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Why Google AuthorRank is a Game Changer

The arrival of Google AuthorRank, and its cousin Google Authorship, reorders the digital universe in a way that can send digital importance and social influence soaring for business owners, journalists, writers, bloggers, entrepreneurs and executives active in social media.

Authorship and AuthorRank are part of a new and rapidly evolving Google initiative with immediate game-changing implications. Years in the making, and based on several Google patents, Authorship raises the ante for all business owners and executives by making social media participation even more important – and potentially effective – than ever.

Used properly, Authorship can greatly boost your digital profile and deliver higher returns on your social effort. Early studies show that having Authorship linked to content you create increases click-through rate 150%. From now on, adding Authorship to any blog or site that carries your bylined content should be standard practice.

Here’s the rub, however: This does not happen automatically. To benefit from Google Authorship you must set it up and use it. Getting it right to begin with is crucial. The Google Authorship signup site has basic implementation instructions, but there are several options, depending on your circumstances. It’s mostly a matter of giving Google the digital means (via a Google+ account and email associated with your bylined content) to verify the content is yours.

Authorship, as you might surmise, tracks individuals, not businesses. I applied for Authorship (here) in a matter of minutes for my articles on BizBest and was approved for the program via email a few days later.  As one cool side benefit, I now have my very own Google search results site showcasing 10+ pages of just my content, with photo and bio.

In techie terms, Authorship is able to work its magic via a micro data format Google calls “Rich Snippets.”  Pulling this off took Google years to figure out, but what’s important for you is this:  “Old-school” factors such as keywords and link-building that once held sway in search will now play second-fiddle to authorship, authority and social influence for business owners, entrepreneurs, journalists, bloggers and other content-creators who take advantage of it.

Be aware: These changes are already in place and gaining momentum.  And although Google Authorship has had a bumpy, confusing start and little publicity, it’s something every social biz owner must grasp.  It signals a sea change in how your unique social media contributions (read that as “content”) get scored and shown by the search giant.

Authorship already influences search results, and that has big implications when your name is associated with a brand. Not only will your content appear higher, it will be displayed higher still for anyone connected to you via Google+, which Google quickly determines on the back end.

Testing Authorship Power

I recently ran a test to see if this works, with amazing results. First I wrote 16 Sweet Social Marketing Tools You Gotta Try, published the post to my blog BizBest, and shared it on Google+ among other places. A top blog in the startup space called MyVenturePad picked it up off my RSS feed and published it on that site, as did Business Insider in its War Room section.

A few days later I searched Google for “social marketing tools” and found that I owned three of the top ten organic results on the page, including two in the top 5.  And this is for a highly competitive search term, evidenced by a dozen advertisers who paid to be on the same page that I was dominating for free, thanks to Authorship.

The Second Shoe

AuthorRank – an anticipated change to the Google search algorithm – is essentially the second shoe to Authorship, and second cousin to PageRank. Google has for years been on a quest to squelch crappy content and surface trustworthy, high-quality content created by influential and knowledge people – like you. Google seems to finally have all the pieces in place to take those efforts to the next level.

Web pundits speculate that AuthorRank will change the search game as we know it. It will definitely affect Google PageRank, and the impact will likely be huge. Social execs, professionals and business owners who understand these things now will be far better positioned to exploit the changes as they happen.

A 6-Point AuthorRank Assault List

  1. If you haven’t yet figured it out, this is also a giant reason to embrace Google+. Sure, it’s a drag to need yet another social media platform. But several factors in determining AuthorRank depend on what you do with G+, including the number of +1’s you get, your involvement in Circles, and so on. If you’ve avoided G+ (as most of us have) it’s time to step up.
  2. This further undermines traditional SEO. But that’s good, because now it’s less about a bunch of tags and keywords, and much more about content quality and digital authority.
  3. Set up Google Authorship for yourself and any other “thought leaders” you might have in your business. Remember: It must be individuals; can’t be a company.
  4. Focus on publishing high quality content and share it on social media (don’t forget Google+). Building connections with other high AuthorRank influencers will also work in your favor.
  5. Authorship has its own metrics (called Authorship Statistics) available on Google with lots of data on your content and search impact. You can even track stats on specific pieces of content.
  6. Creating high-quality, shareable (read “interesting”) content is key. You’ve heard this before, but AuthorRank makes it even more important. Don’t be afraid to specialize. In fact, since you can build separate AuthorRank in multiple topic areas, this is a good idea.

