Sunday, May 30, 2010

Social Media and the Art of Honesty

In sleight of hand we learn that most people can be manipulated pretty simply, by a fast patter and flashy misdirection.

Recently, I saw a major corporation try this tactic using Social Media. Instead of addressing a major problem, they used their Twitter feed to throw a shiny, meaningless reward at their audience in return for behavior that is, at the very least distasteful, at the most, debasing.

Social Media is not sleight-of-hand. I've said it before and I'll say it again - you cannot fake the "Social" part of Social Media. Either you are holding meaningful conversations with the people who care about your business, or you are not.

When you decide to engage your audience through Social Media, you must be willing to *engage* them. Boilerplate answers and cheesy misdirection will not only not help, they will actively hurt your reputation. And, whether you are on a particular Social Network or not, your audience is. Poorly conceived responses, sleight-of-hand PR, and any negativity will spread like wildfire. You cannot afford a hissy fit on Social Media, you cannot assume your audience are children and will be pacified with a cookie (as the major corporation above did.)

Good Social Media is the Art of Honesty. Talk about things you know about and love with other people who love them too. Be as real as you can, be as honest and upfront as you can. Consider how you would feel about being asked to do the things you are asking of your audience.

Take Responsibility for your communications and practice the Art of Honesty. You won't sway everyone, but you'll gain the respect and support of many - which is the true value of Social Media.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What Makes You Niche?

Niche marketing has been all the rage for the last few years. However, it frequently seems as if "niche" is an ever-moving target that is shifting faster than you can run. Only a few years ago, Apple was "niche"... now Apple's market capitalization has surpassed Microsoft's.

Your business might not be an Apple or a Microsoft, but knowing what niche you inhabit can significantly increase your return on your Social Media investment.

Let's say you own a sports shoe and sneaker store. What makes your store niche?

1) Location -  You might not run the *only* shoe store in town, but you probably run one of a very few. It's pretty unlikely that you're competing with three or four shoe stores with exactly the same stock in one town, unless that "town" is a city. You inhabit a niche - your town and the area immediately around it.

Your Social Media: Using location-focused advertising seems obvious. Consider involving your business with local events, local organizations. A table at a town fair or Founder's Day is still "social media." Your medium is personal interaction. Focus on a local network on Facebook, search for local key opinion leaders on Twitter, encourage locals to check in on Foursquare. Have a website? A blog about relevant items locally can be fun and informative - for instance, perhaps you sell barefoot running gear and a local marathon or fundraising run/walk is happening next week. Being part of the event works to everyone's benefit and you come off as knowledgeable, relevant to the local scene, and kinda cool for helping raise awareness.

2) Topic - Maybe you run an online shoe store. Now you're competing against many more companies, manufacturers, and local brick-and-mortar stores. You can't compete with Zappos or the local store on convenience, but perhaps you can on *relevance.* People who run are passionate. Long-distance, ultra-marathoners and other runners want good, personalized information. Casual buyers might want customizable shoes. Your niche can be owning a topic or set of topics in a way that a large online entity cannot.

Your Social Media: Obviously, a blog works well for this kind of thing. But if you don't have time for that, a newsfeed customized for your key audience, or a customized toolbar can provide you with Top of Mind Status, and your audience with targeted, fresh information. A Facebook or Twitter widget can bring your audience in direct contact with ongoing conversations about the topics that are important to them and you'll have a chance to interact with them directly. A forum or discussion group can be turned into a community space where your business sits in the center of the communications web.

3) Skill - Perhaps your store has state-of-the-art equipment to image feet and provide suggestions for the best possible shoes or orthotics. Or maybe you repair or enhance shoes. Every extra skill you have to share becomes a niche that sets your business apart from your competition. There may be three stores that sell shoes, but only *yours* can provide shoes for feet with issues.

