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6 Social Media Changes That Will Rattle Business

LikeSocial media has already had a huge impact on businesses both large and small. But according to the latest projections from the research firm International Data Corp. (IDC), there’s a lot more change coming. IDC analysts expect the coming year to be pivotal for social media in business with (among other things) a new emphasis on using social to grow profits, not just gather followers.

New social-friendly devices and computer operating systems will spur growth of so-called “social business” – business conducted via social media. New types of “discovery” shopping will evolve from a combination of tablet usage and an emphasis on visual, rather than text-based messages.

Drawing from the latest IDC research and internal brainstorming sessions among IDC’s analysts, here are six key social business and social media changes that could have a major impact on how you do business in the year ahead (follow us @140Main or check BizBest’s Social Media section for future updates):

1. Social platforms become the new shop fronts

Until now, most businesses have used social media as an extension of their public relations or marketing efforts, focusing attention on such things as news and updates. But as more and more small companies expand sales and customer service efforts to multiple channels, social media will become a true social business platform. In essence, social media will spawn digital storefronts for everything from local businesses to multinational corporations.

2. Sales supersede “likes” and followers

As business owners and marketers in general continue gaining experience with Facebook and other social platforms, they will become more demanding about the return they get on their social media investments. With businesses questioning the actual value of “likes”, fans and followers, attention will shift to real results and outcomes of social media efforts. It will become increasingly important to measure and track results from social media, and apply the information to your own definition of success.

3. Visual social takes off

Online marketing efforts that include a visual component (images, video, info graphics, etc.) get better results than text-only. As this sinks in, social platforms (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn) will add new features and focus on visual networking.  The success of the image-sharing site Pinterest is just one example of how popular and effective visuals have become in the digital world. The increasing popularity of tablets such as iPads – which are great for visuals – help drive this change. The newspaper industry currently has a major joint effort underway to reinvent the standard circular into a whole new digital discovery experience for tablet (visit Wanderful.com for info).

4. Groupon’s last gasp

As Groupon continues to struggle and face competition from countless similar services, the Groupon approach will give way to new types of group purchasing conducted via social media communities and what’s being called “Social Local Mobile.” In SoLoMo, local businesses make offers directly to customers on their mobile devices.

5. Social business gets a boost from new devices and operating systems

Apple and Microsoft are both integrating social into the newest versions of their mobile and desktop operating systems. As a result, social media will become an easier experience for the user and more effective for businesses that understand and leverage the new social business environment. With the release of each new device and system, the social media experience becomes a more integral part of everyday life for customers and prospects.

6. Gap between “haves” and “have-nots” widens

Despite the massive growth of social media, business owners and executives remain polarized on the role social media should play in running a business. The pro-social camp will continue to explore social not just as something new and shiny, but also as the very foundation of their businesses. They will expand their efforts on multiple fronts. The social doubters, on the other hand, see Facebook’s 2012 stock offering debacle as confirmation that the value of social media remains in question. This will give the social media adopters a continued advantage, just as businesses that embraced the Internet early on gained an edge.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

20 Digital Trends You Need to Know

I just completed an interactive local media conference where some of today’s smartest minds in digital were gathered, from the likes of Google, Facebook, IdeaLab, CitiGrid, Constant Contact and dozens more. Here’s my list of the Top 20 trends (and some implications) in digital, search, social media and online marketing that emerged from this semi-annual confab by the local media consulting firm BIA/Kelsey:

1. Shrinking Search Real Estate

As Google continues to claim more and more space for paid products on every search engine results page (SERP), there’s less and less available for “organic” results — your results.  Bottom line: Being found in search via “free” SEO tactics will continue to get harder. You can’t rely on SEO alone.

2. Social Search Soars

Search engines and yellow pages type directories aren’t the only place people look online for businesses. More and more customers are using social media to search for what they need. If you aren’t there, you can’t be found.

3. High Value Content Becomes Even More Critical

Content is where most small businesses stumble. Having a website, blog and social media pages isn’t enough without good content to go along. The simple act of offering a helpful PDF download can produce big results. Content becomes your new creative.

