camera and randomly taking shots of occasions that remind you of love, romance, etc.  If it’s inspiring to you, it will probably be inspiring to others. It doesn’t matter whether it’s connected to your business specifically. The point is that your company believes in and encourages love, commitment, and hope for the future. Best of all, Instagram is free.
  • Use Valentine’s Day as a way to encourage people to engage with your business. You could ask users to post a pic from their journey to love and offer a discount code to anyone who does. You could participate in the trending hashtag #WhatIsLoveInFourWords and host a contest with a “basket” or gift card as a prize for the best one. Or do the same thing with a romantic haiku.
  • Make use of the personal story. Whether it’s an inspiring personal love story, your grandparents’ story, or your love story with whatever product or service your company produces, sharing something concise and inspiring can up your traffic. Video is the ideal vehicle for such a story, but this late in the day, a slideshare.com presentation is your next best thing. Failing that, use an article. Just make sure that the update announcing your story is pithy and will create curiosity in the consumer.
  • Service or product, have something crafted specifically for Valentine’s Day weekend. Limited edition items sold for a limited time create urgency in the user to take advantage of the moment. Use the obvious themes – hearts, flowers, romance. Even if your product or service isn’t romantic per se, having it wrapped in Valentine’s Day packaging (literally or figuratively, depending on what you are offering) or giving it a Valentine’s Day inspired name, is enough.

Valentine’s Day is coming up fast so you might not have time implement as many marketing strategies as you’d like. If coming up with content for your business isn’t doable, the least you can do is engage and participate with the existing content on the day of. Promote the business of other small businesses like your own and retweet and share the Valentine’s Day quotes, pics, and vids that put a smile on your face or in your heart.

You might not think your business has anything to do with Valentine’s Day, but that’s no reason your business can’t support love and romance.


Make Google Work For You

Google has more tools than handyman’s toolbox. Most people know about the big ones, like Search, Gmail, Drive, Docs, and Maps, but there are many more. One of the ways in which Google innovates is by putting out numerous beta products for free, just to see which ones are picked up and used by large numbers of people. The most popular ones receive more focus and resources, and eventually become full-fledged products (Gmail was technically a beta product until mid-2009, five years after it was first released). However, there are loads more that many people haven’t heard of. For a (mostly) comprehensive list, go here. However, one of the most useful tools isn’t even on the official list of products: Google Alerts.

Google Alerts is a terrific way to make Google Search work for you and on your timeframe – think of it as customized search results delivered to your email inbox. To set up an alert, go to the starting page. There are pre-built suggestions listed there, but to customize alerts for your needs just enter your search terms in the box at the top of the page. Sample results will appear below to give you an idea of the kind of information that will be delivered by the alert. Next to the “Create Alert” button is a drop-down list of options allowing you to control how often you receive an email from the alert, what kind of sources the email will include, and several other factors. Pick the options you want and click the create button. You’ll start receiving emails with the information of your choice right away. It’s that simple.

Now that you know how to set up alerts, let’s explore why you might want to. One of the biggest challenges for a small business is reputation management. The reality of 2015 is that more and more people are looking online for answers to their questions, meaning anything that’s posted online about your company could be seen by current or potential customers. Whether it’s checking reviews on Yelp or monitoring hashtags on Twitter, you need to be wherever your customers are looking so you can make sure false information doesn’t go unchecked or requests for help don’t languish. Unfortunately, most small businesses don’t even have a marketing department let alone a PR department, so anything that can be done to simplify these critical responsibilities can be a life saver. Setting up Google Alerts for keywords like your business name or top product lines can help keep you informed of what’s being said about you online, thus giving you a chance to respond. There are other reasons, too, though. You can keep up with general news and trends on your industry, saving a lot of time by having the applicable information sent directly to you. You can do a little virtual stalking of your competitors, if you’re into that sort of thing. You can keep track of who is linking to your site by using “link:www.yourdomain.com” as your keywords. If you want to get fancy, you can use operators to nail down some specifics. For example, let’s say you want to be notified if someone hacks your site and posts racy pictures on it.  You can set up an alert with the following search terms:

Nude OR naked OR porn OR sex site:www.yoursite.com

That should run along happily invisible until such time as a hack-and-post occurs, and then it will notify you right away.  It’s a nice little bit of extra reassurance on top of your normal online security procedures.  Feel free to set up as many alerts as you’d like – Google will allow you up to 1,000 of them. It’s just a single click to edit or delete your alerts, so anyone can do it.  More tips and details about customizing your alerts can be found here.

