Blogging your way to improved sales: The top 10 tips for starting a small business blog

Instead of saying you care, Facebook now allows you to actually make a difference

facebook-donate-button-hed-2015Remember #Kony2012? What about #Haiti after the earthquake? Still shivering after the #ALSIceBucketChallenge? If you’re closer to home here in Alberta, did you put a blue ribbon on your Facebook page to show your support for #EPSStrong?

It’s been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. Social media has tremendous potential to raise awareness for important causes, but being aware of something isn’t the same as doing something about it. Well now instead of adding that ribbon to your profile picture Facebook allows you to do a whole lot more.

Yesterday the social giant launched a “Donate Now” button charities and other organizations can plug directly into their Pages.

As Adweek reports:

Users will find a “Donate Now” button atop their news feeds, similar to the social networking giant’s option to help contribute to ebola containment and treatment efforts in November 2014. However, unlike that effort, which sparked some complaints of Facebook putting the onus of donations on users, the social network is now specifying that it will match $2 million in contributions.

Clicking the button (or donating via Facebook’s Nepal recovery landing page) will pop up options of contributing $10, $25, $50, $100 or a custom amount to the International Medical Corps, which is operating mobile medical units to treat the critically wounded and dispense medicine.

“Together we can help urgent care reach the people who need it,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his personal wall. “Thinking of all of you who are there and all of you who have relatives and friends in the affected areas.”

Facebook has allowed some charities to use the button in the past, but it is now rolling it out for wider use by charities.

Why does this matter? It means trendy campaigns where people show their support for a cause should finally fade away, replaced with campaigns that actually involve people helping out and making donations. After all, people on social media are never hypocrites.

Is social media right for marketing your small business?

Social Media for small business
Tips for social media marketing, and the many different ways social media can be used to promote small / midsized businesses (SMBs), can be found in almost endless numbers on an incredibly wide variety of websites. But there’s one crucial tip most small businesses won’t see – and that they should consider before any of the others; namely, is social media right for you at all?

Marketing budgets for SMBs have always been tight, and human resources to manage these dollars are becoming even more scarce. So while there are clearly great opportunities for small and medium businesses to use social media to market themselves, it’s equally clear that social media isn’t for everyone.

Should you be using social media to promote your small / medium business?

1. Does your business have something to say?

This is not a minor or flippant point. Some people enjoy their work, sell great products and love promoting their company, but just don’t have a lot to say about their business. For any number of reasons you might not feel you have anything interesting to say – and you need to know that up front, before you set up social media channels that will sit dormant. The only thing worse than not using social media is setting up social media accounts and signing up followers, but then not using these accounts regularly.

2. Can you take part in a conversation about your industry?

So maybe you don’t think you have anything to say up front. Maybe instead there are people already talking about your industry where you could jump in and add your insights. Just be sure you actually have some insights to add, and that you won’t just be jumping in to the conversation to explicitly sell your product or service.

3. Do you have someone in your business who has the time?

Many SMBs have one person doing all their marketing, and generally that person will have other responsibilities as well. So while social media generally doesn’t have any explicit costs, if this person is working on social media they won’t be able to spend as much time on their other responsibilities – which might take them away from advertising, keeping the website up-to-date, developing printed materials and so on.

4. Do you have someone in your business who can do the talking?

To successfully use social media, you have to have someone who is comfortable using the technology, or at least be willing to learn, and who can be counted upon to always convey the image you want for your business.

5. Are you willing to commit?

For all its tremendous value, social media is still not a quick fix. There are some absolutely excellent opportunities for SMBs in social media, but it takes time to develop relationships and build social media channels. You may not see results right off the bat, but if you’ve addressed all the questions above and are willing to commit to social media for the long term, you’ll see the significant benefits these tools can bring your company.

Just like everywhere else in PR, content is king on Twitter.

In just a few days on July 15, Twitter will turn five. It seems hard to imagine a world without the micro-blogging behemoth, and it is now safe to say that Twitter is mainstream, established – and here to stay. Surprisingly, even after five years and now with 200 million tweets a day, it seems as though Twitter ‘best practices’ still aren’t set in stone.

But it does seem like some things are getting clearer. It is still true that you can’t ignore your audience, and you need to engage them when appropriate. But some new statistics released by Dan Zarella suggest that – as we should have known – content is kind on Twitter as it is everywhere else in publication, public relations and marketing.

The statistics show a correlation between Twitter accounts that tweet a large number of links and accounts that have a lot of followers. The inference is clear; people are looking for more than just ‘engagement’ on Twitter.