Your Social Media: There are many specialty forums and groups on the Internet where people discuss their needs, whatever they are. A few minutes on a search engine using the special skills you possess as keywords can turn up spaces where people are looking for that very thing. Tell the people in those spaces how you can help them and you'll find that you'll make a splash in your niche. Then it's just up to you to carry it through with your skills!

4) Uniqueness - Special offers are not all that unique. Comfy fitting chairs, or a coffee bar might be a one-time draw for a person, but what make your business truly unique Your experience, your knowledge, your personality. These are things that cannot be faked, replicated or standardized. If your staff is incredibly well-suited to handle problem feet, or your staff contains a marathoner, a hiker and an Iron Man competitor, this kind of unique understanding and ability is the best and most authentic promotion money can buy.

Your Social Media: An Ask the Expert feature on your web site can show off your and your staff's unique perspective in a way that no advertising can ever do. Use Twitter or any other Social Network to discuss experiences, adventures and expertise with other people and with your potential audience. Use each network's search feature to find relevant conversations and encourage your staff - and yourself - to be part of them.

Once you've found your niche, inhabit it as largely as you can. Become the nexus for specialist information and skills and people will look for you, as a major player in that niche.

Monday, May 17, 2010

In Social Media You Get What You Give

If you ask anyone who uses a Social Media platform regularly whether it's "worth it," you'll get the same answer - you get back what you put into it.

But what does that actually mean to you? Will you have to waste countless hours chit-chatting with folks on Twitter, or monitor a dozen or more spaces in order to make any kind of splash?

The answer to this is, of course, no...and yes..

Today we're going to look at the "Yes" half of this answer.

Social Media is about relationships. Of course you need to put time and energy into them! That's only common sense. You wouldn't like it if a "friend" only contacted you when they need something, would you? Your contacts/friends/followers also want more from you than requests to Like, Retweet, buy stuff and help you out. If all you're doing is advertising through a Social Media profile, then none of those relationships mean anything to you - and it's obvious to everyone on the other side of those relationships.

Social Media is about networking. The key idea behind being on any Social Media network is the presumption that you *want* to build your network. For the same reason you go to professional conferences, it is assumed that you want to connect with others in your industry. The same is true for any given Network online. You want to know more about your business, about your competitors, vendors and customers. Social Media gives you a chance to become closer with all of these, to follow what they are saying and doing.

Social Media is about location. You can't be everywhere at once, but you can be where you need to be. No, you don't have to have a dozen Social Media profiles. But you should have them where they would best serve you. Are you stubbornly holding onto a distribution mailing list in which you email your release schedule to bouncing email accounts, when the conversation has moved elsewhere? Don't be surprised if the only conversation about you is about how you seem to have disappeared.

Social Media is about reciprocity. There is nothing more maddening than a unfair business relationship. You know the vendor who always calls you when they need a testimonial, but suddenly isn't there where you need help with an upgrade? Or when you need a contact, after the dozens of contacts you've given them?  The same is true in Social Media. When someone is talking you up all over the Internet, it makes sense to know who and where they are. If they ask you for a favor that's in your ability to give, granting it is the best way to really to nail down what a great person you are. No response and you might find that the next time you need them, they aren't there. If someone has done you a good turn, putting a little effort into helping them makes you a hero not only in your own spaces, but in theirs too.  Be generous with thanks. It cost nothing, so the ROI is fantastic.

Social Media is perfect example of you get what you give. Give a little, get a little. Create an open, friendly, authentic network, and you'll find that you'll be reaping the benefits of that open-handedness in your dealings with your peers, vendors and customers.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Do You Have a Sense of Social Media Pride?

When you start your business, you start with a sense of pride.

You know what you are capable of - and you have ideas about where you want to do. You may even have some plans for growth.

Maybe somewhere along the line, you find yourself chasing the bottom line. You take less time with customers, spend more time on cash-flow than on quality.

And when you look at Social Media, maybe you see a means to an end or, worse, just another process to be integrated into your day.

Social Media is the perfect place to regain that sense of pride you had when you started.

Forget "Social Media the instant scratch-off card of the business lottery" and meet, "Social Media, your way to love your business again."