But it’s not just for businesses. Individuals can use alerts to help discover potential identity theft or content theft, follow sports teams or Hollywood celebrities, or stay on top of new products and technologies. You can set up an alert to perform the written digital equivalent of a selfie to find out what other people are saying about you. If you’re a traveler, you can use alerts to keep you posted on what’s happening back home. If you crave savings, you can keep an eye out for coupons, discount codes, or free goodies. You can even use an alert to send you notices about a particular job title you’re interested in.

Google Alerts is a very versatile tool for just about anyone who wants to get customized search results on just about any topic. Alerts take almost no time to set up, they function with very little maintenance once created, and can be an extremely powerful way to keep tabs on the information that matters most to you. Give it a shot, and feel free to come back and leave us comments about what works (or doesn’t) best for you.

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.







If This, Then That (IFTTT)

IFTTT logoHave you heard of IFTTT (pronounced ‘gift’ without the ‘g’)? IFTTT is a personal assistant service that according to ifttt.com, “makes useful connections between two things by using the statement ‘if this, then that’”. Connecting different services to help make your life easier, IFTTT aims to be a computer switchboard for useful things like sharing social media posts to multiple channels, muting your personal cell phone when you get to work, and beyond. With over 160 different channels, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

Assuming you are new to IFTTT, let’s take some time to learn IFTTT vocabulary:

  • Channels: Channels are the basic building blocks or the applications that you use on your computer every day, such as Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook and Instagram. Each Channel has its own Triggers and Actions.
  • Triggers: The this part of a Recipe. For instance, a trigger might be “I get an email from Sue”or “the weather is above 70 degrees.”
  • Actions: The that part of a Recipe. For example, “save the image file to my dropbox.”
  • Ingredients: Pieces of data from a Trigger (the if statement). For example, the Ingredients of an Email Trigger could be: subject, body, attachment, received date, and the sender’s address.
  • Recipes: Personal Recipes are a combination of a Trigger and an Action from your active Channels. Personal Recipes look like this: If I Instagram a new photo, then Add file from URL to my Dropbox.
  • On / Off: Personal Recipes can be turned on and off. When turned back on, they pick up as if you had just created them.
  • Polling Period: Most Personal Recipes check for new Trigger data every 15 minutes, some are even faster.

Launched in 2011, IFTTT was created by Linden Tibbets, Jesse Tane and Alexander Tibbets. In August of this year, IFTTT announced that it had raised a record $30 million in funding from the venture capital firms Norwest Venture Partners and Andreessen Horowitz, so I expect this is a platform to add to your watch list in 2015. Two things to watch out for are monetization and internet-connected hardware devices being added to the channels.


IFTTT will be launching a paid version for those who want more control over their recipes. Currently, creating an account and recipes are free.

Internet Connected Hardware Devices

As Wi-Fi-connected products are added to IFTTT channels, people will be able to control what happens at their home by setting up recipes. With IFTTT, you are able to control devices at your house, beyond your computer or phone. For example, Logitech Harmony is a tool that Creates personalized home Activities and lets you “enjoy integrated control of connected lights, locks, thermostats, sensors, home entertainment and more with the latest in Harmony home automation.” By linking Harmony with IFTTT, you can use your location to set a Harmony Activity. Or if you have Homeboy, “the world’s most accessible home security system”, you can set up recipes to turn your Phillips hue bulbs red, if motion is detected in your home.

Harmony IFTTT recipe Homeboy IFTTT Recipe

According to a recent Time article, IFTTT aims to encourage creativity in remixing Internet, phone and computer services to work better for our needs. “We’re often repurposing simple objects to fulfill a different purpose and need, like putting a pencil behind your ear when you need to use your hands,” Mr. Tibbets said. “It’s the same with IFTTT. People really deserve this ability to mix and match, and to have the Internet work for them.”

