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3 Deadly QR Code Miscues and How to Fix Them

Quick Response (QR) codes are turning up more frequently in small business advertising and marketing materials, including posters, business cards, packaging, drink coasters and you name it. But unless local businesses use them properly, QR codes are wasting your time.  But few businesses are using QR codes in a way that lets them track their marketing campaigns effectively, says Scott Wilson, founder and CEO of RankHigher.ca, a Canadian internet marketing and SEO firm.

“QR codes used the right way can be a fantastic marketing tool,” says Wilson. “Wouldn’t it be great to track your web traffic directly back to that beer coaster in the restaurant or the coupon you mass mailed to thousands of homes? That’s vital information for any marketer. The problem is that most companies are missing these opportunities because of basic mistakes.”

Here are the three most common QR code miscues and what to do about them:

Miscue #1: Using cookie-cutter QR code patterns churned out by online generators, which are mistakenly read as direct traffic to a website by Google Analytics.  Solution: Have the QR code send traffic to a URL location where Google’s tracking software can monitor your marketing work and redirect to the desired location.

Miscue #2:  Using long URLs in QR Codes makes complicated codes that are difficult or impossible for consumers to scan. Solution: Keep the URL short so your QR code will be simpler and easier for scanners to read, not to mention easier to fit on a business card.

Miscue #3: Using third-party services, such as bit.ly, to shorten URLs attached to QR codes, leaving them vulnerable to potential technological problems or service changes.  Solution: Host your QR code URL on your own domain so you have full control to quickly fix errors. If a third party URL shortener goes down, so does your entire QR code marketing campaign.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

10 Small Business Tips and Tactics for Pinterest

Pinterest – the hot new social media network – is starting to catch the eye of many small business owners. And the reason is simple: It’s a great new way to drive traffic to your website and create leads for your business.

In fact, the early read on Pinterest is that it’s more effective in some cases than Facebook. And growth on this social sharing site, which is free to use, has been phenomenal. Pinterest has skyrocketed to become the fifth biggest social site, ahead of Google+ and LinkedIn.

Pinterest is a highly visual site, based in large part on sharing images, along with other content.  The platform lets users visually share things they’ve found online by “pinning” an image, article, video or other item to their own “pinboard.”  Users often create collections of “pins” around a theme of some kind. They can either pin things they’ve found on the web, or upload their own images. You’ll also see the Pinterest button showing up on websites as a way for visitors to quickly “pin” an item, which might also be a simple URL.

Some small businesses that rely heavily on website traffic to increase sales are reporting a surge of traffic now coming from Pinterest. Susan Lyne, CEO of the popular shopping site called Gilt.com, which offers designer goods at a discount, says her site has gotten a big boost from Pinterest. In part that’s because Gilt has lots of high quality images of the items it sells, which is the kind of thing people like to pin on Pinterest.

Here are ten tips and tactics for small business success on Pinterest:

  1. Although it’s already become the fastest growing social network of all time, Pinterest is still technically in “beta” so when you go to sign up you must request an invitation to join. But don’t worry, it’s all but automatic that you’re in.
  2. Pinterest doesn’t yet provide a connection to Facebook business pages, so if your business is on Twitter, be sure to use the same email address you use for your business Twitter account to sign up for Pinterest. You’ll be able to sign in with your same Twitter login.
  3. Write a detailed “About” description of your business, using appropriate key words and geographic locations so you’ll show up in search.  Also make sure the button marked “Hide your Pinterest profile from search engines” is OFF.
  4. Link your Pinterest account to other social media – especially your Facebook page and Twitter account – and link it to your business website. But keep in mind that Pinterest was designed for individuals, not businesses, so there’s really no such thing yet as a Pinterest “business page.” Just think in terms of using the site as a person, rather than a business.
  5. Your main activity on Pinterest will be to set up various “pinboards.”  You’ll gain traction for your business by organizing and naming them according to the types of products and services you sell. You should create these first, before you start trying to build your Pinterest following. As with Facebook “Likes” and Twitter followers, you’ll want to build a loyal follower base on Pinterest by catering to topics that people are passionate about.
  6. Once you are on Pinterest, add the Pinterest follow button to your business website, blog, social media pages and even your printed materials. This is a good way to jumpstart your Pinterest presence.
  7. Focus first on visual content. Remember, Pinterest is a heavily visual medium, so you’ll want to use your best stuff here. If you have great product shots, that’s one option. Some businesses are pinning photos of their employees and location.
  8. So far, Pinterest users have been more heavily female (about 65%), so keep that in mind as well.  If your customer base is mainly men, Pinterest might not be right for you just yet.
  9. If you have a blog and are using strong photos there, make a habit of putting them on your pinboard as well. You can also pin charts, graphs and other graphics.
  10. 10. Follow the same social media “rules” you’d follow elsewhere. For example, concentrate on making yourself a valuable resource to others rather than trying to overtly sell.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Why Mobile is Bigger than Ever for Small Business

