Back to Basics #21: Thinking Outside the Social Media Box

thinking-outside-the-social-media-box While there are tried-and-true methods to growing your social media following and keeping your customers connected through social media, sometimes your efforts seem to stagnate. Maybe you hit a stride of nice growth, but then discovered that it plateaued. Or maybe you've been on a steady climb, and still see growth happening, but really want to push your social media presence to the next level. Whatever it is, you're ready to try something a bit bolder, a bit louder, and a bit more... well, scary. It's out of your comfort zone, but that doesn't mean that you have to avoid it. Let's talk a bit about what you can do to start thinking outside the social media box and really getting into your stride as a business owner and marketer!

start-making-friends

Find A Few Friends.

No, we don't mean find a few friends like the ones you're already following back, or the ones who are related to you. (Even if your mom is always going to be your #1 fan... sorry, mom.)

What we mean is, find the big names in your industry and connect with them.

Take the time to do a little research around your type of company—who is active on social media? Is there a particularly interesting website or blog that you could start following? Whose name frequently gets brought up in the news? Once you've found these people, start paying attention to what they're doing. They're obviously a credible resource for a reason, and that's more than likely because they interact with fans, provide valuable content, and frequently update their blog and/or social media sites. You're probably trying to do all this already, but when you have a role model to emulate, things get that much easier.

Here are some more helpful tips to try once you've found a few new friends:

Do:

  • Retweet/share/pin their articles.
  • Leave a friendly compliment or start a helpful discussion on their blog posts.
  • Ask them for their opinion on something in your niche.

Don't:

  • Engage with controversial topics with them.
  • Subtweet (that is, tweeting about someone else without actually tagging them) snarky comments or get upset if they don't respond to you.
  • Blast anyone publicly if they don't agree with you.

dummies-self-promotion

Advertise less.

We know what you're thinking: “Isn't the point of social media to help me with marketing and advertising? Why would I want to advertise less?”

Well, because without even being aware of it, you might actually be driving away people with constant self-promotion.

Basically, social media has its own set of etiquette and rules—in fact, each platform tends to have different etiquette standards and rules for connecting with fans. For instance, on Twitter, it's acceptable to post many times in a day—it's fast paced and the information is kept brief, as well as generally unobtrusive. Facebook, on the other hand, tends to show big posts with pictures and videos, and to see a stream of media from the same person or company is aggravating to many users. But if there's one thing all platforms have in common, it's this:

It's a big no-no to constantly advertise your own services.

To keep people from getting irked with your updates, you should always follow the 80/20 rule: Post 80% other content—like industry news, other followers' posts, etc.--and 20% your own content.

Here are some helpful ways you can implement this idea:

  • Don't make your advertising posts hard pitches; i.e., “Click here to buy dog food now!” Instead, keep it light and craft an interesting title to entice click-throughs: “The #1 best thing you can feed your dog: It's cheaper than you think.”
  • Link back to older blog articles. If you have a content marketing schedule, go ahead and tie that in with Twitter, Facebook, and whichever other sites you use. You worked hard on your old posts—so be sure to link them again! This doesn't make it seem like you're “selling” anything, but you're still directing traffic back to your site.

good-job-note

Show off your reviews.

We've talked before about how important reviews are for ranking. But reviews aren't only important for this reason—they're also a leading influence on how customers perceive your business, as well as how customers choose which business to support. According to a 2013 survey from Bright Local, 73% of consumers say positive customer reviews make them trust a business more. [Edit: Here is the updated 2014 survey!] That's no small number—so it makes sense that you should promote the ones you have!

This should fall under the same guidelines of self-promotion, however. Constantly linking your reviews comes off as spammy and self-absorbed. When you're on social media, you want to present an honest picture of who you are and what your business is about. Occasionally linking a new review and thanking the customer for their time is a good practice to get into—and it's not going to make you look bad.

