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Which Social Media Work Best for Business

SSocial Media Marketingmall business owners are continuing to try social media as a marketing channel. But with so many options – and limited time and resources to use them – which ones are working best?

As with so many other things in business, the answer is: “It depends.” One thing is clear: Small businesses are moving headlong into online networking via social media, with 90% saying they’ve jumped in, according to a survey by the online small business community Manta. Among small businesses using social media, 78% report that at least 25% of their customers are now finding them via social channels.

And in a recent survey conducted by Vistage International (a peer advisory firm for business executives) and The Wall Street Journal, 60% of the 835 small business owners surveyed said they’ve had success growing their businesses with social media.

But the tools and platforms they use vary greatly, and “success” depends on the type of business they have and how they use the social media tools and platforms.

Biz Owners Find Success with LinkedIn

Surprisingly, 41% of the owners in this particular group named LinkedIn as the most effective for them – more than any other social media platform. I’ve written before about the importance of small businesses having a company page on LinkedIn, but a relatively small portion of businesses have done so, making this survey’s finding a bit of a stunner. The online video service YouTube was named most effective by 16% of the businesses, while Facebook was considered most beneficial by just 14%.

A mish-mash of other social media platforms (including Pinterest and Google+) account for the remainder of the “most effective” votes, with Twitter being named by just 3% of business owners as their top social media outlet for helping them grow. In part that’s because just 14% of business owners report using Twitter at all, and Twitter is just now getting around to promoting its services as a tool for business.

How do small businesses find the time?  Increasingly, some are getting employees involved, with about 40% now saying they have people dedicated to social media campaigns. The rest, presumably, are flying solo. Overall, the businesses involved aren’t spending that much time on it, with about half saying they spend 1-5 hours weekly, and a third spending almost no time at all. A few, however, spend upwards of 10 hours weekly.

Pinterest Works for Visual Businesses

As interest in visually display grows, businesses that have interesting photos of what they sell (such as a kitchen remodeler, wedding photographer or jeweler) are finding success with Pinterest, the online photo sharing site. Some now report 10 times as much website traffic coming from their Pinterest pages, compared to Facebook.

Professionals, such as attorneys, architects and consultants, are finding LinkedIn to be a top performer, while small retailers tend to get more traction with Facebook (see A 10 Step Facebook Cheat Sheet for Biz Owners).

How do business owners measure social media success? Being found by customers is the benefit most often named (35%). Referrals and the ability to find and engage with prospects (lead generation) also rank highly.

Clearly, most small businesses want to link social media activities to sales as directly as possible. Thus, having customers find them and buy something is valued most highly.  But don’t overlook customer retention and loyalty, which also play an important role in calculating the value of social networking.

Go Where Your Customers Are

In many respects, it comes down to this: If your customers and prospects are online and in social media (and they are), you must be too. “As 97% of consumers use the Internet to research products or services in their local area, and those searches regularly include company name, product or service, or business owner, it’s critical small businesses build awareness of themselves and their company online,” says Jed Williams, program director at the leading research and consulting firm BIA/Kelsey.

Take it from Joseph Buczek, president of Lighthouse Construction and Restoration, an Indiana-based remodeling and repair firm. “Over time, I’ve realized that it’s very important for me to maintain a consistent online presence for both my business and myself,” says Buczek. “More and more consumers – my prospective customers – are looking online for information about remodeling companies, so I need to be there when they are.”

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

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

16 Sweet Social Marketing Tools You Gotta Try

No doubt about it. People are piling into social media marketing like never before. But the most successful ones don’t go naked. They deploy a variety of digital tools to amplify and monitor their efforts.

BizBest® has researched over 100 social marketing tools – including some that are brand new – and came up with this list of 16 standouts (listed alphabetically):

AgoraPulse (www.agorapulse.com)

Great to use if your efforts are focused on Facebook. It offers tools to engage your fans, qualify them and track results. Using AgoraPulse could certainly quicken your marketing heartbeat.

