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5 Social Media Lessons Gleaned from a New SMB Study

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Frank Strong, director of Public Relations, Vocus – Enjoy!

There is no shortage of social media advice.  Unfortunately, much of it is often at odds, conflicting and even confusing.

For example, consider scheduling tweets.  A quick Google search will return many passionate arguments both for – and against – the case for scheduled tweets. Proponents point out automation allows them to space out their social posts to avoid inundating their followers. Meanwhile, opponents say it can lead to disastrous results when these posts coincide with unforeseen events.  There’s always room for middle ground.

While such advice comes with a great deal of experience and has points of merit, it often also comes with the unique and perhaps, narrow perspective specific to that person or organization.

This is why sound research is so important and why we teamed with Duct Tape Marketing to conduct a statistically valid social media survey of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB). As we have studied the data over a course of several weeks, we have come to several conclusions based on research.

Here are five lessons we have learned from the study:

1.  You have to find your own path to influence.  Social media users are almost spiritual about the ‘right’ way to approach social promotion.  Many believe that building a tighter, highly engaged community is the best approach – it is a concept I subscribe to as well.  However, 27% of SMBs reported focusing on building a very large number of followers or fans on social media, regardless of interaction.  While this flies in the face of conventional social media wisdom, this same group was also more likely to say that social media has been very helpful for their business.  This is a testament to the fact that every business is unique: What works for one, may not work for another.  We all face different challenges in terms of industry, budget and finite resources and have to experiment to decide what will work best for us.

Lesson:  Listen, study, and observe what others are doing, but do not be afraid to go against the grain and try something different.  After all, that is what entrepreneurs often do best.

2.  Social works, but only with effort.  Most SMBs believed that social media was moving the needle for their organization. Fifty-eight percent said social media had been somewhat helpful, while almost one-third said it was very helpful. Just 10% said it had no impact.  However, there is a clear correlation between effort and results:  Those that were more willing to work at social media saw better results.  Entrepreneurs understand this concept. In many ways, it is the very reason they decided to strike out on their own.  Social media can be productive and it certainly takes an investment of time. Those that invest the time are more likely to see a return in the long run.

Lesson:  When committing to social media, keep in mind it is a marathon, not a sprint.  An aspiration of a quick hit that goes viral and leads to instant sales is setting you up for disappointment. 

3. Addressing customer service issues is an untapped opportunity.  Ninety-one percent of SMBs say they use social media to share news about their organization – the most common activity.  That is not surprising, since it is easy to share good news.  The least cited activity was managing customer service complaints, with just 46% of SMBs saying they engage in this activity online.  That is less than half and the reason is clear:  It is uncomfortable to address service complaints in such a public manner. Certainly there are different levels of customer complaints online – marketing strategist Peter Shankman breaks them down into five types – but more often than not, complaints represent an opportunity.  What opportunity?  It is the chance to resolve an issue and earn greater loyalty from the customer.

Lesson:  Addressing service complaints quickly may not just resolve the issue, but turn a customer into an advocate; there is a bonus in that those observing will credit you for addressing the matter.

4.  The challenge of dual hat responsibility.  Seventy-three percent of SMBs have added social media as an additional duty of an existing marketing person. In other words, they had a job, and then got a little more work on top of it. As your community grows, so too will the time demands of social media. How you resolve this challenge may vary – perhaps new tools, new efficiencies, or even new people. The danger of simply assigning someone an additional duty is in forcing people to do things that may not meet their natural abilities, skills or inclinations. Sure, we all have to roll up our sleeves and do grunt work sometimes, but it is the sort of commitment John Jantsch is referencing in The Commitment Engine Resources that we should be after.

Lesson:  Consider carefully who gets assigned social media as an additional duty; experience matters, but then so too does enthusiasm.

5.   Facebook dominates but keep tabs on emerging social sites. Google+ and StumbleUpon were ranked by fewer SMBs as effective social platforms for their engagement, but those that use them were also more likely to say they were very effective. It reminded me of the first solid case study I saw several years ago that used FourSquare, where a burger joint named AJ Bombers, had tapped the network with such success it captured national attention.  With social media, we do not simply build a presence and hope people visit. Instead, we go to where our customers and prospects are spending their time.

Lesson:  It may seem like everyone is on a platform, but it is important to understand if the users there are the people you want to engage. A less popular site may be the answer to driving business results.