Try these helpful tips the next time you link your reviews:

  • Place a few testimonials on your site. If you can, take them directly from the source and link back. Testimonials without links seem fake to many visitors—so take that worry off their minds by citing your sources (just like you did in those pesky term papers!).
  • Publicly respond to any bad reviews you receive (unless they are abusive; then it's best to just report or ignore them). By doing this, you show that you care about your customers' experiences and are willing to listen to their complaints and concerns.

stay positive

And finally...

Whether you own a small home-based business or run a local chain of businesses, it's in your best interest to keep a positive attitude. It can get discouraging to to run your own social media sites, and we get that. In fact, we wrote an article about how to handle these feelings of discouragement! But when everything stacks against you and it seems like nothing you're doing is working, remind yourself that this all takes time. Brainstorm ways you can get your voice heard. Talk to friends, family, customers, and other business owners to see what they recommend. Be willing to learn from mistakes and go that extra mile. In the end, you will make progress if you keep trying, and keep an open mind while at it.

Got any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!

Back to Basics #8: Social Media Trends: Do Small Businesses Need to Keep Up?

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social-media-trends-for-small-businesses Small business owners: Are you tired of hearing about the importance of social media? Have you started up a Facebook page or Twitter account and decided that it’s just too much effort for too little payoff? Well, you’re not alone. Many small business owners feel that social media trends don’t offer a lot for their companies—what’s popular today might be gone in a couple of months, after all. And who wants to spend a lot of time building up a following just to find out that there’s another new social media network out there?

Unfortunately, you still need to be harnessing the power of social media. Even if you don’t keep up to date with social media trends, you will find that there are certain staples that are here to stay—at least for a few years. And that’s plenty of time for you to invest in your followers and customers to make sure they connect with your company.

The number of small businesses jumping on board with social media trends is only growing.

Did you know that…

  • 88% of small businesses use LinkedIn.
  • 84% of small businesses use Facebook.
  • 74% of small businesses use Twitter.
  • 58% of small businesses use Google+.

(statistics taken from HeidiCohen.com)

And the numbers are only growing. Many small business owners who haven’t begun social media marketing yet say that they plan on implementing a strategy within the next year. Those who already have often say that they want to step up marketing efforts and track results more carefully. If you’re in the former camp, check out our articles to learn more about what social media is, and how to develop effective social media marketing strategies on a small business budget.

Text and photos aren’t enough anymore—you need to try out videos.

Another one of the top social media trends for small businesses is the growing usage of YouTube. Companies are happily producing their own visual content for their customers. According to a small business survey conducted by Verticalresponse.com, 35% of the small businesses they surveyed said that they used YouTube as a part of their regular marketing efforts. With the number of free video creation programs available on the internet now, it’s become much easier for even the most non-artistic person to make informative, engaging, and SEO-friendly videos. You can actually have a lot of fun creating videos for your customers—think of them like visual blog articles. You can talk about a variety of subjects relating to your industry. For blogging ideas, check out our article here and apply some ideas to your video content. The videos don’t have to be stiff and “corporate” in appearance--you can make them as unique as your company.

But what about the competition? How do you keep up?

Yes, it’s true that your competition will likely be using social media just as you are. And it’s also true that as people join social media sites, you'll have more competitors. You'll be competing not only for business, but for your content to even be seen in the first place! Think about it: If the average Facebook user has, say, 300 friends, how many posts do you think they’ll see in a day? A lot. Now think of all the companies they’ve “liked”. There’s going to be a lot of competition to be seen on their news feed.

Unfortunately, as the user base for social media sites grows, the competition levels get continually tougher. And usually the only way around this is to start paying. You can pay for ads to be placed on a target demographic’s page, or you can “boost” your posts to make sure they stay on top of a news feed. You’re certainly not forced to do this by any means—but remember this as time goes on.

