Business and Social Media – Part 3

This is the third article in a series of articles describing how social media can be used by businesses. The aim is to publish one article per week on this topic, the first being Friday, August 7. Each article will address a single topic, and build on material provided in the earlier articles. Through feedback provided on the articles, this may lead into another series after the conclusion of this series.

Note that any clients referred to in these articles are fictitious, unless I specifically indicate otherwise.

Applying the Concepts

The client described in the first post in this series can make good use of the previous article as she develops her strategy. Social Media is built around interactions, so Jane must decide what kind of interactions she would like to foster. She must also look at how each platform is constructed, so that she can play to its strengths.

The Blog

The first step for most businesses starting with social media is to write a blog. If the client is technically adept, they can follow the instructions here on how to set up a WordPress blog on their own site. If not, they can hire someone to set up the site for them. (If you are looking for someone to set up a blog for you, please contact me directly and I can refer you to a reputable company that does this for a minimal fee.)

Before going live with the blog, there are a few things Jane needs to do.

  1. Choose a topic for the blog. As the owner of a hardware store, she may feel comfortable writing articles about how to fix some common problems around the house on a tight budget. The title and sub-line for the blog should reflect the topic chosen.
  2. Set a schedule for posting. More important than posting frequently is to post on a regular schedule. It is tempting to post each article as soon as it is written, but that may end up causing the blog to die quickly, as the speed of your writing drops. My usual recommendation is to start with one article per week, posted in the afternoon of Tuesday or Thursday. As the number of viewers of the blog grows, the frequency of publishing can be increased to twice a week, then three times a week.
  3. Prepare some articles. While Jane has selected a topic that she feels confident she can write about, she does not know how much time she will have available for writing. She should prepare about 3 months of articles (if she’s publishing once per week, that works out to 12-15 articles) and upload them to the site in draft mode.

At this point, Jane can launch her blog. Some companies (including the one I recommend) can do some preliminary advertising for her to increase the number of viewers quickly. Other plugins for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be installed so that new posts are automatically submitted to various search engines. Certain types of content will result in Google scanning the page earlier. A reputable company will help to explain and set up these components.

Jane should also be sure to monitor the number of viewers to the site, and respond to comments on her posts. Writing the article is only the first step – interacting with her readers is more important. While it may take time to convert a reader to a client, if she does not interact at all with her readers, then her blog is merely another form of traditional media.

Jane must also remember to tell people about her blog, and ask for feedback. A sign in her store can drive her existing customers to the site, and they can tell her, in person, what they like and don’t like about the blog. She can ask them for ideas for articles and for suggestions on how to improve her existing articles. They may tell their family and friends about the site. If Jane can establish her credibility as an expert on the blog, then people will be more inclined to come to her store when they need something, or need advice on her area of expertise.

Tweets – Part 1

Now that Jane has her blog up and running, she may want to create her first Twitter account. With this account, she can post links to articles on her blog, talk about those articles, and create an additional community of people interested in those topics. Using various tools discussed in a future article, she can analyze what people are talking about, and write relevant articles on those topics. With this Twitter account, Jane is trying to attract more readers to her blog, to increase the amount of attention on her writing.

What’s Next

In the next article, I will be discussing other uses of Twitter beyond driving traffic to a blog, and the benefits to creating a page on a social media platform such as Facebook.

Business and Social Media – Part 2

This is the second article in a series of articles describing how social media can be used by businesses. The aim is to publish one article per week on this topic, the first being Friday, August 7. Each article will address a single topic, and build on material provided in the earlier articles. Through feedback provided on the articles, this may lead into another series after the conclusion of this series.

Note that any clients referred to in these articles are fictitious, unless I specifically indicate otherwise.

The Tools of Social Media

Social media requires, as a fundamental component, the ability for people to interact. Therefore, any tool claiming to be a part of the world of social media must include interactions between the provider and the audience. Each tool will therefore include one or more of the following components:

  1. Comments – the ability for the audience to publicly reply to some statement
  2. Forums – the ability for the audience to create a statement and then provide feedback
  3. Messaging – the ability for people to communicate in real time

Looking at some of the common tools of social media, it is easy to see how they are making use of at least one of these components.

Blogs

Blogs, such as this one, allow their audience to provide feedback on any given article. In this manner, the provider can post a message of arbitrary length, and the audience can then provide feedback.

The distribution of information is weighed strongly in favor of the provider, as they usually retain the ability to edit or select responses to be posted. (As an aside, I do not edit comments to this blog, and only refuse to post those comments which can clearly be seen to be spam.) The provider can control the topic of discussion to some extent, and can choose to incorporate the opinions of the audience in future posts.

Twitter

A form of micro-blogging in which each post is limited to 140 character, Twitter allows its users to post short messages. Conversations can be held by tagging posts, or marking a post as a reply to another user (via the # and @ tags).