Every day, more and more people are using their mobile devices to go online to find local businesses. Mobile web usage is absolutely exploding.  In less than three years, more people will access the Internet via mobile devices than from desktop computers.

This shift in consumer behavior has huge upside implications for small businesses. Is your business ready for it? Do you have a mobile-friendly web site? Remember, just because your regular site is visible on a mobile device doesn’t mean it’s mobile-friendly. Mobile sites are designed specifically for the small screen. They are quick, easy to navigate and “thumb friendly,” which means they use large, centered buttons with “breathing room” to prevent accidental clicks.

The best mobile-friendly web sites make the mobile experience local. Since customers are constantly seeking local information on their phones, your mobile site should make it quick and easy for people to find you. That means it should have your address or some kind of locator right on the landing page, with directions and a map.

You should also consider using a “click-to-call” phone number for your business.  Much like a “hotlink” in a piece of text will take the reader somewhere else if clicked, a “linked” phone number will automatically dial your business from the mobile device. 

Recent tests of click-to-call on local business mobile sites conducted by Google and a mobile site provider called Duda Mobile (www.dudamobile.com) show that call rates for click-to-call on mobile are through the roof. For example, nearly half of all consumers who visited a taxi service’s mobile site called the company. About 32% of customers visiting a pizza restaurant mobile site called. And the call rates are high for other categories as well, including car services (28%), auto repair (22%), home repair (20%), medical services (16%), beauty and spa (13%), retail stores (12%) and restaurants (11%).

Compared to so-called “click through rates” for online ads, those call rates are enormous. And phone calls have a much higher rate of converting to actual sales as well.

Still not convinced? Here are three reasons mobile is a must for local business:

1. Mobile-friendly websites create positive customer response. Today’s consumers use their mobile devices more frequently than ever, and have high expectations for the mobile sites they visit. If your mobile site provides a good experience, it will help drive revenue for your business. Research shows that 51% of consumers are more likely to buy from a retailer that has a mobile friendly website.

But there’s also a flip side to that. About one in five mobile users say they have a negative opinion of any business that has a poor mobile site, or no mobile site. If all they find is your regular desktop site and have to squint and zoom their way through it to try and find something, while attempting to fill in a microscopic search box or press a button the size of a pinhead, they’ll move on to someone else.

2. The time to move is now. You’ve been hearing about the potential of mobile for years. Now it’s here. For example, a third of all searches for restaurants now happen on mobile. Smartphones are now a part of people’s daily lives.  Studies commissioned by Google show that 87% of smartphone owners use their devices on the go, or while commuting and walking. And here’s an eye-opener: 93% of consumers now use their smartphones at home.  Local businesses with mobile-friendly sites can take advantage of these new consumer habits and reach customers wherever they are throughout the day.

3. Mobile offers immediate gratification. With a “click-to-call” feature, a “clickable” phone number allows customers to reach your business with one touch. Customers are hungry for the kind of information that makes it easy for them to contact you and get to your business.

