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5 Advanced Social Media Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses October 13, 2009

Posted by StrategicGrowth in FaceBook, LinkedIN, MySpace, Naymz, Social Media, Strategic Growth Concepts, Twitter, Video Marketing, Web 2.0.
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by Samir Balwani

Social media marketing and the businesses that utilize it have become more sophisticated. More small businesses are beginning to understand how to best leverage online tools to build a community and recognize that engagement and interaction are the foundations of social marketing, but most don’t know what’s next.  What follows are five advanced strategies for small businesses that may already have small online communities and understand how to create an online presence, but don’t know what to do next.

What Is An Advanced Strategy?

The definition of an advanced social strategy is a technique that goes beyond the normal social media presence. It introduces or reinforces a marketing message while pushing a user to another profile or business site. Before moving forward with an advanced strategy, it’s important that your business understands social marketing, has experience engaging consumers, and that you possess a basic understanding of online marketing.

Strategy 1: Multimedia Usage

The term “A picture is worth a thousand words” has never been truer. Consumers are now using the web to look for product pictures and videos; they want more information and want to see what they’re considering buying. The good news is that it’s easy for a company to create and publish videos and pictures.

In addition to taking photos of products, you can also take pictures at office events as a way to highlight company culture. This not only helps convince others to work with you or to buy from you (consumers see that you are down to earth and one of them, instead of a stuffy company), it also helps your HR department recruit new employees. Who doesn’t want to work for a company that celebrates birthdays and has a good time?   

Videos are useful for explaining complex how-tos or concepts. Showing step-by-step directions can have a greater impact than even the most well written article. Businesses don’t have to invest huge sums of money to create good videos, either. I highly recommend the relatively cheap Flip camcorder, which takes great videos and is easy for even a non-technical marketer to use.  Multimedia can break down the faceless business-to-consumer sales flow and make your company appear friendlier. Use videos and images to show that your business is fun, you care about your employees, and most importantly, that you care about your customers.

Example: WorldMusicSupply.com

WorldMusicSupply.com, an online retailer of musical instruments and accessories, has used YouTube to build a strong online community. Their channel has built over 7,000 subscribers and has over 260,000 views.

Strategy 2: Integrate Offline and Online Advertising

Many small businesses do some sort of offline advertising, whether it be radio, print, or cable. Social marketing allows a business to extend their offline sales pitch.  Including your Facebook Page, Twitter ID or blog URL in offline ads act as social proof, inviting potential consumers to see your community and increase trust in your business. Not only can integrating online and offline advertising help the conversion process, but it can also help build your community. Introducing potential consumers to your social profiles means they may join your community now and buy later.

Strategy 3: Message Adaptation

As businesses start to become more sophisticated with social media they are starting to leverage more online platforms.  However, most deliver the same message over multiple platforms instead of tailoring communications for each individual site.

Social platforms each have an ecosystem of their own. What might be acceptable on Tumblr might be considered spam on Facebook.  A specific style of writing might spread on Twitter but fail on FriendFeed.  Understanding that each site is different and then customizing your message ensures they do well on each respective site.

Not only does customizing messages across sites help the message spread but it keeps users from receiving multiple identical communications. Be sure to maximize your potential by sending a user that follows the business on Twitter and Facebook two different messages, instead of the same thing.

Strategy 4: Local Social Networks, Beyond Yelp

For a small business, local search can be a big win. Being visible to consumers looking for a business in their area is extremely important. Make sure your site is included in local business directories in order to help ensure that consumers find you when they need you. Sometimes finding that many sites can be difficult, however. First, make sure you check your competitors.

Where are they listed? Check their inbound links to check for business directories you can add yourself to. Also, make sure your business has been added to Google Maps, using the Local Business Center.  Take the time to include all the information you can and update any old news. For many consumers, this will be their first interaction with the business.

Example: Bella Napoli in New York

Bella Napoli is a small pizzeria in New York that has done a great job of making sure they appear in as many local searches as possible.

Strategy 5: Contests and Discounts

Building a community is only the first part of social marketing. Using that community to drive sales, propagate marketing, or crowdsource operations is the true power of social media. One way to excite the community is to collectively do something to create a contest or offer an exclusive discount (i.e., the contest can create competition between users). Not only does a contest build buzz organically but if contestants need to, for example, publish an article that gets the most comments in order to win, the contest itself becomes viral.

A good social media contest should include some sort of sharing or virality as a requirement for winning.  Discounts are also a great way to connect with your community. By giving exclusive coupons to your social community, you’re rewarding and reminding them that you are not only a brand to engage with, but also to buy from.

Example: NetFirms.com

NetFirms.com decided to make it easier to register a domain by allowing people to do it via Twitter. Those who participated or spread the word by tweeting, were also entered into a prize drawing.

Conclusion

Creating a basic social media presence is easy enough, getting your community to actually do something is more difficult. Taking advantage of these strategies can help you build your community, make your marketing more effective, and incentivize buying.

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Samir Balwani is an emerging technology strategist at Morpheus Media, a firm specializing in Social Marketing, SEM, and SEO. 

You can follow him on Twitter @leftthebox and get his newsletter.