4. Mobile Devices Become “Remote Control” for Our Lives

As the power and sophistication of mobile devices (super computers in our pockets) continues to grow, more and more individuals will use them as the central processing unit that controls their lives. People already spend an average of 2-5 hours daily on a mobile device. This raises the ante for making sure your business is visible on mobile. About 55% of the U.S. population owns a smart phone, and 78% never leave home without it.

5. “Day Parting” Becomes more Prevalent

Day Parting is the term for dividing up the day into distinct marketing periods for making specific offers. For example, a restaurant that makes special offers just before lunch — but no other time of the day.

6. Programs for “Conquesting” Customers Grow More Popular

Conquesting is a term for attracting a customer already at one local business, over to another local business offering a synergistic product or service. For example, an ice cream shop suggesting to diners currently eating in nearby restaurants to stop by for dessert.

7. Everything & Everyone Online

As the number of people online daily (worldwide) jumps from 2.5 billion today to 3.5 billion by 2015, the lines between offline and online blur even more.  There’s no longer a conscious decision to “use the web.” It becomes an unconscious, reflex action.

8. Consumers are Hyper-Informed

Nearly 90% of U.S. Internet users go online to search for information about products and services, and about one in three will post a product review or comment online, and social media plays a critical and growing role. After spending time on social media, the 2nd-most popular activity is buying something!

9. Small Businesses Learn to Leverage Facebook to Acquire Customers

Far from fading, Facebook is finally figuring out small business (and vice versa), offering new ways for businesses to acquire customers. Twitter does the same. A term you’ll see more is “Native Placement,” which includes paid placements on Facebook and Twitter such as Facebook Sponsored Stories and Twitter Promoted Tweets.  These are considered “native” advertising. Businesses are also seeing that placing content on Facebook produces far greater results than putting on a website.

10. A Four-Screen World Rules

No single device or “screen” dominates. People move effortlessly between a PC, smart phone, tablet and TV.  According to Google research, 90% of consumers begin a task on one device and complete it on another device. Already, 77% of TV viewers watch on a non-TV device (49% smart phone; 34% PC or laptop).  Content (such as an ad) viewed on one device can trigger behavior on another device. This means business can no longer construct campaigns specific to a single device. Four years ago, small businesses bought ads in an average of 2.8 different channels. Now it’s six.

11. Expansion of Choice and Sharing Accelerates

Consumers will have more content, more choices and more places to share and consume information.  Even ads become opt-in (on video, for example), but consumers choose to watch at a high rate (currently 15-45%). This acceleration of choice provides businesses an opportunity to provide more content through which customers will “self select” based on their interests.

12. Google Product Listing Ads Gain Importance

Google Product Listings (free) and Product Listing Ads (PLAs; paid) have been around for years, but have been given a makeover and will gain momentum as more businesses find that PLAs can be vastly more effective than simple text ads.

13. Big Move Toward Video

Video will continue to explode. Already, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute of the day. There are channels for every interest — over a million of them. Businesses of all sizes should be seeking out channels that interest their customers and advertise there.

14. Digital Ad Products Become Simpler

Solution providers heed the call of business owners who say digital products are too complex. Google, for example, just introduced AdWords Express, a simplified version of its flagship AdWords search engine marketing product — the first time Google has specifically made something for small business.

15. Online Avenues Get More Vertical

Major players in local search such as CitiGrid finally recognize that the needs of local businesses differ greatly by type (or vertical), and begin to offer more customized digital products geared to specific business types or verticals.

16. NAP Alignment Critical for Local Businesses

NAP — or name, address and phone number — is the vital info that every local business must make available online and on mobile. But it’s vital the info is perfectly aligned (consistent in all places), or you risk confusing Google and slipping in search results.

17. Importance of Interacting with Customers in “Social Storefronts” Grows

Imagine a customer walks into your store and you turn your back. That’s essentially what’s been happening online when a small business has a website or Facebook business page but doesn’t actively engage with customers in those settings. Importance of building online relationships grows even bigger.

18. DIWM Joins DIY and DIFM

Small businesses can expect to see more digital and social media marketing products and providers offering “Do It With Me” services (DIWM) along with Do It Yourself (DIY) and Do It For Me (DIFM).  These will come with price tags between the other two.