Facebook (and other social networking sites)

A page can be created on a social networking site, providing an online location for people with a common interest to congregate. Interactions are usually via a message board, although private messaging is usually available as well. In the example of Facebook, targeted conversations can be created as well using forums.

What’s Next

In the next article, I will be providing an explanation of how the sample client, Jane, can make use of each of these tools to promote her business, and what some of the other tools she may want to make use of to facilitate her use of these forms of social media.

Business and Social Media – Part 1

This is the first article in a series of articles describing how social media can be used by businesses. The aim is to publish one article per week on this topic, the first being today, August 7. Each article will address a single topic, and build on material provided in the earlier articles. Through feedback provided on the articles, this may lead into another series after the conclusion of this series.

Note that any clients referred to in these articles are fictitious, unless I specifically indicate otherwise.

The Client

Harvey’s Hardware is a small store located on the corner of a busy intersection in a residential neighborhood. The original owner, Harvey, has retired, and the store has been sold to Jane. Jane has an MBA from a prestigious school, and is interested in running her own business after spending over 20 years working for a large multi-national corporation. She bought the hardware store using funds she has saved, and spent the first year after the sale becoming familiar with the store and its clients.

Jane is not technically illiterate, but her use of technology is limited to word processing and checking her e-mail. She is comfortable with her inventory management software.

Recently, a few of her customers asked if she had a website for her store, to which she had to answer no. However, she is interested in creating an online presence, and has heard about social media and would like to become involved.

The Problem:

The real problem, in this case, is that Jane does not understand what social media is, nor how it can be used to help her store grow its customer base. Her first step, therefore, is to learn about social media, and how it compares to the more traditional forms of media with which she is already familiar.

The Background:

Social media, as defined by Wikipedia, is “…online content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies… transforming people from content consumers into content producers”. In other words, social media makes use of the internet as a dstribution medium and is based on interactions between people, rather than simply delivering information.

Traditional media including newspapers, radio, and television, are based on information delivery. Information is collected and converted into a message, which is then broadcast to the audience. The audience may be able to provide responses to that information, but those responses are delayed, such as the letters section of a newspaper. Additionally, distributors of traditional media are faced with large expenses in creating and delivering the content.

Social media, on the other hand, relies on the audience itself to both create and distribute information. This has the benefit of incorporating feedback from the audience in the message itself, and in reducing the cost of distribution to a negligible amount.

The downside, however, is directly tied into the benefits. Traditional media, such as newspapers, go to great expense to distinguish fact from opinion, and to verify any facts to the best of their ability. This results in a quality of information that is difficult to find in social media. Since the control over information in social media is distributed among the audience, it is nearly impossible to ensure that all the facts will be accurate.

Another key difference between social media and traditional media is as follows. In traditional media, the creation and delivery of content is where the majority of the effort is. Social media, however, requires more work in following up on content than in the creation or delivery. This form of media bases its distribution on interactions – the more interactions there are, the more successful the distribution will be.

What’s Next:

In the next article, to be published on August 14, I will be giving an overview of some of the tools of social media, and how to use them successfully.

Venture into Social Media

I am currently working on a new service for my business, and I’m looking for some feedback on ways to improve or modify the service. To get you started, I’ve outlined the general steps that this service takes.

  1. Initial consult with a business: I meet with a business and determine what their target market is, and what kind of effort they are willing to put in to capture that market.
  2. Goal setting: We determine what the objectives of the venture into social media is – sales from the website, drive traffic into the store, provide more information, etc. We also determine how to measure the success of the venture using specific metrics.
  3. Background research: I investigate what similar businesses, both locally and around the world, are doing in terms of social media – which aspects of social media are being used, and what are they being used for.
  4. Brainstorming: I come up with ideas of how social media could be used to bring the business to the attention of their target market.
  5. Strategy Planning: I develop a plan to make use of the ideas generated in the brainstorming stage, and how each idea will work with the others, and the existing business model, to increase the visibility of the business in the target market.
  6. Implementation: We take the plan created in the previous step, and implement it, while measuring the changes according to the terms defined in the second stage.

The hardest part, I have found, is coming up with new ways to make use of social media. Everyone wants to be on the cutting edge, and doing something different. What is key here is to see the ways innovation is changing the digital world, and how that can be harnessed for a particular business.

Slow Economy and Developing a New Business

I have been asked this question several times recently, and held discussions with various people about the relationship between the state of the economy and a good environment for starting a business. The question tends to be phrased as a version of

“Is a recession, or slow economy, a good time to start a new business, and why?”

Before you attempt to beat the odds, be sure you could survive the odds beating you.

The first point to consider is illustrated in the image to the right. Starting a business is a risk, and you must first evaluate whether or not it is a risk worth taking.