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

A Two Dollar Local Marketing Solution

In the small town where I grew up, my father was known as “King of the $2 Bill.” He ran the local savings & loan, located on (yes, this is for real) Main Street, and loved to hand out $2 bills as gifts.  Sometimes he’d even pay spot bonuses to employees in bunches of $2 bills. He did it just to be different; and also to get noticed.

Pre-Internet Viral Marketing

The promotional value was subtle, but significant.  It was like a pre-Internet version of “viral marketing”. He always had a stack at the ready, and spent them around town whenever he could. As the $2 bills circulated through other local businesses, merchants and customers alike took notice and usually knew where they came from (or if they didn’t, someone would tell them).

But it worked, and that $2 bill “viral marketing” strategy is now being re-discovered by local business groups in other parts of the U.S. seeking ways to promote buy-local campaigns and stimulate sales and growth on Main Street. Business owners in a few cities have started handing out $2 bills to employees as bonuses, asking them to spend the money at local merchants as a way to illustrate the power of supporting local business.

A Refreshing Change from Digital

Try the $2 bill solution yourself.  Consider it a refreshing change from doing everything digital. You can probably get some from your bank. And they are guaranteed to get noticed.

If you can link the $2 bill concept to another promotional campaign for your business (a special $2 price for some items for example; or maybe $2 off), so much the better.

The $2 bill itself remains a novelty for most people who’ve never seen one.  Some customers won’t be sure it’s even real (but of course it is).

$2 Trivia

The front-side design of the $2 bill depicting Thomas Jefferson is unchanged since 1929, making it the oldest design of any U.S. currency in circulation. The back side, redesigned in 1976, depicts the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Take it from my father, one of the original viral marketers:  Even the humble little $2 bill houses hidden power that can help promote you and your business far beyond its face value.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved. 

7 Ways to Embrace a New Normal for 2013

For business owners, there’s a “new normal” out there, and it doesn’t look a whole lot like the old normal.  If your business seems to be on a treadmill, maybe it’s time for a makeover.

Put everything up for grabs, including your mission statement, business and marketing plans, budget, sales and expense expectations and more, says business makeover specialist Patricia Sigmon, president of LPS Consulting, which creates profit-focused tech solutions for small businesses.  Make 2013 about regrouping and renewing your business for the new normal. Here are seven of Sigmon’s suggestions for giving your business a profit makeover:

1. “Fire” unprofitable customers.

Sometimes, the highest-maintenance, most time-consuming customers you have are the ones who pay you the least. Analyze the profit margin or lack of profit margin that each customer or perhaps customer segment produces. Stop pursuing customers who are not helping you be profitable – period.

2. Reward your best customers.

Look at which customers are giving you the most profit, and coddle them, woo them, don’t lose them! Offer them frequent buyer rewards. Send them a small gift at their one-year anniversary. Give them a random call every few months to “check in,” thank them, and ask what else they might need. Treat them like gold.

3. Start relationships.

This coming year, it’s time to overhaul your sales behavior. Turn all one-time sales efforts into relationship sales. Start monthly maintenance plans, suggest auxiliary services, sell complementary products, or offer retainer plans covering 50-100 labor hours, for example.

4. Erase those expense lines.

Reduce your operating expense budget to the lowest possible number. If that means selling your car or closing an office, so be it. You can’t build a new profit base when you are still using yesterday’s expense model. Go through your expenses line by line and get rid of everything you can live without.

5. Outsource more.

Whatever type of skill or service you need, think hard before hiring a new employee or keeping an old employee. Look at each department or each person when you are trying to manage costs. Can you eliminate positions (perhaps through attrition), combine jobs, delete processes, and outsource tasks? Outsource exactly what you need for the right amount of time and the right amount of money.