19. Extraordinary Becomes the New Ordinary

Consumer expectations continue to climb. Digital marvels that once seemed extraordinary (like finding things almost instantly on a smart phone) are taken for granted. Not long ago, WiFi on airplanes was unusual. Now it’s expected. The bar is high for businesses big and small to “wow” customers.

20. Newspaper Inserts or “Circulars” Go Digital

A consortium of 12 major newspaper companies is putting millions behind a new venture called Wanderful that aims to reinvent ad circulars for tablet computers and make shopping more entertaining, fun, social and discovery-based.

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

A 10-Step Facebook Cheat Sheet for Biz Owners

Despite its massive reach and wide adoption, Facebook remains baffling to many business owners. Facebook itself has never really understood small business, and hasn’t done a great job explaining how biz owners can use it to grow sales.

To Facebook’s credit, that’s starting to change as they provide more and better tools top help small firms, local businesses, professionals, start-ups and others leverage a platform that now claims over 1 billion users.  If you have a Facebook business page, you’ll be hearing more from Facebook as it roll’s out a variety of new ways for small companies to use paid advertising.

So far, however, the vast majority of local businesses are sticking with what they can get from Facebook for free – which is actually quite a lot.  Only about seven percent of small businesses surveyed recently by Merchant Circle are using paid promotional services on Facebook. That compares to 70 percent who are now using Facebook’s free features to promote their business.

The good news is that Facebook has upgraded the free tools and information it offers to help you succeed. The Facebook for Business section (www.Facebook.com/business) has helpful how-to tips and guidance on everything from building your page to best practices for engaging users. You’ll also find interesting stories on how other small businesses are using Facebook successfully, and a list of helpful resources.

Success always starts with building an engaging Business Page – the free foundation of your effort to grow with Facebook.  Here’s a quick 10-step cheat sheet on what to do:

1. Your Category

Choose a category and give your page a name that represents your business.

2. Your Photo

Pick a photo or logo to use as your “profile picture.” This is the smaller image associated with your page. In some cases, this might be your photo, a square version of your logo (beware: non-square logos can end up being chopped off), or some other graphic representation of your business.

3. Your Tag Line

Create a “tag line” or short sentence that captures briefly what your business is about – specifically what you do or sell, and the value you offer.

4. Your URL

Create a custom Facebook web address for your business that’s memorable and shareable.  The part you pick is what comes after Facebook.com. For example, Facebook.com/StateBicycle.

5. Your Cover Page

Select a “cover page” photo or other image – preferably something that people would associate with your business. Use a high quality image, as it will be featured prominently on your page. It’s the first thing people will see and should showcase your product, service or brand. Size restrictions are very specific. It’s best to use a horizontal image that’s 851 x 315 pixels. Avoid generic photos. It’s much better to use an image unique to your business, such as a popular menu item for a restaurant, or perhaps a customer using your product or service (with their permission). You might have to experiment with a few different images to see what looks best.  Avoid putting contact information or other business details in your image. Those should go in your “About” section.

6. Your News Feed

The “news feed” is the centerpiece of the Facebook experience. You can easily create different kinds of “news” or “posts” for your feed, including written text updates, photos, videos or questions. People who “like” your page will see your updates in their own news feeds (one reason you’ll want as many “likes” as possible). The news feed is where people spend 40 percent of their time on Facebook. This is where people engage and share ideas and information.

7. Your Posts

Short posts work best – no more than 250 characters (about 50 words). They’ll get 60 percent more likes, comments and shares than longer posts.

8. Your Sharing

The best things to share, however, are photos (including photo albums) and videos. People are twice as likely to engage with these as other types of posts.

9. Your Deails

To add details about your business, click on the Edit Page button in the admin panel. Then choose “Update Info” to change or add what you want.

10. Your Invitations

Invite people to like your page – including your community of friends, family, customers, employees and others who care about your business. The “Build Audience” button on your admin panel will show you some things to try.