Take, for example, an employee for a company who has fairly good job stability, a small reserve of funds in case he is laid off, and some money put aside for retirement savings in an RRSP. He is presented with an idea for which he has the necessary skills to turn into a successful business. However, in order for him to work on the project, he must quit his job so that he can devote all of his energy to developing the idea.

I will not attempt to answer the question as to whether or not he should quit his job. However, there are a few questions that the candidate should consider. Can he afford to quit his job? How hard will it be, should this idea be a flop, for him to find another job? Can his life tolerate the additional risk of working for himself.

Once he knows the answers to these questions, in addition to those questions which reflect his interest in the idea, he can make an educated decision as to whether or not he should take the risk. It should be noted, however, that in a slow economy, the likelihood of being able to find another job, should this business flop, is drastically lower than in a fast economy.

From a business point of view, someone who is starting his own business (that is to say, he has answered the previous question such that he decides to quit his job) will find that a slow economy makes for easy growth. Costs are reduced in such an economy, and being able to find cost-efficient ways of growing a business will be significantly easier. Operating costs will therefore be lower, and while larger companies use a slow economy to consolidate their operations, smaller companies can take the opportunity to absorb the cuts from their larger competitors.

The economy, in moving out of a recession, will benefit the bold. Those who used the time to perfect their product, to gain a foothold in the market, or to streamline their operations, will be far ahead of those who merely tried to cut costs and survive until the end. Such companies will find themselves struggling to catch up to those who innovated over the past year(s).

If you want to be on the leading edge of innovation, there is no easier time to get there than when the competition for the edge is relaxed.

Conception to Creation of a Business Idea

I’ve been exchanging e-mails with a few people about some ideas for new websites. Currently, there are 4 of these ideas that I would categorize as active – several exchanges of information per week on average. When looking at each idea, and how they differ from one another, I realized that there are some people who don’t understand the difference between conceptualize and create.

A successful site will begin its existence as a concept. The designer, or creator of the site has an idea – wouldn’t it be great if there was a site that could provide this service or maybe something along the lines of I can’t stand using this website, but I need the service they offer, and there isn’t a good alternative. Many ideas reach this stage, and a few make it further.

During the next stage, the concept becomes more solid. For example, details of the service could be outlined, or the creator lists out the specific issues they have with a particular site. This part of the process can take minutes, hours, days, or years. The end result, however, is a description of a need, and how it will be filled. (Note that this is not specific to a website, it is the same rule that applies to any business.)

Finally, list in hand, general specifications outlined, the creator approaches the people who can turn the idea into something more concrete, and the work commences. Creation has been reached.

The reason I outline this is because some people do not understand the difference between the first stage (I hate using site qrt.com) and the stage where development can begin. Going to a developer and saying build me a site like qrt.com, but better will not become a success unless you can also specify what it is about qrt.com that you don’t like, and what special features you will offer as an improvement over the competition.

Putting together an Elevator Pitch

I’ve spoken about elevator pitches several times before. I came across an article today on putting together a 500 character pitch, and it included a tool for writing one. The article, courtesy of Susan Ireland, can be found on her blog, and there is a link to the wizard for creating the pitch on the 15 Second Pitch.

Read through the pitch before posting it, and tweak it if necessary. You can then use this pitch verbally, as a signature to all of your e-mails, or on your website.

I’d be interested in seeing what you come up with – post your pitch as a comment to this post!

Motivating Employees

Sometimes the best solution to morale problems is just to fire all of the unhappy people.

Sometimes the best solution to morale problems is just to fire all of the unhappy people.

Once again, I have been reading questions on Linked In, and came across an interesting corporate culture. The end result of such a culture is well-reflected in the poster shown (courtesy of Despair Inc.).

The question asked how to motivate employees to pursue courses on their own time for use at the workplace when there was no money for training (but the courses were free) and no obvious means of encouraging employees to pursue the training. The author of the question wanted to know of alternatives to giving negative performance reviews at the end of each year.

To me, the fact that the author even considered using negative performance reviews as a means of encouraging behaviour shows a major problem with the corporate culture. First, this is essentially blackmailing your employees to do something. Rather than encourage them to do what is right, you are discouraging them from doing something which they may or may not want to do. The likely outcome from such a means of “encouragement” is either mass rebellion, with all employees refusing to take the training (and now on principle of defying management), or a mass exodus as employees leave to find greener pastures.

Second, performance reviews are held annually, which is not frequent enough to cause anyone to modify their behaviour. Some employees will attend a course the day before their review to avoid the negative repercussions of not attending, and then stop.

To motivate employees to do something, you need to use positive reinforcement (much like trying to encourage children to behave well). Additionally, you need to work as a team, with everyone on the team working toward a common goal (working for the paycheck does not count). Explain to the team why these courses are important. Get them to offer suggestions on how to integrate the content of the courses into the workplace. You need to make the employees WANT to take the courses.