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The Essentials of Hashtags For Small Business

best_twitter_hashtag_toolsWith the recent news that Facebook may introduce hashtags to its platform, it raised the question for many of my SMB owners: what exactly is a hashtag and how do we use it?

The “pound” or “number” symbol (“#”) is a hashtag, and it is an easy way for Twitter users to categorize Tweets that share a common topic or belong to a particular group. The hashtag is used to highlight keywords or topics within a tweet, and can be placed anywhere within a post.

There are several advantages that come with using hashtags. These can be used for casual or business purposes to increase awareness, as well as improve your reputation online. As social media grows, particularly Twitter and now Facebook, users need an easy way to search for the information they want. Hashtags collate all ideas under one thread so that you get a more targeted user experience, instead of just running through thousands of random tweets and wasting time.  Another opportunity also exists to target trending hashtags with ads, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I’d like to simply share a few tips with you to get started in the world of hashtags.

  1. Before deciding on a hashtag, users should do some research to see what keywords are already being used. To do this, you’ll need to do a hashtag search on Twitter. It is imperative that you make sure your hashtag is not already being used for an unrelated topic, or your business could find itself in an embarrassing situation.
  2. Effective hashtag use requires careful thought, and unless it’s about a really popular topic it may go unnoticed.
  3. It’s important to keep hashtags brief, as the words and numbers prefixed with the “#” symbol are included in the 140-character limit per tweet.
  4. Grammar inside of a hashtag is important to note as well. Hashtags cannot contain any spaces or punctuation marks ( , . ; ‘ ? ! etc.). Your hashtag will end wherever a punctuation mark occurs.
  5. Hashtags should be directly related to the topic. For example, users who want to set up a group for their running group might want to use a hashtag label that includes terms that group members would recognize, like #TorontoRunningRoom.
  6. Once posted, keep your expectations in check. You can’t just decide you want a hashtag and expect it to trend easily, if at all.

When properly used, Twitter hashtags can be a powerful social media tool to entice relevant individuals to follow your account and share information that will strengthen the main topic, as well as further your business promotion and trend tracking.

Do you use Twitter in your social media?  If so, do you use hashtags?  What type of success have you had and would you recommend using them?  I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below.

Social Media: Understand Why Before Hiring an Internal or External Resource (1 of 2)

As the owner of a marketing agency, I am often asked whether a company should take on social media themselves, or hire an outside agency to do it for them. It’s a good question. In fact, it’s one of the most important and frequently asked questions of our digital business age.  However, before I answer who should implement your social media, I want to address why you should make social media an integral part of your marketing strategy.

 

Small and medium business (SMB) owners, particularly those of B2B businesses, struggle with finding the value of social media. They often think of it as nothing more than people talking about what they had for dinner last night, or the music they are listening to (which, depending on your company’s field of expertise, may be rather useful information!). To be sure, there are many conversations occurring, covering a wide array of topics. Regardless, if you have a brand and want to further it,I advise you not toignore social media.

 

If we think back to about 14 years ago, in 1998, when the internet was at its infancy, many SMB’s were questioning whether or not they should have a website.  Although it is hard for us to imagine this debate happening today, business owners were questioning the validity of websites, and wanted to see hard evidence to substantiate their investment.

 

Their questions made perfect sense then, as they do today regarding social media – they want to see real proof to justify an investment in social media, either with internal staff or an external agency.

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There are various statistics bandied about the industry when looking for this “hard evidence” or value in social media, but the top four stats that stand out for me are:

 

  • 62% of the world’s population uses social networking, making it the most popular online activity.
  • Over half of social networkers follow a brand online.
  • Over half of consumers say they are more likely to recommend a brand if they are fans of the company online.
  • Online ad spending increased to just over $30 billion in the U.S. last year, over 20% increase (Source: ComScore).

 

I share these four stats as I feel that they best provide the “hard evidence” a SMB needs to understand why they should integrate social media into their marketing strategy: the audience is there, your competitors are there, the audience wants to engage with brands there, and you can target your advertising there.

 

Simply put, social media is not going away anytime soon. As such, if you are not using social media in your marketing strategy, you run the risk of losing business to other companies that are.