In fact, they are looking for quality content that is informative, interesting and useful to them. Twitter users are not just looking to see their own name in their Twitter stream, and instead – just like everyone else – they are more concerned with finding information that is of value to them.

The title of Dan’s post includes a significant error, though, when it suggests that tweeting more links will get you more followers. This may be true, but the data he presents shows a correlation between the two but doesn’t actually prove that tweeting more links will get you more followers.

So what’s the takeaway from all this?

  • Tweets with links won’t necessarily lead to more followers.
  • Engaging your community is still very valuable.
  • Engaging your community is not enough on it’s own.
  • Tweets with solid content that your users find valuable will lead to more followers – whether they contain links or not.

Why I chose HootSuite for my social media work.

HootSuite Certified Professional Feature with Brian MulawkaHootSuite University recently posted a ‘Featured Certified Professional’ article where they talked to me about my experiences using their platform and going through their certification program. You can read the full item here, but since then a number of people have asked me why I chose HootSuite over other platforms in the first place.

I both monitor social media and create and publish social media content for my clients, and quite simply I’ve never found another platform that allows me to do so much all in one place.

And to be completely honest, price is another huge factor. The free version of HootSuite is incredibly powerful, and for just $9.99 the pro version has most of the features I use. The only other costs are for custom analytics, but I’ll come back to that. So basically you’re looking at a free or almost free social media dashboard where you can monitor all your social media in one place.

Key benefits of HootSuite

Here are a few more of the key features that sold me:

  1. New apps allow for streams to monitor Google+, Flickr, YouTube, Foursquare, Reddit,  and even RSS feeds. That means not having to jump around from place to place to monitor social media across platforms – and the app directory keeps growing so there are always new apps for whatever social media tool you may want to incorporate..
  2. Building organizations and teams in the platform allows groups to work together effectively and be very nimble in responding to people.
  3. The analytics are really solid. The included statistic package gives a quick view of what is working and what isn’t, and the enhanced package, while a little pricey, delivers very sophisticated and customized reports.
  4. The publishing scheduler is very handy. Being able to line up social media in advance and see what you will be publishing at a glance is a very powerful way to ensure you are consistently putting out fresh content.
  5. The mobile apps for iPhone, iPads and Android devices mean you can take this on the road. Admittedly the Android apps still seem like they need some polish, but the mobile apps do take the streams you set up and for the most part transfer them right to your mobile devices (some apps don’t seem to carry over to mobile).

So until I find something else that combines all these powerful tool into one, and for such a ridiculously low price, I’ll be sticking with HootSuite.

Simple social media rule: Don’t joke about tragedy.

Epicurious Enrages Followers With Boston Bombings Tweets

People all over the world are still reeling from the horrific bombing in Boston yesterday, and feeling profoundly shaken by the graphic images from the attack.

Social media mangers for hundreds of companies and organizations rushed to offer condolences and support, and to let people know how they can help. As seems to always be the case, however, there was at least one who took the opportunity to make an insensitive, ill thought-out and unfunny joke about the situation.

When will social media managers get the message? When it comes to tragedies like this, people won’t appreciate your joke, and your brand can suffer significant and permanent damage.

In this case the offender is Epicurious.com. They took to Twitter to try and take advantage of the attention this tragedy was receiving to try and hawk some of their recipes.

And though it is hard to believe, this is a far too common problem in social media. Kenneth Cole is known for pushing the limits with their advertising, for example, but when they tried to use the bloody uprising in Egypt to promote their brand the response was clear and emphatic: you’ve gone too far.

Sadly it seems as though every time there is a disaster or tragedy there is a social media manager somewhere who thinks this time will be different. This time people will think their joke is funny, not repulsive – and their brand will be the one who is able to take advantage of the world’s attention when focused on a tragedy.

And every time they turn out to be wrong.

So the message for social media managers? Simple — be decent human beings. When tragedy occurs, don’t look for opportunities to raise your profile or get attention. Look for ways you can reach out to people and help, or keep your mouth shut.

Google being crafty to push Google Plus

You have to give the folks over at Google credit. They might have been slow out of the blocks launching their social media site Google+, but they’re doing everything they can to make sure it takes off now – and not everyone is pleased about it.

On Thursday Google CEO Larry Page laid out his company’s earnings picture, and at the same time bragged that Google+ has more than 90 million registered users. That’s more than twice the 40 million users Google reported in October.

“We’re very excited about the growth we’ve had, and we’ve certainly seen a tremendous number of people added every day,” Page said during the presentation.

It took Facebook almost four years to reach the 90 million user mark, but at the same time Facebook now boasts over 800 regular users. So Google Plus has a long way to go to catch up – which is where the creative tactics come in.