6. Update your networking.

From blogs to Twitter to LinkedIn to Facebook, invest big-time in building the online and social media presence you need to compete in the new digital world. Businesses that don’t leverage social networking will be left behind. Jump-start new relationships in 2013 with a burst of social media activity. Update all your social sites and accounts. Keep your online relationships fresh and dynamic with news, blogs, newsletters, tips, and surveys. Find an online forum in your industry and become an active contributor.

7. Take your office with you.

With cloud technology, you are no longer bound to a desk. Log onto some new interactive cloud-based systems that can help you do your business anywhere. Make sure to you have Internet connections on all of your devices. Everything you once needed to do in your own office can now be done remotely. Best of all, when your employees are sharing files in the cloud, it makes for a much more cohesive, connected team. j2 Global offers several low-cost cloud-based services that can help.

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

Biz Cheat Sheet on Owned, Earned and Paid Media

As digital marketing continues to soar, here’s a question I’m getting more often from business owners and start-up entrepreneurs:  What’s the difference between paid, owned and earned media for promoting or advertising my business, and how do I make them work for me?

The whole “owned-earned-paid” thing is familiar to advertising and PR pros, but totally mysterious for millions of small business owners who’ve never really thought in those terms. Yet understanding the digital-world differences — and more importantly, how to deploy owned, earned and paid media simultaneously to grow sales — is critical today.  Here’s my BizBest “cheat sheet” for business owners on owned, earned and paid media:

Owned Media Basics

Perhaps the simplest examples of “owned” pieces of online media real estate are your business website and Facebook page. You built ’em. You operate ’em. You own ’em. Done well, they’ll be nicely designed, easy to navigate and chock full of helpful information, articles, photos, videos and other compelling content that customers and prospects will find interesting. Other “owned” media would include any blogs, newsletters or additional social media accounts your business has.

The basic idea with owned media is to fill them with useful and engaging content that helps potential customers discover your business when they search for something online, or use their own social media channels.  This is the realm of what’s called “content marketing,” which uses helpful, high-value information to draw people into your products and services.

Paid Media Basics

No surprise here.  Paid media are the online ads and promotions you pay for with hard, out-of-pocket marketing dollars. This includes search and other pay-per-click type ads, banners and paid promotions on social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and others.

Using paid media is the more traditional approach that most businesses are familiar with.  You set a budget, pick your channels and spend as you see fit, while tracking results as best you can.

Earned Media Basics

Public relations fits here.  Issuing a press release that gets mentioned somewhere (either online or offline) “earns” you exposure that you didn’t have to pay for (at least not directly). But it gets trickier. The “earned media” piece is  huge, and difficult to execute — yet it’s a critical leg of the marketing/media triumvirate.

Earned media can produce really good stuff; the attention and engagement you “earn” from customers but that can’t be (legitimately) bought. For example, great comments, recommendations, reviews, mentions, likes and shares are all valuable types of customer-generated media coverage that you must earn, and can’t (directly) pay for.  This includes word-of-mouth, but amplified through the digital megaphone.

Making Owned, Earned and Paid Play Well Together

Owned, earned and paid media don’t exist in isolation. They overlap. In fact, your goal is to make them overlap and work together.  For example, paid ads might attract people to your website or Facebook page where they see some interesting content they want to “like” or share.  In turn, that engagement earns you more notice among the media.  Thanks to the nature of social sharing, the interaction possibilities are almost endless as information passes from one person’s network to others.  This is sometimes called “converged media” — the place where owned, earned and paid intersect.

To have an inkling of what’s going on here, business owners must first recognize that the way buyers research purchases and find businesses has changed radically, and rapidly. These things once occurred via isolated channels. But no more. It now happens through thousands of highly fragmented media channels on a 24/7 basis, often simultaneously as people occupy several digital platforms at once.

Big companies recognize this and now engage is what’s called “Brand Streaming” where they attempt to be absolutely everywhere, 24/7, monitoring what’s being done and said, and reacting quickly to any engagement by a customer or prospect (which is called “agile engagement”).

