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.

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.

Business Blogging: Tools for Marketing

Business blogging is a tool – a tool you can use to promote your business as part of your social media marketing campaign.  However, just like any other tool – your business blogging success depends upon how you use it to promote your business.

Last night – I watched the latest episode of “Iron Chef America” where the winner of Season 3’s “Next Iron Chef” Marc Forgione faced his first challenger in Kitchen Stadium.  It was a twist of fate which allowed me to catch the first episode of the third season of “The Next Iron Chef” and I was instantly hooked.  In the end, Marc Forgione was crowned the champion and this episode of Iron Chef America was the first challenge for the newest Iron Chef.

The challenge of the competition was bell peppers and Forgione demonstrated why he is has been crowned an “Iron Chef”  by making the ingredient the “star” of all five of his dishes.  Meanwhile,  the challenger’s food while exceptionally prepared – failed to make the bell pepper “the star” according to the judges.

Business blogging  is the bell pepper of marketing.

Making an ingredient that is usually a supporting player the “star” of a not just one course – but all five courses in a gourmet a meal is what sets an “Iron Chef” apart.

Business blogging is often the “bell pepper” of marketing – used as a “supporting” player and not the “star” of most marketing strategies. For most marketing strategies- business blogging is an ingredient – sometimes an essential ingredient – but not the “star” of the show.

While it’s enjoyable to watch marketing masters use business blogging in a way that is the equivalent to red pepper sorbet – you first must master the “basics” of business blogging before attempting more “advanced” social media marketing dishes.

I like this analogy because marketing has a LOT in common with cooking.

Most people begin by following recipes created by more experienced cooks.  Faithfully follow a recipe and you can usually achieve edible results.  Epic kitchen disasters are usually the result of “tweaking” the recipe.   You can’t successfully “tweak” a recipe without first understanding the “why” behind an ingredient or a step.   Substituting ingredients may not destroy a dish – skipping a step may not destroy the final outcome- but stepping off the established recipe path without knowing the why behind the directions is usually a recipe for disaster in the kittchen.

Disaster awaits when you tweak without knowing the “why”.

My son has been passionately pursuing sports for the past decade but recently discovered he has a gift for food preparation.  (We watch Iron Chef and he’s seen “real men cook” which has inspired him to try his hand in the kitchen.)  He recently saw a cheesecake featured on the cover of a magazine – and purchased the magazine determined to achieve the same results.

However, even though it was his first cheesecake – and he doesn’t have a lot of experience in the kitchen – he began tweaking the recipe.

The tweaking began when didn’t have one ingredient – instant coffee – so he skipped adding it.  Next he substituted peanut butter candy for the crushed toffee bars.

These two “tweaks”  actually worked well together. The absence of the first ingredient made the substitution of the 2nd acceptable.  It was a “happy” accident and since the “core” ingredients of the recipe were still intact – he was still on the path to a tasty outcome for his efforts.

Then the recipe instructed that he line the spring form pan with foil and he  didn’t want to do that.  He wanted instead “grease the sh*t” out of the pan.  At this point, I stepped in and STRONGLY suggested that this time –  he follow the directions.   Maybe – just maybe – there was a reason WHY the recipe included this step.

Later the recipe called for filling the pan in which the spring form pan was sitting with water to bake the cheesecake.   When the cheesecake emerged from the pan, the reason for the foil became apparent.  Obviously my ancient cookware is not water tight and had he not followed the instructions – his cheesecake would have been ruined.

While substituting and omitting minor ingredients didn’t destroy his creation, the cheesecake was “saved” because he followed a really important step in the directions.  His inexperience in the kitchen however didn’t allow him to recognize the “why” so he could know what could be substituted or skipped and what could not.

Marketing is a lot like that.  There are a lot of “recipes” online for how to achieve success in social media marketing but if you want to create your own recipe variation – it’s important to know the WHY behind what you’re doing.  Begin by following the “recipes” prepared by others… then begin modifying the recipe once you’ve mastered the basics.

I’ve always taken a “teach you to cook” approach when working with clients… and I recently was reminded by a new client that this consulting style is truly “unique”. Digging into the “why” behind what you’re doing is what sets my business blogging tutorials apart from other business blogging “recipes” available.  It’s also what sets my consulting services apart as well.

Not everyone wants to learn to cook – or bake a cheesecake.  After all, you can pick up a cheesecake ready made at the grocery store – often for only a fraction more than the cost of the raw ingredients.  But if you want to some day become an Iron Chef – you’d better know the why behind every step of every dish you create.

If you want to become an “Iron Chef” of marketing your business- you’d also better learn the reasons “why” you’re doing what you’re doing.

What’s your favorite “business blogging” tool or ingredient for success?  Feel free to showcase your Iron Chef business blogging abilities in the comments section below.

When is it time to stop business blogging?

Launching a business blog is an exciting time.  The opportunities that open up as a result of blogging for your business are positively staggering.  There’s no way to predict specifically how blogging will impact your business – but if you give blogging for your business a six month commitment – you will no doubt witness some form of benefit that more than justifies the time and expense.