 

In next week’s blog, I’ll outline some points to consider when making a decision to use internal or external resources to execute your social media strategy.

Have you integrated social media into your marketing strategy?  If not, why not? If so, do you have any success stories you’d like to share? Please let me know in the comments below.

Putting It All Together on Facebook

Last week I shared with you a few tips on creating a Facebook Strategy for your SMB, to help you achieve your marketing goals.

This week, I want to follow up on that blog by sharing some examples of the types of campaigns and activities you might want to consider including on your Facebook Page.  Of course these campaigns need to be tied to your strategy and have measurable metrics in place. (see Facebook Strategy Tips for SMBs from last weeks post).

Who’s the Boss?
When setting your Facebook Strategy you may have decided who will be the point person, responsible for posting on the site.  This person is referred to as the “Page administrator”.  Although you can have more than one Page administrator, be clear as to who is the “boss” – the person responsible for posting and managing the entire site.  If you have too many Page administrators, you run the risk of each of them writing in a different style, posting on similar topic and ultimately creating brand confusion on your page.  Before you launch the page, establish a clear set of roles and responsibilities for your Page administrators.

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Do They “Like” Me?
Regardless of whether you have a lead gen or increase brand recognition Facebook Strategy, you need to build audience for your page.  One of the best ways to build audience is to give them something of value in exchange for a “Like”. You might want to consider a competition or contest to entice new “Likes”. Please note that Facebook has rules and regulations for running contests on their platform and a very hefty price might have to be paid for holding a contest without their consent.

Will You Come Back?
In between your campaigns, you need to keep your audience engaged.  One of the best approaches is to create variety with images, polls, questions, videos, links, message clips, company or customer news and also industry news. Your Facebook site needs to be “alive” with a flurry of activity. By using a variety of media, you’ll keep your audience engaged and help you in setting up the stage for the next campaign.

Show Them You Care
Although it a simple idea that if someone comments on your Facebook Wall, you answer them, unfortunately on many sites it’s not always the case. So make sure you treat your Facebook Wall like you would a phone or email message from a potential client – get back to them as soon as you can.

Set Policy for Customer Feedback
Facebook does not shut down or turn off.  Particularly for SMBs focused on consumers, who may visit your site at anytime day or night, you need to set a policy for your company regarding feedback response times and how to deal with negative comments. You need to decide if you can accept one negative comment, two, three or if one is already one too many.  There are lots of schools of thought on this, but you will need to take a company stand on how to deal with customer feedback and inform your agency or internal page administrator how to deal with customer comments and when or if negative comments are to be deleted.

Value Equals Sharing
Social media and particularly Facebook are all about sharing. So as a business you need to think about what you can offer your audience that’s of value to them, but that they would want to share with a friend or colleague. For example, you might want to share an eBook, an exclusive offer, a cool competition, amazing industry news segment, trivia, etc.  If they value what you’re sharing, they will return the favour by letting others know and providing them with the same opportunity.

Leverage Facebook Insights
Facebook Insights is a set of analytics that tracks usage and interaction with your Facebook Page. It is available for free as long as you have over 30 Likes.  Leverage the Insights data by seeing how people are using your Page. What content is of most interest? What types of posts interest a particular audience? What is just not resonating? Once you see how your audience is behaving you can adjust your Page activities accordingly.

Be Consistent
Just like all of your other marketing activities, make sure the look and feel as well as the messaging, graphics, colours, etc. are consistent across your corporate website, Twitter feed, LinkedIn site, email signatures and your Facebook Page. The more your audience sees your consistent branding, the more brand recognition you’ll receive and therefore the better chance of success.

I hope these tips have helped you explore a few ways to reach and grow your audience through this powerful online marketing tool.

What types of campaigns are you running on Facebook? Have they been successful?  How do you engage your audience between campaigns?  What is your biggest challenge on your Facebook Page?

Facebook Strategy Tips for SMBs

With 700 billion minutes spent each month by people using Facebook, it’s clear there is an audience there. However, you’ll need to decide if YOUR audience is there, and if they are, what and how Facebook can help your business to achieve its marketing goals.

