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8 Essentials of a Successful Social Media Plan

social media planSocial media has become a vital piece of marketing for small businesses. But many lack a specific strategy for using social media and end up with a scatter-shot approach that lacks punch. This misses a major opportunity to engage with customers and prospects and manage the business’s online reputation.

“Without a social media strategy, how do you know what you’re trying to achieve, what you should be doing, what you should be measuring and what’s the ROI of your social media program,” says Neal Schaffer, a social media strategist and author of a new book called “Maximize Your Social.”

If your business intends to enter the social media world, it needs to have a consistent message. You’ll want to know what resources you’ll need and how they will be used. And you’ll also need to define tactics you will and won’t pursue. All of this should be written down so that it can be passed to others when employees leave.

Here are eight essentials that should be in your social media plan:

1)    A consistent brand message: It’s okay to be a little less formal in social media channels. But make sure that what you post in different places all speaks with a unified voice and message. In the planning process, be sure to designate who represents the voice of your company in social media.

2)    Meaningful content: What you share and talk about in social media is important. Creating content that is useful, informative and engaging will benefit your business over the long term.

3)    The right channel selections: Don’t try to be everywhere. That’s just not realistic and you don’t have the resources to be active in all channels. Pick a few that are most appropriate for your business. For example, most B2B businesses find LinkedIn to be a fruitful place. Businesses with highly visual products or services can do well on Pinterest. And if you’re adept at creating videos, YouTube should be on your list. And Facebook should probably be in everyone’s plan. Consider Twitter as well.

4)    Post strategically, not constantly: You don’t have to be constantly tweeting and posting to have impact. Well-timed and thoughtful content is what’s important. Research shows that a single daily post on Facebook can be more effective that multiple posts that split the response.

5)    Meaningful customer interaction: Customers increasingly use social media to convey their complaints, praise and questions about your business. This creates a golden communications opportunity that many businesses are blowing. “You need to have a listening and responding strategy in place,” says Schaffer. Listening means more than just keeping an eye out for complaints. Every engagement with a social media user is a great chance for real-time feedback on what your customers are thinking, liking, needing and buying.

6)    A way to be “follow-worthy”: As part of your plan, think about why customers would want to like or follow you. Look at your business from the perspective of an outside observer and ask yourself, “Is what we say and produce worthy of being followed? Is it something that will draw people back again? Would I follow us?”

7)    A way to shake things up:  It’s easy to fall into a same-old/same-old routine with social media. To shake things up, plan to introduce some new way of engaging customers on a regular basis. Try to leverage the “social” aspect of social media to create online events that get followers excited. Don’t think of it as a marketing “campaign” but rather as a series of experiments with your followers. Surveys, polls, quizzes, product giveaways and crowdsourcing (of photos, videos, etc.) are examples.

8)    Fan recruitment: Your plan should also include a strategy to enlist your most loyal fans and customers to help spread the word about your business. They can even act as a kind of “advisory board” for your business. Harnessing and rewarding these business “ambassadors” is a highly effective form of digital word of mouth.

Copyright © 2000-2013 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.

Facebook Beats Yelp in Local Business Reviews Battle

More fuel for the Facebook fire:  The “Like” button, launched in 2010, is already more popular than Yelp as a way for customers to show their support for a local business online.  Results of a new Harris Interactive survey also reveal that no single source or factor dominates the consumer decision-making process of which local business to choose in any given category.  In other words, while Facebook “Likes” are winning the feedback war with Yelp and other reviews sites, it’s not the first or only information source that customers consult when making local purchase decisions – especially when trying something new.

The message for local business owners is this:  While having a Facebook page and actively encouraging “Likes” is important, taking steps to reach customers through a variety of methods, both online and offline, is critical as well.  There’s no single magic bullet that can influence everyone.

Here are the local business takeaways from the Harris Interactive study:

1.       When it comes to recommending a local business or professional, or just showing support, a simple whisper in the ear still trumps a click.  Three out of four local customers (75%) still recommend businesses by word-of-mouth.

2.       20% of people say they will “Like” a local business on Facebook to show their support, compared with about 13% who say they’ll write a review.

3.       Younger age groups are much more likely to hop on Facebook over Yelp, as are women.  While about 40% of people under 35 will “Like” a business in Facebook, the figure is 49% in the 18-24 group, versus 18% who said they would write a review.  About 25% of women overall hit the “Like” button, versus 11% who write reviews.

4.       Daily deal sites aren’t as big a factor as some people think.   Despite the frenzied attention given to Groupon, Living Social and others, discounts and offers do not appear to be a major factor in how consumers choose a merchant.  Less than one in ten people (8%) said a deal is the number one thing that influences them to try a local business.

5.       More than half (52%) of adults under 35 visit more than two websites before visiting a local business; 63% of respondents under 35 head to Google; 24% visit Facebook; 21% look at reviews sites and much to marketers’ chagrin, a hefty 17% say that they simply click on the first link in a search result, whatever it happens to be.

6.       People do care about the face behind the business. When doing their homework, customers under 35 say that feedback from the business owner can carry equal weight to input from friends or social networks.  The message is clear:  When doing online marketing, be sure you are personally represented along with your deals or specials.  Almost half (47%) of people under age 35 are more influenced to try a business from the owner of the establishment than a friend

7.       High gas prices and distance are changing how consumers decide;  67% of people overall said  that gas prices now factor into their decision around which businesses to visit – 87% of women ages 18-34 said gas prices and distance influence their decision, compared to 67% of men in the same age range.
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.

The Future for Small Biz in Social Media

Time.  It’s a little word, but the single biggest roadblock to small business engagement in social media.  Sure, millions of biz owners have embraced social.  But time constraints produce constant dropouts and millions more won’t buy in as long as they believe the time sink outweighs the benefits.

The future, then, may well be a web-based service called Roost – or something like it – which promises to revolutionize social business engagement with free (for now at least) productivity tools that help local biz owners leverage the social web to generate leads and build their businesses efficiently and effectively.

Roost is brand new; barely out of the wrapper.  But its new social marketing platform for Facebook and Twitter solves the nagging problem all business owners face when thinking about social marketing: “What do I post and when do I post it?”

Roost helps biz owners and local professionals plan their social marketing activities in 20 minutes per week. Just set the duration and content types (post, link, quote, etc.) for each social media campaign. Roost automatically provides customized recommendations on post type and frequency to match the length of the campaign and achieve maximum customer and prospect engagement.

Roost’s suggested content feature offers direct access to articles, blogs, quotes and other original content. You can queue up content on a daily or weekly basis from a library of topics related to your type of business.  A feature called The Roost Bar also helps you gain more friends, fans and followers.  When someone views a shared link, a small, branded bar appears above the article and allows audiences to immediately “like” your business Facebook page.

A feature called Roost Circles helps biz owners and individual pros band together with their closest business associates, and by request, share each other’s posts, providing branding and engagement opportunities across each other’s networks. Whether the circle includes employees, favorite customers or vendors, the technology capitalizes on the economically relevant concept that rising tides lift all boats.

Roost was built for the restaurant, CPA or Realtor who can’t devote 10 hours each week to online marketing, says Alex Chang, CEO of Roost. “They know they need to be on Facebook and Twitter, but they aren’t sure what to do or how to start.”  In short, Roost is a service for real business owners who have little to no time, aren’t fully up to speed on all the nuances of social media marketing but who may live and die by referral business.

And best of all, it’s free.

Roost, a venture capital backed startup based in San Francisco, already has about 20,000 small biz professionals using the service.

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