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 Reasons you need Facebook for Business

When it comes to promoting a local business, professional office or other small firm, Facebook is looming larger than ever. The latest salvo was the test launch of Facebook Deals in five cities (Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, San Diego and San Francisco) – a challenge to daily deal juggernauts Groupon and LivingSocial. More cities will soon be added. Basically, Facebook Deals will make coupons more social by letting users grab special discounts on products and services from businesses of all sizes and then automatically sharing their shopping savvy with friends on the site. Users will be able to see what deals their friends have chosen, along with a “deals near you” section.

Is there a Facebook page in your future? Considering the juggernaut that Facebook has become for marketing through social media, the answer is resoundingly yes.  It’s your first step into “F-Commerce.” If your business doesn’t have a Facebook page yet, here are 10 reasons to get off your fanny and fix that problem:

1)      You’ve simply got to keep up:  When it comes to Facebook, your business has already fallen behind the competition if you’re not there.  Consider that Facebook has over 600 million users.

2)      Connecting with customers is more critical than ever:  This is core to social media. Connecting is king – people connecting with each other and to businesses they like.  Customers you connect with on Facebook are some of the internet’s most engaged users. And that translates into lots of good things for your business, including higher satisfaction. It’s also an effective way to communicate news and information about your business.

3)      To promote your brand:  As a place to build your brand, Facebook has few peers.  But it doesn’t happen by itself; you have to be active and post useful, interesting, relevant content that excites people and makes them fans.

4)      To protect your brand:  If you have or are newly building a brand, and have intellectual property such as trademarks and brand names, it’s critical to stake out your Facebook turf by registering pages for your brands.  If you don’t, you risk the possibility that others will. 

5)      It’s a deal you can’t refuse:  Most biz owners like a bargain, and this is a screamer.  Setting up a Facebook page is free.  The biggest investment you’ll have to make is time to learn how it works, build your business page and keep it fresh and active.  More and more small businesses are hiring local firms and social media consultants to help, so for them it’s no longer free.  But the investment may be well worth it down the road. 

6)      It’s fantastic for speedy feedback:  Facebook is a great way to gather customer feedback on your products, services, promotions or plans, or just hear what customers have to say in general.  Consider it a key extension of whatever customer service and support mechanism you now have.  A tool called Facebook Insights can provide detailed info on who’s visiting your page and what they’re looking at while they’re there.

7)      To be a bridge between your online and offline efforts: Your offline advertising and marketing, including direct mail, in-store, outdoor, newspaper, magazine and other can direct customers to your Facebook page.  Once there, they can share experiences, learn about an event, or much more.  You can easily post Facebook status updates or other content in minutes.  

8)      It will help customers find you: Well-built and “optimized” Facebook pages can perform well in search results, leading customers to your page.  What’s more, with millions of Facebook users now use Facebook’s own internal search tool when they are looking for something, so you have a good chance of showing up that way as well.

9)      It can boost your sales: The point of all this connecting and communicating, of course, is to drive sales for your business in some way.  “F-commerce” on Facebook is another potential revenue-producing sales channel to consider.  Facebook Places is a vital location-based marketing service for local business.

10)   Your website may be obsolete:  Some small businesses no longer consider it necessary to have a standalone website and have made Facebook their entire online presence.  And that can make sense, depending on the type of business you have and where your customers come from.

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

Facebook Finalists are a Learning Lab for Local Business

American Express OPEN and Facebook have announced the 10 small business finalists in the Facebook Big Break for Small Business, a national contest that has the lofty goal of transforming the way small businesses use Facebook to connect and engage with customers. Over 11,000 small and local businesses entered the contest, aiming for an all-expense paid trip to Facebook headquarters for an intensive two-day makeover of their Facebook business presence, plus a $20,000 cash prize.

Take a look at the websites these mainly local businesses have built, and what they are doing already on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.  While it’s too late to enter the contest, your business can still be a winner by learning from what the finalists are already doing online.

