The value of social media to small businesses

Social media offers massive opportunities to engage with customers, get more word of mouth, interact with a larger audience, present the ‘human’ side of your business, and get noticed online.

Social networking can be valuable to businesses

In today’s world of online social circles it’s hard to imagine any business not joining the universal scramble for a free soapbox to a wider audience. Yet many small businesses don’t see how they can benefit from social media. Not everyone has had their eyes opened by the massive opportunities for engagement and new business that tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook – along with the various blogging platforms present.

3 reasons why small businesses should consider social media

  1. Word of mouth is the most powerful force of discovery, and social media is nothing more than word of mouth amplified.
  2. Engage with a larger audience – As a business owner you can be guaranteed a large portion of your customers – and potential customers – are likely to spend a lot of time on social sites. Here is an opportunity for you to engage with a large audience and present the ‘human’ side of your business.
  3. You don’t have to be big to be noticed  – Most areas of social media require the investment of time and not money, making it a level playing field to be noticed.

What is the starting point?

  • Get a website. The first very important step is to get an online presence, your ‘store front’. Once you have a website (or even a blog) created then you are ready to get started with social media. The costs of getting a website up and running have come down dramatically recently and small businesses have a number of options available. Whichever solution you choose, make sure you can easily and cheaply make changes to your site as you have more content and news to share.
  • Spend time on social sites – Once you have a business website then your next step is to spend time on a number of social sites. Spend some time listening, before you start talking and don’t forget that business owners are consumers too, so look at how other businesses are doing it. Educate yourself on social media, and then decide what you want. Jump in, experiment and learn.
  • Link to your website – Think of social media as a party, a big conversation and one that you can be part of. Link your online presence (or website) from all sites you engage in back to one common place – which would be your website – or store front. So for example all those links on your Twitter and Facebook profile should take people to one place.
  • Define a strategy – Strategy is a heavy and can be an expensive word. First of all make sure you have your website done, then think about how you want to use it, to which audiences, with which messages. Having a plan will give you short cuts and cut out a lot of effort later.

Key questions to ask yourself

    • How much time can you invest?
    • Do you have the resources to invest in social media (for example an employee)?

What are your business objectives?

  • Are you looking to make more direct sales, solicit feedback or raise awareness?
  • Do you have the resources to dedicate to blogging?

Common mistakes

Small business owners often make these mistakes when embarking into social media for the first time. You can learn from their mistakes so you don’t have to make them again.

    • A dead blog – or one that isn’t maintained – is counter productive. Commit to finding time to put relevant and engaging content together for your blog before starting, and don’t start one if you don’t think you can commit to it.

Starting and not keeping going – if you start to get feedback and you’re not monitoring it or responding, it won’t look good.

  • Familiarise yourself with the unwritten rules that often exist on social/community sites. For example, don’t go to Twitter and update it but only to advertise your business and not add any additional value.
  • Patience is very important as social media is about building relationships, and this takes time. These relationships build up slowly and so the more effort you invest the more rewards you’ll reap.

The relevance of blogging

  • Being human – Having a blog gives you the chance to present the human side of your business and differentiate yourself from your competitors.
  • Search engine ranking – Content is crucial when it comes to your business being discovered on the web. Your business has a higher chance of being found by search engines through rich, good content.
  • More engagement with customers – The use of images and video when creating your content also to helps keep it rich – and is ideal for search engine optimisation.
  • Easy to publish content – A blog can be a fantastic platform to easily create excellent content.

Which social media sites and tools are right for my business?

Start with the big ones, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Flickr and Reviews/ testimonials sites.

Measuring the effectiveness of my social media

  • Monitor all your feedback.
  • Look at the stats on your website and see which social media sites are sending traffic to you.
  • If you analyse the results of your activities you can tweak and improve them.
  • There’s nothing wrong with asking for feedback and get your customers to engage with the sites you have a presence on.

Golden rules for businesses using social media

  • Measure and monitor your feedback, don’t let it drift.
  • Be genuine, truthful and transparent. The great thing about social media is that word of mouth spreads quickly.
  • Never impersonate, just be yourself and represent your business.