Buffer (www.bufferapp.com)

Awesome way to schedule social media activity. It lets you add posts and tweets to your “buffer” from anywhere and have them automatically distributed throughout the day. By keeping your biz buffer topped off with content, you can schedule a fresh social media presence for a week or more.

Crowdbooster (www.crowdbooster.com)

Offers tools to measure and boost your social marketing. Lets you analyze performance of individual tweets and posts to quickly grasp what’s working; view engagement and reach metrics for Facebook.

Disqus (www.disqus.com)

Plugin for getting more marketing mileage out of blog comments. This takes the old, rather clunky “comments” function and turns it into a social media machine that lets users sign in and comment via Facebook and Twitter.

HubSpot (www.Hubspot.com)

An all-in-one marketing software provider that give you a complete package of tools to launch and manage your social media marketing. Super-savvy social marketers! These folks are smart.

LinkedIn “Skills & Expertise”

This tool (under the “More” tab on LinkedIn) is an effective (and free) way to find world-class professionals with whatever skills and fields of interest you want; an especially rich source of B2B contacts and leads.

Newsle (www.newsle.com)

Cool new way to find articles about you and your business, as well as colleagues, competitors and anyone else you care about, and receive notifications minutes or hours after they’re published. Sync your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, and it happens automatically.

Nimble (www.nimble.com)

Revolutionizing customer relationship management (CRM) for small business by taking it into the social realm in a really smart way. This “social CRM” service makes it easy to manage your contacts, communications activities and sales all in one place.

NutshellMail (www.nutshellmail.com)

This aptly named app from Constant Contact is a social media lifesaver for those who want their social activity results neatly summarized in a single email. NutshellMail tracks what’s being said about your business in social media, packages it up and sends a summary email on whatever schedule you choose.

Pagelever (www.pagelever.com)

Affordable analytics tool that’s all about measuring the impact of your social marketing efforts. Output charts and graphs showing traffic, fans, users, comments and more.

PeerIndex (www.peerindex.com)

Measures interactions across the web and helps you understand your influence (or lack of it) in social media. Better than Klout because it’s more adept at measuring real influence rather than just large numbers of followers.

Postling (www.postling.com)

Several tools in one, including alerts and insights that help you get the most out of social marketing. Publish to all of the major social media sites and schedule posts in advance. It also pulls comments from all of your social media sites into one place – a big time-saver for responding.

Shoutlet (www.shoutlet.com)

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

Slideshare (www.slideshare.com)

Great place to share content such as product or other presentations and generate traffic and leads for your business. The site is free to use and gets some 60 million visitors monthly. Presentations can appear on your LinkedIn profile.

Sprout Social (www.sproutsocial.com)

Popular tool among small businesses to monitor what’s being said about you online, schedule and publish updates to your social media pages with one click, and produce reports.

TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com)

Dashboard that gives you a good view of your Twitter activity. It allows you to monitor and manage unlimited accounts, schedule tweets to suit your audience and filter content to focus on what matters to you the most.

Bonus Tool: MarketMeSuite (www.marketmesuite.com)

This one came to our attention after the original Sweet 16 list was published, but definitely deserves a look. MarketMeSuite gives you the tools you need to be more proactive with your social media marketing. Some 30,000 small businesses are already using it to find targeted leads and influencers, engage with customers and get results on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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

6 Ways to Influence Your Influencers

Word of mouth has long been considered the best advertising a small business can get. And in today’s digital world, word of mouth is even more important and effective than ever.  But the social media explosion has transformed how word of mouth works.

Social media vastly amplifies word of mouth in a 24/7 system. But many business owners are puzzled about how this works, and what to do.

Basically, it’s about what the social media world calls “influencers.”  Other people listen to what influencers have to say. They come in all shapes and sizes, from a busy mom who’s active on Facebook, to a well-known blogger in a particular industry or profession. Influencers are active on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, industry forums and their own blogs or websites.

Influencers are always building their digital networks and social media reputations. They may have hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of friends (Facebook; Foursquare), followers (Twitter) and connections (LinkedIn) that constitute a immense digital word-of-mouth opportunity.

Every single connection is amplified in the digital world. For example, according to LinkedIn, my relatively modest 450 connections link me to an astounding 7.8 million professionals.