* * *

If there’s one overarching value proposition of engagement on social media, I would borrow a phrase from a respondent to this survey:  “It has allowed us to promote our products to people we may not have been able to reach normally.”  Indeed that is simply the power of the Web.  To download a copy of the survey please visit: Path to Influence: An Industry Study of SMBs and Social Media.

Frank Strong is the director of PR for Vocus. Find him on Twitter and the Vocus blog.

“But My Business Is Different”

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Laura Roeder – Enjoy!

The “Problem”:

Ever felt overwhelmed by social media advice? Everywhere you look, there are articles full of conflicting information about Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter strategies.

Much of the available advice seems not specific enough to apply for your industry or business. So instead of sifting through the mountains of resources, you end up spending your time (and hours of it) on Social Media without much direction, unsure of your ROI, and posting pictures of cats.

So, how do you use Social Media strategically if your business or industry is different from most other online players?

It’s especially challenging to know where to start when your industry doesn’t use social media at all or the predominant opinion among your peers is that it’s too casual or too personal.

But, think of it this way, if others in your industry aren’t using social media (yet – it’s just a matter of time), then now is the perfect time for you to start. You’ll be ahead of the curve!

When you’re on the forefront of using social media in your market, you can take inspiration from all kinds of other businesses. Just because you have a different business model than the examples you see in articles doesn’t mean that the strategies discussed won’t work for you.

What you thought was a problem (“these strategies don’t apply to my business”), is really no problem at all, it’s simply an opportunity to learn to think differently (“how can these strategies apply to me and my business”).

Make a practice of applying strategies from across different industries and markets, and see what sticks!

When I read a blog or business book, I like to force myself to apply the ideas to my business – what if I HAD TO use this pricing model or marketing campaign? How would I do that? Not only does this expand possibilities for how I can grow my business, but it also turns reading and researching into a game!

Here’s how to apply this approach to your business, no matter what your industry or model is:

1) Start following people from all different industries on Facebook and Twitter. Look for thought leaders and brands that you
respect or admire. Bookmark their content that interests you and dedicate an hour a week to reading ideas, opinions, and strategies
from a variety of people and businesses.

2) Practice translating ideas. Just because it hasn’t yet been done doesn’t mean that the idea or strategy doesn’t apply to you or your
field! Think of it this way: the more “no one does that in my industry” the better, as you will stand out!

3) Get more personal on social media. Generally, your customers want to connect with you rather than your business or brand. (Would you rather interact with someone’s face or a logo when you’re at a networking dinner?) Whether or not it’s “industry standard,” it’s important to share your values, your personality, and your uniqueness in order to forge connections with your customers. Social Media is an amazing tool for building the all-important “know, like, and trust” factor with your audience. Don’t miss the opportunity to use these free platforms as a way to help your prospects and customers get to know you.

4) Look at what’s working. Many Social Media sites (and tools like HootSuite) offer critical analytic information to help ensure that the content you share is “sticky” – i.e. generating clicks to your site, social sharing, comments, likes, retweets, etc. It’s important for you to look at this data – whether on Facebook Insights, Hootsuite, or Google

Analytics – and then optimize the type (and timing) of content you share to what is getting the most activity. Don’t be afraid to find out that you’ve been wasting your time – you have a business to run! Make sure the time you spend on Social Media is giving you a return on investment! The only way to know for sure is to look at the data.

Ready to step outside of the industry box and try some new Social Media strategies? Great! Leave a comment below with three potential resources for ideas that are outside of your field, and then make a habit of playing the strategy game to see what new ideas will stick!

Image Credit:  Moyan_Brenn flickr creative commons

Laura Roeder, founder of LKR Social Media Marketer, is a social media marketing expert who teaches small businesses how to
become welcome-known and claim their brand online. Social Media Marketer is an online classroom and community for extraordinary entrepreneurs.

Laura is also the creator of Creating Fame and author of Facebook Fame: The Facebook Marketing Bible for Small Businesses. Follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook!

3 Facebook Tips You Should Be Using Right Now

Keeping up with all the changes going on in the world of social media, or even in the singular world of Facebook, is a task. Instead of trying to keep up with and report on every little tweak, I like to focus on and test out the things that I think will give me the greatest bang my time buck and then share those with you.

With that in mind, here are three simply Facebook tips that I think you can easily benefit from employing right now.

1) Use images for updates

Post on left is image upload promoting a recent blog post

I always like to experiment with ways to get more views and engagement and it’s clear that images win. I think most people know that and most people add images to their posts, particularly if they are sharing a blog post or video that already has an image – it simply gets put in as a thumbnail for the content.