What to do Now

            Google has launched a terrific program called GoMo (www.HowToGoMo.com) to help small businesses learn about mobile websites and find help setting one up. You’ll find tips, a tool to rate the quality of an existing mobile site, samples of good mobile site design, and a helpful list of vendors who can help you create a mobile presence.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

12 Top Tools to Manage Your Social Media Marketing

Small business owners who are successful at marketing through social media often have help from a growing arsenal of time-saving tools and services that make it easier and more effective. Taking advantage of these tools can mean the difference between having time to make social media marketing work for your business or not.

Here are 12 of the most popular web-based services that are being used by small businesses to keep the time commitment in check, while leveraging the power of social media. Some have similar features so it’s best to try them out and see what works best for you before deciding which to use.

1)    Shortstack (www.shortstack.com) is a service that helps businesses design a better looking Facebook page and customize it with such things as contests, forms, videos and more.  The service is free for pages that have up to 2,000 “likes.” Beyond that, a tiered pricing system kicks in.

2)    Buffer (www.bufferapp.com) is a great way to schedule your social media activity. The service lets you add posts and tweets to your “buffer” from anywhere and have them automatically distributed throughout the day.  By keeping your buffer topped off with content, you can be assured of having a fresh social media presence for an entire week or more.

3)    Postling (www.postling.com) was designed with small business users in mind and provides easy-to-use tools, alerts and insights that will help you get the most out of social media marketing. Postling lets you publish to all of the major social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress, Tumblr and Flickr and schedule your posts in advance.  It also pulls comments from all of your social media sites into one place which saves a lot of time and effort for responding.

4)    TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com), which is owned by Twitter, is a “dashboard” from which you can manage a variety of social media. It allows you to monitor and manage unlimited accounts, schedule tweets to suit your audience and filter content to focus on what matters to you the most.

5)    HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com) is similar to TweetDeck and lets you manage all of your social media accounts on a single dashboard.  This is a good solution if more than one person at your business posts to your social media accounts.

6)    MediaFeedia (www.mediafeedia.com) is a free business tool for Facebook (only) that lets you manage multiple fan pages from one dashboard, schedule content, track messages and distribute deals through something called Mediafeedia Offers.

7)    Sprout Social (www.sproutsocial.com) is a popular tool among small businesses to monitor what’s being said about you online, schedule and publish updates to your social media pages with one click, and track your efforts with various reports.

8)    Pagelever (www.pagelever.com) is a highly affordable analytics tool that’s all about measuring your social media marketing results. It produces professional looking charts and graphs showing traffic, fans, users, comments and more, including some demographic data.

9)    If you blog for your business, Disqus (www.disqus.com) is a terrific plugin for getting more marketing mileage out of reader comments. This takes the standard “comments” function that exists on most blogs and turns it into a social media machine that lets users sign in and comment via a variety of platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.

10) Constant Contact, a leader in email marketing, offers a service called NutshellMail (www.nutshellmail.com) that’s a social media lifesaver for business owners who prefer to receive updates via email. NutshellMail tracks what’s being said about your business in social media, packages it up in a “nutshell” and sends a summary email to you on whatever schedule you choose.

11) Crowdbooster (www.crowdbooster.com) is a handy way to keep track of your social media accounts and marketing efforts from a single dashboard. It will automatically post to Facebook and Twitter, keeps track of your “likes” and followers and tells you how often your content is being shared.

12) Shoutlet (www.shoutlet.com) is a do-it-yourself platform for managing social media marketing. But it’s a fairly sophisticated service, favored by many larger businesses as well. It offers a wide range of features, including sophisticated data capture, customer relationship management (CRM) and unlimited accounts.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

How Bundle is Reinventing Local Business Reviews

Customer online reviews are a flawed device and the rapid proliferation of review sites has long worried local businesses over the potential for abuse and inaccuracy.  But a new service called Bundle aims to reinvent the online review.  By tracking actual consumer spending patterns – what people buy, where they buy it and how often they return, for example – Bundle’s sophisticated computer programs eliminate subjective opinions and get to what people actually do, not say, and then turn that information into more objective measures of popularity and customer satisfaction.