If you are a SMB owner who is thinking about whether Facebook is the right platform for you, or you’ve already created a site with little to no success, then I’d like to share with you a few tips on creating a Facebook strategy, to help you achieve your marketing goals.

1. Decide Why You Have a Facebook Page

You want to interact with your customers on Facebook in a way that adds value to their experience and maximizes returns for your business.  To do that, you need to clearly understand why you are doing the marketing in the first place. You’ll need to decide what type of Facebook Page you want. Do you want to have a customer service, content or news source or will this be an e-commerce type vehicle for your business?

2. Develop a Strategy

Now that you know why you want a Facebook Page, define your marketing goals, and develop a corresponding strategy.  This does not need to be a 10-page document – just outline what you hope to achieve on this site, with which audience, doing what. E.g. We want to target women, aged 25-35 who are interested in buying health products for babies using ongoing incentives on an e-commerce platform.  To achieve this, we will have 12 incentives per year, and advertise using several integrated platforms.

With most online platforms, it’s worthwhile to think long term. As such, plan out a strategy for at least a year. Rome was not built in a day. By the same token, Facebook Pages and audiences take some time to build, so be patient – they will come.

3. Success Metrics

Whether it serves as an e-commerce tool, or only shares news content, your Facebook Page needs to have success metrics. These could be as defined as wanting to increase your brand awareness with a goal of 1000 “Likes” within a year, wanting to increase traffic to your website by 10%, or wanting to increase sales of a particular product by 5%.   The key is to be as specific as you want, as well as making sure to tie the metrics into your audience and tactic in order to nail down what amounts to a “success” for your business.

4. Create a Tactical Plan

Once you have the strategy with measured outcomes outlined, you can develop a tactical plan or critical path that outlines the details of what (as well as who, when, how) is going to happen on your site. The plan should include as much detail as you can, allowing for some flexibility as your online audience may dictate changes. E.g. You created a content-only site to build awareness, but customer discussions on your site are asking for products. In this case, you might want to start a campaign offering these products online.

5. Commit to a Posting Schedule

Facebook is all about sharing and interacting with others, so you’ll need to stick to some type of posting schedule. This schedule needs to be defined in your plan, and followed diligently. Depending on your business and audience, this could mean posting once a day, three times a week or even once a week. Just as with any marketing for your business, if you are going to do it, then do it well.  By ignoring your Facebook Page, you are sending the wrong message to your audience, by making it seem as if youdo not care.

6. Be Consistent

From your website, Facebook Page, other online media to your business cards and other marketing collateral – the look, feel, and messaging need to be consistent.  Your audience has to know that your company is professional, and one way to do this is to make sure your branding is consistent. When deciding on the Facebook Page name, make sure it is consistent with your brand name.

The potential for marketing opportunity on Facebook is tremendous for many businesses, so I encourage SMB owners to consider using Facebook as one vehicle to better reach your audience.  I hope my tips will help you to align your Facebook strategy to better achieve and measure your goals.

In next week’s blog, I’ll discuss in more detail what types of campaigns and activities you might want to consider including on your Facebook Page.

Do you have a Facebook strategy? If so, feel free to share how it has helped to shape your marketing experiences on Facebook. If not, will you now consider having one? Let me know in the comments below.

Why do we all need advice?

We all want it and need it, but as small to medium-sized business owners we may need it most of all, but are more likely to steer clear of it.

The fact is all of us, regardless of what you do for a living, have some level of expertise on that topic.  You don’t have to look far for evidence of this – there are columnists whose opinion matters; reality TV shows where we see individuals sing to the best of their ability or perform some talent; in social media blogs like this one, or FaceBook posts or LinkedIn profiles, and even how-to videos on YouTube – we find experts.   For business owners, there are expert associations, Boards of Trade, or peer advisory boards like The Alternative Board.  There are quite literally thousands upon thousands of experts giving advice on everything from soup to nuts.

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Do you really need an advisor?

Unless you really do know everything, then yes, you do need an advisor. From Prime Ministers to the Queen of England, we all need to consult with a person we feel knows more than we do on a certain topic, or can at the very least, offer us insights and a good ear for us to walk through an approach or plan we’ve been considering.  As business owners, we all need help to strengthen an area of our business whether that is marketing, employment hiring practices, or operations and management.

