Social Media and the Small Business

Social media can make all the difference for a small business and yet for the majority of small business owners I’ve spoken to it is simply another frustrating stressor.

As a business owner you need to be focused on what you know will get you that a return on investment. You barely have time to eat lunch let alone to figure out how to optimize (whatever that means) your LinkedIn Page or whether you should be on Instagram.

You keep telling yourself that you’ll figure out social media once you grow a bit bigger. But let’s be honest, we both know that once you grow bigger you’ll have a whole new set of concerns around ROI and once again, social media marketing will not make the cut.

It’s the small business owner’s dilemma: you know you need to invest in social media but every minute you invest in trying to set up your unproven social media strategy, is time away from tried and true activities that you know will net a given ROI.

Moreover, getting that ROI from social media is much more difficult than it was a few years ago. In the age of the algorithm and content saturation it’s no longer enough for you to simply have a LinkedIn Page, Facebook Profile or Twitter handle. To really see ROI you need to be in the right place at the right time serving up the right content for the right audience.

This typically leads to a business owner hitting a total breaking point and making one of the following very un-strategic decisions:

  1. Delegation: ask your most millennial-looking employee to get your company on social media then get irritated 6 months later when they leave and you realize you don’t know any of the passwords.
  2. Throw money at it: Invest in a service that the sales person swears will fix all of your problems by means of an intricate proprietary algorithm powered by flying blue monkeys (you have a suspicion that you got that last part wrong but it was only $29.99 a month and surely it must do something helpful)
  3. Avoidance: Forget social media. Just forget it. There’s no time. It’s all too much. We’ll figure it out later.

What these 3 points have in common is a desire on the part of the small business owner to solve what they feel is a problem without educating themselves as to the actual nature of the problem. But I get why this occurs. Social media feels overwhelming and when you already have a full plate as a business owner it seems impossible.

The problem is that for social media to actually benefit your business, you need to be directly involved in the strategy at least in the beginning. Social media allows you to communicate to your customers and potential customers. It’s a way for your build up a community that you can tap into throughout your sales cycle. The right social strategy can provide a much needed cushion when you experience dips in sales. But that can only occur if you set up your strategy to do that ahead of time. And that takes your commitment to work with a trained professional who can provide the following solutions for you:

  • Education as to how your business goals could benefit from social media investment. Every business is different and you need to know what’s attainable and what’s not.
  • Realistic assessment of needed investment based on the goals you want to set (some industries are harder than others!)
  • Setting clear performance indicators pegged to your ROI goals that you can monitor to know how you’re doing at any given time.
  • Creation of social media plug and play process that you and your employees understand and can follow.

As the daughter of a small business owner I know all too well the sheer enormity of this task. So here’s the thing, if you’re not in a place where you can invest some upfront resources (your time and money) in a strategy then make the ROI- motivated decision to stay off of social media. BUT, so that you’re not going back into avoidance, create a calendar reminder with a link to this blog post for next quarter when you’re going to do a ROI-motivated reassessment of that decision.

With the right strategy social media CAN be a game changer for your small business. 

Personal Branding- Your Insurance Policy When Life Gets Tough

I stood in front of my students a few weeks ago to talk to them about creating their personal brand strategy. This is a semester-long project I’m having them do. It was a bit emotional for me given that just a few days previously my full time position had been downgraded to contractor work and I’ve found myself suddenly in the position of turning back to my personal brand to get me to the next step in my life.

It’s made me reflect on how it all began…

We talk a lot about personal branding in the marketing world. Some people really dig the opportunity to talk about how great they are but that’s never been my thing. I’m most comfortable being the geek behind the scenes who makes it all come together. I love empowering others and building communities. I don’t relish the spotlight.

BUT it is no longer enough to send in a resume and hope someone will notice. That’s particularly the case with my background. I’m not the person with a marketing degree and 6-8 years experience working with brands and agencies. I’m the grad student who spent time in Belgrade talking with nationalists to understand what made them tick. I’m the girl passionate about understanding why communities come together and what internal psychology fuels that sense of group identity.