According to Founder & CEO Jaidev Shergill, Bundle was born from the idea that people need real insights and ratings on the places they go, not just subjective opinions. Bundle uses data from the U.S. government, along with aggregated spending transactions from Citibank (all personal information is removed or “anonymized”) and other third party data sources to come up with personalized recommendations on restaurants, bars, bakeries, clothing stores, coffee shops, florists, shoe stores and other local businesses.  With that information, customers can find out what type of people go to a place, how often they actually go back, and can get recommendations on where to go based on places they already like.

In short, Bundle crunches the data from real spending to give consumers the lowdown without the bias.  Since Bundle is backed by Microsoft, Citibank and the investment information firm Morningstar, and representatives of those investor firms sit on the Bundle board, it’s a good bet that Bundle will have the support it needs to scale the model.  So far, Bundle is providing comprehensive coverage of local businesses in about 18 major cities, but expansion plans are underway.  

Keep an eye on Bundle.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved. 140Main™ is a trademark of BizBest Media.

Twitter to Offer Small Business Ads

Starting later this year, any U.S.-based small business will be able to advertise on Twitter using a new self-service ad platform for two ad products to called “Promoted Tweets” and “Promoted Accounts.”

The first small businesses to use the program, however, will be selected through a new partnership between Twitter and American Express, a deal that initially makes it easy for small business owners to advertise on Twitter.  Amex card members and merchants will be invited to try this new advertising solution before anyone else, and American Express will give $100 in free advertising to the first 10,000 eligible businesses to sign up.

If you are an Amex card member or merchant, you can register now to participate in the initial introduction of this new offering via ads.twitter.com/amex.  Twitter will launch this new offering more widely later this year.

Since meeting Twitter CEO Dick Costolo a few weeks ago and hearing about the growth and innovation going on at Twitter, I’m more convinced than ever that this platform has far more social local marketing potential for small businesses than it’s being given credit for. And this move to open things up for advertising will likely put Twitter on the radar for more local businesses.

As the folks at Twitter point out, successful business owners already know how to build good customer relationships.  In fact, local businesses were first to start using Twitter to talk with consumers in real time, which helped demonstrate Twitter’s potential as a marketing platform. Today, some of the most innovative marketing campaigns around come from local businesses. For example, check out the mouth-watering photos of @VanillaMoonBake cupcakes, or the @glennztees Tweet contests meant to promote their latest T-shirt design.

You can sign up here to try this new ad solution on Twitter.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved. 140Main™ is a trademark of BizBest Media.

Top 10 Small Biz Twitter Rock Stars for 2012

BizBest Media’s own @140Main Twitter account — where we tweet as LocalSocialMedia — has been named to the Top 10 Small Biz Twitter Rock Stars for 2012, compiled and published by SkedX.  Their blogging team at The SkedCast reviewed and analyzed hundreds of small business Twitter accounts and ranked them not just on content, but on how the small business community responds to them.  Be sure to check out the other “Rock Stars” on the list — they’re all worth following.  (@140Main is also a Top 10 Influencer in the Small Business category on Klout.)

Here are the others ont he Top 10 list:

Twitter CEO on What Makes a Great Tweet

Before I get to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo (@dickc), let me tell you about Willy O’Sullivan who owns the Irish pub in my neighborhood. Willy is quite worldly on social media matters and a savvy business person overall, but Twitter confounds him. “I have Twitter, but I have no idea what to do with it,” he says.  “You open it up and it asks me who I want to follow, and I have no idea about that either.”

And Willy, in fact, is a proxy for millions of local business owners who grasp the importance of social media but simply don’t have time to experiment with using it for business purposes.  As new products and platforms are devised to help business owners use social media effectively, the balance will shift, given social media’s power for cost-effective marketing.  While Twitter remains a mystery to many business owners, its popularity is skyrocketing based in part on how simple it is compared to Facebook or Google+.