 

Source: http://marketing.yell.com/web-design/the-value-of-social-media-to-small-businesses/

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5 top tips for small businesses when using LinkedIn

LinkedIn the professional social media platform has been around since 2003 and has seen a huge growth throughout the year’s and now has over 200 million registered users.

We think LinkedIn is often an untapped resource for small businesses and we recommend our clients incorporate it in their social media strategy as it can have some great benefits for your business. We have listed 5 top tips to help you get started:

LinkedIn-Logo

Joining and creating groups

Joining groups that are relative to your business and that attract your market demographic will allow you to take part in discussions and become more visible to prospects.

Also creating a group that is industry specific and that target your niche can be beneficial and will establish you as an expert in your field. To ensure group gains popularity, make sure to update regularly and interact with the members.

Connecting with customers

Connecting with customer on LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to keep them updated on your company news and promotions. Once connected, make sure to encourage them to write recommendations on your products and services.

Also consider connecting with prospects as it gives you another chance to promote your products or services – why not drop them a quick message thanking them for the connection and give them a gentle reminder of your great value proposal!

Advanced search function

The advanced search function is a particularly useful tool when trying to track down people with certain skills that may be of interest to you or when trying to discover who the decision makers are within a company. Search criteria such as keywords, experience, current employer and industry will help you find the person or group you are looking to target with ease.

Make the most of LinkedIn applications

LinkedIn provides a great set of applications that can be very effective when showcasing your business. These applications are just extensions of a standard profile but can make yours stand out from the crowd. Some of the most useful apps are as follows:

Word press – Using this app allows you to display your blog on your profile and is often an overlooked opportunity by business owners. This will help drive more traffic to your website and help visitors to your profile learn more about your business.

Events – This works like a calendar for your profile and will display the events you are attending. This is useful for showing your network that you’re a being proactive within the industry and allows you to see the other attendees.

Slide share –This app lets you add business presentations and videos to your LinkedIn profile. This is a good way you to showcase your products and services, generate interest and establish yourself as an industry leader.

Portfolio –This app is really useful for web designers and other creative professional as it allows them to display a portfolio of their work on their profile.

Don’t forget, Google loves LinkedIn

Make sure you optimise the content on your company profile as the LinkedIn domain has a great reputation with the search engines. This is great news for small businesses as it can help get your business on page one of the search results however ensure you edit your LinkedIn URL, this is not just for vanity reasons but so as to make it search engine friendly.

LinkedIn also allows users to add up to three links to a profile which is free ‘link juice’ and will help give your page rank a boost – why not ask your team to add your website to their personal profile too!

Not a LinkedIn enthusiast? We can help…

If you need any help or advice with your social media strategy, please feel free to get in touch….

Source: http://www.addpeople.co.uk/blog/2012/11/5-top-tips-for-small-businesses-when-using-linkedin/

5 Ways strategic Social Media can help small businesses

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One of the biggest misconceptions about social media strategy is that only the big brands and enterprise organizations can afford success. The impression is bigger businesses have unlimited resources, people and budgets to execute on all new ideas. This is simply not true. Like in anything, people are focused on their jobs as they exist and anything new that comes along, well, it’s met with prejudice.

The truth is that small businesses possess an enormous advantage over big businesses—the ability to recognize and adapt to new opportunities much faster, with far less investment, and with a greater capacity to learn and improve at will. So when it comes down to how a small business should consider how to employ a social media strategy, why would we look to big business for inspiration?

a) Because they have millions of friends, fans, and followers?
b) They are getting a ton of Likes, Tweets, and Youtube views?
c) They are always the source of the best content – videos, posts, infographics, designs
d) None of the above

The answer is “d” – none of the above.

Why?

Because most businesses, large and small, have not answered that very question, why? Why would we go on social networks? Why would customers connect with us there? Why would we gain any value out of online engagement? Why would any of this impact my business?

At the root of the problem, today’s social media programs start with the technology in mind and not the solution in mind. Many businesses jump into Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google+, et al, without thinking through opportunities or customer expectations and experiences.

To help get you started and to leap frog even the most advanced businesses in social media, I’ve outlined 5-step approach. Working through it will assist in the development of a relevant social media strategy that allows you to earn customer attention, relationships, and loyalty in places that only expand your reach and impact.