Perhaps you’re like a lot of business owners and one of the reasons you haven’t started blogging for your business is that you’re afraid it’s a never ending commitment.   If the prospect of making an open ended commitment to business blogging  makes you nervous, take heart.

Every business owner who maintains a business blog will have to answer the question, “Is it time to stop blogging?”

Jim Kukral is a blogging superstar.  He’s an author – a speaker and a consultant who began blogging way back in 2001.  Blogging has helped to establish Kukral as a sought after speaker,  author and business thought leader.   Last week – he announced that he has quit blogging and  his announcement has created quite a stir. Many have offered their take on Kukral’s decision to quit blogging.  Jonathan Fields writes in his post “Should YOU stop blogging

[T]he bigger message we should all take from his announcement is not that blogging is dead, but that:

  1. We need to examine why we’re doing what we’re doing on a regular basis, then
  2. Respond and evolve to accommodate change, both external market-imposed change, and internal shifts in where we want to take our businesses and lives.

We’re all hostages to the constraints that time places upon us.  We all have a mere 168  hours available each and every week.  Work – play – sleep –  all have to fit within the confines of 24/7.  It’s no secret that launching and maintaining a business blog takes time and we all have to budget our time effectively.

We make  dozens of” time budgeting” decisions daily – many of them without much conscious thought.

I like to equate blogging with exercise because both require a regular commitment and the benefits tend to accumulate over time.  When we say that we’re “too busy” to exercise – what we’re really doing is valuing the benefits of other activities over the benefits of exercising.

There’s one key difference.

The benefits of business blogging don’t stop when you quit blogging.

Stop exercising for three months and your body will definitely tell the tale.  On the other hand, assuming you’ve created a solid business blog foundation – you can take 3 months off from business blogging and come back to find a business blog that is stronger – not weaker – as a result.

The time you devote to business blogging today will continue to benefit your business long after you’ve stopped blogging.

Lisa Barone over at Outspoken Media gets it.  In her blog post, she is encouraging business owners to ask the right questions about using social media.  She writes:

Ask yourself:

  • What are your business reasons for doing X?
  • What actions are important to help you see a benefit from X?
  • What are the rules for the organization when participating in X?
  • Is X the best thing for your business, or could you see a better reward if you switched your focus to something else?

I love the way Lisa phrased these questions – because they’re questions that every business owner needs to ask about EVERY business activity – not just business blogging.

One of my clients recently let her membership to the local Chamber of Commerce expire.  She enjoyed the networking activities but her business is “bigger” than the small Tennessee town in which she resides.  As her practice has grown – she has had to evaluate whether the time she spends socializing at local Chamber events is the most profitable use of her time.  This year, her answer to whether to remain active is”No”.  For her,  that 2 hours a month is better spent finishing her book and blogging than socializing.

For Jim Kukral – when he asked those questions – his evaluation of the time he was spending blogging lead him to quit investing time in creating new blog posts.

But notice – he is NOT taking DOWN his business blog.

That’s not what Jim means when he says he is “quitting blogging”.  There’s a big difference between taking DOWN your blog and choosing to stop actively creating new content for your business blog.

Over the past nine years, Jim has created hundreds – perhaps thousands of blog posts.   Even though Jim won’t be creating new blog posts, the posts he has created in the past will continue to serve him well.   When visitors arrive at Kukral’s now static blog – they will still be able to click on the links in the sidebar – they’ll still be greeted with a pop-up window to ask them to sign up for Jim’s newsletter – they can still become a “doer” and part of his private inner circle.

In other words, Jim’s blog will continue to do what his blog has been doing for the past nine years – building trust, establishing his expertise, collecting leads and selling his book.  The point is – now his blog has reached a point where he doesn’t HAVE to keep adding posts.  He can simply let his blog continue to do what he created it to do.

One of the biggest”fears” I hear expressed about business blogging is that business owners confuse business blogging with “blogging”.  Business blogging does not require that you post three times a day 7 days a week.  The only reason for blogging on that type of schedule  is if your primary competition is the 24/7 cable news networks.

For most business bloggers – posting one or two articles a week will result in a robust offering of informative articles about the benefits of doing business with you.  Two blog posts a day for five years will yield a “website” with over 500 pages of content.

That’s 500 opportunities to share 500 different ways your product or service has been used to solve your target audiences problems.

So when is it time to stop business blogging? My answer would be when you’ve stopped offering new products and services and you’ve covered every possible angle on the products and services you currently offer.

  • Stop blogging for your business when you can’t think of another way to illustrate the value of your product.
  • Stop blogging for your business when every consumer in your target audience knows why your the natural choice.
  • Stop blogging for your business when you run out of ways to share with potential consumers the benefits of your product or service.

Of course, you won’t achieve any of the above in five blog posts or less.   The act of blogging is easy – the art of packaging your products and services into a a cohesive marketing message is the hard part.

Of course, in order to stop blogging for your business you have to start – and for many business owners – they have yet to clear that hurdle.