2 Simple Steps to a Solid Social Media Strategy

social media stages

The landscape of social media is shifting quickly – but it’s the touted “tools” we’re using to share which are changing – not our need to learn and share what we’ve learned.

No matter who the current “social media mega star” is of the moment – all social media products tend to follow a predictable life cycle. Today Google + is in the first “hero” spot – but don’t worry – like the weather – this too will change with time.

Too Fast – Too Furious

In case you haven’t heard, the “hip” ones – the “in” crowd – the “OMG – What’s my Klout Score” crowd are focused on Google + and creating circles which effectively divide their social networks into  friends, frienemies and followers.  Meanwhile everyone seems to be asking….

Will Google + turn Facebook into Myspace?   What happened to FourSquare?  What about Twitter?

While the hype level is high for G+ at the moment – it doesn’t matter which social media site is currently occupying the “king of the hill” spot if you’ve got a solid social media strategy in place.

This simple 2 step system to crafting a solid social media strategy is designed for business owners who spend more time managing their business than their website.

STEP 1:  Just remember – social media is about communication.

Every social media marketing tools is simply a communication tool.  These tools when wielded by skilled craftsmen and women can create “marketing magic”.  However, without direction, focus and an underlying strategy – they are at best distractions from the business at hand – and at worst an addictive time suck.

Ok – got that.  Step 1 is there is not magic here – only communication.

STEP 2:  Communicate the right message.

Social media is about communication – but it’s communication with a goal and a purpose.   Your goal is “the right message at the right time to the right people.”

If that doesn’t help, try answering this question: What do people need to learn about your business?

This is where the “original” social media magic communication tool- the blog – can really shine but is also where the waters get murky.  Way too many “WTF” business blog moments happen when business owners begin blogging about what they had for breakfast or other silliness.

For heaven’s sake start sharing stories on how your business has made current customer’s lives richer, sexier, better, easier and saucier.

Once you’ve got the right stories, then it’s just a matter of making it EASY for your customers to SHARE those stories. That’s when the current “king of the social media hill” comes into the picture. Then you simply encourage people to share this story – a story that features someone like them – solving problems they have.

Which brings me back to the beauty of blogging for your business.  Business blogging allows you to create hundreds of just such stories for your business and monitor which ones “engage” and which ones “fall short”.   It’s why I love business blogging for the entrepreneur who is bootstrapping while building a business.

When you use these two simple steps to form the basis of your social media strategy – then it really doesn’t matter which “social media tool of the moment” is occupying the top spot because in the end – they’re all just tools which help your customers share the stories of your business.

Business Blog Ideas to Increase Sales

Business blogging can be great for your business… but only if you’re creating the “right” kind of content.

A “Mommy blogger” has dozens of places from which to draw inspiration for blog posts.  A mommy blogger can compose a blog post about the cute things her kid said – or the destructive antics of her dog – or her outrage over what’s happening in the world of politics.  But as a business blogger – those kinds of posts usually aren’t very productive unless you can find a way to “weave” them into a compelling and selling story promoting your business.

Your business blog has a job to do – and filling your business blog with “fluffy” stuff usually leads to a business blog that isn’t doing ANYTHING towards increasing sales for your business.

What your business blog needs is plenty of timeless compelling content with a SIDE of “sweet fluffy” posts. 

It’s better to NOT create a blog post rather than create a blog post that you’ll regret in the morning – or next year.

I know that this is in STARK contrast to the recommendations of a few business blog experts.  There is actually a school of thought which advocates approaching your business blog posts using an approach similar to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog….

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-TfZslHKoo&feature=related[/youtube]

I’ve got to admit – I’m puzzled by anyone who advocates actively antagonizing and insulting your target customer as a way to achieve success.  It’s a technique that may get you noticed – and it may get you inbound links – but I’ve never seen it lead to increased sales.

Isn’t increased sales the reaosn why you’re spending time blogging for your business?

With that in mind – the following are business blog idea starters for a business owner whose goal for his/her business blog is increased sales. 

Business Blog Ideas to Increase Sales

  1. Look no further than into your email “sent” folder. Your email sent folder is full of answers your current customers/clients are asking – so what better source could there be than digging into those outgoing emails and rewriting them for the general population. 