What to do now

First, don’t despair.  It should already be abundantly clear that since consumer behavior has changed, marketing a product or service will never be the same. You will need to embrace new digital tools and tactics (including some from all of the above categories), and deploy them in as many places as possible.

Start with a firm foundation. Look for small wins that you can reasonably achieve in each category (owned, earned, paid) and build from there.  Take it one step at a time. Don’t try to concoct some huge strategy that takes months to deploy.  Test small things to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s easier, less stressful and more effective.

Copyright 2000-2012, BizBest Media Corp. (@140Main) All Rights Reserved.

Beyond Groupon: New Deals Sites Take Hold

When Groupon first hit the scene it put the spotlight on a massive new market and inspired countless copycats. But many local businesses lost money with the Groupon deals model which often requires losing money on the initial offer in hopes of making it up on additional sales and return visits.

Sadly, however, that often doesn’t happen. Now a new deals model is emerging based more on the concept of “yield management.”  Yield management (YM) is a fancy term that basically means using tactics and strategies to maximize profit in a given circumstance. The idea here is to improve the deals model so local businesses can realize a profit immediately – not at some distant point in the future.

Services Using the New Model

The deals delivery app LeLoca (www.leloca.com) and popular online travel community Air B&B (www.airbnb.com) are two examples of services that use the YM approach. Both help merchants realize more profit from their goods and services by connecting consumers to them via mobile devices and other technology.

In the Groupon “loss leader” model, the merchant offers a large discount, has no control over how many people will use it or when, and then must pay Groupon half of the proceeds. One criticism of Groupon is that merchant deals are not highly-enough targeted (beyond city or geography) and that most buyers only want a quick discount and never return.

The airline industry is a perfect example of how yield management works. Owning and flying planes is expensive. Once a flight is scheduled, the airline incurs the costs no matter what. This is partly why airlines charge so many different prices for the same seat. They gauge (through sophisticated YM tactics) the maximum that customers are willing to pay at any given time, and try to charge exactly that.

The new generation of deals services tries to do the same thing for local businesses by using technology to connect people with goods and services that are already available (like empty airline seats) and might otherwise be wasted. For example, LeLoca, a free smartphone app, uses the Internet to connect consumers with nearby businesses that are offering real-time, geo-targeted deals when they have open space to fill.

Reaching Customers When you Need Them Most

“LeLoca gives the merchant the opportunity to bring in additional customers right when they need them via a discounted offer,” says LeLoca CEO Douglas Krone. “They have complete control over what they offer, the area that the deal will be offered in and when it will start and stop. Merchants get the customers right when they need them, thus maximizing profit and minimizing waste.”

Other deals companies operating on this concept include Savored, ScoutMob and kgb Deals. The following services are also finding success:

Uber (www.uber.com)

An app that allows users to hire a car at the touch of a button – connects professional, licensed drivers with people who need transportation.  Uber does not provide cars itself, but rather works with existing car-for-hire businesses that make use of its technology.  The app can pinpoint an exact location and then send a ride, utilizing the cars and drivers that would otherwise be idle or driving empty vehicles.

Air B&B (www.airbnb.com)

A fast-growing business that connects travelers seeking accommodations with places that have an open room, apartment or home.  Airbnb provides hosts with the opportunity to earn money on an otherwise open space and provides travelers a chance to stay in unique places for less money than a hotel.

ScoreBig Daily (www.scorebigdaily.com)

Uses a Priceline-style model – lets users view same-day tickets for various events and pick the price they want to pay.  Once a ticket is sold and a purchase is shared on social media, ScoreBig Daily reserves seats nearby so friends who purchase tickets can sit together.  The average ScoreBig Daily user saves 42%.

Waze (www.waze.com)

Started as an app for real-time traffic updates but also offers real-time gas prices and discounts in the driver’s immediate area. Users can search for fuel in the area and compare prices, as well as get access to real-time deals being offering by gas companies who have partnered with the app. Waze also lets users post gas prices that they find so others can take advantage of them.

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

The Magic of Test-and-Learn Marketing

When business owners create products or services – and the marketing plans to sell them – they often base their decisions on what customers tell them. But which is more important:  What customers say? Or what they actually do?