And I’m the PhD student who stumbled into social strategy by accidentally leading a grass-roots revolution at the University of Virginia to reinstate their first female president.

My first job in social strategy was at UVA while still a grad student because they figured it was better to bring me into the process rather than have me outside at the gates. That ended up being my out once my advisors made it clear that my research on public opinion and social media just wasn’t going to be supported (that was 2012… have a feeling they’d be singing a different tune now)

January 2013 I knew that I needed to leave and get into the private sector if I wanted to continue to follow my passion of harnessing social analytics to understand how individuals participate in communities. So that’s when I started my blog, ramped up my Twitter and Linkedin accounts and got rolling.

That’s how my personal brand was born. Out of crisis and out of necessity.

It was this that I worked to communicate to my students, particularly those currently working or leading start-ups. Your personal brand should be something that you can use in your job BUT it should be more than your job. It’s your opportunity to think about what makes you YOU. What makes you unique?

I broke them into groups and it was probably a class more akin to psychology than marketing as they talked with each other about who they are as a person and then shared that to the class. We learned that one student is a single mom another a veteran. One guy spoke up with a lopsided grin and said that there was nothing that made him unique and that he was in fact rather stupid and easily distracted but he said it in a way that made the whole class laugh. We encouraged him to run with that- and by the end of the class he had begun to think about how he could actually leverage that bit of him into a full strategy.

That’s what personal branding should be. It’s not about the humble brag. It’s about introducing yourself and entering different communities to share your story and engage with theirs. As humans we want to build relationships and we want to help each other. Creating a personal brand allows that human attribute to translate online. It’s why we embrace each other when we meet IRL. We know each other and are rooting for each other. That’s the power of the personal brand.

I’m Suzie. I’m the girl with the red hair. I’m quirky and caring. I am at my best when I’m building and creating new opportunities for engagement. I work to translate this passion and personality online through my blogs, engagement in groups, and participation in conversations. It’s honestly who I am.

I’m Suzie. I’m a kick-ass strategist and I’m on the market. Tweet, DM, InMail me- let’s talk.

Becoming a Better Listener

I’m a problem-solver. That’s one of the reasons I became a social strategist. I’m always on the look out for better solutions and ways to transform theory into practice. The downside to this is that I tend to not be the best listener. If you’re telling me anything that involves a problem my mind immediately focuses on that and begins to work on pulling together a variety of potential solutions. So even though I may nod and give some superficial “hmmmms…” and “then what?s” a decent part of my mind is elsewhere. While some may call that a strength- and to be sure it has often come in handy when a quick resolution is needed- it is also a potential weakness.

Social strategists must be strategic listeners as well as effective problem solvers. This can be difficult in our fast-paced world. The pressure comes externally as well as internally to make snap strategic decisions based on already known facts. But that’s leaving the “social” out of social strategist. The truth is we deal with an ever-changing landscape made up of layers upon layers of human behavior. A successful social strategy must take into account the needs and wants of the target audience and to know that requires time to listen.

When that doesn’t occur you get social #fails. At the extreme end is something like the #myNYPD hashtag flop which was an total and complete disaster. My hunch is that they didn’t consult a social strategist at all but rather thought that a hashtag campaign could be a good idea and went with it.

But more common are hashtag campaigns that simply fail to take off. I guarantee we’ll see a fair amount of these during this weekend’s SuperBowl. It’s really too bad because often these campaigns have a lot of promise and all it would take is a bit of time listening to hit them out of the park.

My personal go-to listening combo is hashtagify.me and spiderQube.
I start off by looking at the most associated hashtags for a given topic using hashtagify. As I wrote in another blog post, this can be enormously important in the course of research to make sure you are identifying the right target community. Armed with a sense of prospective hashtag leads I then move over to Spider to get into in-depth listening. This tool allows me to zero in on who to listen to as well as additional keywords and hashtags associated with the topic.

This type of listening before a campaign can inform everyone from the right hashtag to use to the type of content that can be created. It can also loosen up the creative process as you identify other potential audiences for your marketing efforts.