5 Ways to Develop a Strategic Social Media Presence

1. Listen, Search, Walk a “Daily in the Life” of…

Take some time to search Google, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google+ for related keywords and geographies to your business.

Take notes of what you find…capture the trends, insights, activity, and the players that matter to you

Document the 5W’s + the H.E.: Who, What, When, Why, How, and to What Extent – it’s the only way to work toward ROI

Prioritize networks

Recognize patterns and behavior

Observe trends and themes

Tip: Also pay attention to what people aren’t saying or sharing

2. Define Your Online Brand: What do you want people to see and appreciate?

Take a step back to think about the value you can add based on who you are and the expertise or the unique service or solution that only you can provide

Define why you are different than your competition

Design the professional brand and the persona you would like to convey online

Describe “your” experience: What is it that you want people to see or think when they find you in social networks

Portray your brand, persona and the experience in your profiles

Tip: Don’t sell or overly promote…

3. Develop a Social Media Strategy: Make your presence matter

Write a vision statement for how you will use social media to build relationships, a community around your value proposition, and how social media will enable your strategy

Describe what social media success will look like

Customize your presence, goals, and what success looks like in each network

Create an editorial program that reinforces your value, your business, and your goals within each network

Understand what format to you love using AND what seems to be the formats your customers prefer

Curate relevant and interesting content that reflects your professional and personal interests

Tip: Find the balance between personal and professional activity online, it can’t be ALL business

4. Build and Invest in Your Community: Participate and earn affinity to become a trusted resource

Share insights in the communities that matter to your business and reach beyond the friends, fans, and followers you already have

Identify and talk to local online influencers who can help you spread your expertise and value

Ask and answer questions in your communities and across other vibrant communities hosted by others

Maintain a valuable and timely presence

Create a “linked” network of resources: Link to or recommend people who can also help your customers

Tip: Invest proportionally in social media, search engine optimization/digital and your real world activities

5. Learn: Repeat steps 1-5 over time to stay relevant as technology and behavior evolves

Learn from everything to improve experiences and your overall strategy

Ask your community what they’re looking for and how you can better help

Monitor activity using social media listening tools around you and in your areas of focus to stay on top of trends, themes, and needs

Tip: Looking at activity through the lens of your customers and walking in their shoes will always keep you on target in your strategy.

Taken from: http://www.briansolis.com/2012/09/5-ways-strategic-social-media-can-help-small-businesses/

Using Facebook for small busineses

Over 800 million people are currently on Facebook, so it’s no surprise every business wants to use the social networking site to drive their business. But how do you create a community and engage with them effectively? Kirby Koo, Manager of Small and Medium Business Growth at Facebook gives us some top tips that will help you get the most out of your business’ Facebook Page.

1. Get to know your fans

The best way to get your fans to talk about your business with their friends is to understand what they care about. Use Page Insights regularly to track which posts sparked conversations and sharing, then try to keep posting this kind of content.

It’s worth remembering that no matter how engaging your posts are, not all of your fans will see them in their News Feed. To make sure that more people see your posts, you can use Page Post ads which are a great way to reach a wide audience and get more people to Like and engage with your Page. And because these ads are telling people what their friends are Liking and interacting with they are much more effective because of that social context.

2. Stand out from the crowd

Don’t forget that people’s News Feeds contain a lot of information and they are busy so probably won’t have time to read everything. Your posts are a reflection of your business but keep them short and snappy, ideally less than three lines. Pictures are also a powerful way to grab people’s attention so try to include related images when you post.

3. Post regularly

It’s important to keep up the conversation with your fans so that you build a real relationship with potential. You wouldn’t stop talking to a friend for six months and then try and start up a conversation out of the blue, so you should treat your Facebook Page in the same way! There are no hard and fast rules for the optimum amount of posts and only you know how often your fans want to hear from you. If you run a small shop for example you may want to post a few times a week when new products come in, however often you decide to post, make sure you post consistently.

4. Start conversations

Your Page should be a place for conversations between you and your fans. You can ask people questions and make them feel involved with your decisions. Your Page is a real online community, so you can use it as a way to gather feedback about your business.

Facebook’s Questions feature allows you to ask your fans for ideas about how to improve your business. People can agree with an existing answer with a single click, or add a different response – this is incredibly easy and means your customers can engage with minimal effort. “Fill in the blank” posts can be particularly useful if you want to give your customers a very simple way to engage with your post by asking them to finish your sentence.