Whether you’re new to social media or you’ve been working on it for years, there’s no way around it: small businesses must stay on top of social media trends if they want to see organic growth online. This isn’t to say you must spend 24 hours a day on social media; however, with regular updates and time investment, you’ll see your engagement growing and your efforts paying off.

And if social media trends are just too much for you to handle right now...

If you need help managing your social media accounts, visit Internet Local Listings and take a look at our internet marketing packages. We’ll be happy to help you get whatever you need to be seen online--whether it's social media, a new website, or local business listings!

Back to Basics #2: What is Social Media?

What is Social Media? Globe showing social media platforms. Note: If you’re a social media expert, this post will probably not be of much help to you. But you can feel free to check out our other marketing tips and tricks here, or learn about our internet marketing services here.

Want more beginner tips? Read Back to Basics #1: What is SEO

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What is Social Media?

If you own your own business, you’ve probably been told that you need to set up social media accounts. And while you’re probably already familiar with Facebook and YouTube, you might not know a lot about Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or Google Plus. In fact, you might think that some of these platforms have nothing to do with your company or are completely useless in your advertising and marketing efforts.

Well, you would be wrong.

Social media is one of the most powerful tools you can leverage in your advertising campaign. In this post, we’ll talk a bit about what social media actually is, as well as how some of the top platforms can benefit your company—even if you run a small local business.

The Hidden Value of Sharing Content

Simply put, social media is text, images, and videos that can be easily shared across a public platform. It’s a bit like email—you can write your thoughts, include some pretty pictures, and send it off. However, unlike email, social media enables you to share your thoughts and media with everyone across your network at once. And those people can share it with people in their network, and so on and so forth. Plus, you can reach people who you never would have via email!

Are you starting to see now just how valuable this can be for advertising?

You’ve probably heard about certain things going “viral”: Grumpy cat, auto-tuned newscasts, and dancing babies are just a few of the contenders. All the publicity that these folks got originally came through social media sharing.

In other words, it was pretty much free.

Now, we can’t all expect to be the next big internet sensation, but we can use social media to increase customer engagement, gain free advertising, and promote a positive brand image. By understanding the power that social media holds for your company, you will be able to give yourself a leg up on your competition.

How Does this Benefit a Small Business?

Okay, so you’re on board with the idea of signing up for social media accounts now. That’s great! But before you go out and create 15 profiles, let’s talk a bit about the platforms we offer at Internet Local Listings, and take a look at the pros and cons of each. We won’t discuss the other platforms in this article.

First, not every company is built the same way. And not every social media platform will be perfect for every company. In other words, what works for a cupcake bakery probably won’t yield the same results for a roofing contractor.

Second, you should note that managing these accounts takes time and effort—so only sign up for the accounts you think will benefit you the most. You can easily become overwhelmed trying to maintain your accounts, and if you’re not doing a good job keeping up with your customers via social media, you’re not going to be getting the most out of your efforts.

The Platforms We Offer

Facebook Logo

Image courtesy of: http://thenextweb.com/facebook/2014/04/17/facebook-launches-optional-nearby-friends-feature-android-ios/

 

Facebook: Facebook is, hands down, the most widely used social media platform in the world. With over 757 million (yes, million) daily users, Facebook has a wide reach and is an untapped advertising source for many small business owners.

The pros of signing up for Facebook:

  • It’s easy to learn to use—you probably already have a personal account, and running a business page isn’t much more complicated than using a personal profile.
  • It’s free to sign up, and you’ll never have to pay a dime to run your own professional business page if you don’t want to. You can pay to advertise if you so choose, but you’re never going to be forced to purchase anything.
  • Facebook’s reach goes as far as you want it to, but it also has a strong local presence. You can build your network as you see fit for your company.