Social Media Measurement Tools to Determine Value / ROI August 11, 2009

Posted by StrategicGrowth in Social Media, Strategic Growth Concepts, Web 2.0.
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Social Media graphicWhile many of the Social Media tools are free to use, there is a cost involved in the time for development of the Social Media profiles and on-going management of Social Media activities.  Measuring that cost with respect to results against goals that have been identified will determine whether or not your Social Media strategy has provided an ROI at the level expected, and how it stacks up against more traditional methods of Marketing.  To help you achieve an accurate analysis of Social Media results that can be measured against those goals, please review the article below for a variety of tools to assist you.
Should you be interested in developing a Social Media strategy for your firm which has the ability to achieve a significant ROI against company goals, we at Strategic Growth Concepts would be happy to assist you.  Please contact us via our Website or via email at info@StrategicGrowthConcepts.com to schedule your FREE initial consultation.
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by Jye Smith

3 Steps to Picking the Right Social Media Measurement Tools

  1. Understand business outcome
  2. Identify the social media activity
  3. Analyse the relationship between social media activity and business outcome

Then pick a tool.

I cannot stress enough how important it is though, to understand that relationship between social media activity and business outcome. That’s where the expertise is, that’s where the ROI is.

Which tools do I use to measure social media?

This would have to be the most asked question of the lot – but honestly, it’s like asking how long is a piece of string. Last night I presented at Social Media Club Sydney (slides and notes now available) and still there was a call to look at which tools. Which one are essential to me? Google Analytics and Bit.ly for starters.  Katie Chatfield has done a presentation to look at some of the tools available – and you’ll instantly see how overwhelming it can be. But that’s ok – because you need to know what you are valuing first, and look at the tools  last.

MeasurementCamp also published another list of social media tools you can use:

  1. Addictomatic A cool search engine that aggregates rss feeds into a nice visual dashboard
  2. Blogpulse Blog search engine with conversation tracker tool
  3. Boardreader Search forums and message boards
  4. Boardtracker Forum search engine offering instant alerts
  5. Buzzmonitor Embeddable widget showing recent instances of your search term
  6. Compete.com Comparable site metrics for any website
  7. Del.ici.ous Social bookmarking engine. Search by tags and subscribe to feed results
  8. Facebook lexicon Searches facebook walls for words and phrases
  9. Google alerts Email updates of key search terms
  10. Google insights Compare search volume over time
  11. Google trends Compare search term trends
  12. Howsociable Gives a social media score for your brand, with email updates of your score.
  13. Ice rocket Blog search engine with results rss feed
  14. Newsflashr News search engine, presenting results in nice dashboard
  15. Sphere Related content widget
  16. Summize Search for keywords in ‘tweets’.
  17. Technorati Blog and social media search engine
  18. Twing Discussion board and forum search engine
  19. Twingly Spam free blog search engine
  20. Twitturly Track what urls people are talking about on twitter
  21. Xinu Shows how well your site is performing across different metrics. Also gives a site diagnosis.
  22. Quarkbase Fricking cool mashup tool
  23. Twitter Grader Enter your twitter username to get your grade and ranking
  24. Twist Graph Keyword trends in Twitter. Very cool.
  25. yExplore Not strictly social media, but easy access to see inbound links to a page.
  26. Trendpedia Excellent blog search engine that graphs results over time.
  27. Website Grader Not completely sure how accurate, but cool tool anyway!
  28. Yahoo Pipes Err, yeah, can’t believe I missed this off in the first place.
  29. Socialmention Real time UGC search engine, with social rank
  30. Bit.ly and Cli.gs – analytics for your tiny urls.

Top 5 Social Media Tips for Small Business July 16, 2009

Posted by StrategicGrowth in email marketing, FaceBook, LinkedIN, MySpace, Naymz, Social Media, Strategic Growth Concepts, Twitter, Video Marketing, Web 2.0.
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Some content in this posting is from an article by Mya Frazier for Bankrate.com

A few years ago, using the Internet to market a small business simply meant to create a presence online with a simple, informational Web site.  Then came the demands of search engine optimization to ensure Google and Yahoo searches yielded top-ranked results for your company. Was your business’s Web site chock full of the key search terms that would bring it to the attention of customers?

Social Media graphicToday, social media is transforming the small-business marketing landscape. Social media are Web- or mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information. It’s not just for seeing who your high school sweetheart married. Businesses can tap into powerful networking sites and other social media to drive customers to their shops or companies.

If done right, small-business owners might even be able to slash their traditional marketing spending to zero. Writing blogs (short for “Web logs”) or on-going online commentary using social-networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube, can provide inexpensive but powerful online marketing.

Because it’s free, people think it’s easy to create a social media presence. But this attitude can lead to missteps. So before you dive headlong into social media, take some time to observe the customs and social norms of these new forms of communications, says David Spark, founder of Spark Media Solutions, a San Francisco-based firm that helps companies tell their story through social media.  “Also think about your strategy for effectively utilizing social media before you jump in,” says Linda Daichendt, CEO/Managing Consultant of Strategic Growth Concepts. “It’s easier to avoid costly mistakes before you begin than to correct them after they’ve done damage to your company’s reputation.”

“Think of social media as a cocktail party,” says, David Meerman Scott, author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” and “World Wide Rave,” books about how to create buzz online. “You don’t go into the cocktail party and go into the middle room and scream at the top of your lungs and say, ‘Buy my products.’ … What works is you have some meaningful conversation first. And that’s just how social media works.”