With just a little bit of effort #fail can be transformed into a win- yes, even #myNYPD. All you have to do is stop and listen.

What tools do you use for social listening?

How to Craft A Facebook Strategy that Works

Building a social strategy for Facebook is getting more and more difficult thanks to their “quality control” features. Ignite Social Media estimates that with the latest rollout of changes on average 3% of your fan base will see unprompted posts. That’s it. To make it worse, there’s little information as to how that 3% is decided. Of course you can pay to promote posts which is some companies are now saying is essential to do. I was at the Brand Innovators Social Summit this past February at which Addie Connor, Chief Innovation Officer at SocialCode gave a keynote. Her basic point was that there is no reason to have a Facebook Page if you aren’t promoting your posts.

Really? I’m not so sure. A key with all social media platforms is to start with understanding how your target customer interacts with them. Where do they go? How do they get their information? What makes them “like” or “share” a post? We’ve become so obsessed with getting “likes” on Facebook Pages that we’ve forgotten the central mechanism behind Facebook use. An underlying assumption behind this doom and gloom view of Facebook Page posts is that people consume Facebook primarily through their home feed. It’s true that Facebook is pushing this model as much as possible. But the fact of the matter is that Facebook is not Twitter. It’s about community. For this reason no matter how much Zuckerberg & co. attempt to modify it, the reason we use Facebook will never be the same as the reason we use Twitter.

For Twitter it would be absolutely disastrous if only 3% of your followers saw your posts. This is because on Twitter our chief way of consuming posts is through our timelines as opposed to visiting an individual’s Twitter page. We might do targeted listening via hashtags but as long as you know which hashtag to include to reach your targeted community that’s easily included in a social strategy.

Contrast this with how you approach Facebook. In particular think of how you see Page posts. Page posts hardly ever pop up on my home feed. And to be honest when they do I tend to ignore them. My reason for consuming Facebook is to keep in touch with my friends and family. I want to see what they post and share. So when they share something from a Facebook Page THAT’S when I pay attention.

See the difference? This is a different metric at play. Now of course there is also a percentage used to calculate whether I’ll see my friend’s post share on my home feed assuming I’m not tagged or they don’t share it to my wall. But that’s something that we can work with as social strategists. We know how to harness influencers and advocates. We know how to organize communities and create content that gets shared.

1. Harness Power Users
Facebook revolves around the social network. Pew and others have identified the prevalence of “power users” on Facebook who make up the vast majority of content that gets shared. These are the people who you want to engage on your Facebook Page. You want them to share your content with their friends. You want your page to be the one that they check out for the latest on “x”. A great way to get them to return to your page is to engage them in conversation. Did they make a humorous comment on a post? Respond in kind.

2. Mobilize internal Influencers
We do this on Twitter and LinkedIn but not Facebook. Who are the thought-leaders in your organization? Get them to interact with your Facebook Posts. You might even think of sending you an email to alert your thought-leaders to an interesting thread on the Page that they should enter into. Encourage them to share your content.

3. Engage with like-minded Pages
Every Page is looking for engagement. So set up a mutually beneficial relationship. If a Page has an audience that you would like to reach or that is similar to yours getting them to share a link to your Page is a great way to increase your content views. Facebook is a concrete social network. The power of sharing means that your post can very easily go viral and THAT is the way that Facebook Pages become useful.

Here’s a practical example: Craft-beers have very loyal followings and some have done a great job building a social media presence but they are always looking to get converts. Pubs and bars have a community presence but are always looking to get more customers in, particularly on weekdays. They also tend to have a weaker social media presence. But by supporting each other through their Facebook Pages each can exponentially increase their fan base. Also, going a step further, there is a high probability that at the intersection between the Craft Beer Community and Pub Community you’ll find some strong advocates.

Bottom-line? 