The cons of singing up for Facebook:

  • It’s oversaturated. Its biggest strength can also be a weakness, particularly for a small business or a new face on the internet. A Facebook page can be difficult to grow from scratch, and the companies who already have an established customer base tend to do the best.
  • Changes in Facebook algorithms mean that paid content is seen more frequently than free content. Basically, because Facebook went public, they’re finding more ways to make money. One of the biggest ways they’ve found is to have users “boost” posts by paying to ensure the content they share is seen by more people. If you don’t want to pay, there’s a bigger chance your content will be swallowed by the paid content.

So who benefits from Facebook?

Although established businesses tend to fare better, starting a Facebook page is an easy and effective way to engage your existing clients as well as inform potential customers about your products. It’s also highly valued by Google and can rank right under your own website—so even if you don’t see much point in sharing updates on Facebook, we’d recommend that every company sign up, even if only for the ranking benefits.

Twitter logo

Image courtesy of: http://mybroadband.co.za/news/internet/79423-top-twitter-users-in-south-africa.html

Twitter: Twitter is probably the most understood social media platform that we offer for our clients. The reason for the confusion is that most small businesses hear about the “trivial” things posted on Twitter—what you had for lunch, a selfie, a dog doing a headstand (okay, that’s actually pretty impressive, right?). What they don’t know is that, when used properly, it can be a rapidly-growing social network, and it offers extremely fast and efficient content sharing. Sharing media on Twitter is practically mindless—one click of a button and you’ve sent off a “tweet” that you find interesting to your followers. They can tweet it to their followers, and so on. You only have 140 characters to work with, though, so you’ll have to get creative.

The pros of signing up for Twitter:

  • Twitter is easy to use and extremely efficient. You can connect with like-minded people quickly and engage in brief, to-the-point conversations.
  • Twitter was made to share links. If you tweet your blog posts or share a photo on Twitter, people will click. It’s very effective to boost page visits.
  • Although there’s a lot of bad content, it’s easily drowned out. Twitter moves fast. Don’t like what a person has to say? Block them or mute them and they’ll disappear from your feed. Want to amplify a positive voice? Retweet that person or tell your followers to follow them. Being social is easy on Twitter.

The cons of signing up for Twitter:

  • There is a lot of self-promotion on Twitter. Yes, you have signed up to promote your business, but the point of social media is to engage. If you’re out there screaming about how you have the best lawn fertilizer in all of Texas over and over again every day, people are going to unfollow you. Finding that balance between self-promotion and sharing can be tricky for newcomers.
  • It tends to be widespread. If you’re looking to connect locally, Twitter might not be the best place to advertise. People on Twitter tend to network from around the globe. Furthermore, most people you meet will probably be other business owners, and you’ll have to find a way to connect with them in a positive way.
  • As mentioned above, it’s brief. It can be frustrating to try to make an impactful statement in 140 characters or less!

So who benefits from Twitter?

We truly believe that almost any company can use Twitter to their advantage. Local contractors can connect with suppliers and other people in their industry. Spas can connect with big-name beauty brands and clients. Artists can network with other artists to promote their work. With a little bit of creativity, you can build a network that helps you in your marketing endeavors.

What is Social Media to you?

There’s a lot of time and energy involved in running a social media campaign—setting it up, scheduling regular updates, networking, answering customer concerns, and running promotions. And we only touched on the two platforms we offer for our clients at Internet Local Listings—there are certainly others to explore. What does your time and money mean to you? Are you ready to take the plunge?

If you’re interested in learning more about Facebook and Twitter or you’d like to hire social media professionals to maintain your accounts for you, simply contact Internet Local Listings here. We’d be glad to discuss your social media goals with you!

How to Increase Customer Engagement for Your Small Business

increase customer engagement for small businesses If you’re a small business owner, there’s a big chance you’ve heard the term “customer engagement.” Depending on your level of experience in managing an online storefront, you may not have a clear picture of what it means to have customers “fully” engaged. To some business owners, a highly-engaged customer simply means someone who visits your store—whether in person or online—and purchases a product or service from you. To others, this term means that a customer would have to purchase and come back to use your services again, or perhaps be involved with your website or social media accounts in some way. And it’s true that for different industries, customer engagement will be different: i.e., if you’re a concrete contractor, you’re not going to expect the same return service as a boutique or thrift store. So how can you determine the best way to improve customer engagement for your company?