The answer, of course, is actual behavior. And therein lies the power of a marketing trend that’s changing how millions of business owners think.  It’s called A/B testing, and at its core the concept is rather simple: Test something several different ways in the real world and see what works best. Then go with that. What could be more basic?

Yet businesses both big and small trip on this every day. They survey customer preferences and base decisions on what they say. But stated preferences can’t hold a candle to actual behavior when it comes to identifying what works – and what doesn’t.

The Internet world has long used A/B testing to try out different website designs.   But the concept is so straightforward and effective that it can apply to almost any circumstance where a choice must be made. And for small businesses, the test-and-learn approach makes perfect sense.

It’s Just What it Sounds Like

A/B testing is exactly what it sounds like. You test approach “A” and approach “B” and see which does better. The key is that you do it in the real word with real customers and real-time results. And you keep doing it with different customer segments until you have the answers you need.

In buzzword terms, this is a “data driven” approach. The “data” are the results of the battle between A and B.  You need to do it for different customer segments because while Option A might win generally, some segments might favor Option B.

One reason A/B testing works is that customers often don’t know themselves what they really want. They might say one thing, and do another. Sound familiar?  A/B testing cuts through the fog.

Entrepreneurs are told over and over to conduct surveys and other traditional market research. But observing actual behavior is almost always a better predictor of future behavior.  The hugely popular drink Red Bull is a good example. When first surveyed about it, customers called it disgusting. Yet annual sales are now in the billions of dollars.

Solid Objective Answers

The beauty of A/B testing is that it has no problem delivering solid answers about highly subjective preferences for such things as taste, color, shapes, images, layouts and the like. If you simply ask customers which color they prefer, for example, they’ll express a preference.  But when you actually observe and measure their response to different colored products, packaging or even web pages with A/B testing, the results might be radically different.

In the real world of small and local businesses, what this means is that while many things influence consumer purchase behavior, the consumers themselves are often unaware of them. For example, the package something comes in has a big influence on purchasing, even when it shouldn’t matter. Music influences what people buy and how long they spend in a shop, restaurant or pub. Lighting influences how people notice products and buy them. Other factors include smells, excitement, the number of choices (fewer can be better) and how prices are displayed.

Philip Graves, a consumer behavior consultant, says that while these things, and many others, influence what we buy, consumers usually don’t have the faintest idea their thought process has been altered.

Offer Different Choices and Measure the Results

The trick here is not to ignore what your customers say, but rather to pay far more attention to what they do by offering different choices and measuring and observing (first hand if possible) the results. Don’t simply ask customers to “imagine” something. You have to create it and actually let them experience it. This live testing gets the best results by far. It works even better if people don’t know they’re part of a test. You want people to behave as normally as possible.

Just remember. No matter what business you’re in, it’s vital to continuously test, learn and adapt. Asking people what they think is no substitute for experimenting in real time. You don’t have to fully understand why Option A performs better. If it does, go with it.

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

Six Lead Ranking Tactics that Really Pay Off

Ranking your leads – also called “lead scoring” – is an exercise most small business owners don’t bother with. At least not in a formal sense. But that may be passing up an opportunity to make follow-up efforts more effective by targeting and nurturing them in different ways based on their score.

Lead scoring is basically a way of objectively ranking your sales leads according to a variety of factors such as expected time to purchase, level of interest, “fit” and others. It’s about trying to determine the quality of your leads and allocate your immediate efforts toward the ones that have the best chance of converting, while others go into the nurture track.

More Important Now than Ever

Lead scoring is becoming increasingly important today for small businesses that are strapped for resources and need to do more, with less. In that environment, it’s a perfect fit. Different types of leads call for different types of follow-up. For example, some may fall into the long-term bucket, while others are just plain hot.

According to a study by Aberdeen Group, a major business research firm, companies that do lead scoring right are able to qualify leads at a 192 percent higher rate than other companies. Not only does lead scoring help you hone in on the most promising prospects, it also gives you an objective way to calculate and schedule the right types of follow-up for each ranking level.