What I’m talking about though is actually using a photo upload as your type of status update and then filling in the content and link of your blog post. I notice that when I do this I get both more views and more engagement.

Facebook seems to favor images over other forms of content.

So, upload that awesome image you used in your blog post and then share the title description and link in the say something about the photo box. (Same seems to be true for Google+ too since the image is so much more prominent.)

2) Use tab calls to action

Create custom calls to action for your other pages and apps

To the right of the About box you’ll see images for all of your current pages and apps or what used to be called tabs. You can now have 12 apps and pages listed and the first four will show up on this bar.

Here’s the cool trick for this one. Now you get to create images for these apps instead of simply using the default app or page images. So now if you want to send someone to a page to grab a free eBook you can use an image to create a call to action. You simply open the page and hit edit settings and then upload a 111 x 74 pixel image that you want to represent your page. You can rearrange the order of the tabs to make the four most important stand out.

3) Use scheduled posts

Facebook scheduled posts

Set your date and time for your posts

It’s funny, but I remember when this action was shunned by social media types and now it’s standard accepted practice. Facebook added this feature a bit ago and since so many people had created their own routines using tools like Buffer it didn’t get much attention.

Facebook won’t come out and say it, but they definitely seem to favor content that is posted directly over that posted by 3rd party tools. Since they recently started displaying to admins how many people viewed your content I know off hand that my direct content gets 30-50% more views then content from Buffer.

Recently I started playing with scheduling posts rather than auto posting from another tool and sure enough, the scheduled post get seen by greater numbers.

Scheduling is a bit tedious, but not that hard. Just post as you normally would but hit that little clock in the lower left corner of the post box and tell Facebook when you want the post to go live.

Why Facebook Is Letting You Promote to Your Fans and Why I Think You Should

Facebook recently added a new “promoted post” feature that makes it dead simple to promote individual status updates to you existing fans for a fee. This will be one of the more lucrative features that Facebook has created and comes as a sign that Wall Street needs them to “show me the money.”

First off, this move clearly highlights what many have been saying, but until now few could quantify. Facebook uses various signals to determine which of your fans gets to see your status updates in their timeline. If you have lots of fans, but little interaction with those fans, you can bet only about 10% of your fans actually ever see your updates.

Facebook admins can see post data and buy more impressions

With the new “promoted” updates feature Facebook spells out to page admins exactly how many fans are seeing each post. Admins are then offered the ability to buy more impressions for $10, $20 or more. It’s an interesting approach because it has such immediacy and, once you have advertising an account set up, it’s a one-click kind of purchase. This will be easy money for Facebook.

Now, on to the real question, does this tool have any value for advertisers?

My take, even after very limited testing, is absolutely if, as is always the case with any advertising, done right.

Here’s what done right looks like to me.

My experience with Facebook is that people don’t react well to basic, logical business pitches. People come to Facebook to be entertained, waste time and share various triumphs and trivia about their lives.

Looking back through years of timeline posts shows that my most engaging posts always contain some element of drama, emotion or a personal story. That’s why photos do so well on Facebook.

It’s yet to be seen, but I don’t think Facebook will ever turn the corner and become a place where people go to shop for things.

So, knowing that, if you want to successfully promote on Facebook, you need to do two things.

1) Selectively create posts related to your business, products and services that contain an emotional charge.

2) Make sure that said posts call people to sign up for something off Facebook

The surest way to make Facebook pay is to capture interest and sell off Facebook in your normal email marketing platform.

Your Facebook marketing routine should now contain one emotion packed lead capture status update a month that you can fully promote.

What about promoting to your fans?

So, back to why I think promoting to your fans is a good idea. Some might think that promoting to their fans is a waste. After all, these are already fans, right? Well, as stated in the beginning, they may be fans, but few ever actually see your posts.

To me, the logic behind this is much like your email subscribers. These people took the act to sign up to your list or, in the case of Facebook, Like your page, so these are warm prospects.

These are the people that you need to make sure you are communicating with frequently because they already know you. These are the people you have the best chance of converting to email subscribers, prospects and customers off Facebook.

From a cost standpoint I think it can be a bargain too. Assuming Facebook can deliver, I can get in the Facebook feed of about 8,000 additional fans for $100. That’s just a shade over $12 CPM for a highly targeted ad that comes placed inline as a feed item rather than an ad. (You can only promote to your fans so this ratio depends greatly on the amount of fans you have.)