If you decide to take the social-networking plunge, here are five ways to harness social media to help your business.

1. Use free sites. Use free online services, such as the mobile short-message site Twitter, and popular networking sites Facebook and MySpace, to post significant news, specials or events. For example, you run a small Italian restaurant with a loyal following. You could create a Twitter account and upload the lunch or dinner specials via “tweets,” or short messages of up to 140 characters, daily to customers’ smart phones or to other Web sites.

“All you have to do is give a (Twitter) handle and start a conversation. You could put the Twitter handle on the menu or in the restaurant,” says Chris Abraham, Abraham Harrison LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based digital public relations agency. Granted, social networking sites are still for early adopters.  “You aren’t going to get Aunt Matilda to tweet about the experience she had at dinner,” Abraham says.

Abraham considers Twitter one of the easiest ways for a newbie to social media to get started.  “It’s more challenging to do Facebook,” Abraham says. “You have to create a personal profile, create a page and so on. With Twitter, if you’re Joe Smith with Motorcycle Emporium, you don’t have to create a page. And you can create Twitter updates via a phone or mobile device easily.”

“Don’t try to reinvent the wheel,” he says. “There are lots of people sold on really expensive solutions, but two of the best investments for reaching out to people and engaging with them are free on Twitter and Facebook.”

2. Shift marketing costs to social media. After learning how social networking operates, use social media to free up traditional marketing dollars for your small business by putting it online. You can quickly learn which of your Facebook or MySpace “friends” or online “group” members received and responded to your message.

Stanya Doty has cut her print marketing budget to zero. As owner of Simple Indulgences, a wine and high-end gift shop in Delaware, Ohio, she began using Facebook in December 2008 to communicate with her brother but quickly realized the online marketing possibilities.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, there are so many people here,’ ” she says. Indeed, Facebook boasts 200 million users worldwide.  In April 2009, she began promoting monthly wine tastings via a Facebook page for the shop that quickly attracted 100 members. Combined with an e-newsletter created using the do-it-yourself, e-mail marketing Web site Constant Contact, she keeps enough buzz going about her shop that her advertising budget for local print ads no longer seemed necessary. She usually sends out about 700 e-mails, with the response rate sometimes reaching nearly 50 percent. It sure beats a postal mailing.  “If I sent out a postcard with postage and paid for all that, I’d still have no idea who read it and who threw it away,” she says.

Indeed, unlike a print ad, Doty gets instant, measurable results. “On Facebook, you can see who has responded to invites,” she says. “It’s easy, it’s cheap and I’m actually appealing to people that at first know me from the store and then hopefully … pass the word along throughout their networks.”

3. Do your own social-media optimization project. Learn about the competition in your industry and geographic region that are tapping social networking. Spark recommends starting by researching the competition in the major search engines — Google and Yahoo.

“Type in keywords and phrases that people would use to find you, like ‘plumber’ and ‘San Francisco.’ If you don’t appear in the top percentage of pages, take a look at the Website of those plumbers that do show up,” says Spark. “Look at their pages, and usually they will have a lot of content on their sites.”

To increase a business’s presence on the Internet, Spark advocates companies create blogs, newsletters and other articles on their sites to bolster the number of keywords — terms that search engines recognize — to boost their ranking in all-important Web searches.

“That’s the way people discover you,” he says. “Take that plumber in San Francisco. The right search terms might just be ‘clogged toilet and San Francisco.'”  “That tells me I should write … in my blog about how to fix a clogged toilet and mention that I am a plumber in San Francisco,” he says.

4. Take social-network marketing to the next level. Create and post richer content about what your customers would expect from someone in your business. Don’t view social media sites as a place to simply hype your wares. It’s a place for conversation.

“Social media is about earning attention,” says David Meerman Scott, author of “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” and “World Wide Rave,” books about how to create buzz online.  “What’s most important is to forget about what your company does. Instead, think about the people who are buying your products. Simply hyping products and services online and in social media sites completely backfires. People are not looking for products but for something fun. They are looking to make connections,” Scott says.

So it’s all about having something interesting to say or show. It could be a blog, or a video on the video-sharing Website YouTube.

For example, if you’re a caterer, instead of talking about your service, create engaging culinary content. Imagine positioning yourself as a gourmet magazine on the Web, complete with links to a video you uploaded to YouTube.

“A caterer could create a blog with information about how to create a fantastic party, and each blog post or YouTube video could be another installment,” Scott says. “On the Web, you are what you publish and being on the Web is about publishing information.”

So back to that plumber faced with the prospect of dropping an expensive Yellow Pages listing but worried about customers not finding him if they have a burst pipe or a misfiring shower head. Scott recommends the plumber post a list of “the 100 home fixes for common plumbing problems.”

“All of a sudden you are going to get indexed very highly in the search engines, and people are going to share that content with their friends,” he says. “When someone puts an update on Facebook asking if anyone knows a good plumber in Boston, a friend might point to your content.”

5. Use blogging to drive search results and help new customers find you. Lately, blogging has gained greater attention, with the advent of “micro-blogging” on Twitter. But consider the time commitment and strategy before launching an account.