  2. Your email inbox is another blog idea goldmine. 

    Once again, there’s nothing better than looking at the questions customers/clients are asking and then providing a public answer on your blog. An added bonus feature to looking to your inbox is you can often find blog post titles which zero in on the terms your target audience is using to find information about your product or service – which is often blissfully free from “industry jargon” and “insider speak”.Inbound phone call logs can provide similar inspiration.
  3. Win friends by lambasting a sleazy compeitor. 

    I’m  assuming you’re not in some rarified niche sand box where everyone plays nicely, no on throws sand and most importantly – no one is currentily performing the marketing equivalent of turning loose a herd of cats into the marketplace sandbox.   If one of your competitors isn’t playing fairly – or are making promises they never intend on keeping – you can respond by creating your own version of a”To catch a predator” kind of post.

    Creating blog posts which serve to educate consumers about questionable tactics employed by your competitors is a great way to build trust and gain credibility with your audience. You may(wisely)  decide not to name names – and instead provide a list of questions prospective clients should ask before signing a contract with any one in your industry.  If one or two of those questions expose a sleazy tactic being used by a competitor – all the better.

    If you decide to name names in this type of blog post- you might want to check with your attorney before you click “publish”.

  4. Interview a satisfied customer

    Nothing sells as well as success… so take a look at your client list and work up a series of questions which help to illustrate why your products/services are the best of the best.  Then send this list of questions to your best customers/clients and “interview” them about their experience with your business. People love to read stories about other people who are like themselves – and no story is better for your business than the one your current customers can tell. 
  5. Address common misconceptionsWhat’s the biggest misconception held by outsiders about your industry? Set the record straight with your business blog.

  6. Write a problem solving tutorialPeople have problems – and when your business offers solutions to those problems – then marketing becomes as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

    Create a business blog post on how your products or services address a common problem for your target audience.  This is prime “timeless” content which can keep on gaining strength LONG after you’ve hit the “publish” button.

These are just six ideas on how to create business blog posts which increase sales.   Feel free to share your ideas on posts you’ve used to build your business with your blog.

Facebook is a Fad

What does Spock see when he looks into the scanner?  Why Facebook of course!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vs2l38DoqsQ&feature=player_embedded#at=49[/youtube]

Is your business ready for the end of Facebook’s “fad of the moment” status?

If the thought of the fall of Facebook makes you nervous- if Facebook is acting as your sole web presence – it’s time for a reality check.

At best, Facebook should be one of many TOOLS in your social media marketing toolbox.  It should never be the ONLY way for consumers to find your business online.

If you think Facebook is forever -I’d like to remind you of a very popular social media site of  yesteryear – MySpace.

When Newscorp purchased MySpace back in 2005 – the site was at the height of its popularity.  Of course, the first order of business was to cash in – and cash in they did.  Unfortunately – the changes made to improve short term profits were made without regard to the site’s users.   As the user experience began to deteriorate at MySpace, Facebook opened it’s virtual doors to the general public and consumers fled-driving MySpace into obscurity.

User experience killed MySpace – and a similar fate awaits Facebook as well if they continue to ignore the “will” of consumers.

The biggest mistake any business owner can make is to build their business on the “free” internet real estate offered by Facebook.

Facebook’s greatest appeal has always been the fact that it’s free and it’s growth has been very “viral”.  One person recruits their friends and family to sign up… and those friends recruit their friends – and before you know it – over a half a billion people have created Facebook profiles.

It’s natural that business would want to have a presence on this popular site.  However, it’s important to remember that your business doesn’t own in any way, shape or form its Facebook page.  Heck, you’re not even paying to RENT to Facebook for this online real estate – which means your options are VERY limited should you find yourself in unknowing violation of Facebook’s ever changing TOS.

There have been more than a few internet pioneers who have discovered first hand that it SUCKS to build your internet marketing empire on internet real estate you do not own.

While Facebook is indeed a “fad” – social media is not.

Social media is more than just the sum of it’s parts.  Social media is bigger than Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, You Tube and the myriad of other mega social media sites combined.

The smart business owner will place his or her own “horse” in the social media race and maintain a business blog.  Then social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Linked In can be leveraged to help bring readers (a.k.a. consumers) to the business owner’s blog. That same smart business owner will be watching the newest players on the social media scene to see if the businesses’ target customers are beginning to congregate at a new social media gathering place… like say Foursquare.