Naturally, winners will be chosen by “fans” and other followers of the finalist businesses themselves, not by Amex or Facebook.  Starting now, anyone can vote for their five favorites among the 10 finalists to win the trip to Facebook and prize by visiting http://www.facebook.com/Open.  You get five votes, but only one vote is allowed per business. The deadline is July 19. Here are the finalists:

Our personal favorite here at BizBest is Viesso.  In part that’s because we’re only a few blocks from their showroom ourselves, but also because the entrepreneurs behind Viesso seem to be pretty web-savvy and already have a leg up on using social media to build their business.  

Meanwhile, AMEX OPEN has just launched YourBuzz, a free tool to help small businesses manage their online presence, learn what is being said and about them and their competitors, and connect with customers in the places where they are most vocal—social media.  This is another in a series of so-called “reputation management” tools that are being launched for local businesses.

YourBuzz offers a consolidated view of what customers have to say about your business across CitySearch, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other popular sites, and respond when necessary. The platform will also let you consolidate customer contact information from the Internet and manage it from YourBuzz. Here are other things you can do with YourBuzz:

Manage Online Presence

  • View existing business listings
  • Claim and edit business listings
  • Create new business listings

Learn What Customers Saying

  • See how you stack up against your competition
  • View an aggregation of customer reviews and online mentions
  • Respond, re-tweet, take actions or create a new conversation on major social sites
  • Get recommendations on different actions to take

Manage Online Connections

  • Import customer profiles and contact information to segment direct marketing efforts
  • Highlight influencers in your Social Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Market to these contacts directly based on available public information

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

6 New Business Tips for Facebook Success

An estimated 42% of small businesses in the U.S. now have a Facebook page.  And about 70% of small businesses overall plan to use social media this year. But beyond that the landscape gets murky.  While having a Facebook page is now “the thing to do,” a decidedly small percentage of businesses have any idea what works on Facebook and what doesn’t.

The painful truth is that while having a Facebook page is a necessary first step to tapping social media marketing, the wrong approach can actually be harmful.   New research just out offers these guidelines for business success on Facebook:

1)      Avoid the “business hours” trap.  Most businesses post content to their Facebook pages during the middle of the day (roughly 10 am to 4 pm).  But that’s not when most people are listening. New research shows that businesses posting content to Facebook either before or after those hours get 20% more responses.  Your goal is to have your posts appear at the top of fan news feeds at a time when they are most likely to be looking.  Services such as HootSuite, TweetDeck and others let you schedule your posts to appear whenever you want.  Don’t post just because it fits your own schedule.

2)      Day of the week matters.  But it’s different for different types of businesses. Saturday is the worst day, followed by Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  Most content is posted on Mondays, creating more competition and ”noise” to break through. Research conducted by Facebook shows that people are happier on Thursdays and Fridays (you can probably guess why), so engagement rates on those two days are nearly 20% higher overall.  

3)      Industry matters, too.  Best days to post will also depend on what type of business you have.  For example, weekends are for autos, and peak customer engagement for auto-related businesses is on Sunday, by a wide margin. No other day comes close. But according to Buddy Media, which provides social media services to big brands, few businesses in the auto industry have yet caught on to this.  Here are best days for other industries:  Finance (Wed. and Thurs.); fashion (Thurs.); Restaurants and Bars (Tues., Wed.); Healthcare and Beauty (Thurs.);  Sports (Sun.);  Travel (Thurs., Fri.).

4)      Don’t be bashful about asking people to “Like” your business on Facebook. According to Buddy Media’s research,  the direct approach – come right out and ask for it – works best.  In short, Buddy found that “fans” tend to follow directions well. But the simpler, the better.  If you want people to post comments, for example, ask a direct question and request a response.

5)      Avoid overtly promotional language.  On Facebook, experience shows that for most businesses, a soft sell approach works best.  For example, if you run a contest, using the words “event,” “win” and “winner” rather than “contest” or “promotion” will get better results.  People get excited about winning, while a “sweepstakes” sounds more like you are trying to sell them something.

6)      End with (the right kind of) a question.  According to Buddy Media, Facebook posts that end with a question get 15% more responses.  So if your goal is to generate engagement, end your post with a question.  But don’t ask “why.”  That’s too philosophical.  Instead, questions about when, where, would and should are much more likely to succeed in engaging visitors to your page.

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