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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.

4 Steps for Getting More Leads from Facebook

Fsales funnelacebook has proven to be a great source of new customers for millions small businesses. But many business owners are not using Facebook to its fullest lead generation potential. For one thing, Facebook has added new features that make it more useful for small firms.

First understand there are two basic ways to have a business presence on Facebook. There’s an “organic” presence. That’s your free Facebook page where you build your base of fans, post pictures, offers, articles, and more.

But there’s also paid advertising and having a paid presence can be a great supplement to. Facebook’s rich advertising platform lets you target specific audiences and take some of the guesswork out of social media marketing. Local businesses can benefit greatly from the ability to target messages only to potential customers in their own area. You can also target by age, gender, education level and occupation. Or reach people who have a specific interest in what you do.

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You can use traditional ads, or what Facebook calls “sponsored stories.” Sponsored stories let you extend your reach beyond the people who interact with your page. Your sponsored stories will show up more frequently in news feeds as well as advertisements on the side of the page. Using a combination of both ads and sponsored stories can help you get the most out of your Facebook effort.

Here are four steps to generating more leads from Facebook, suggested by the firm Optify which provides digital marketing software:

1. Improve your page: It’s not enough to just have a Facebook page. You need to make it informative, attractive and engaging. Pay special attention to your cover photo and profile picture – the two primary visual items on your page. Your profile picture might appear in many places, including search results, ads and sponsored stories. And because it’s small, it must be simple. If you use a business logo that’s complex, you might want to create a simplified Facebook version.

Your company description is critical. Only the first 125 characters will appear on the main page, so make them count. Optify recommends including your main web address and a short sentence describing your business.

Take advantage of the “Invite Email Contacts” feature that lets you send a note to any email list inviting them to “Like” your Facebook page.  Just make sure you’ve created a page that’s worth visiting.

2. Create Captivating Content: In order to generate leads, your Facebook page must be a steady source of helpful, shareable information. Try addressing customer “pain points.” What solutions can you offer that help people? The more you can do that, the more they are likely to share and like your content.

Keep posts short. Those in the 100-150 word range get about 60% more “likes” than longer ones. If you can convert your message into a photo or other image of some kind, so much the better. Facebook reports that photo albums and pictures generate 120%-180% more engagement.  And add new items to your page regularly. Daily is good; but at least weekly. This will ensure that your content – and your business name – consistently appears in news feeds.

3. Try Facebook Quizzes:  These are a quick and fun way to engage customers and learn something about them at the same time. Just keep these things in mind: It’s not a test, so don’t make it one. This will turn off customers. No more than 10 questions.  Tell people up front how this will benefit them, and how many questions there are. And offer an incentive. If your goal is market research, for example, offering a prize (i.e. a discount) for completing a quiz will boost participation.

4. Use Facebook Ad-Ons:  If your website and blog already have significant traffic you can increase your visibility to a larger audience by using one of the social plugin applications Facebook offers. These allow users to perform multiple actions with a single click. There’s also a registration form that lets users sign up for your website directly from Facebook, and something called “Facepile” that shows Facebook users who likes your business and puts mutual friends at the top of the list.

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Why Business Owners are Adopting Digital Marketing

Internet marketingSmall business owners are a practical bunch. So when it comes to digital marketing – websites, search ads, digital banners, email, mobile ads, and others – they approach it with a decidedly practical bent. “Generating leads and sales is very important to us,” says Jack Groot, owner of JP’s Coffee & Espresso Bar in Holland, MI. “Without real traffic and ultimately profit, there is little or no value for us in digital marketing.”

Groot speaks for millions of small business owners who are leaning more and more into digital marketing, but only if they see real value in it. Larger organizations are accustomed to marketing digitally – they’ve been doing it for years. Many smaller firms, however, have stuck with traditional ways. But that’s changing, and picking up steam.

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Digital marketing has blossomed as digital marketing tools for small business have become more accessible and affordable. A major trend driving increased use of digital marketing by smaller businesses is the increased availability of customer data – from website visits, social media, electronic purchases, and many other sources. This information helps even the smallest businesses understand customers better, identify leads earlier and respond to customer needs by knowing what they’re looking for.