Changes to the Facebook algorithm do not herald the end of brand presence on Facebook. Rather they signal the need (which has been long in the making) of moving away from a broadcast model to a social network model of social marketing. Pulling out of Facebook is the absolute LAST thing brands should do. Rather, they should renew their focus on their Facebook campaign via the creation of a targeted social strategy.

A Social Strategist’s Guide to Free Social Analytics Platforms

It seems that I’m constantly searching for a good list of free analytic tools. As a freelance social strategist I’m often dependent on the “lite” versions of fancy platforms. In some ways I think this is a bit of a boon. Social media analytics are still quite fuzzy. Be honest- do you actually know what “reach” means? Using the free versions of tools means that I have to access multiple platforms to get the full picture as opposed to relying on a one-stop platform. It’s always useful to compare and contrast what the different visualizations show. It makes you think through what the numbers actually mean as opposed to getting swept away by the pretty pictures. Or at least that’s how I justify this to myself!

There are some great products out there. The paid versions are incredibly powerful and most will act as one stop shops for your analytics.  Many of these platforms have corresponding free version that often specializes in a certain type of analytic. By using several of these tools together you can create your own powerful analytic platform without spending a dime.

Tweetreach

This tool allows you to search for a url, twitter handle, phrase, or hashtag to get an over all picture of user interaction with it. I like to use this tool to gauge the influencer level. The free version provides only a general snapshot but I find it to be a good jumping off point. It also generates some easy to explain analytics which are great for basic presentations. I find the url, phrase, and hashtag search features to be less useful. In the free version tweet reach plays around with the sample size in a way that can be misleading and if you’re looking to do some in-depth analytics you might as well look elsewhere.

Tweetreach

Hashtagify

This is a very simple yet very cool hashtag research tool. Tools like sees.aw allow you to track hashtags but you first need to know what you’re looking for and that’s what hashtagify.me provides. It also provides you a list of the top 5 influencers in that given hashtag as well as an overall look at the hashtag’s popularity (be careful of sample size for this analytic).

In this example I’m searching for hashtags related to #cognitivecomputing. I can also see the most recent tweets using this hashtag. That’s a great way to double-check the reliability sing With hashtag trackers there’s always the danger that spambots have taken over.

Hashtagify

Tweepi 

A great tool for account acceleration both for yourself and your clients. The free version is really all you will need. The only feature of the paid version that’s nice is the ability to keep track of when you followed or unfollower a user. But you can get a general idea of this by going chronologically through your “following” list. Followers who have similar interests to you are much more likely to follow-back. Tweepi also allows you to see the likelihood that a persona will actually follow you back. This can be very helpful particularly when you’re getting an account started. A high level influencer will probably not follow someone who only has 60 followers.

Tweepi 1

Tweepi 2

SumAll

A very powerful tool to track the overall health of your social media presence. You can get one stop stats for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google +, WordPress, and many many more. But be forewarned, this is one of those platforms where the free version is meant to tantalize you towards the paid version. I’ve found this incredibly useful for tracking the results of account acceleration.

sumall

Simply Measured

This is a great example of a free version of a powerful analytics platform that can absolutely stand alone. In particular it’s useful to analyze your twitter audience. It generates great charts that you can export directly to powerpoint. You can also download the entire dataset to an excel spreadsheet. A note of caution– the analysis is based on a sampling of 1,000 of your followers to make sure you treat the data accordingly.

simply measured

Spider by oneQube

This is a forerunner of the next generation of social listening tools. Their goal is to harmonize listening with interaction. You can put together a detailed project based on link-targeting, hashtags, keywords, mentions, geolocating, influencer status, gender, biography, number of followers, basically you name it and they’ve got it.
All tweets matching your criteria will be put together in your report. You can even have Spider email you whenever a tweet is added to your project so you can immediately respond. They’ve added a new feature allowing you to export the matching profiles into a twitter list.

Spider combines realtime listening with realtime response. For fun I put together a report looking for mentions of the IBM Food Truck at SXSW. I added a geographical filter to only give me results coming from Austin. Just take a minute to think of all that can be done with that type of tailored info generated immediately in realtime. Very very cool. Spider is available for  a  7 day trial.