Even with the spread of micro-blogging, Abraham remains a big fan of traditional blogs, which are lengthier and show up on Web sites. In general, no matter what form the blog takes, it should be consistent over time.

“If you can’t keep up one (blog) post a day or 12 tweets a day, do one tweet every Thursday. Consistency in blogging or tweeting will create a relationship of trust with your followers or readers. Do it once a week, but for the next two years,” Abraham says.

And don’t spend extra money on blogging software, technical help, or a ghost writer for your blog.  To get started, sign up with WordPress.com or Blogger – both are free blogging platforms which are easy to use for beginners.

Additional opportunities within the social media environment include:  online radio shows on platforms such as BlogTalkRadio, social networking sites such as LinkedIN, Plaxo, and FriendFeed, and a wide variety of additional tools as well depending on your type of business.

Following these social media basics for small business will get your company started on the right road to gaining new customers and increased revenue via social media.

If after completing this article you’re still not certain what your company’s social media strategy should be, we would be happy to aid you in it’s development – and implementation if you would like.  Please feel free to contact us via our website or via email at linda@StrategicGrowthConcepts.com to schedule a FREE initial consultation.

Franchising and Social Media: Integrated for Bottom Line Profitability June 17, 2009

Posted by StrategicGrowth in Social Media, Strategic Growth Concepts, Web 2.0.
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BlogTalkRadio graphicToday’s broadcast of Strategic Growth Concepts for Small Business, featured franchising expert, Paul Segreto of FranchisEssentials discussing social media and its importance to the franchising industry. Areas of discussion included:

  • The ‘new’ franchise development business model
  • The ways social media can aid in franchise development efforts
  • What are the best social networks for a franchise to utilize and why
  • The importance of integrating social media marketing with traditional marketing
  • The role of women in social media and franchising

The interview with show host and CEO of Strategic Growth Concepts, Linda Daichendt, included a wealth of information providing value to franchises and other small businesses with regard to effective utilization of social media in growing your business. Be sure to download and listen to the interview at your convenience.

A Basic Guide to Social Media Tools Geared Toward Small Business June 14, 2009

Posted by StrategicGrowth in FaceBook, LinkedIN, MySpace, Naymz, Social Media, Strategic Growth Concepts, Twitter, Video Marketing, Web 2.0.
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Web 2.0 technology in the form of social media tools empower you to maximize your business’ exposure and interaction with customers, potential customers, vendors, employees, and the community at-large; allowing you to connect and stay in touch more often, and with more people, than was ever possible utilizing the previously standard methods of Marketing your business.  These tools are currently typically free, and therefore, the only investment required is that of time to insure that they are utilized effectively to promote your firm.

However, as I speak with small business owners, the question inevitably arises, “how do you utilize social media to market your business?”.  The answer begins with having an understanding of which social media tools are available, and of those tools, which are most useful for your business. In fact I’m often asked “what are the best social media marketing tools for small businesses?”.   So in this essay, we’ll provide a bit of an overview and our recommendations.

Social Tools

Communities   Social Bookmarking   Video Sharing
LinkedIn Facebook

MySpace

Friendster

Plaxo

Naymz

Hi5

AIM Pages
Badoo
Bebo
CyWorld
EarthFrisk
ECpod
Faves
Grono
iBritz
LiveJournal
Lovento
Multiply
MyWebProfile
NetFriendships
Netlog
Orkut
Passado
Skyrock
Tagged
Tribe
Trig
Windows Live Spaces
Yahoo! 360
Zaadz

Professional

APSense
Biznik
CitiAlly
Cofoundr – Entrepreneurial
CompanyLoop
DoMyStuff
Doostang
Ecademy
Fast Pitch
JASEzone
KillerStartups
Konnects
Lawyrs
MeetIn
MyCareer.ge
NetHooks
Ryze
Small Business Brief
StartupNation – Entrepreneurial
Startupping – Internet entrepreneurs
Synergy Street – Entrepreneurial
Tapped In – Educational professionals
Upspring
Venture Capital Network
Xing
Ziggs

  Digg    del.icio.us

Stumbleupon

Reddit

Newsvine

AllMyFavorites
Backflip
Blinkbits
Blinklist
Blogmarks
Blummy
BuddyMarks
BookmarkTracker
ChangeToLink
Chipmark
De.lirio.us
Diigo
Dogear
Favoritoo
Feedmarker
Foxmarks
FreeLink
Furl
GiveALink
Hyperlinkomatic
iKeepBookmarks
Jack of All Links
Lilisto
LinkaGoGo
Linkatopia
Linkroll
List Mixer
Lycos iQ
Mister Wong
Mobilicio.us
MyBookmarks
MyHq
Mylinkvault
MyPip
My Stuff (from Ask)
MyVmarks
Namakkal
Netvouz
Online Bookmark Manager
OnlyWire
Oyax
Shadows
Simpy
SiteBar
SiteJot
Snipit
Socializer
StartAid
Stufflinker
Sync2it
SyncOne
Turboclip
Windows Live Favorites
WireFan
Zurpy

  YouTube Blip.tv

Vimeo

Metacafe

Stickam

Broadcaster
Panjea
Revver
Tubearoo
Viddler
Video Bomb
Video Sift
Vimby
Xillian TV