Costolo is the man leading Twitter’s charge.  He became CEO in 2010 and previously launched and ran several smaller businesses, so he knows what it’s like to take risks, meet payroll and wear multiple hats.  I just met Costolo at a UCLA/Anderson School of Management leadership seminar, courtesy of Dean Judy Olian (@DeanOlian) and entertainment mogul (not to mention owner of NBA’s GS Warriors) Peter Guber (@PeterGuber).   Costolo is super articulate and has great passion for what he does as well as the confidence to lead Twitter to the Promised Land called IPO.  

What Makes a Tweet Great

Since the price of a seat at the table in Olian and Guber’s seminar is a confidentiality pledge, there’s much that can’t be said here of Costolo’s behind-the-scenes revelations, but a couple of things are up for grabs.  In particular, Costolo’s take on “What makes a great tweet” is something everyone business person should know, as it describes effective communication in general.  Costolo didn’t even need 140 characters to say it:  Here it is in a mere 47 characters:  “A great tweet is a caption for something bigger”

Hmmmmm.  “Something bigger.”  That’s where millions of tweets fail every day to pass the greatness test.  If you only have 140 characters to say something, too many tweeters fall into the trap of saying essentially nothing.  You need a “backstory” as they say in the entertainment biz – something that entices people into thinking or looking further. As we’ve said often here at 140Main (our name, of course, derived from Twitter’s 140 character length limit on tweets), the art of tweeting well is to entice and engage followers with useful information.

By thinking of your tweets as “captions” you can stay focused on the bigger “picture” behind what you are saying.  Is there something else you can offer as a link? An idea, tip or thought that can help others see that bigger picture?  If so, your tweets will rise above the noise and gain more attention.

Embrace the 140 length limit. To Dick Costolo, Twitter’s inner beauty lies in that simple constraint and it’s unlikely that will change. In fact, the latest studies show that slightly shorter tweets in the 120-130 range generate the best response.

Follow us @140Main

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

How to Know if Facebook is Right for Your Business

The rash of publicity over Facebook’s public stock offering has even more business owners thinking about social media. Indeed, many small businesses are having great success promoting themselves on Facebook. But anyone who’s ever set up and managed a social media account knows that the time drain can be huge. 

Busy local business owners don’t have that kind of time to spare, so deciding whether or not Facebook actually makes sense for your particular business is critical.  In other words, is spending the time worth your while? In many cases the answer is a resounding yes. But not always, and taking a realistic look at what it takes to maintain a social presence is one of the first steps small business owners should take. 

A good lesson comes from Sarah Skerik, a vice president and social media expert at PR Newswire, who recently helped a friend with a niche business decide whether or not Facebook was worth the bother.  Skerik helped her friend systematically evaluate the social media marketing opportunity in the context of her business of boarding and training horses for people who actively compete in horse shows.

Sarah believed Facebook would be a great fit for her friend’s business.   It has a good regional footprint, local associations running horse shows are active on social networks, and so are riders and trainers. That quickly answered the first critical question any business owner needs to ask: “Are my customers and prospects present on this particular social network?”

If the answer is yes, proceed to the next square. But in addition to being time-strapped, many business owners are not terribly inclined toward social media generally, and Facebook in particular.  Most are simply not heavy online networkers, so that’s a factor too.  

That’s a disadvantage because in order to get the most out of a social network, you must have a decent, if not proficient understanding of how the network works and how to use it specifically for business purposes.

As you consider these issues, be realistic about your willingness to spend time learning. But also be aware of how spending that time can benefit your business. Those benefits include:

  • A way to build awareness among a specific community or group of people who are interested in what you provide.
  • Staying ‘top of mind’ with your market through an ongoing stream of messages.
  • The ability to rapidly communicate with audiences once you’ve established a good following.
  • A way to subtly communicate with potential customers, and spark word-of-mouth recommendations.