Your goal is to first identify your influencers, and then – well – influence them to spread positive word-of-mouth about your business.

How to Do It

Here are six tips on how to do that suggested by a leading social media analytics firm Sysomos:

1. First Check Your Own Network

Some influencers may already be in your fold. These might be past and present customers and prospects who already know your business and engage with you on social sites. Remember that customers are highly influenced by what their friends and family do and like. People already in your network can have this kind of influence on their own connections, so reach out to them.

2. Use Google and Twitter searches

This will help you find people who’ve already identified themselves (by the keywords them included in their personal or business profiles) as being interested in your industry or demographic. Don’t forget to search related or overlapping terms as well. You can also check their influencer scores or ratings with services such as Klout.com and Kred.com. But don’t rule out up-and-comers. Even people with small (highly targeted) networks can have big influence.

3. Recognize and Reward Your Best Influencers

Recognition is a powerful tool for influencing your influencers. Everyone likes to feel special in some way, and influencers in particular love to feel like they are “in the know” and have valuable tips or information they can pass along to their own networks. You can foster a special feeling by creating an influencer network (although you don’t have to call it that) and offering them first crack at special deals, news, offers, samples and demos. And social media experts at Sysomos also suggest tapping top influencers for feedback on new products or services. Loyalists will love this – especially if you make them feel they’ve had an impact.

4. Segment Your Audience and Tailor your Tactics

Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Influencer behavior and digital word-of-mouth looks much different depending on the social platform (i.e. Twitter vs. LinkedIn). Twitter updates, for example, should be made throughout the day (but no more than hourly). Facebook updates are generally less frequent – maybe once per day. On blogs and discussion forums, it’s best to try and join in a dialog on a topic of interest. You can gain leverage and be more efficient with your time by “cross-pollinating” some of your photos, tweets, posts and comments across multiple platforms. For example, don’t just post a great photo on Facebook. Also put it on Pinterest and tweet it.

5. Personalize your Approach

Don’t be shy about reaching out to key influences one-on-one. Use the social tools at your disposal to do this, including the direct messaging capability of Twitter, LinkedIn and others, as well as leaving thoughtful and constructive comments on influencer blogs. A social CRM service such as Nimble.com can also be a huge help.

6. Keep up with the Conversation

This requires continuous effort but is essential.  When you become an integral part of the digital media conversation in your industry or profession, influencers will be more likely to mention and recommend you on their own. Sharing thoughts and reactions to industry news will keep people thinking and talking about you.

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

Why Small Business Ads on Facebook Flop

Should small business owners advertise on Facebook?  While some who’ve tried it seem satisfied, others are convinced it’s a bust for most local businesses. When USA Today ran an article recently on Facebook’s effort to attract small biz advertisers, many business owners responded to say their experience with such ads was negative.

The point is this: While online marketing is something all businesses should consider, using social media channels for paid advertising simply doesn’t work well for some types of businesses. Dry cleaners, for example, might be better off focusing on getting people through the door with targeted emails and direct mail offers rather than spending a ton of time tweeting.

Raed Malhas, who is CEO of a small online business called MiNeeds (www.mineeds.com), was disappointed (to say the least) with his experience placing ads on Facebook. Malhas breaks down Facebook’s failings as a small biz advertising platform into three categories:

1. Demographic Dilemma: Facebook’s approach to advertising is largely based on targeting certain demographics. And while that works well for some businesses and especially national brands, it’s far less effective for local businesses. By contrast, Google Adwords and various local search sites such as DexKnows, YP.com and SuperPages let you target specific keywords.  Thus, local business ads will show up for specific searches for an attorney in Atlanta, for example, or a plumber or pet store in Portland.

As Malhas points out, targeting demographics is tricky for small business advertisers because it means you are trolling for customers on Facebook based on such things as gender, age, location, marital status, schools attended or other details. For local advertisers that’s a big problem because of what you DON”T know – i.e. the prospect’s “intent” or “needs” at a given time. Advertisers are left to guess at those needs, hoping they catch a few prospects at the right time with their offer.