         
Photo Sharing   Blogging / Micro-blogging / IM / Mobile    
Flickr    Fotolog

SmugMug

Zooomr

Photobucket

Webshots

  Blogger      Wordpress

Typepad

Twitter

BeeMood
Feecle – Japanese
FlickIM

Frazr – German & French
IMified
Jaiku
Komoo – Chinese
loopt

mbuzzy
Numpa – Dutch
Pownce
Radar
Robisz – Polish
Rummble
Zannel

   

Additional categories of social media include:

CONNECTING WITH FRIENDS:

Classmates
ConnectU
Friends Reunited
Graduates
Meetup
MyYearbook
Reunion
SKOUT

CONSUMER REVIEWS:

Cork’d – Wine reviews
Chowhound
– Food
Epinions

RateItAll
Yelp

All of these tools enable you to interact with people, but in each group a different kind of content is the focus.

Social Communities – in some ways the simplest because it is the content focus is YOU. Each individual creates a profile and the directory enables you to find and connect with people based on the information they supply about themselves in that profile. This has extended beyond individuals to “entities”. So that a company or group can also create a profile. One thing to be aware of about these social communities – that not all of them approach “entities” the same way and most of them don’t make it very easy to figure out how to create a profile for your entity. Facebook invites you to create a Facebook “page” for your business but does not want you to create a “profile” for your business even though pages and profiles can use many of the same features and tools (but not all). On the other hand, LinkedIn has a very limited “page” for businesses providing very limited functionality. Small businesses often struggle to figure out which kind of existence they should have in these communities (should it be me? Should it be my company? Should it be someone else within my company?) that allows them to stay within the terms of service and yet still maximize the tool’s marketing potential.

Social Bookmarking (also called Link Sharing) – these tools allow you to highlight and share individual Web pages you like by sharing a link to them. People can “vote” on each link that has been shared and the links with the most votes move to the top of the page making the site a portal to the “best” content as filtered by the participants of the community. Note that an individual profile is connected to the posting of each link so over time you can get to know your fellow bookmarkers by their sharing habits, genre, frequency etc. These sites are useful if you post a lot of content and would like that content to be found and read by more people.  Be aware though that in order to gain a following in these communities, it is best to post content of general interest and value rather than “promotional” content for your business.  Community participants can be rather unforgiving of those seen as “self-absorbed”.

Video Sharing – sites like YouTube are usually very straightforward in functionality. They make it very easy to upload your own video and once the video is uploaded, it is also easily viewed and commented on by others. YouTube also provides ways for the video to be shared and embedded in other sites increasing the video’s ability to turn “viral”.  Using video to market your business can be done easily with a minimal investment in equipment.  While editing can be an expense, it’s not really necessary for educational, promotional, or testimonial videos – shooting them live tends to give them an authenticity that is appreciated by consumers.  A recent video and PowerPoint presentation by Hubspot gives excellent information on ways to effectively use video for small businesses.

Photo Sharing – these sites are usually quite simple in functionality. Members can post photos which then can be viewed and commented on by the general public, or only by those who are invited to see them. Small businesses sometimes use these sites to share photo galleries instead of building photo gallery capability into their own Web site.

Blogging – the content is your creativity, your voice. You post content on a regular basis whether it’s text, video, photos, podcasts or all of the above. Blogs enable you to be an individual publisher, and usually enable readers to participate in the conversation by posting comments.

Of all the tools available, the top 4 in my list for small businesses to utilize would include:

  • Blogs
  • FaceBook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Small Businesses Participate In and Benefit From Social Networking in Increasing Numbers June 6, 2009

Posted by StrategicGrowth in FaceBook, Marketing Plan, Social Media, Twitter.
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Small business owners have always been among the strongest of networkers, and today’s new technology networking options have only increased their efforts as the economic downturn continues to drive laid-off workers toward self-employment and small business ownership.  A recent article by the New York Times discusses the increasing involvement of small business owners in social networking, and the positive effects being experienced by those companies.

After reading the article, if you would like assistance in developing a social media strategy for your firm, please feel free to contact us at our website or via email at info@strategicgrowthconcepts.com .

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by:  Mickey Meece, New York Times, June 3, 2009

BY choice or necessity, successful small-business owners are earnest networkers, gladly shaking hands, handing out cards and attending local meetings to find and keep customers, solve problems, seek feedback or support and bolster their bottom lines. 

Now, the Internet is starting to upend those long-established methods; online networking on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and newer niche sites can be instantaneous and far-reaching.

The sites are efficient and free, which is especially important in an economic downturn, as owners scramble for new customers, said Rob King, vice president for strategic marketing at Sage North America, a unit of Sage P.L.C., a global supplier of business management software and services.

Fast, free and efficient — those attributes appealed to Brighter Planet, a socially responsible start-up based in Vermont, which built social networking into its DNA.

“There’s almost a grass-roots quality to it,” said Patti Prairie, its chief executive. “As a start-up, we can’t afford to be buying ads anywhere. We have to use our outreach.”

For more than a year, the Brighter Planet team has been blogging, Tweeting, friending on Facebook and initiating viral marketing campaigns intended to help consumers reduce their carbon footprints.