Spider

What are your go-to free social media analytic tools? Comment below or tweet them to me @suzimcc

Why A Social Strategist Should Be Your Next Hire

“Social (insert job title here)” has been a huge fad whose time is up. Just like “Tech” was big in the 1990s, “Social” took over in the late 2000s. In the mid-1990s, if you could set up a website for an organization you were a Big Deal- a tech guru. But by the early 2000s as webpages became easier to create and software companies began to standardize their programs, the “Tech-“ jobs began to dry up. Computer skills were assumed, and while setting up the wireless network still generates a fair amount of cursing by and large the IT person can handle it- no all knowing tech guru needed.

The same thing is happening with social media. There was a glut of positions incorporating the term “social”. Companies created social media accounts seemingly along the logic that more is always better. “Facebook”, “Twitter”, and “Hootsuite” were included on resumes where Microsoft Word and Excel has previously been.

Now in 2013, the hype over social media jobs has died down. Indeed, within many quarters, managing social media channels is the duty of the intern. A large part of this is because no one was able to figure out the ROI (Return of Investment) for a Facebook Page or Twitter account. So they downsized to an infrequently updated account with posts consisting of “We are excited to announce the rollout of [insert product here]”. And for most Twitter is just a mystery. Brands now have social channels because they know that are supposed to have them in the same way that you’re supposed to have a website. The direction is “keep things updated” in the same way that the front page of a website is updated. Investment is spent instead in integrated marketing campaigns- things that have a specific ROI tied to marketing. This is not to knock these types of campaigns- indeed they work very well. My point is that integrated marketing is just the tip of the iceberg of the potential of social media. It’s right to move away from the hyphenated job titles- the hype is over. But this does not mean that social strategy should stop.

A social strategist is empowered with the mandate to implement and execute strategy. A social strategist knows what social media can and can’t do. They are simultaneously big picture and detail oriented.

Several Brands have chosen to take the leap and invest in social strategy. By doing so they have generated a powerful network of advocates and influencers and also made a name for themselves within the social media community as innovators in their own right.

Casestudy 1: General Electric

GE wanted to communicate that they do more than create light bulbs. So they embarked upon the “innovation” campaign and included social strategy as a key component. A social media strategist knows that the power of social media comes from tapping into the pre-existing social media communities in a way that is keeping with the reason that individuals interact with these communities.
GE Facebook
GE utilizes Pinterest, Facebook, and Tumblr in their campaign but, and this is where the social strategy comes in, each has a specific type of content designed to maximize the outreach to the target communities in a way that will spark conversation. But all content revolves around the concept of “innovation”. Coming away from these pages that’s the word that you come away with. That’s why it matters and that’s the ROI. A social strategist will insist that you clearly define your goals and then create a strategy to match that.

Casestudy 2: Maesrk

Maersk decided that they wanted to be more than a shadowy shipping line. They’re a fascinating case because they are purely B2B. The average person is never going to give them money. But they recognized that in the age of faceless corporations there was considerable utility in generating a positive brand image. Other brands will want to work with you. The wisdom of this was borne out when one of their ships accidentally killed a whale. Of course the outcry occurred on social media. Since they already had defined social channels and had built up a community, they were able to genuinely respond to the situation with concern. They even created a Pinterest board in memory of the whale.
Maersk Norwich Whale Pinterest Page
Maersk specifically decided to “unmask” themselves and create a community. Every piece of content they create, every social channel that they use, works towards this goal.

If you do not have a clear strategy behind using your social channels you are missing a huge opportunity. As far as ROI is concerned, it’s best to think of it in terms of measurable projects with set goals just as you would for an ad campaign. Demanding a per-tweet or per-post ROI while the campaign is on-going is just like demanding a per-billboard ROI.

Hire a good social strategist, clearly communicate your goal, give a set budget, and watch them go. Your brand is already present on social. Even if, like Maersk, you are far removed from the B2C scene, you are only one accident or blunder away from becoming a trending hashtag.

social-media-strategist