That’s usually much less efficient that using “intent based” search ads that have a much better chance of capturing customers at the point they are ready to make a purchase.

When Facebook first started taking ads, Malhas jumped right in. He was experienced using other online platforms but says he found Facebook “extremely challenging.”  He launched an ad campaign targeting Facebook users who might be interested in remodeling their homes, and already knew the demographics he was interested in.

He tried several approaches, but all of them flopped. “The realty tricky part about Facebook,” he says, “is that no matter if you are a restaurant, plumber, attorney or accountant, you won’t know which users are searching for your type of services.”

2. Ad Fatigue: Even if you do manage to create a successful Facebook ad, it could be difficult to sustain your momentum. “Let’s say I’m targeting males in Seattle between 28 and 40,” says Malhas. “Even if my ad is extremely appealing to that target audience, the same audience will soon get bored with seeing the same ad again and again. They’ll ignore it and my conversions will drop to almost nothing.”

This fatigue factor is especially troubling for small businesses with a limited local target audience.  On the other hand, search ads tend to attract mostly fresh eyes. I might search for a locksmith this week, but not next. And you might need one a month from now. So the locksmith advertising on search platforms will catch both of us and there’s no fatigue factor.

3. Competition from Deep Pocket Brands: When Facebook first launched its ad platform, smaller businesses were paying only a few cents for clicks on their ads. But then big national brands starting competing for the same demographics and drove up the price. Malhas claims that the rates he was paying rose ten-fold in a matter of months. “Suddenly it made our cost per lead too high and we had to kill many of our Facebook ads,” he says. “Today’s small business with only a few hundred dollars to spend per month stands no chance on Facebook against those titans.”

While most local businesses can benefit by establishing a social media presence for free, paid advertising on the likes of Facebook and Twitter can be another matter. If you give it a try, be sure to test a variety of offers and approaches to see what works best.

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

Inside Tips on Using Google +1 for Business

Right now, Google officials are quietly meeting with corporate partners to enlist support for the much-anticipated business version of Google+, their new social media platform. Soon (they hope), local businesses will be competing to be “+1s” from customers (similar to a “Like” on Facebook).  Here’s a sneak peak at what Google execs are saying:

  • Circles:  Big G says today’s social media experience is “sloppy” (we only connect with certain people at certain times); “scary” (all online conversations are public); and “insensitive” (we all define friend and family differently).  With G+ Circles, you can separate groups of coworkers and customers, which lets you share certain information only with the people it’s meant for.
  • Sparks:  Sparks is meant to be an online sharing tool that feeds you relevant content from the web.  Businesses can use it to stay up to date on important news about an industry, profession or competitor.  
  • Hangouts:  Connecting with others online can be awkward.  When someone doesn’t respond to a request, you aren’t sure if they’re not there, or just not interested. Through multi-person video chat, Google+ Hangouts changes the game.  For example, businesses can arrange video conferences with up to 10 employees or co-workers; or use Hangouts as your own live customer support line.
  • +1:  Putting +1 buttons on your website will let customer recommend your business, site, page or content to friends and contacts.  Consider it free word of mouth marketing.
  • Photo sharing for business: A phone is a perfect collaboration tool for business owners since it’s always with you and always online. But getting photos off your phone is a pain. Google+ instant upload lets users add photos to a private site in the cloud, and even add locations.
  • (Also see ShopTalk: Social Media’s “What Local Business Should Know now about Google Plus.”)

The +1 Button is the Key

The +1 button lets users recommend you right on Google search – or from your own site, if you have the button installed.  Adding the +1 button to your business website gives customers and other visitors another way to endorse your business or brand.  The more +1’s your business collects, the better. Having +1’s will improve search results for your business, product or service, and also give your ads more oomph.   It works like this:

1)      Julie clicks the +1 button next to your online ad or organic search result about your business. This now becomes a public recommendation, linked to her profile.

2)      Her contacts will see a personalized “annotation” (more on this below) on her own search results and ads showing that Julie “+1’d” (pronounced PLUS-ONE’D) it.