When you create and maintain a business blog – where prospective customers can find out more about the products and services you provide – you might discover that your business blog is the most profitable piece of your own marketing puzzle.

That’s better than a page full of “likes” any day!

Indecent Business Blogging Exposure and other forms of TMI

a.k.a. yet another reason why your business blog shouldn’t act like other blogs.

Blogging is great.  It allows you to publish content quickly and easily to the world wide web.  That content will live on long after it’s dropped from the front page of your blog and will continue playing a significant role in shaping your online reputation for years to come.

Business blogging allows you to create a search engine friendly comprehensive information archive about your business.  You can share the answers to frequently asked questions and share testimonials quickly and easily.  You can also choose to share any other content via your business blog as well.  The 30 second television commercial you paid to produce can “air” any time and the digital copy of your brochure can be downloaded  instantly.

Business blogging is truly a marvel- but like any other powerful weapon – it has a dark side.

Business blogging provides ample opportunity to create TMI business blog posts.

For some mystical, magical reason – writing on a regular basis seems to have the ability to “reveal” more than what is displayed on the page.

It’s called a Freudian slip when someone says something which unintentionally reveals what they’re really thinking.   Austin Power’s movie Goldmember provides an exaggerated illustration of this concept:

Austin: “Now who has my father?”

Dr. Evil: “Uh oh! Someone has some daddy issues.”

Austin: “Nothing could be my father from the truth.”

Dr. Evil: “Oops! You said ‘my father’.”

Austin: “No I dadn’t.”

Dr. Evil: “Did too!”

Austin: “Didn’t! Did not!”

Dr. Evil: “Shebah!”

Austin: “For me, this is a dad issue.”

Dr. Evil: “Hooh!”

Austin: “Dead issue! Dead dad! Dead beat dad.”

It’s funny when Mike Meyers does it – but if you’re not careful, it’s very easy to commit such Freudian slips.

Business blogging is at its best when it is authentic.

Business blogging works best when it’s authentic.  As you blog, you’ll be writing in a distinct “voice” – just as when you speak, you speak in a distinct voice.  The way you write – the way you share stories – the tone of your writing all comes together to create your authentic blogging “voice”.  The more of you that you share, the more distinct this blogging voice will be.

Like every good thing –  authenticity can easily cross the line and become TMI which is a BAD thing. You must be aware of this “danger” and be careful, that personal turmoil doesn’t find it’s way into your blog posts.

Like most things I share here, this “lesson” is roote in personal experience. A few months ago, I was launching another business and asked a colleague to help with the branding and design elements.  She read the posts on that blog and assumed that I had hired a ghostwriter who failed to capture my “spark”.

OUCH!

I hadn’t hired a ghostwriter – but I was having serious reservations about launching that business.

Quick aside – Some businesses are like selling  encyclopedias door to door.  Back in the old days, prior to the internet, when someone purchased an encyclopedia set, it was a one time sale.  Few customers would be willing to buy a second set of encyclopedias no matter how happy they were with the original purchase.  These types of businesses don’t have repeat sales or repeat customers  and as a result, are tough to launch and then grow.

I hadn’t wanted to face the fact that the business I was preparing to launch was looking like it was definitely a “high tech” version of encyclopedia sales.  That internal conflict had come through loud and clear despite my refusal to acknowledge it.

Should you avoid transparency in your business blog?

I don’t think you can successfully blog without some element of transparency.  With that said, business blogging is too important to take a “I’ll wait to blog for my business as long as life is perfect” mentality.  It’s the most powerful social networking tool available and one that – like fine wine – improves with age.

If you’re waiting for the perfect time to launch a business blog – that time was five years ago.  You’re behind – get moving and get started.

However, if your business is in a state of turmoil – if your personal life is in a state of chaos – I would recommend that you hire a copywriter to assume your business blogging activities.

There are a lot of benefits to hiring a writing professional.  First and foremost, a true ghostwriting “pro” can write in your voice – without ever making a Freudian slip.

Your clients or customers may love you – but they don’t need to know the intricate details of your latest bout with the flu.  🙂 Just one of many things that are better left “unblogged”.