While most small businesses have not yet embraced social networks as Brighter Planet has, their numbers are growing. According to the April index of Discover Small Business Watch, compiled by Discover Financial Services, 38 percent of owners were a member of an online social networking community, up from 22 percent in October 2007.

Charles H. Matthews, president of the International Council for Small Business, said the key was to view the sites as tools, not toys. “It can certainly help enhance the process of identifying customers, especially in niche markets.”

For Brighter Planet, the niche is the environment. Before Earth Day, for example, it sponsored Earthtweet, an Earth Day Tweet-a-Thon, which has generated 4,200 conservation Tweets and 2,500 followers.

Soon, BrighterPlanet.com will feature a portable social Web application that will allow visitors to calculate the status of their carbon footprints and share what they are doing on conservation on other social platforms like Facebook.

Friends, family and colleagues can immediately see how saving the environment is important to BrighterPlanet members, Ms. Prairie said. “That’s what we find is the beauty of social networking, particularly for environmental-type causes.”

A recent study for Sage North America found that 65 percent of small businesses that used social networking sites said that they felt more comfortable doing so this year than they did last year, and 51 percent said that they had acquired and retained customers because of it.

More than 260,000 North American businesses currently use social networking to promote their businesses, Mr. King said.

In April, Sage, which has 2.9 million small and midsize business customers, introduced its own networking site, SageSpark .com. “We know we’re not the first to the game,” Mr. King said. “Our twist really is the community, tools and services.”

Other niche sites have sprouted recently, like Shustir.com.

Last week, Shustir.com introduced its virtual marketplace, which was started by two former Lehman Brothers colleagues, Shu Kim and Khanh Pham. “It matters where you spend,” Ms. Kim said, echoing the site’s catchphrase. The goal, they said, is to keep Main Street U.S.A. alive.

“We want you to spend with small businesses,” Ms. Pham said. “By doing so, 80 percent of the money goes directly back to the community.”

The site is arranged so owners can create virtual storefronts with photos, video, blogs and store information, and communicate with customers.

“Shustir gives consumers a one-stop destination,” Ms. Kim said, where they can buy from trusted businesses, post about their favorite shops and make recommendations.

Businesses can exchange advice, ideas and information, and network on a site that provides them search optimization.

In its second phase, Shustir will add Facebook and Twitter badges so owners can use other social media to build business. There will also be a shared community calendar. “The call to localism is existing across the country,” Ms. Pham said, “because small business is suffering.”

PartnerUp has been around longer. It is a social networking site that helps entrepreneurs and small-businesses owners find partners or co-founders, network, ask for and offer up advice, find resources and create or join groups based on their interests. It was founded in 2005 and acquired by the Deluxe Corporation in 2008.

PartnerUp has more than 100,000 active members, and more than 300,000 unique business owners and entrepreneurs come to the site every month, according to Steve Nielsen, its president.

“We’re at an inflection point now,” Mr. Nielsen said, “where social media sites that are specific to a purpose for a market are going mainstream, and they’re not just for early adopters any more.”

In late 2007, David Reinke joined PartnerUp for a specific purpose. He had quit corporate America to start a fashion rating Web site, StyleHop.com, but needed a partner well versed in technology. He posted a profile on PartnerUp, and a job description for a chief technology officer and said, “Let’s see what happens.”

About a month later, Froilan Mendoza, who had 12 years experience building technology start-ups, contacted him and after a series of discussions, Mr. Mendoza quit his job to become chief technology officer of StyleHop.com.

Turning to PartnerUp, Mr. Reinke said, was consistent with how he uses online sites. “I was looking for something specific. I go to the source where the experts are,” Mr. Reinke said. PartnerUp also allowed for a quiet search and limited exposure, he added, so thousands of people would not know about his start-up.

To be sure, the majority of smaller concerns have not caught the online wave. In its monthly index, Discover noted that 62 percent of businesses still do not have Web sites.

What’s more, when asked which networking opportunities they used most, 46 percent of small-business owners identified traditional methods like conferences, trade shows, local in-person groups or chambers of commerce. Of the remaining respondents, 16 percent cited “other” networking opportunities, 8 percent cited online sites, 7 percent said e-mail messages and 22 percent said they were not sure.

Mr. King of Sage North America estimates that small businesses have a 12-month window to figure out online social networking. “I hate to say it, but if they don’t, they’ll get left in the dust,” he said. “It’s here to stay.”

Global New Media Trends and Using Them to Grow Your Business May 8, 2009

Posted by StrategicGrowth in email marketing, mobile, Mobile Marketing, Social Media, Twitter, Video Marketing, Web 2.0.
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A recent report issued by The Nielsen Company, a global information and media company active in more than 100 countries, provides a comprehensive overview of the status of new media in today’s marketing environment.  Some highlights of the report include:

  • Online display advertising’s share of revenue has plateaued at 20% of total online ad spend in the U.S.
  • Despite online video’s persistent positive buzz, actual usage is averaging around six minutes per day in the U.S.
  • Packaged goods manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and telecommunications firms, three of the largest historical spenders on traditional media, are moving online at a pace we haven’t seen before, even as the recession continues to deepen.
  • Access to social networking sites via mobile devices almost tripled during 2008, largely due to rising smartphone penetration and improved network speeds.  Increasingly consumers are turning to their phones for a wide range of online content.
  • The pace of new online users has significantly slowed down, and the story has become about how much time people are spending online and what they’re doing while there.
  • Americans spend the most time online during the average month (about 2 hours per day).
  • The U.S. online population skews more to the age 50+ than the other countries listed in the study.
  • It is rare to see segments grow from BOTH an audience and an engagement standpoint, but we are seeing exceptional growth in these areas over the last couple of years in both video and social media sites.
  • While Member Communities (Facebook, MySpace, etc) have been garnering impressive audience numbers for the last five years, video audiences have been growing at meteoric rates.
  • From a time spent perspective, Member Communities surpassed email for the first time in February 2009.
  • From February 2008 to February 2009, the viewers of online videos grew 10%, the number of streams grew 41%, the streams per user grew 27%, and the total minutes engaged with online video grew 71%.
  • The reach of Member Community (social networking) sites is highest in Brazil (80%) but growting fastest in Germany (from 39% to 51% in one year).
  • The steady upward march of micro-blogging site Twitter will likely be the biggest online media story this year.
  • In the U.S., the mobile Internet audience grew 74% between February 2007 and February 2009.
  • More than 12 million U.S. mobile subscribers access their social networks over their phone.
  • As consumers look to do more on their phones while maintaining or perhaps decreasing their overall wireless spend, we expect that consumers will continue to warm to the idea of ad-supported mobile content.

This information is extremely valuable to marketers and small business owners as it enables companies to see areas of tremendous opportunity where they can maximize their firm’s brand awareness among target audiences.  Click HERE to review the complete Nielsen report and determine how it can be utilized to your company’s benefit.  Should you need assistance sorting thru the options to develop the best marketing strategy for your firm, please contact us to schedule a FREE initial consultation.

A Social Media ‘How to’ for Small Business March 29, 2009

Posted by StrategicGrowth in Social Media, Web 2.0.
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8 comments

In my conversations with small business owners about social media and utilizing it to promote their businesses, one theme is consistent in almost every conversation, and that theme is their intimidation about using it.

This intimidation likely results from the fact that social media is still a relatively new medium, particularly for those who have not previously been involved in the internet or advertising industries. Therefore, as with all new technology-based ideas, there is a learning curve involved in bringing the masses up-to-speed. To help enable that learning and shorten the curve for readers of this blog, I went in search of some other writers’ “tips” to add to my own, which can help you get started with an easy-to-understand procedure.

The following are among the best of the articles I found, and I believe a review of these articles should be enough to help you get started.

  • During this quest I found a blog posting that was specifically targeted to small business and will get you started in the right direction. Click HERE to read information from Chris Garrett in an article entitled, “Quick Social Media Tactics for Small Business”. I like Chris’ list, but one thing that I do see as a problem with it is that I’m don’t believe it’s basic enough for the majority of people in search of this information.
  • Another interesting article I found in the New York Times included an interview with a small business owner who has effectively put social media to work for his business. It even provides an example of a promotion he did utilizing social media and two other methods of advertising. He tracked the costs and results of each method to identify which provided the best ROI. Click HERE to read the article.
  • A third article I found on the Startup Nation website speaks specifically about LinkedIN, a social networking site for business people. This site allows you to develop a very comprehensive profile on yourself and your business, allows you to join ‘discussion groups’ on just about any topic of your choice, and also allows you to start groups if you want to be the one managing the discussion. I personally recommend this site as the one you start with, and I suggest that you begin with building out your profile as completely as you can (it’s very easy to understand and implement). I then recommend that you do a search for groups in your industry and join a couple of them. For the first week or two, just observe – or answer a question/comment in the group discussions now and then. The idea is to get a feel for the “personality” of the group, ie: what gets positive reaction and what gets negative reaction. After you’ve ‘learned your way around’ so to speak, then you should start making postings in the group –information of interest, articles you’ve seen, resources group members would find of value, etc. These postings are designed to help you build your credibility as an expert – but DO NOT attempt to sell anything. Click HERE to read the Startup Nation article for additional information.

Social media is a burgeoning industry these days. Almost everyday I learn about another site that seems to be gaining momentum. The danger for a small business owner lies in trying to participate in all of them (and I know several who have tried!) and ends up doing none of them well and getting nothing else in his/her business accomplished. A far better strategy is to check them all out as you learn about them, but only join those that really look as though they will have value to your business. To help you start your process, have a look at this list of social media sites by Peter Bordes; it’s comprehensive but by no means complete. Review the sites that interest you and try a couple of them out. And remember, start slow – observe first and then begin participating. It will make your participation much more productive once you become more active.

If after reviewing these materials you still feel you need some guidance on developing the best social media strategy for your business, please feel free to call upon us. We can be reached by email at info@strategicgrowthconcepts.com.

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The author, Linda Daichendt, is Founder, CEO and Managing Consultant at Strategic Growth Concepts, a consulting firm specializing in start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. She is a recognized small business expert with 20+ years experience in providing Marketing, Operations, HR, and Strategic planning services to start-up, small and mid-sized businesses. Linda can be contacted at linda@strategicgrowthconcepts.com and the company website can be viewed at www.strategicgrowthconcepts.com.