Right now, write down three things you love about your business. For example - here's what I love about writing this blog:

1) I have a unique perspective of Social Media that comes from being in the trenches for longer than "Social Media" has had a name.

2) I talk about Social Media without delusion, without "get rich quick" or marcomm -speak

3) I provide jargon-free, down-to-earth advice that a small- or medium-sized business owner can use...instantly.

Now take a look at your Social Media profiles - do they reflect these three qualities?

Let's look at this blog. There's me on the right hand corner, smiling at you. Hopefully that gives you a sense that when I write SocialOptimized, I'm having some fun. And the only thing I'm selling here is a quirky t-shirt that I designed - and indubitably "unique perspective" on Social Media.

I don't claim to be an expert or guru or coach or master. I'm just offering my thoughts on optimizing your use of Social Media. And, true to my third bullet point, I talk in normal everyday English and avoid jargon, argot, lingo and marcomm-ese.

I have pride in my use of Social Media. My profile matches the message I want you to take away from this blog.

Now, look at your own profiles on Facebook, Foursquare, MySpace, wherever. Does that presence *match* your message? Is it full of applications and graphics that clutter up the most important thing about you and your business? Or does your Social Media curb appeal match what's inside the house?

A you proud of your Social Media?

Take a look a the image you project, the message you want to communicate - then get out there and project and communicate it. Communicate the pride your feel about your business and your customers will feel it. Then it's a easy step to getting them to communicate it for you.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Social Media - Time Well Spent, Money Not Spent at All

The Phantom Project.

Every business, every household has one.

You probably can instantly identify your Phantom Project. You know, the one you'll do when you have some time, or a little bit of money? That project. The one you'll never actually get to, because you'll never have enough time and money to devote to it and when you do, something else more critical and immediate rears it's head to fill the vacuum.

For many businesses, Social Media is that Phantom Project.

Talking on various Social Networks takes too long, or it cost too much to build a presence. Since time and money are the two primary currencies of business, there seems to be an insurmountable wall between you and effective Social Media. And so it becomes a Phantom Project.

Here's a few tips to taking Social Media off the Phantom Project list and moving it to the Priority Project list.

1) Social Media is only expensive if you want it to be.

The most effective Social Media presences are small companies in small markets that build a following by being unique, relevant and authentic. Whether you're a local sandwich shop offering deals to your followers, or a indie band mobilizing your fans effectively, you don't have to have a slick, expensive look. Just a unique, authentic message that is relevant to the people who might care. Fancy design is rendered pointless by the number of people checking their networks on mobile devices. Expensive design is expensive - being real is priceless.

2) In Social Media, your Time is worth more than Money

For a small business owner, Time is more precious than Money. You might be able to get more money, but there really are only so many hours in the day.

So how do you fit Social Media into your already full schedule? By giving yourself an allowance.

Every day you read the paper, watch TV, answer email. Add to that list - talking with people online. Maybe you only spend five minutes every morning. Check your Facebook group and ask a question, or respond to one. Talk to one, two, three people on Twitter. Check the folks who mentioned you on Foursquare, connect with one new person on LinkedIn. Do not exceed the allowance of time you've given yourself. You have ten minutes - spend ten minutes. Prioritize the networks you're on. You find one that brings in more customers? Start there. If that takes up your ten minutes, drop the others for the day. You can't be everywhere, you can't do everything. Allow yourself to focus on one network to the detriment of the others. If Twitter sucks away an hour, then avoid it unless that hour is worth your Time.

Make hard decisions about your Social Media, the same way you do about any other form of promotion or networking. It might be worth more to advertise in a local paper than to join the Chamber of Commerce. You won't do both if it's not worth it to you.

You don't waste your time and money off-line, don't waste it online either.

Bank your hours, give yourself an allowance every week, and you'll find that the interest rate will pay well, when you've developed meaningful relationships with your consumers, your vendors and your peers.

Project Wonderful