According to a new study conducted by Inc. Magazine and Vocus, a cloud software provider, the top six reasons small biz owners use digital marketing are to:

1)    Drive sales

2)    Increase brand awareness

3)    Reach new customer segments

4)    Drive customer engagement

5)    Identify usable customer insights

6)    Save money/improve productivity

Another attraction of digital marketing for small business is that you can move the needle without having to allocate lots of resources – especially personnel.  Meanwhile, more than half of the small and mid-sized businesses surveyed by Inc. say they now have at least one full-time employee working on their digital marketing efforts. Others use part-timers, outsourcing, or the business owners do it themselves.

Not surprisingly, the Inc. survey found that websites are the most commonly-used digital marketing tool among smaller businesses, with about 87 percent now using them. And while some still use “old” non-interactive websites, many others are incorporating digital marketing tools that incorporate social interaction to gain much greater traction.

Here’s a rundown of how many small businesses are using some of the different digital marketing tools:

  • Email marketing (66%)
  • Videos/photos (55%)
  • Blogs/white papers (53%)
  • Webinars (26%)
  • Paid search (23%)
  • Online store (23%)
  • Mobile apps (18%)
  • Mobile/SMS messages (4%)

Spending Levels on the Rise

Small business spending on digital marketing is also on the rise. According to the Inc. survey, some 23 percent of all small businesses now spend more than 75 percent of their marketing budgets on digital.

Among “larger” small businesses (those with $1 million or more in revenue), about 22 percent allocate less than 10 percent of their budget to digital. About 1-in-5 of these firms spends between 10 and 24 percent of their budget on digital. Another 13.5 percent of firms allocate 25-50 percent to digital, while about 14.5 percent devote 50-75 percent of their marketing spend to digital.

Groot’s businesses – including the Midwest Barista School in addition to the coffee and espresso bar – are now focused almost entirely on digital. And the reason is simple. According to Groot, digital methods – including his website, social media and blog – give him more bang for his buck for generating sales and leads, building awareness, keeping a high profile and driving profitability.

Defining Digital Success

Business owners are clear about what constitutes successful digital marketing in their eyes. Increased sales tops the list (named by 71%), with generating leads second (59%). Other success criteria include the following:

  • Higher search ranking (33%)
  • Publicity/social following (32%)
  • Employee recruitment (9%)
  • Event attendance (5%)
  • Retention rates (4%)

Business owners seem largely satisfied with the progress they’re making on the digital front. About 71 percent rate their current digital marketing efforts as successful at achieving their goals. For those with revenues over $1 million, the success rates are even higher, with about 80 percent rating their efforts a success.

What’s Ahead

Overall, small business owners overwhelmingly expect to increase their spending on digital marketing, with about 90 percent saying they are likely to do so in the next three years.

Copyright © 2000-2013 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

10 Things Wrong With Your Website

In this age of social media and digital everything, you can’t afford to be a website weakling. If your competition has a killer online presence, and you don’t, you lose. Today’s consumers look online more than ever before.  Even business owners who think they don’t really need a “best in class” website are missing more than they think.  Based on visiting thousands of small business websites, BizBest compiled this list of 10 common mistakes that businesses make with their websites, and how to fix them:

1. Crummy Content

Thanks to the rise of social media and changes in how search engines operate, it’s now more important than ever to have high-quality content on your site. Off-topic and poorly written content won’t show up in search and makes your site look second-rate. Don’t load up on sales pitches. Instead, provide helpful tips, case studies and other info that gives customers and prospects valuable information on how to solve a problem or accomplish a task.  Avoid industry jargon and keep it conversational. A service such as HubSpot.com can help.

2. Keyword Clueless

Knowing — and using — the proper keywords for the products and services your business sells is important to online success. Even if you think you know what they are, unless you’ve used a keyword discovery tool to see the precise terms that real people are typing into search engines daily, you haven’t done it right.  KeywordDiscovery.com and the keyword tool in Google AdWords can help.

3. Social Scarcity

No website is complete today without some nod to social media.  At a bare minimum that should be a link to your Facebook page, but could and should also include Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and your own blog.