Facebook estimates the reach and tries to deliver all the impressions within three days. Once you set a budget you can see the paid reach and spend during the campaign. Facebook claims that this program has no impact on the impressions they show organically based on their own formula of engagement.

Some initial coverage on this feature has been lukewarm at best, but I think marketers that understand the culture of Facebook are going to do well with this.

5 Ways to Create Even More Facebook Engagement

Search around even casually and it’s likely you will find lots of people talking about how to get more Facebook likes or how to add tabs and pages and apps that go bang.

Enable the public subscribe button for some of your posts

However, as is the case with so many things in life, quality over quantity is an important concept. In the world of Facebook that means figuring out how to get more interaction with those the friend and subscribe is probably more important to your business objectives than figuring out how to get more people to like and run.

The benefit of Facebook over other forms of engagement is that if you gain a high level of engagement with fans you can enjoy the added benefit of exposure to their networks as well. The key, in my opinion is to spend what precious time I suspect you have for networking on Facebook focused on drawing conversation out of a smaller, but fully engaged group.

Below are five practices that can help you do that.

Focus on the wall – I’ve written about this on more than one occasion, but I think it bears repeating – most fans and friends don’t actually visit your page, they engage or read updates in their news feed. So, in many cases adding all kinds of tabs and pages can go for naught. Focus your time on interacting within your own news feed and adding content to your wall.

You can choose to post public of private

Enable public subscribers – A few months ago Facebook gave you the ability to post content on your personal profile and allow public subscribers to see it. I’ve seen a tremendous increase in engagement on my personal profile since enabling this feature. You find it in your account settings area. Many people use their personal profile for both business and personal use and this effectively lifts the 5.000 friend limit and gives you the ability to share some content with public subscribers that are not listed as friends.

Post direct – Facebook doesn’t show everything you post to everyone that follows you. They uses an algorithm call EdgeRank to determine what gets shown. There are many factors that come into play and engagement is one of them. For example if someone comments or shares your content that’s a pretty good signal for Facebook to use to determine that person want to see what you post. While nobody can give you the definitive answer on this one, there’s certainly substantial evidence that posting directly on your wall, rather than through some 3rd party apps gives your content a better chance of being seen as well. From personal experience I’ve seen posts to my business page through tools like Buffer get lots of engagement while Instagram image shares don’t fare well. (Maybe that will change with FB acquiring Instagram?)

Add photos direct – Most people will tell you that photos do very well in terms of engagement level. One tactic I’ve been experimenting with is to add my blog posts with a photo share. So, instead of simply posting the link, which would add the image from the post as a thumbnail, I add the image directly to Facebook and then add the link and description. So far these posts are getting better engagement through this method.

Interest lists let you sort and filter posts by topic

Build interest lists – Another recent addition is the ability to build lists that others can subscribe to. Think of like an RSS feed of a group of Facebook users. I like this tool because you can build some engaging lists around topics and draw people to subscribe, but you can also view the updates of only these list members like a news feed and easily interact with them. One of the well-worn tactics for getting more engagement on your own wall is to engage others authentically on their walls.

You find this feature currently at the bottom left below your news feed. It simply says interests. You click on “add interests” and start building your list. Facebook will also suggest people to add based on the topic.

Here’s an example of a list for small business marketing that I created.

Best Part of New Facebook Design Has Nothing to Do With Design

I know there’s still plenty of talk this week surrounding the new Facebook Timeline design and the various changes in the look and feel. But as I pointed out earlier this week, it’s still all about engagement.

To that point there were some very minor sounding changes that accompanied the design change and one of those is worthy of your attention.

The change I want to bring out is one made to the administration function and it’s something called the Activity Log. Accessing this function allows you to view a timeline of engagement on your page so you have a nice tidy little list of your posts as well as posts on other pages that tagged you in chronological order.

To the right of each post you can hover and see the number of likes, shares and comments as well.

To me this is a great way to manage some of your own engagement. I jump to this page to view and comment on updates that I’ve been tagged on and to talk back with folks that have commented on my updates.

I find this format to be much handier than jumping around and responding to update notices. I’ve been doing a better job of participating since this format came online.

To access the activity log you must be using your page as the page admin and not as your personal profile. You can switch by clicking dropdown arrow at top right of page. Once you do this you need to open the Admin Panel if it’s not open and then click on the Manage button and select Use activity log.

Once you complete these steps you’ll be presented with a list of activity that dates back to the time you created your page.

