Working social media both on and offline

Towing companies are a necessity in Vermont. From mud season to winter and everything in between, at some point or another you’re going to need a tow.

Each day on my way to work I pass by a towing company on Route 2 in Richmond. They have a small billboard on the side of the road which usually has some sort of creative message promoting their business. This week they went with the Avatar theme and wrote “We tow in 3D, no special glasses needed.” (I know, the picture is a bit fuzzy – but I was taking a picture while my husband was driving).

Though I have no idea how much business they get from that billboard, I have to imagine that this gives them some exposure to a good percentage of our  bedroom community (4,000+) who pass that sign everyday on their way to work.

After a little research I found out that the company has a website and a pretty active Facebook page and oddly enough, most of the time the messages they display on their billboard can fit right into the status bar of Facebook or Twitter.  They’ve completely integrated their billboard with their website and Facebook page. Nice job!

This is a great example of what social media is all about. Their billboard is viral (I took a picture and am currently writing a blog post about it), its humorous and timely, and it shows a personality behind their brand. Let’s face it needing a tow sucks but this company has creatively made it okay with their lighthearted updates, speaking directly to their consumers.

It’s good to see local companies embracing social media and integrating it with their offline marketing strategy. The sign may be the first point of contact and it’s fun and catchy and may prompt people to visit them online. Then all of a sudden visitors become fans and fans become part of their community. And guess what, when they need a tow or their friend needs a tow, who do you think they’ll call?

I’m not saying you have to make jokes to promote your brand successfully but what I like most about this company is that clearly they know their customer. That’s really the most important thing to know before you dip into any marketing strategy. Know your customer, find out where they live and play both on and offline and then don’t be afraid to have a conversation with them.

Beware of Facebook Page Poachers

securityRecently, I set up a Facebook page for a client of mine who owns a consignment shop called Fabulous Findz. We have been doing a ton of online marketing including pay per click advertising on Facebook, Bing, Google and using various other tools that have increased traffic to both the website and the store’s Facebook page. When I went into the Facebook page today to see if there had been any more traffic, I noticed that a competitor became a “fan” of the page. At first I thought it quite neighborly that a competing store owner should join our fan page and make a contribution to our site. But then a few minutes later, I had a friend request in my own inbox from that very same competitor. Apparently, this competitor (and I won’t mention who) sent friend requests to all our fans.

Now, I’m a marketer and I know the only way to survive these days is to get creative and push the envelope, so I do applaud this competitor’s creativity and determination. However, I wasn’t very happy with them trying to poach our fans. So I deleted the competitor from our page, banned them from ever returning and asked our fans to ignore the friend request (unless of course they knew this person).

I guess the moral of the story is twofold,  make sure that you are really friends with someone before you accept a friend request and, most importantly, be kind to your neighbors.

Using social media for the good of the people

Social Networking
Social Networking

In past posts I have discussed ways to apply social media to gain visibility online, connect with consumers and build customer relationships.  Recently, I came across someone who is utilizing this space for a very different reason; to help others.

Joe Mescher, is a social media enthusiast in the Burlington, Vermont area. If you haven’t read Joe’s blog, responded to his tweets or viewed his videos, then you’re just not in the know. Trust me when I say this, this guy lives, eats and breaths, social media.  Recently, Joe decided to take his passion for this space to help unemployed Vermonters find work.

video guyThe project is called the Vermont Video Resume Project and offers free video resumes to those searching for a job. The concept is to utilize new media technology to let job seekers show a little bit of who they are to potential employers. Employers can then view the resume as a real person instead of some words on a page. It’s a great way to utilize web 2.0 to connect businesses to potential employees and to help the unemployed land a job.

After coming up with the idea,  Joe got the word out through Twitter which has sparked a flurry of attention. Seven Days, an independent weekly,  is partnering with the project and offered blog space enabling job seekers to post their video resumes and allowing  local businesses and human resources departments to view them.

If you are interested in helping connect job seekers to those looking for quality employees, here are some ways you can help:

  • Tweet about the project and link to the website: VideoResumeVT.com for all your followers to see
  • Blog about it to offer information to your readers
  • Go to the website and fill out a form offering tips, insights, suggestions on how to further the project
  • Tell your friends and family about it
  • Talk about it at parties
  • Or contact Joe at joe.mescher@gmail.com.