5. Reward your community

There are thousands of businesses on Facebook so you need to stand out from the crowd, you could reward your fans for liking your Page by offering competitions and special offers. Think about announcing new products to fans on Facebook before anywhere else, giving fans early access to sales, or posting exclusive photos from events on your Page.

6. Be relevant

Your fans will be more likely to notice your business’ Page if you post about relevant issues, post about special offers and mention the issue of the day – whether that’s the Oscars or Mother’s Day.

Visit facebook.com/FacebookMarketingUK to keep up with how you can use Facebook to market your business

Picture credit: Rex Features

Taken from: http://www.stylist.co.uk/stylist-network/how-to-use-facebook-for-small-businesses

What every small business needs to know about Liability

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

Doctor, daycare owner, bungee jump operator — these are businesses typically associated with risk and liability. But what about more “virtual” professions like a social media consultant, blogger or app developer? It’s hard to imagine that sitting behind a computer can put you in any real danger of a lawsuit, right?

While a job in tech may be less risky than being a plastic surgeon, things can (and will) happen. A freelance writer could unintentionally plagiarize someone’s work or end up leaving an exclusive smartphone prototype at a bar. But problems aren’t exclusive to an editorial or content-based company: An advertiser might fail to pay (making it impossible for you to pay your own vendors) or a less-than-reasonable client may choose to sue for breach of content.

These are all worst case scenarios, and there’s a slim chance you’ll ever encounter anything similar. However, as a freelancer, contractor or small business owner, it’s your job to protect yourself from these dangers. Read on to learn more about what you can do to minimize your risk as much as possible.

Minimize Personal Liability by Incorporating

If you’re sued as a sole proprietor, you’ll be sued personally. This puts everything –- from your retirement savings to your house and other assets -– at risk. Once your business is incorporated (either by forming an LLC or Corporation), it exists as a separate business entity. This means that the corporation (and not you, the owner) is now responsible for all of its debts and liabilities. In the industry, we call this the “corporate shield,” as it separates your personal assets from those of the business.

What if you’re just starting out and don’t have many significant assets to worry about? If you’re sued today, your personal assets may be vulnerable for up to 22 years — long after you’re a huge success. So it’s important to think about protecting not only the assets you have today, but also whatever you might have tomorrow.

Fortunately, forming an LLC or incorporating is relatively easy to do. In particular, the LLC is great for smaller businesses who want to protect their personal assets with minimal red tape and administrative requirements.

Personal Liability

While incorporating or forming an LLC is a critical first step to minimizing personal liability, this measure doesn’t unconditionally protect you from personal liability. There are several circumstances where you can still be held personally liable, for example:

  • You personally guarantee a loan for your business.
  • Your actions result in an injury.
  • You commit a crime or operate your business illegally.
  • You do not operate your business as a separate entity (you commingle your personal and business finances).

Business Liability Insurance

Business liability insurance can protect your small business from personal injury or property damages in the event there’s a lawsuit. Liability insurance comes in different forms depending on your business needs, so you should discuss your specific business risks with an insurance agent or broker who’s familiar with your industry.

There are three key types of business liability insurance. Refer to the U.S. Small Business Administration for a thorough overview of the following:

  • General Liability Insurance: Protects your business from injury claims, property damages, claims of negligence and advertising claims. Depending on your business, this may be the only kind of insurance you need.
  • Product Liability Insurance: Protects against financial loss as a result of a defective product that causes harm. This type of insurance is geared toward companies that manufacture, wholesale, distribute and retail a product.
  • Professional Liability Insurance: Protects business owners who provide services against malpractice, errors, negligence and omissions. In some professions, you may be legally required to have coverage (i.e. if you’re a practicing doctor in certain states). And some business contracts will require independent consultants (even technology consultants) to have their own coverage.

The Bottom Line

Incorporating or forming an LLC is an essential first step, followed by some common sense and liability coverage if necessary. No matter how small your business or what industry you’re in, it’s important to take your business and liability concerns seriously. A few proactive steps upfront can save you from serious headaches and financial hardship down the road.

Taken from: http://mashable.com/2012/05/09/small-business-liability/