Where to Get the Button

Google has created a special page for businesses and webmasters to learn more about the +1 button, download the code and even create customized versions of the button for specific uses.  That’s where you’ll find everything you need.  Put the button wherever you think it will be most effective. On the top half of the page, near the title of the page, and close to sharing links are good locations. Placing the +1 button at both the end and the beginning of an article or story can also be effective.

How +1 Affects Search Results and Traffic

Basically, +1 helps people find relevant content—a website, a search result, or an ad—from people they know. As G+ expands, the +1 button will appear on more and more websites and ads.  You’ll see a +1 button on a Google search result or next to an article you’re reading on a news or industry site.

Adding the +1 button to pages on your own site lets users recommend your content, knowing that their friends and contacts will see their recommendation when it’s most relevant—in the context of their future Google searches (yes, a little scary, but true).  Personalized annotations next to your page in search results may increase your site’s visibility and click-through rate. To see how +1 affects your search traffic, try the +1 Metrics tool available in Google Webmaster Tools.  Available metrics include:

  • Search impact: See the pages on your site that received the most impressions with a +1 annotation, and see how +1 annotations impact click-through rate.
  • Activity: See the total number of +1’s received by pages on your site.
  • Audience: See aggregated information about people who have +1’d your pages, including the total number of unique users, their location, and their age and gender.

Google+ Annotations

Personalized annotations display the faces of friends and social connections who’ve already +1’d a piece of content. Google tries to display +1’s to people (specifically those in the user’s social connections) who would find them most useful. By making the recommendations more discoverable, users will be more engaged with your site. 

How to Stay in the Loop

To preview the latest updates to the Google+ platform, subscribe to the Google+ Platform Preview group.  For updates specifically about the +1 button, subscribe to the Google Publisher Buttons Announce Group.

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

ShopKick is Next Big Thing in Local Social Commerce

Remember this name: ShopKick. You’re about to starting seeing a lot more of it. ShopKick is a new mobile application that tracks and rewards customers with points (called KickBucks) just for walking into your store. Think of it as a new digital way to easily drive foot traffic into your location. 

Customers earn additional points for picking up and scanning the barcode on an item in your store using their smartphone’s camera and, of course, for making purchases. The more involved with your store a shopper becomes, the more KickBucks they can earn. It’s like a digital version of the old-style repeat-purchase punch card, but with vastly more capabilities.  

KickBucks can then be redeemed for rewards such as discounts, gift cards, merchandise and charitable donations. Consumers simply download the free ShopKick app to their smartphones and start looking for nearby stores and restaurants offering “Kicks Rewards.” The ShopKick FAQ section helps explain in detail how the app works from the customer’s point of view.

ShopKick is amazingly simple and – apparently – effective as well.  Several big retailers such as Crate & Barrel, American Eagle, Macy’s and Target began experimenting with it in 2010.  Best Buy, the electronics big box giant, likes it so much it recently rolled it out nationwide.

The big news, however, is that ShopKick has just launched a pilot program to begin offering the service to local businesses in 11 cities and metro areas, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Seattle, Washington, DC, Detroit and New Orleans. Initially, 1,000 local businesses will be selected to participate and will get the service free for a year.

While any local business can apply for free, the preferred types of businesses for the experimental program are coffee shops, yogurt shops, bakeries, family restaurants and local clothing boutiques.  Other factors in your favor include these:  You have less than 20 locations are located in a shopping area, have a good Yelp rating and a distinctive store design.  Citibank is picking up the tab for the pilot program, and clearly sees big things ahead for ShopKick. Citi officials see it as an exciting new retail program that local businesses can use to help them connect with customers in their communities.  

A New Local Mobile Frontier

The huge growth of mobile commerce via smart phones is fueling Palo Alto, CA-based ShopKick and will change how customers interact with a local business. Already, about 20% of consumers use their mobile phones to check prices, according to a recent Booz & Company study. As smartphone penetration more than doubles over the next 3-4 years, that figure is expected to soar as well.  Booz & Co. also predicts that purchases made directly from mobile devices will more than triple by 2014.