Succeeding in Social Media

You’ve got a business – and you’d love to find new customers online.  You’ve heard that social media can do that for your business- but you don’t know where to begin.

If that’s where you find yourself, then you must know that there are TWO things you MUST have in place in order to succeed in social media:

You need two – and only two – KEY elements in place to succeed in social media.

1.  You must have a plan.

2. You must be proactive.

First – you must have a solid plan.

I’m not talking about a “social media plan” or even a “social media strategy”. I’m talking about a solid business plan which includes as part of your business’ DNA a DESIRE to serve your customer base.

Social media sucks for the business running a “pump and dump” style business plan.  If you view customer comments as “noise” then chances are your “social media strategy” is going to focus upon making your customers SHUT UP and “kwitcherbitchin”.

The current “trend” appears to be that consumers voices are becoming more easily “heard” online that the many professional marketers.  Google is actively searching for online reviews and including them as part of the Google Places Page – a free page one website which business owners can claim and utilize.

In other words,  the search engines appear to be interested in magnifying the voice of the “little guy” a.k.a. the consumer online.  The wise business owner and CEO will keep this trend in mind as they plan for the future in ALL areas of their business.

Think of social media as a huge cocktail party where the conversations are being etched in stone and run your business accordingly.

Creating a free standing “social media plan” – one that is separate and distinct from the overall business plan – is kind of like a resident of Spokane, Washington  planning a road trip to Miami Beach and buying a map of  Florida to plan the trip.   While that map will help once you’ve actually arrived in Florida- but it’s not going to help you navigate the lower 48 and get you to the Sunshine State border.

The best social media plan is one that is integrated with your other means of customer communication… because that’s what social media is – communication with both existing customers and prospective customers.

Which brings me to the 2nd element needed for success in social media.

You must be proactive – not reactive.

Most humans don’t live proactively.  As a species – we didn’t immediately and universally adopt the habit of wearing seat belts and had to be “legislated” or forced into using them.  Sure, there were a few proactive thinkers who buckled up for safety – but these proactive thinkers were definitely in the minority.

So when I say “you must be proactive” when it comes to social media – that advice assumes you’ve already got a business plan that has customer satisfaction ingrained as part of your business DNA.   Then – being proactive simply means not only listening to consumers but actively ENCOURAGING them to speak positively about your business.  Giving consumers a place to be ‘heard” is a great start -but then the real job is cultivating the positive conversations.

When satisfying your customers is part of your business goals – then listening to your customers becomes a priority.  You want them to come back – you want customers to buy from you again – because you realize that it’s 5-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to sell another product to an existing customer – you will eventually realize that listening to your customers is the best way to keep them.

In a recent article over at Mashable…Social Media Success: 5 Lessons from In-House Corporate Teams Amy Mae Elliott  interviewed Kerry Bridge, head of digital media communications, EMEA and global public sector at Dell Computers.    Bridge offers this simple reason for why Dell has been so successful using social media to generate sales for their business:

“Listening to our customers has always been at the heart of what we do.  Dell’s heritage of direct customer connections and online leadership are the seeds of our drive to be a social media success.”

Throughout the article – you’ll see the same “thread” repeated over and over again.

The Social Media Success Formula outlined in that article can be summed up as this:

Strong products + a sincere desire to improve customer experience + a proactive commitment to communicating effectively with consumers = social media success.

I get a lot of inquiries from business owners who want to “get started” using social media to grow their business.  They read stories where a companies like Dell have generated millions of dollars in revenue using the free social media communication service Twitter and they want to tap into that kind of business building social media action for their business.

These business owners are frequently disappointed to learn that the social media strategy is not a “set it and forget it” type of proposition.  While many of the communication tools which are an integral part of social media are “free” – using those tools takes time to learn to use – and they require a significant investment of time on the part of the business owner.  Companies like Dell, Ford and Southwest have teams of social media pros who work full time participating in the social media conversations online.

You may not have the resource to fund a full time social media team dedicated to communicating with consumers- but almost every business can launch a self hosted blog where consumers can come and share their thoughts.  Sure – you have to put forth a bit of effort in crafting those blog posts – and if you do that well then you might have to drudge through spammy comments – but if you’ll invest that limited amount of time into your business blog – you’ll find REAL gold in the authentic comments from actual consumers.