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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

The Art of the Tweet Tease

TV and other news organizations are skilled at using “teasers” to entice interest in a particular story and get readers or viewers to click or tune in. It works!  So when you tweet for yourself, your business or your brand, you should aspire to do the same. The result will be a higher headcount of people who read, react to and retweet your content.

Sadly, too many tweets are simply trash.  In fact, research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, MIT and Georgia Tech (cleverly named “Who Gives a Tweet?”) shows that Twitter users only consider 36% of the tweets they see to be worthwhile.  About 39% are thought to be marginal, while a quarter of all tweets are considered totally worthless.

Tackiest Types of Tweets

Most people consider mood or location updates to be the tackiest types of tweets. On the flip side, what people like best are tweets that share valuable, insight tips and information, including links to more extensive content posted elsewhere.  To leverage the appetite for the latter – and avoid tweet trouble at the same time – try taking the teaser tack.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. A teaser is a carefully crafted sentence, phrase or headline that “hooks” readers into wanting more.Taking a little time to write these will pay off in bigger response.
  2. Be sure to provide a link to the location of the content that will satisfy the curiosity you’ve just piqued.
  3. The idea is to provide enough substance to attract attention, but not give away the news or the “punch line” in the tweet itself. As Twitter CEO Dick Costolo once told me, “A great tweet is a caption for something bigger.”

Teasers that pose a provocative question are one proven way to go.  @GuyKawasaki, who has 1.2 million Twitter followers, is a master at crafting teaser type tweets, including many that are questions. They are usually very short – barely half the allotted 140 characters – and usually include a link.

What to Watch Out For

Teasers are powerful when used right, but can also hurt you in the long term if used badly. A few tips:

  • Avoid over-promising in your teaser.  If the “payoff” for the person who takes your tease is unfulfilling, they are less likely to bite the next time.  By making sure the content at the other end of the tease is high quality, you’ll get the response you seek.
  • Also try to tweet about news that’s as fresh as possible (and hasn’t already been tweeted a billion times by everyone else); provide enough context around your tweet so people understand what it’s about; and don’t over-do the use of #hashtags.

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

The Right Way to Retweet

Let’s start with two key assumptions: 1) Twitter is a great way to build business so you should be using it, and; 2) Part of doing so is retweeting other people’s tweets that you think are worth sharing. But while most people simply use Twitter’s built-in RT function (one of the basic engagement options offered at the bottom of every tweet), it leaves much to be desired.

First off, the standard RT is static, which means you can’t modify it, include your own comment or tell your followers why you deemed this particular item retweet-worthy. You simply pass it along “as-is” and the other person’s photo or image appears in your tweet stream as if they’d tweeted directly to your followers (aside from the little green triangle and arrow in the upper right indicated it’s a RT).  What’s more, the person you retweeted might not even notice that you made the RT unless they regularly check the “Connect” tab on Twitter which lists RTs and other interactions. In short, this leaves much of the potential value of retweeting off the table.

A Better Way to Retweet

Fortunately there’s a better — if slightly more time-consuming way — to do RTs. It boils down to doing the process manually rather than relying on Twitter’s quick-and-easy RT icon.

It’s simple and works like this:

1. Copy the tweet you want to RT and paste it into your own “New Tweet” box.

2. Add to the very beginning: RT @________ (the person’s twitter handle) and then the remainder of their tweet. If it’s really short you can simply add your own (very) brief comment or “thank you” before (preferred) or after the original tweet text. The same process works even if you use an outside service to schedule your tweets. Some even have an edit tool that helps you do this quickly.

3. If it’s long, you may have to edit a bit, eliminating unnecessary words while taking great care not to alter the essence or meaning of the original tweet. You can also use an ellipse (…) to indicate gaps where words have been left out. When a retweet has been modified in this fashion, some people start it out with MT (for modified tweet) rather than RT

4. If there was a link in the original tweet, make sure it still works (sometimes they break in the copy-and-paste process)

5. Send your tweet.

NOTE:  One possible, but relatively minor downside comes fro Klout and Kred. These social influence scorekeepers include retweets as one small factor among many determining your outreach activity, so to the extent they don’t recognize your modified RTs as “official” Twitter RTs, you’d lost a little ground. But you can still do some RTs the regular way, and besides, the advantages you gain by retweeting this way would greatly outweigh this.

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.

Twitter to Offer Small Business Ads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter CEO on What Makes a Great Tweet

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

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

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

What Makes a Tweet Great

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

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

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

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

Follow us @140Main

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

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.

A Terrific New Twitter Tool for Business

BizBest 30-Second Solution 

With Twitter use by small and local business soaring, busy biz owners need new and better ways to tweet their way to success.  InboxQ is a new browser plugin that offers business users an efficient way to quickly find and engage Twitter users interested in specific products, brands or topics without having to scroll through endless tweets.  With InboxQ, you can set up a campaign based on specific keywords or tweet quantity and then immediately reply to those targeted tweets that are asking questions related to your business or expertise.  A clothing designer, for example, can easily keep an eye on women looking for a new dress.  In short, InboxQ is an easy way to alert your business of compelling opportunities to engage with prospects, and to use your expertise to help solve a problem and win new customers.

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