Online Behavior is Key

The old “BANT” approach to lead scoring (does the lead have: Budget, Authority, Need and Timeline) doesn’t work well anymore. Today’s buyers – both consumers and businesses – start their information gathering process much earlier than in the past and rely on the web – and social media in particular – more than ever before. While most businesses have little visibility into this web-based behavior, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems are still trying to figure this out, new “Social CRM” services such as Nimble (www.nimble.com) are revolutionizing how this is done, especially for smaller businesses and work groups.

Here are six lead-ranking tactics that can really pay off for any size business:

1)    Start by clearly defining what constitutes a “priority lead” for your business. Once you communicate this to your sales people it gives you a handy way to measure how good they are at engaging these prospects and closing sales.

2)    Create a system to capture information on leads, score it and measure it. Key information you will want to understand is whether the lead is the right person to purchase your product or service, and whether they have the right level of interest.

3)    Consider information from the digital and social “graph.”  While you still want traditional demographic or business information on prospects such as age, income level and job title, the real key to discerning true purchasing intent is found in “behavioral” type information. In other words, it’s not who they are that defines them, it’s what they actually do. And since this can be found online, today’s term for this is “digital body language.” Tracking what prospects do online, in social media, to consume information about your business and interact with you in some way is far more powerful ammunition than information you might get, say, by telephone.

4)    Pick your proof points. There’s no single way to define a lead score, as it differs business to business. But generally you’ll want to assign a number (1-5 for example) and/or weighting (such as 10-30%) for each factor. In a B2B setting, for example, factors might include the level of pain (that is, how badly they need a solution to a problem), the prospect’s job role, business or industry and the source of the lead.

5)    Map your prospects’ variations. Spell out the type of lead that each score represents, and the follow-up action that’s called for. For example, the right person at the right time with the right amount of interest is top priority and gets immediate attention. Likewise, the right prospect at the wrong time is flagged with nurturing and follow-up. A lead that’s ranked as a wrong fit with no interest can be eliminated.

6)    Keep it simple to start. Don’t try to use too many scoring criteria or create complex follow-up plans. Start with a simple approach and carefully measure your results. You can always expand from there.

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

How Rock Star Customers can Help You Grow

In an age of digital discovery and social media, here’s something that more and more local business are learning:  Existing customers can be one of the most powerful growth engines ever.  One way to put this engine to work is to identify and harness the hidden marketing potential in your “Rock Star” customers.

But watch out: they might not be the ones you think. For example, they aren’t necessarily the biggest spenders or most loyal. Loyal customers don’t always promote you (in fact, it’s likely they’re not), while big spending customers may not be profitable or have a good story to tell.

So who are your Rock Stars?

Bill Lee, CEO of an educational organization called the Customer Reference Forum, says your Rock Stars are simply the ones with the biggest potential to promote your business and influence others. “First, they’re loyal—that’s the price of admission,” says Lee. “They have a good story to tell about how your product or service helps them. Second, they’re eager to tell it. Third, they have access—and want to gain more access—to influential networks that contain more buyers like them. And fourth, they want to build their reputation and influence in such networks.”

But as much as they might love you, these Rock Star customers won’t help grow your business on their own. Even customers who identify themselves as “promoters” in customer surveys—saying they’d be highly likely to refer you to a colleague or friend—aren’t actually doing so. Studies have shown that only about 10 percent of self-described promoters actually refer profitable new customers. The key is this: You have to take the initiative and make it easy for them to do so.

Make it About Them

To make it work, it has to be all about them – not about you, says Lee, who is also author of a book called “The Hidden Wealth of Customers” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012).

One tactic that works with Rock Stars is community marketing that recognizes how people buy things locally, from a refrigerator or flat screen TV, to a new roof or a doctor’s services. In that context, most people aren’t likely to seek out a salesperson or collect brochures. Instead, they’ll talk to friends, neighbors, colleagues or other peers to find out what or whom they’re using.

Some big companies have caught on to this. For example, Microsoft has brilliantly deployed “customer advocates” to leverage this natural approach to buying, particularly overseas. Microsoft will find local “MVP” customers who are well-connected in their local communities and want to increase their status, and help them do so by providing access to early releases and “insider knowledge.”

