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.

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, 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?

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!

Promoting your blog

wordpressIn November 2008 there were 1,463,666 active blogs on WordPress alone and 17,433,783 active posts, according to the WordPress November Wrap-up. And who knows how many more blogs and posts were created on the gazillion other blogging sites out there. With those numbers I think it is completely amazing that people find my blog at all.

If you’re wondering how best to promote your blog and stand out among the 1.5 million + other blogs out there, here are some suggestions:

  • First and foremost you need to offer unique content that is valuable to your reader. This will keep them coming back, linking to your post or passing it along to friends.
  • If you have more than one blog, link them to each other. If someone is interested in a particular topic and they find one blog and like your writing, they’re likely to check out what else you have written about.
  • If you have profiles in your social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, etc., be sure to have links to both your website and your blog in all your profiles. You can also stream your blog into some of these sites so that when updating, you are updating profiles on all your social networks instantaneously.
  • You must read other blogs and make comments. See what other bloggers are talking about and offer intelligent information, opinions and comments. Remember, you’re trying to build your network.
  • Utilize Twitter. It’s a micro-blogging site and a great way to make contacts, find people who are interested in the same thing you are, read their blogs and offer your knowledge to them. This gets your name out there and people interested in what you have to offer.
  • Utilize one of the many blogging networks such as BlogCatalog. This is a great way to manage all your blogs in one spot and build your blogging community.

There are many ways to promote your blog and make it stand out among the millions. Try different ways to see what works best for you. Just remember the most important thing about blog writing is content. So make it worth while.

Good luck!

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!

Creating a social media marketing plan

Social media marketing is simple, it’s viral marketing or what I call ‘online PR.’ The goal is to get people talking about your product. Sound easy? It can be. Businesses, especially small ones, should be utilizing social media to help create word of mouth and to promote their product organically. Yet, how does a businesses with limited resources best utilize this medium?

As you probably know, there are many social networks out there and more popping up each day. So which ones should you choose? This year 37% of adult Internet population and 70% of teens were using social networks at least once a month. By the year 2011, those numbers will rise to 1⁄2 of the adult online population and 85% of teens, according to eMarketer.com. With the rise of social media networks still climbing I thought its imperative to have a presence online. The two biggest social networking sites I suggested to use are Facebook and MySpace.

Facebook
In the Burlington, Vermont area alone, there are almost 29,000 people currently using Facebook.

Here are some ways to utilize this social network:

  • Create and maintain a Facebook profile and invite friends to join it. Find people who are interested in activities that relate to your product. Using Facebook is a great way to get the word out instantaneously when you have news or events, etc., to report.
  • Create and maintain a specific group that is proactive in encouraging people to participate. Some ways to do that include the following:
  • Post and encourage the posting of daily photos
  • Create a contest for best photo. The winner gets their photo posted on the main website and/or some sort of discount for visiting your business.
  • Post any events that are happening relating to your product.
  • Offer a discount for group members on a given day to print out from Facebook and redeem at our business.
  • There is a place within the networks tab to post local events. Utilize this to post any special events or happenings and encourage people to visit.
  • Surf discussion topics throughout the network and post comments to help gain some presence and legitimacy.

MySpace
Among the top 20 social networking sites, MySpace is visited 82% of the time, according to Hitwise. Create a presence in MySpace.

  • Create and maintain a user profile
  • Find and invite friends to join
  • Post daily photos
  • Post any special events and send out flyers to all friends on the network/friends list.
  • Create and maintain a blog within MySpace to talk about current events and other things going on related to your busines, etc.

BLOGGING
Another inexpensive tool for businesses to take advantage of is Blogging. According to eMarketer, 61% of the blog readers are over the age of 30, and 75% make more than $45,000 a year. And according to Perseus, 92% of bloggers are under the age of 30. This covers a lot of ground. Companies need to create a presence among the blogosphere by initiating the following but be careful with this one. Create a blog only if you can maintain it.

  • Create and maintain a blog with high quality content that bloggers will want to link to.
  • Syndicate it with an RSS feed or email sign-up
  • Link it to your website and vice versa as well as the newly created MySpace profile and Facebook
  • Link it to related websites and ask them to link back
  • Reach out to other blogs and establish relationships with bloggers who blog about topics related to your industry
  • Monitor the blogosphere and comment where appropriate
  • Create a picture slide show and update it frequently

A blog compliments your website and will help promote your product in an informal and organic way. This can be used in place of a newsletter as visitors can sign up for email announcements and RSS feeds that go directly to their computers giving information to a targeted group interested in your product.

When it comes to social media some companies may be afraid of losing some control by encouraging consumers to talk about their product instead of controlling their own message. However, the use of social media can work twofold for you; 1. With limited resources it’s an inexpensive way to create a buzz in the marketplace and, 2. you can find out directly how consumers view your product and respond and adjust accordingly.

Utilizing social networking sites and blogs will help create a buzz and will compliment marketing efforts without gobbling up your budget. It also creates a more grassroots campaign and encourages your customers to talk about your product. The cost really only includes the resources of someone dedicated to your online visibility. And your return could far outweigh that cost.