Know Your Clientele

This is the best answer, but unfortunately,  it’s also very complicated. You may know the basic needs of your clients, but you might be surprised at how in-depth you can really get with the details. For example, if you’re a boutique specializing in women’s clothing, you already know that women are going to shop at your store more often than men. But do you know finer details, such as income level, interests, hobbies, and spending habits? Getting your customers more engaged with your store requires a little bit of research, as well as some finesse in gathering this type of data.

The good news is that social media is the perfect answer to this dilemma. According to a survey done by Avaya’s Autonomous Customer Research, 82% of customers prefer multi-channel engagements—meaning not only do they want to visit you face-to-face in your store, but they probably want to connect with you via email, Facebook, Twitter, or on another social media channel. But why do customers enjoy this?

Simple. They can get all the information they need from the comfort of their own homes. They can stay caught up with your sales and special offers simply by “liking” you or following you online. Don’t you think you owe it to your customers to help them stay connected to your brand in such a convenient way?

How to Improve Customer Engagement

If you haven’t already, you’ll need to choose a few social media networks that you want to maintain. Keep in mind that this is a time-intensive endeavor—if you want results, you’ll have to be willing to spend at least several hours a week dedicated to this part of the process.

That’s why it’s important to just choose a few networks that you know appeal to your clientele. There are so many out there that it would be next to impossible to maintain your presence across each one. Whether you choose Facebook, Google +, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Tumblr, you’ll have to find your strengths and play to them. That being said, here are a few tips to help you increase customer engagement across any social media networks:

  1. Create relationships, not “hard sells”. You are a sales pro, no doubt. But the way you approach customers online is not the same way you’d approach them in the store. People come to your site to browse at home—let them do so in peace.
  2. Make it easy for customers to find you. You could have the best business in the world, but if your customers can’t find you on the web, they’re not going to be calling. Make sure you are ranking on the first page for a set of targeted keywords. Customize your social media profiles with easy-to-find-and-follow links to your site. Finally, be sure your contact information is available. Customers like knowing that they can contact you if they need to.
  3. Provide relevant updates. Customers like to know what your company is up to, but they also enjoy related topics. If you’re a salon, try updating about the latest hair trends. If you’re a contractor, talk about seasonal updates that homeowners can benefit from.
  4. Update frequently. This is a common mistake. Oftentimes, people assume “if you build it, they will come.” This is far from true in the fast-paced world of internet marketing. You need to not only build a strong foundation, but you also need to keep adding to it. Aim to update your site’s blog at least one time a week, if not more. Update Facebook, Google +, or LinkedIn once a day. You don’t have to spend hours crafting a post, but try to keep clients engaged with your site through quality, fresh content.
  5. Respond to criticism. But do so politely. If you have a negative review, evaluate what the customer has to say. Publicly address it so others know that you recognize and care about a customer’s experience. Which brings us to our next topic…

Dealing with Angry Customers

It is not fun to deal with, but it happens to the best of us. You will have angry customers and you will have to find a way to respond to them without looking unprofessional. The best way to do this is to find legitimate complaints and politely respond as you would to a customer in your store. If the complaints are abusive, slanderous, or are coming from someone impersonating your company, you can report them to the appropriate person. Keep on top of this—you don’t want to leave unprofessional or negative comments around!

Want to hire the pros?

Did you know that companies who have a fully-engaged customer base see a 23% average increase in revenue? There are so many reasons you should be online and engaging with your customers—but if you’ve decided it’s just too much of a time investment, you can always hire the pros. Visit Internet Local Listings to see our variety of online marketing packages, or give us a call at (888) 770-3950 to set up an account. We’d love to help you increase customer engagement and get your site ranking!