You can more info on the activity log from Facebook help pages

The Single Most Important Way to Get More Out of the New Facebook

You’ve probably read your share of tutorials talking about the new Facebook Timeline changes and how to get the most from them. I’ve even added my own thoughts on the subject, but here’s the deal, not much has really changed.

focus on the wall not the Timeline

Yes there are what amounts to cosmetic changes to your page that make sense and yes there are lots of people that still want to sell you products and apps and services to enhance your new page, but for most of you there’s still only one that that matters.

See, the thing that many people don’t understand is that few people actually go to your page to bounce around and see all that good stuff you’ve added. Most people interact with their friends and pages through the news feed only. Think about your own use, do you go visit every page of content for the things you like, share and comment on?

Of course not, you interact right there in your news feed and so does everyone else.

So, what does this really mean? There are some really basic things you should change on your pages, like placing a killer brand friendly cover image, but the real focus should be on upping your sharing of lots of great content directly on your wall. Make sure you share directly – share blog posts, videos, eBooks, images and great finds, and place as many as possible directly in your status updates without the use of a 3rd party tool.

Facebook loves to show what I would call direct content, stuff you place directly in your status updates, over that placed by apps like StumbleUpon, Buffer or Tweetdeck.

Bottom line – if you want more traffic, engagement and value out of Facebook, focus on the wall first and worry about the cool apps and Timeline changes second.

How and Why I Use Buffer

One of the services I believe marketers should provide their followers and community members these days is that of filtering and aggregating good, relevant content.

Buffer AppI subscribe to over 100 blogs and I hear over and over again how much some of the folks that choose to follow me on Twitter and Facebook appreciate that I share what I think some of the best reads from each day.

I share other things in those platforms as well, but I generally find 8-10 blog posts daily that I think people will appreciate.

The problem is that when I scan through my RSS Reader, something I do before most of my readers have had breakfast, I don’t want to Tweet all 8-10 at one time because it kind of overwhelms a handful of people and leaves little for those that get on social networks at other times of the day.

To solve this problem I started using a free app called Buffer and not only am I hooked, I’ve seen its use by many other publishers skyrocket of late as well. (The free version only allows you to have 10 updates in the buffer and is limited to one user.)

Why I use it

The Buffer app is a tool that allows me to easily bookmark and schedule Tweets or Facebook updates from any browser or mobile device. This way I can effectively spread my Tweets out over the course of a day, whether I find something in my morning reading or as I surf around throughout the day.

The times that Buffer posts the updates are preset by me so I simply fill up the Buffer and it does the rest. You can hit the post now option to immediately post and you have total control over when it posts. I have a pretty good feel for the best times to post for my readership but you might want to use a tool like SocialBro to gather some research into the best times for you.

Buffer also produces statistics so you can see how many people clicked on links you shared, the estimated reach and the number of Retweets.

There are some other tools that can accomplish much of what Buffer does, for example TweetDeck allows scheduled Tweets, but Buffer just works much better with the way I work and makes it much easier for me to be more active in sharing.

How I use it

While there is an iPhone app for Buffer the way I choose to use it is a little different than some I suspect.

I do most of my feed reading using the Reeder app on my iPhone. (Note this is different than Google Reader) The reason I love this app is that it allows me tap into my Google Reader account and have all my feeds that I organize there. (You can install Buffer as an option in Google Reader too)

The real feature I love though is that it gives me a handful of options for sharing and handling the posts right from the within the app. I can bookmark and tag it to Delicious or Pinboard, add to Facebook or Twitter, paste to Evernote, copy the link or email the title and link.

To use this app with Buffer I use the fact that Buffer gives every account holder a unique email address that will post items to the their Buffer account. So, as I read my posts I simply hit the “mail link” function in Reeder and it sends the title and link to Buffer. Anything that I put in the subject of the email will be posted as the body of the Tweet.

Buffer then puts all my emailed updates in the queue based on the times I’ve picked and viola – nice bit of posting scheduled throughout the day. Buffer also allows me to connect my branded linked shortener that set up with bit.ly so my Buffered links are shown as ducttape.me – a nice bonus in the scheme of things.

Look around and you’ll see a number of blogs adding the Buffer button to their posts to make it even easier for people who use this tool to share.

You should also grab the Buffer extension for your browser of choice or drag the Buffer bookmarket to your toolbar so that you can add items to Buffer as you surf throughout the day. I use the extension for Firefox and it puts a little Buffer icon at the bottom of the page and gives my one click posting to Buffer.