Facebook is not a one-way street, notes Skerik, who manages social media for PR Newswire.  “It’s not simply a conduit for marketing messages.  You can’t just post sales pitches and expect to gather any sort of audience.”  Here’s a realistic baseline of what you’ll need to do:

  1. Commit to posting content – a mix of text, pictures and video – every few days. Daily would be better.
  2. Keep an eye on your Facebook “wall” to ensure that content posted by others is relevant to your business and not spam, and to watch for comments or questions.
  3. Respond to any comments. You don’t need to be a slave to Facebook and constantly obsess over comments, says Skerik. But you should check them nightly and respond to anyone who took the time to write on your page. You don’t need to spend a lot of time on it, but you must pay attention.
  4. Build social media connections with related businesses and experts on Facebook.  Connecting with these people builds your network over time and increases visibility for both you and your business.

 Too many local businesses get sidetracked on social media by establishing a page that either doesn’t help them or they can’t realistically maintain.  Having a Facebook page might do your business a world of good.  But only if you are ready and willing to do your part. 

[Unlocking Social Media for PR by Sarah Skerik is an excellent ebook and available for free download.]

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

10 Social Posting Tips and Traps

One question business owners often ask about social media is what to post on Facebook, Google+ or other social pages and platforms.  The list of options is long, but here are five easy things to consider posting, plus five things you should never put on your Facebook business page or in any other public forum for that matter:

Five Types of Posts to Consider

1)    Bite-sized Business FAQs:  Most businesses get asked the same questions over and over. Develop a list of the things people ask most about your product, service, business or industry – along with some they don’t ask, but you wish they would – and supply brief, informative answers.  Don’t post your list all at one. Instead, offer them up in bite-sized pieces from time to time as helpful tips that provide extra value to people who visit your social media page. If you already have an FAQ section on your business website, avoid simply linking to that.  Doing so forces customers or prospects to make extra effort to click through to your website and find the answer.

2)    Offers and promotions:  If you are having (or planning to have) a sale, run a contest or offer discount coupons, by all means announce and offer them on your Facebook page. But when it comes to promotions, some words attract attention better than others. Good words include: event, offer, new and win. Words that        tend to turn people off include: exclusive, free, discount and limited. 

3)    Photos, graphics or other visuals:  People love eye-catching photos, interesting charts or graphs, illustrations, videos or other content they can grasp at a glance.  Be sure images are decent quality and charts tell a simple story. Poor quality pictures or complicated graphs won’t help.  If you sponsor local events, teams or causes, that’s made-to-order photo material for your Facebook page.

4)    Links to interesting items you’ve seen elsewhere:  This requires the least amount of work on your part. Whenever you see or read something that would help your customers in some way related to what your business does, save the link in a “helpful links” list.  Then share those links with a brief explanation on your Facebook page.  This shows customers you are looking out for their interests beyond simply trying to promote your own business.

5)    Your own helpful tips or articles: If you already have a blog, this is easy since all you have to do is put your blog posts on your Facebook page.  But you can also write articles for your website or write brief updates directly to Facebook.

Five Topics to Avoid

1)    Negative comments:  One of the worst things you can do is talk trash about a competitor or customer.

2)    Unverified information: Even if you are in a rush to share news or other information, take time to get the facts right.  Many business owners have shot themselves in the foot by jumping the gun on announcements that contain incorrect dates, times, prices, phone numbers, addresses, directions or other vital information.

3)    Out-of-the-blue subjects: Stick to topics that have relevance to your business and your customers. When you stray into unrelated topics you quickly alienate your audience.  People take time to visit your page because they see you as an expert in your area of business, so don’t blow.

4)    Overly personal information and opinions:  There’s a fine line between being open, personable and opinionated and going over the line into rants or personal details that should remain personal. Applying the “is it useful to my customers” test will help.

5)     Confidential business or customer information:  This is common sense but still trips up some businesses that post such information innocently or by mistake. Think first, and only hit the publish or submit button when you are confident that what you are about to post is appropriate.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.