Getting known through established locals is faster—as well as more affordable—than trying to get locals to know a business through advertising, PR, big splash events, and other traditional marketing. Small businesses can use this same approach.

Make Yourself an Influencer

But instead of relying on your Rock Stars to carry the ball completely, the trick is to enlist their help in making you more of a “thought leader” in your own industry or community. Many business owners fall into the rut of seeking influencers—such as bloggers with large followings, or prominent personalities in their markets or communities.  But it’s usually better to be the influencer yourself – enlisting your Rock Stars to help you do it.

A good local business providing exceptional solutions to a community or market has two things that no outside influencer can match, says Lee. You have actual customers who are happy, plus you have your own “subject matter experts” (you and your employees) who work with these customers all the time. That alone gives you far more valuable knowledge than the usual outside influencer.

Perhaps the best thing about Rock Star customers is that they already exist, quietly thriving under the radar, waiting for you to discover them and put them to work. Failing to do so is a little like being a homeowner who knows a stash of gold is hidden in the wall but never uses a metal detector to find it.

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

Why You Should Have a LinkedIn Business Page

Although LinkedIn is the world’s largest social media network for business people and professionals, most small business owners still don’t have it on their marketing radar. But that’s changing as LinkedIn itself ads more features aimed at helping businesses market to its 160 million registered users, and more small businesses start taking advantage of this powerful platform for generating leads and making business connections.

Your first step is to create a free LinkedIn “Company Page.”  It’s similar to a Facebook business page but easier to set up, better looking and with more ways to feature your products and services. And LinkedIn recently introduced an improved look for company pages that offers new ways to tell your business story, share news or updates and drive word of mouth.

Unlike Facebook, which was originally built for college students, LinkedIn was created from the ground up with the needs of business and professionals in mind. That shows through in the capabilities it offers to create awareness of your products and services. What’s more, millions of people conduct searches from within LinkedIn every day and if you and your company aren’t there, you can’t be found.

Posting updates to your LinkedIn company page gives you a powerful way to generate leads by including links back to your own website. The LinkedIn company page lets you post large images, create your own calls to action and include testimonials or recommendations from your connections. This is all free if you’re willing to spend a little time to learn how it works and get your company page operational.

But you don’t have to get everything done at once. As with LinkedIn personal profile pages, you can start with the basics and add features and sections as you get more proficient. Here’s how to get started along with a rundown of key sections of a LinkedIn company page:

Getting Started: You can set up a LinkedIn company page in minutes with just a few steps. You must first go to the “Add a Company” page to confirm your connection to the business and be authorized to create your page. Go to www.linkedin.com/company/add/show and enter the company name and your business email address. You’ll receive an automated email asking you to confirm your request. Once that’s done, you’re ready to start creating your page.

Overview: This is your big chance to make a powerful first impression. The overview section, or “tab,” is the place to start spreading your message and open a conversation about your business.  You can include a high-level description of your business along with company announcements, product releases or news from your industry. It’s also a great place to feature employees and other people who are connected to your business.

If your business is already creating updates or other content for a Facebook page, this is another place you can put it to good use. But remember that LinkedIn’s membership is much more “white collar,” so be sure to put your best professional foot forward.

Products and Services: This is the place to showcase what you offer.  Setting up a Products & Services section requires just a few steps and can be done in a few minutes.  Click “Add a product or service” under the Products & Services tab and fill in the information about category, product or service name and description. Be sure to include your business photos and videos to bring the section to life. And don’t forget to add your business URL and other web links back to the product, service or order form pages on your own website. This helps with SEO and can send traffic and leads back to your site.

To add more products and services, simply repeat the steps above. When all of your information is complete, click “Publish” to go live.  You’ll then be accessible to millions of LinkedIn members who can view, recommend and share your information within their own networks. It’s word-of-mouth power on steroids.

Company Updates: LinkedIn suggests using this section to share articles, ask questions or post special offers. It also offers the ability to target your updates and offers to specific groups of your connections or followers, as well as to “all followers.”

For more information on how to use company pages visit:  learn.linkedin.com/company-pages.

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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.

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