Having an advisor is NOT admitting defeat, it’s substantiating your value: knowing what you do well at and what you want to improve on are two of the pillars of success.


How do you find the right advisor for your business?

The answer to this question is found by asking yourself a few pointed questions: what do you need advice on? How would that advice help you in your business and what do you expect this advisor to do for you?

Once you are clear on exactly what you need, how it will help and what you want as a result, you are ready to hire your advisor.  Here are a few tips to help you in your search.

  1. Start with some research both on and offline.  Ask your fellow business owners if they have advisors; search the blogs, FaceBook and LinkedIn on the advice topic you are seeking. e.g. small business peer advisory
  2. Narrow down your list to the top 3 and then contact them to see their response times, style, and general “fit”
  3. Once you’ve made contact, meet with them. Much like a job interview, go prepared with questions you have about their experience, other similar clients, success stories, and if applicable, their training and education.  If this is a Board of Trade, you can go to one of their scheduled meetings.
  4. During this meeting you should determine if the personality is a good fit for you.  An advisor needs to understand you and be able to identify with you and your needs.  Make sure they do.
  5. After you’ve met with all three, you might want to ask them to send you a quote on how they feel they can help you and how much it will cost. For Boards of Trade, you will need to look at the annual or monthly dues and time commitment.

advice, advisors, Creativeworks, marketing

As a marketing advisor, a few years ago I was looking for a business advisor; someone who could help me keep my business on track and provide advice and guidance as business issues came up like: what my bookkeeper should take care of, do I need a noncompeting agreement for my staff; what is the protocol for employee incentives and so much more.  I found TAB, a peer advisory board of individual business owners like myself who meet on a regular basis to help each other in our businesses.  I also have one-on-one coaching sessions. It was not what I was looking for but it’s a thousand times better than what I could have even imagined.

This experience has taught me something so critical – we all need help and there is literally someone for everyone.

Do you have an advisor?  Can you share your story?

Is Social Media Really Right for your Small Business?

Social networking is helping mid to small businesses grow by increasing their brand awareness and ultimately improving their revenues.  Social media is right for your business.

Here’s what the stats say:

  • 63% of mid to small businesses reported that social networking drove their sales and increased revenue (source: businessinsider.com)
  • 40% of the 63% said social networking made a “significant’ impact on their sales and revenue (source: businessinsider.com)
  • 50% of small business owners reported gaining new customers through social media – most notably through Facebook and LinkedIn. (source: frescosocial.com)
  • Most small businesses spend between 25% – 50% of their ad budget on social networking (source: HubSpot State of Inbound Marketing Report 2011)
  • 53% of small businesses are currently using or will soon use social networking sites from their mobile device (source: businessinsider.com)

Here are a few tips to help you start connecting with your customers using this exciting media:

Tip 1
Make a minimum commitment of a year to social media.  It takes a while to see results from social networking, particularly if you are selling services vs. products.  So give it some time and be persistent and patient.

Tip 2
Establish your social media goals. Be clear about what you hope to achieve by engaging in active social networking. Make sure these are realistic goals.  In other words, don’t expect a 25% increase in revenue in the first week!

Tip 3
Develop a social media strategy and seek help if you don’t know where to start. Like all other marketing efforts, your social media must also have a strategy.  The plan should include the 5 “W”s, including which platforms, frequency of posts, resources and responsibilities.

Tip 4
Appoint a social media person to be accountable for either writing the content or flagging internal stories or news items as possible posts. This can be an internal person or an external resource who understands your brand, your goals and the tone of your company.  This social media resource will be held responsible for driving continuous and accurate content to your sites as well as engaging in conversations and investigating new avenues within social media platforms to get your voice heard.

Tip 5
Track and measure your social media sites. Just tracking the “likes” and “followers” is not enough.  Every social media platform offers some analytics; make sure you are getting regular and in-depth information on each site and have a resource that can help you decipher the results.

Let the stats and my tips guide you as you begin your journey with one of the most cost-effective and useful forms of advertising that exists today.