4. Muddy Metrics

Who’s visiting your website? Where are they coming from? What are they doing once they get there? What are the most and least popular portions of your site? What kinds of visitors are making you the most money? If you lack the answers, you’re flying blind. Sign up for a web metrics service such as Google Analytics to get a grip on what’s happening.

5. Missing Mobile

Mobile web usage is exploding, with huge  implications for small businesses that lack a mobile-friendly site. Mobile sites are designed specifically for the small screen. They are quick, easy to navigate and “thumb friendly,” which means they use large, centered buttons with “breathing room” to prevent accidental clicks. The best mobile-friendly  sites make the mobile experience local. Since customers are constantly seeking local information on their phones, your mobile site should make it quick and easy for people to find you. Google has a terrific program called GoMo (www.HowToGoMo.com) to help business owners and startups learn about mobile websites and find help setting one up. You’ll find tips, a tool to rate the quality of an existing mobile site, samples of good mobile site design, and a helpful list of vendors who can help you create a mobile presence.

6. Obvious Omissions

It’s stunning how many websites lack obvious info such as contact information, hours and location, or seemingly try to hide it. Don’t make people hunt for a “Contact Us” page. Display your preferred means of contact prominently across your site. If you make it easy for people to call or email, they will. Be sure you have a process in place to follow up all inquiries.

7. Offer-less Ordering

If you want people to sign up, order or otherwise engage, you need to encourage it with some type of offer or call to action. You could, for example, offer free trials, discounts or a newsletter. Tell people what you want them to do.

8. Dorky Design

Design counts. But it’s not all about looking pretty. It’s about creating a great user experience and being highly functional and effective at attracting, keeping and converting customers. Obvious cookie-cutter sites and over-the-top images undercut your goals. Customers are there because they want to accomplish something, and your design needs to reflect that. Keep all order and lead-generation forms simple. The more information you require, the fewer people you’ll get filling them out.

9. Laughably Link-less

If people can’t find you online, you’re toast. One thing that makes Google (and other search engines) take notice is how many quality sites link to yours. Other sites are more likely to link to yours if you offer helpful information such as tips, white papers, newsletters, a blog or other items. Sending out regular press releases on your business is one way to build links. You can also seek links from professional associations, clients and vendors.

10. Unborn Updates

Incorrect or outdated info on your website spells certain doom. If your latest press release is three years old or other content is clearly aging, customers will wonder how up-to-date and vibrant your business really is. Review and update all content on your site regularly to keep it fresh and timely.

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

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

What You Should Know About Pheed

First off, no whining about yet another social media site – even if it is one that gives you a way to directly make money from it (assuming you have content or clout that people will pay for).

Here are the basics:  Pheed is a new social platform created by a group of tech and entertainment entrepreneurs in Los Angeles that “soft launched” (biz speak for “we’re not sure it’s fully baked and we have no money to promote it anyway) October 12, 2012.  It has many similarities to Twitter and other social sites (they use the same @YourName and channel “hashtag” conventions, along with “timelines”), and the game is to get subscribers, while posting your own Pheeds and subscribing to channels you like.

But there are some important differences as well.

While Pheed lets you post the usual text (albeit longer than Tweets), photos and videos, it spices things up with new stuff like voice notes, audio clips and even live broadcasting.  A few Hollywood celebs were first to jump in, in part because Pheed gives them (and you) the option of charging people a monthly subscription fee to view what you post. If you have the clout to pull that off, great.

You can also do live pay-per-view broadcast events or simply make your channels and Pheeds freely available to anyone.   You set the prices, and earn money directly, although Pheed takes a hefty half of any revenue.

Pheed makes it clean and easy to open a Pheed channel by signing up with an existing Facebook or Twitter account. Mine was up and running in minutes (posting is a cinch), although I have no clue where it could lead.  For now, the flavor of Pheed is decidedly about celebrities of one fashion or another. But that could change.

 

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.

Why Google AuthorRank is a Game Changer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing Authorship Power

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

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

The Second Shoe

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

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

A 6-Point AuthorRank Assault List

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

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

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.