Since launching the social network last June, Page said they’ve added on average one new feature every day. Clearly they are working hard to make the service worth using, and trying to drive up the number of users by offering a valuable service.

But as IT Gawker noticed, now new Google users who sign up for any Google property are also required to sign up for Gmail and Google+ at the same time. Want access to Google Docs? You’re a member of Google Plus.

And while it might be possible to overlook forcing one free account on people who sign up for any Google account, messing with Google’s search results is more worrisome.

The folks over at Search Engine Land took an in-depth look at just how far Google is going to inject Google plus results in the results of your standard search. As the article points out, this can be a fairly useful feature – but it is interesting that other social media results appear to be taking a back seat to Google+ results.

Clearly Google is a serious player in the social media marketplace, and clearly their efforts to expand the user base of Google Plus are working. What will be interesting to see is just how far they can push these efforts without irritating potential users and driving them away.

Is app convergence the next major tech trend?

I stumbled across two, unrelated services that seem to be harbingers of one of the biggest tech trends in the next few years.

Digsby - social media and communications convergence

Digsby – social media and communications convergence

The first is an app called Digsby that is a handy little tool that looks a lot like a standard instant messenger (IM) interface. What makes it unique is the fact that it integrates MSN Messenger, AIM, ICQ, Yahoo and others. I’ve seen that much before, but this great little tool also monitors social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. It even allows you to monitor Gmail, Hotmail and other email accounts – including standard pop3 or imap accounts.

I’ve got accounts set up on most of these services, so people can pretty much reach me any way they want, now. Surprisingly, despite all this, my best efforts, and my abrasive personality, I still have people who want to call me. For that, I’ve got a home phone, a business phone, a personal cell phone and a work cell.

Which is where Google Voice comes in. With the new GV service you get one local number that you can answer on any of those phones. The service is still in development, but early reviews are suggesting that, aside from a few bugs, it works pretty much as advertised.

The staggered and uneven transition from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter – even among those who aren’t especially tech savvy – makes a pretty good case for these kinds of convergence apps. More and more services are being made available, quite often for free, and people seem more inclined than ever to give them a try.

But they’re not all moving to the same place, or at the same pace. So while I might be on Facebook, I’ve left behind friends at MySpace – and some colleagues on LinkedIn may still not be using Twitter.

As more services emerge offering slightly different features, the number of accounts and websites that I need (want, I suppose) to monitor is growing. The ability to communicate regardless of the sites and tools my friends and colleagues use is a very attractive one.

The next big thing? Maybe.

A very handy group of tools and services? Definitely.

All politics is local – and now it’s social too

If there is a politician or elected official in the Western world who thinks that they don’t need to be aware of social media after the recent Iranian elections, I’d be quite surprised. Its true that many politicians are (wilfully?) ignorant of technology and social media, but even the most ardent luddite cannot help but notice the opportunities presented by these tools.

There is an outside chance that even after President Obama brilliantly displayed the value of social media in his campaign some politicians might still have not seen the value of these tools. The way that social media has shed light on recent Iranian elections, however, should leave no room for doubt with anyone who thinks they should hold elected office.

In an election of questionable legitimacy that has lead to unquestionably brutal police tactics, the one tool that was effectively able to draw world attention was social media. Twitter saw thousands of posts right from Tehran, YouTube ended up with saddeningly graphic videos, blogs were posted by those who voted and were intimidated by state police thugs – and all over the world minds were changed and hearts were won over.

In real-time, supporters of Mir Hussein Mousavi were able to show what was happening in a visceral way that allowed people all over the world to form deeply-held views on events that they would likely have never heard of otherwise.

So what is the lesson in all this for candidates running for office in our communities, thousands of miles away? Simply, it is that they ignore these tools at their own peril – or at least that of their campaign. And that the availability of immediate and free tools with which to communicate to supporters are finally here.

Imagine the power of being able to deliver a quick message to all of your supporters in response to a negative ad or news item. And wouldn’t it help to significantly improve event attendance if there was a way to remind supporters a few hours before an event? What if you could establish a dialogue with potential voters that allowed you to get your message out, and that was also monitored by local media.

While these are just a few of the potential uses of social media in election campaigns – keep in mind that these tools are largely free. There are numerous ways to set up a free blog, and Twitter, Facebook and YouTube don’t charge anything for accounts.

The only downside? Time.

For a candidate or campaign that wants to make the most of these tools, it is almost too late to start once the campaign is on. All of these tools are based on electronic relationships, and just like in the real world, it is to late to start cultivating them when you need them.

So in the end, the real lesson here is that for candidates considering running for office at some point in their lives, there is no time like the present to get started using social media.