If you’re a job seeker and looking to take advantage of this opportunity visit VideoResumeVT.com and fill out the form.

There are many ways to utilize social media but I haven’t found one yet that beats helping other people.

Social media, join the conversation

socialIt was a packed house in Alumni Auditorium at Champlain College on Monday when various social media guru’s spoke on the importance of integrating social media into a marketing plan at Burlington’s Social Media Breakfast. Basically the message was; stop focusing on the tools and start engaging in the conversation.

It was a sold out show which leads me to believe that people are actually beginning to catch on that social media is an integral part in building a brand. But with the plethora of tools out there where does one start? Here are some of the take away points from yesterday’s presentation:

Make a plan – What are your goals with this space and how will you measure success? Think about where your audience is and “fish where the fish are.”

Don’t push, gather – New media is about building a relationship and listening to your customers. “Its not push, its gather,” said C.C. Chapman, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of The Advance Guard. Old media talks at you, new media talks with you.

Start with a good brand – Offer a quality product and give them something to talk about. You can’t control your message online. People are already talking about your product, embrace it. And most importantly, listen to your customers.

Be found – It’s all about findability said Todd Defren, principal at Shift Communications. “Our job is to make sure we are found,” he said, “through content- blogs, SEO, Flikr, YouTube, etc. If social media is a pot luck, content is what you’re bringing to the party.”

Act on user feedback – Social media is digital word of mouth, its your online reputation. Create compelling content and act on user feedback. Give the people what they want.

The most important thing to remember about social media, is that it is all about building relationships with your customers. Be a part of the conversation people are having about your brand. Listen to your customers and give them what they want. This takes time, so be patient and remember to have fun.

Note: the above photo came from the Library of Congress. You can find many other these photos at www.flikr.com/commons.

Social Media, to connect or disconnect

Is social media enabling us to better connect with our audience or are we becoming so automated in our technology that we are removing ourselves from them?

These days we can automate our blog post to stream into our website, LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace account. We can post our status on Twitter, which can automatically feed into our Facebook status and our blog. And nowadays we can do it all conveniently from our mobile phone. Does all this automation mean less contact with our consumer?

Propeller Media Works recently hosted a Social Media Jam session, (the first one in a series) to help local businesses successfully incorporate social media into their marketing plan. They covered everything from Social Media 101 to ways marketers can use Twitter to better connect with their customer. Local social media gurus shared tips and experiences on how they personally and professionally use social media to promote their brand.

Chris Middings, web editor for Seventh Generation (a Burlington-based company that sells green household products) was among the panelists at this workshop. He cited an example of how he was monitoring Twitter and found a woman who was complaining about spots on her dishes. Chris hopped on his Twitter account and gave her some suggestions on how to wash her dishes so there would be no spots. The woman now has had a first hand introduction to Seventh Generation that she might not have gotten off line.

Dave Gibson, founder of Propeller Media Works and host of the Social Marketing Jam session used Facebook alone to promote this workshop, of which over 50 people showed up. He also utilizes a company blog (called Inside Propeller), Twitter account and Facebook Page to offer an insight on what it’s like to work at and with Propeller, connecting to potential clients as well as potential employees.

Bob Kilpatrick, Director of Digital Development at Seven Days, discussed how he uses Facebook to promote events for his business and authors a blog called Good Carma which talks about cars and helps promote Auto Finder a service that connects consumers to car dealerships.

Elaine Young, Professor at Champlain College, was also a panelist at this event. Though her use of social media is not intended to promote the college, Elaine uses blogs, Facebook, Twitter to connect with students, colleagues, media and to learn how to use these tools so she can better teach her students.

Social media can be used in many ways and for many different purposes. There are an endless amount of opportunities to better connect with your consumer through social media. It has given us a unique opportunity to reach our customers in an authentic way and build relationships that we have never been able to build before.

So, yes, I think social media allows us to better connect to our audience in a more targeted and authentic way than we have ever been able to do before. What do you think?