It creates a new personalized experience for customers to tap into when shopping at local merchants.  And according to BIA Kelsey, which tracks local marketing trends, ShopKick is already available in 2,500 big retailer locations and 160 malls nationwide.

In short, ShopKick is a new retail technology that – for the first time – starts to meld the previously separate worlds of selling either online or offline.  Armed with their app-equipped mobile devices, customers can now exist simultaneously in both the digital and physical shopping worlds.

ShopKick, founded in 2009, has high-powered venture capital funding, and counts Kleiner Perkins, Greylock Partners and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman among its backers.

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

8 Getting Started Twitter Tips for Business

Small business owners, local businesses and startups of all stripes are embracing social media marketing with gusto.  Signups on Facebook and Twitter are soaring.  And why not?  Biz owners see these platforms as free marketing that may be tricky and unknown, but well worth a shot.

After all, when half of local businesses say they’ll spend less than $2,500 on marketing this year, the lure of social media is strong with its relative ease, low cost and low entry barriers.  And while Facebook is king, Twitter has seen tremendous growth from local business owners and professionals who aim to build awareness for their products and services – as well as themselves.

If you’re giving tweets a try, here are some vital tips and strategies to keep you from stubbing your Twitter toe:

  1. To start off right choose a good Twitter name or “handle.”  This could be your own name or your business name, a variation or abbreviation of your name or business name, or a combination.  You should make it easy for others to recognize who you are, and connect you to your business, product or service.  Put your Twitter handle (looks like “@name”) on your website, email signature, business cards, name badge, letterhead and anywhere else potential followers will see it.  Avoid cutesy, random or made-up names that have nothing to do with you or your business.   
  2. Set specific business goals for being on Twitter, and pursue them.  For example, you can use Twitter to help position your name or brand, communicate with customers and prospects, announce events, point to articles, videos or other content on your website.
  3. Hone your profile.  A Twitter account lets you create a brief but highly visible profile, so don’t blow it.  I’ve seen many lame profiles that include mundane personal traits or meaningless information. Worse yet, no profile at all.  Others look like random stacks of keywords.  And many lack a link to a website or blog. Don’t make these mistakes.  Include your company, position, fields of interest, and what you have to offer. Consider it your elevator pitch to attract followers.
  4. Avoid pointless tweets.  Concentrate on providing useful information. Promote things you have on your own website, or point to someone else’s content as a useful or interesting resource.   You will only gain followers if people believe they will enjoy, be informed by or otherwise find value in what you tweet.  Concentrate on specialized knowledge your business has and can share with others.
  5. Search the site.  A great way to get ideas for tweets and find potential followers or folks to follow is to use Twitter Search.   This is a highly effective, but under-used Twitter feature that’s both helpful and free.  Also search for tweets that have mentioned your company or brand.  And btw, while you can be choosy about who you follow on a personal account, when using Twitter for business, be sure to follow back anyone who follows your business.
  6. Make Twitter part of your regular networking.  The old days of simply collecting business cards are over.  Today when you attend meetings, trade shows, lunches or other events, make a point to collect Twitter handles and hand out your own.  Many people now display them on name badges, signage or other prominent places.  To go directly to someone’s Twitter page, just add the name (handle) to the end of the Twitter URL, like this:  www.twitter.com/danielkehrer.  
  7. Hop onto hashtags.  Hashtags are used to organize tweets around categories, themes or topics by adding the pound sign (#) before a word or phrase, like #smallbusiness, #entrepreneurs or #startups.  When you use a hashtag in a tweet, it is automatically posted to that category in addition to your basic tweet stream.
  8. Point people to your website.  Tweets are a great way to get people to visit your website.  Perhaps you have a whitepaper available for download, some interesting photos, a new video or some other type of content.  Don’t be shy. Tweet about it with a link back to your site.  But use a URL shortener to avoid filling your entire tweet with a long link.  Two popular services where you can do this in seconds for free are http://bit.ly and http://ow.ly.

Take it from someone with a perfect TwitterGrader score of 100:  If you do it right, Twitter can pack a powerful marketing punch for almost any business.

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.