A Master Class in Web 2.0 March 27, 2009

Posted by StrategicGrowth in Social Media, Uncategorized, Web 2.0.
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Whatever your politics, there is one fact that is undeniable about Barack Obama, the man knows how to utilize today’s Web 2.0 technology to reach his audience and convey his message. In the following story you will learn how he utilized an interactive website to obtain citizen participation in developing questions to be answered on an Internet broadcast, and that he had them casting votes to decide the “favorite” questions (or the ones that would be most popular with his Internet audience). You will also learn about the Internet broadcast Town Hall Meeting where he utilized those questions that were voted on. What the article doesn’t tell you, but I can because I saw it, was that he publicized the whole thing (both the website question request/voting and the Internet broadcast) via Twitter, which then resulted in hundreds of retweets, and postings on both Facebook and in LinkedIN groups. As I said, whatever your politics, you have to be impressed with his ingenuity in reaching out to his potential audience – and the response number he received (as indicated in the article below) that shows it to be working.So my question to you now is – “How can you apply these same strategies to your business to help it grow?” Think about it, if your website became interactive and allowed you to obtain customer response that helped you to market your product more effectively, wouldn’t that be helpful? And, if you could drive people to your website at absolutely no cost by developing a creative “Tweet” that would cause people to retweet and to post your information on Facebook and LinkedIN to be seen by even more hundreds of thousands of people – wouldn’t you find value in that?

With the country and the media saying that small business is necessary to the turnaround of the economy, and small business owners looking to Barack Obama for answers on how to help those small businesses help the economy – in my opinion, he’s already given us one of the answers. Follow his lead in the use of technology in promoting our businesses to our target customers – it costs us essentially zero dollars and the impact can be huge! So I challenge all small business owners out there – read the article below and then sit down and evaluate your business to think of ways you can utilize Web 2.0 technology to promote your business and increase sales. And if in the final analysis you decide you don’t know enough about it to come up with the ideas, then contact me – or another marketing professional – to help you make the most of this opportunity! I assure you, “our cup runneth over” with ideas we’d like to provide to clients willing to jump in to this new marketing arena and we’d love to hear from you!

 

Obama wraps up first-of-its kind Internet Q&A

 

 

 

 
  By Ron Edmonds, AP
   

WASHINGTON — President Obama wrapped up a unique Internet-era town hall meeting at the White House on Thursday, pushing hard for support of his $3.6 trillion budget and asking people to be patient with the administration’s efforts to resuscitate the USA’s ailing economy.

Obama said the precedent-setting online town hall meeting was an “an important step” toward creating a broader avenue for information about his administration.

He joked at one point about the number of questions about decriminalizing marijuana, saying he did not think that was the best way to stimulate the economy.

After a brief opening statement, Obama held a microphone and walked the floor in the ornate East Room, gesturing as he answered questions in an event reminiscent of town hall meetings he conducted in person across the nation during his campaign.

Before the event, the White House had said that 92,003 people have submitted 103,395 questions and cast 3,582,670 votes.

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said about 67,000 viewers were watching the webcast, which was also televised on some cable channels.

In advance of the event, potential questioners signed up on the White House website “Open for Questions.”

CNN reported that Obama answered seven questions submitted that way, while also taking questions from the audience in the East Room.

Questioned also about growing unemployment, Obama said creating jobs was difficult during these hard economic times, and recommended that the work of the future should be in more high-paying, high-skill areas like clean energy technology.

Many of the lost jobs in recent years, Obama said, involved work that was done by people earning low wages and with limited work skills. He said it will take some time — perhaps through the rest of the year — before vigorous hiring resumes, and that might not happen until businesses see evidence the economy is rebounding.

On the home financing crisis, the second question put to the president, he was asked how his programs helped homeowners who are not facing foreclosure but have been deeply hurt by the recession. Many homeowners, after the housing price bubble burst late last year, now owe more on their homes than the houses are worth.

Obama told his Internet audience and about 100 people assembled in the East Room that his injection of stimulus spending into the housing market now makes it possible for 40% of all homeowners to take advantage of record-low mortgage interest rates. He encouraged eligible Americans to refinance.

Political operatives say the White House’s strategy is a way to reach a demographic key to Obama’s election.

“In the new world of online media, formal press conferences are just one element or program to get the message out — to those, usually older, who watch such things on TV. The online version he is doing is an alternative way to get out the same message, in this case on the budget, targeted toward a different audience, usually younger,” said Morley Winograd, a onetime adviser to former vice president Al Gore who now runs the Institute for Communication Technology Management at the University of Southern California.

“In both cases the questioners are just props — or, in some cases, foils — for the star, Obama, to deliver his message. But in the latter case, they get to self-nominate instead of be selected by elites,” Winograd said.

In a way, it’s part campaign-style politics and part American Idol, said political strategist Simon Rosenberg.

“Barack Obama is going to reinvent the presidency the way he reinvented electoral politics,” said Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network and a veteran of presidential campaigns. “He is allowing everyday people to participate in a way that would’ve been impossible in the old media world.”

Yet the process lends itself to softer questions and ones the White House is eager to answer, Republicans noted.

“The president is going back to the safe confines he was always most comfortable with, in this case a friendly audience where the focus is on the sale rather than the substance,” GOP strategist Kevin Madden said.

Contributing: Richard Wolf at the White House; Steve Marshall in McLean, Va., and the Associated Press