Avoid Facebook Fraud

Facebook
Facebook

I recently received an email on my Facebook account asking me to wire $1,000 to my friend, his wife and two kids who were stuck in Europe. According to the email they had been robbed of all their money, passport and belongings and were trying to get home. The email sounded completely realistic and I was close to actually sending them the money until something stopped me. You see my friends wouldn’t ask for a specific amount of money. They might say something like “can you send me some money” or ” can you help me out” but I doubt they would be so specific as to ask for $1,000. It turns out it was a fraud. Someone had hacked into his account and sent that email to all his friends. Luckily no one took the bait.

In these economic times, it is said that crime increases both on and off line. People get desperate and anyone can be a victim. There are ways, however, to protect yourself online.

  1. Think twice before you post. I know this seems obvious but use your better judgment when posting pictures, video, status bar entries, profile info, etc. A good rule of thumb is to never post your social security number or any kind of personal information such as your address.
  2. Be selective in who you friend. It’s not a contest of how may friends you have on your Facebook profile. If someone sends you a friend request and you don’t know them, don’t befriend them, it’s that simple.
  3. Use your privacy settings. Facebook has privacy settings so you can limit the amount of information different friends can see.  Check out this article on the 10 things you can do to protect your privacy on Facebook.

Most of the time being safe is just a matter of using some good old common sense. So don’t get paranoid and stop using Facebook, just be smart about what you post, who you let in and what information you offer.

Be well, be safe.

Is your business using the SEO Pyramid?

Trends are showing that businesses are cutting back on their marketing budgets this year. This of course comes as no surprise given the state of the economy. But it has left some small business owners in the dark when it comes to where to put their marketing dollars and how best to spend their budgets. Let’s face it there are an endless supply of online marketing tools out there. The question is, which one’s should you choose and where do you start?

While searching online for a visual to show to one of my clients, I came across the following SEO Pyramid and I thought it was a great visual to help pave the way to greater online visibility.

seo-pyramid-large4

Basically, to more efficiently market your business online, the following rules should be in place (and they are in order of importance):

  1. You have compelling web content
  2. Your content and page elements are optimized
  3. You’ve created and are maintaining a linking campaign
  4. You business is visible in the social media space

Compelling web content – First and foremost, your site must have compelling and relevant content; useful content that will attract and retain visitors and offer them something they can link to. You want your visitors to buy your product or service and come back for more. So give them something to come back to.

Optimize your content and page elements – Your web content should be keyword rich. Establish a list of keywords that people search on to find your product or service and include these in your content. They must be relevant to each page so don’t go overboard. These keywords should be weaved into not only your web content but all your page elements (i.e. title tags, meta tags, H1 tags, etc.) as well.

Linking campaign in place – Spend some time finding relevant sites to link to and from.  The more relevant sites that are linking to you the more likely the search engines are going to find you.

Social media plan– Once everything else is in place, build your business page or group in a social network that speaks directly to your audience. Start a conversation and start networking. Also, don’t underestimate the value of a blog. Yes, it takes time to upkeep but it’s well worth it in the end. Not only does it give your business a personality, it augments your SEO strategy. Get out there, get networking. It’s free!

And finally, BE PATIENT! Gaining visibility online takes time. Keep at it and be patient. And remember you get out of it what you put in.

Good luck!

Using social media to engage in the conversation

picture-1Smart marketers are spending more and more time in the social media space. It is inexpensive, highly targeted and gives businesses the chance to build a personal relationship with their consumers like no other medium offers. Social media allows businesses to interact with their audience in a two-way conversation that builds brand affinity, and most importantly, trust. People will buy from people they trust.

At this stage of the game, it is not enough to just have a presence in the social networks, you must facilitate that conversation by encouraging your audience to participate in the discussion through blogs, discussion boards, Tweets, groups, etc. Get involved with your consumer and find out what they think about your industry, your product and your competition. Let’s face it, before you even sat down at that desk to write your marketing plan, people were talking about your product or industry. Why not get involved in the conversation?

Recently I pitched a potential client and offered them my services in social media.  Aside from maintaining their Facebook page with fresh content, I proposed that I would monitor the web and find out what people are saying about their product, make comments, add to discussions and report back. This can be time-consuming (which is why I pitched this client – to take the burden off their plate), but can be well worth the trouble.