Facebook and Twitter IFTTT recipe

If you haven’t signed up, I recommend you sign up now and browse the recipes to see if anything looks beneficial for your productivity and efficiency at home and at work. Here are some excellent productivity recipes and some hilarious recipes to check out. Let us know what you think; what are your favorite recipes? Share them in the comments below!

Who Do You Trust?

You’re out and about and it’s time to eat. You’re not in the mood for fast food, but you’re not sure what else is available nearby. What do you do?

If you’re like millions of other people, you whip out your phone, run a quick search for nearby restaurants and check Yelp to see how the reviews look. The trouble is, that may not give you the full story.

Though clearly the 800-pound gorilla of online review sites, Yelp has had its share of controversy and scandal, especially in recent months. It started with an increasing number of business owners accusing Yelp of everything from unfairly filtering reviews through outright extortion. It was all anecdotal, but at some point complaints become numerous enough that they start looking like they have substance. MakeUseOf recently featured the mess, including this thumbnail sketch of how things seemed to play out all too often:

The story is always the same:
– Yelp approaches a business and asks if they want to advertise with Yelp for a modest price.
– If the business declines, Yelp pursues them with more aggression.
– If the business still declines, their Yelp rating plummets as their 4- and 5-star reviews become filtered for no apparent reason.
Not surprisingly, this story also flows the other way:
– Yelp approaches a business and asks if they want to advertise with Yelp for a modest price.
– If the business accepts, they pay the fees.
– Coincidentally, they begin receiving good reviews that boost their rating while having poor reviews filtered out.

This story — or a similar version of it — played out so many times that a lawsuit was finally brought against the company to force them to cease and desist these alleged practices. The verdict was rendered earlier this fall, with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruling in favor of Yelp’s ability to legally manipulate its ratings to earn more money.

On the one hand, this makes some sense. After all, Yelp is a publicly traded company, and that means its purpose is to earn money for its shareholders. There are many companies — and indeed some entire industries — that exist and thrive in an ethical gray area, many of which could easily be said to be much worse than this. However, on the other hand, for a site whose sole purpose is to provide legitimate reviews to consumers on behalf of businesses to manipulate those reviews in a way that looks a whole lot like extortion, well, it just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Yelp steadfastly maintains its innocence, claiming it uses an automated system to promote and demote businesses based on their star rankings, and there isn’t really any hard evidence of wrongdoing (the 9th Circuit merely ruled that it would be legal if Yelp chose to manipulate its reviews, not that they actually were manipulating them). Are there plenty of valid reviews on Yelp, and is it still useful as a tool to guide consumers to the best products and services? Certainly. Is this a problem unique to Yelp? Certainly not.

In fact, the same arguments can likely be made about any major review service, and finding legitimate, fair, and honest reviews will probably remain a challenge for as long as human civilization exists. But, in the meantime, there are other options. Urbanspoon is an obvious alternative for food choices. TripAdvisor is focused on visitors, but the information is just as valid for locals, too. Major search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing generally provide review information on restaurants, events, and many other things. Angie’s List is another big name in the industry, trying to solve the review problem by requiring a paid subscription to use the service, and a more stringent review vetting process (though the same accusations have plagued it in the past, too). There are many others, some based on location, some based on a topic, and some based on nothing at all. Search around and try some new sites; you may be pleasantly surprised.

At the end of the day, this mess with Yelp should be at minimum a cautionary tale to both business owners and consumers alike. Small businesses can spend a lot of time and effort trying to appease online reviewers, and to do so for reviews that are deliberately squelched or unfairly manipulated is both costly and maddening. Similarly, consumers may miss a high quality business simply because it has run afoul of a review service, or go to a business expecting one thing and getting something entirely different, causing an equally maddening experience. The bottom line is that online reviews should always be viewed with a giant grain of salt. If you want to be really thorough, it’s probably best to use multiple services to check any business. It should probably go without saying, of course, that asking people you know with first hand experience of those businesses is perhaps the best way to go because they’re not trying to make money off of their recommendation. Of course, their recommendation may depend on what they think of you, but that’s an entirely different subject…