First and foremost, if you haven’t yet enabled Google Alerts, please do so immediately. Just type in your keywords and email address and Google will send you updates when those keywords are picked up by the search engines. This is a quick and easy way to find out what is being said about your product online.

Other ways to monitor what is being talked about online is to spend some time in discussion areas, groups, pages and user rating and review sites such as Trip Advisor, Angie’s List and Yelp, to name a few. This is a one stop shop in finding out what people are saying about your product. It’s like surveying your audience without actually surveying them.

Finding out what your customers are saying is only half the battle. Taking that information and using it to make your business stronger is the other half. For example, if you’re a restaurant and you notice on Trip Advisor that people are complaining about your service. You can address it accordingly.

There are many other tools and sites to help you monitor and get involved in the conversation. Find which ones work best for your business. The point is, to get out there, embrace user-generated-content and use it to make your business more successful.

Building your brand through social media does take time and energy and sometimes hours online, but as with anything, you get out of it what you put in.

Using Twitter to grow your business

This afternoon I attended a video conference on how to market a small business in today’s ever-changing web 2.0 world. Since the largest source of income for most businesses, both small and large, come from referrals (or word of mouth) it’s essential that business owners take advantage of the social media space to help build their brand. The benefit is that businesses can do this for little or no cost and with great reward.

Aside from blogging and the use of social media applications such as Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter was a big topic of discussion. Twitter is a messaging service where users can type in a 140-character answer to the question “what are you doing?”, via the web or phone, that can be viewed and followed, literally, by thousands of people. This gives businesses the opportunity to connect with their consumers on a more personal level with very little effort, basically only the time it takes to type in 140 characters.

Twitter can help build your brand by creating a presence and allowing users to put a face to the name. Twitter can also be used to create and/or utilize a network of subject matter experts where you can share interests and information about your industry. Basically, it’s a way to spread information and build relationships with your consumers online.

Zappos, a very successful online shoe business known for their customer service, uses twitter to show that their executives and employees are real people. The fact that over 400 of their employees are on Twitter gives consumers a sense of the company’s culture, and brings them down to a more personal level.

To find out more about how you can use Twitter to help grow your business check out the following article on How Twitter Can Help at Work.

In the meantime, I got to go update my status in my Twitter account!

Using Facebook Groups and Pages

Yesterday, after practice, I told my band members to check out the photos I posted in our Facebook Group. One of my band members (and I won’t mention who) said “I never use Facebook, I can’t figure out what I would use it for.” I know what you’re thinking…a life without Facebook is just unimaginable.

Could I live without my daily fix of finding out what my friends are up to, what kind of events are happening or without viewing the latest SNL video making fun of Sarah Palin? I’m just not sure. I’ve joined groups, posted photos and videos and kept in contact with people I haven’t seen in 20 years. The question isn’t what would I use Facebook for; it is what wouldn’t I use it for?

Aside from using Facebook as a social networking tool to keep up with friends, events and other stuff, Facebook can be used to help promote businesses, bands, events, political beliefs and more.

Take, for example, my band. I set up a Facebook Group for my band Muddy Boots (feel free to join if you feel so inclined). Facebook Groups are designed to interact with your audience and create word of mouth among your friends and fans. This is a place where the band and our fans can go to post videos, pictures, comments or discussions related to the band and our music. So far this has been an effective tool in getting the word our about our music and upcoming gigs. And miraculously, people show up to our shows.

Aside from paid advertising, there are other ways to market a business on Facebook such as setting up a Facebook Page. Pages and Groups on Facebook are similar in that their purpose remains the same, to interact with your fan base, but one difference I have experienced is that a Page allows you to offer a little more information about your business and is a little more professional. It offers stats of who is visiting your page so you can measure how effective it is. It also allows you to feed a blog directly into your page, which I haven’t been able to do in a Facebook Group. This means if you’re updating your blog frequently, you’re automatically updating your Facebook Page as well without even logging in. It’s amazing.

I guess the easiest way to think of Facebook Pages and Groups is to think of it as online PR, as it is essential to promote your brand (or band) and encourage word of mouth. And though it shouldn’t be your only tool in your marketing toolbox, it should definitely be a part of your overall branding strategy. If you keep up with providing compelling content and a reason for visitors to come back, the potential for your brand to grow is immeasurable.