Thursday, December 09, 2010

8 Common Communications and Social Media Questions and Traps

Today I had a very interesting consultation with a new client, who makes a great case study right off the bat. She had a lot of relevant questions about communications and social media. But as I observed some of her workflow issues and the tools that she was currently using, I noticed that she had some other issues going on with her communications that were causing her frustration, no doubt without her even realizing it. The more we talked, the more I saw that many small business owners share some of these common problems and traps. Here are some of them in a quick overview, before I jump into q/a on her specific questions.

*Overly Focused on Tools Without Strategy
My client was very focused on tools, such as social media and other communication vehicles like blogs and newsletters. These are all great and can be very effective, but without a content marketing strategy, these are time-consuming and ineffective. More experienced communicators and effective social media consultants need to direct and focus their clients so they can hone in on their target markets and how to best reach them. This involves a two-prong approach, both with tools and content, with an eye toward the big picture and the end goal. Before I even suggested the specific tools for my client, I asked and took detailed notes on what her major business challenges were who her ideal client was, and what current tactics and tools she was currently using.

My Solution: Focus on strategy first, by defining the target market and how best to reach it.  Then decide which tool or tools would best fit that need. It became apparent that my client really wanted more control over her communications and a more cohesive brand image, as well as wanting to show off her expertise in her field, so we decided that starting with a blog would be the best tool going forward for the near future, with an eye toward expanding to a monthly e-newsletter. I also felt the blog would be a good idea, as she could use her "new home"  to promote her new services, organize her social media profiles, and introduce new platforms  and communities at her own pace.

*Too Many Cooks in the Communications Broth
During this visit and on other occasions, I had witnessed and heard my client mention numerous 3rd parties involved in her communications and saw her nearly exhausting herself trying to reach them just to ask a question or clarify an issue. One company handled her website, and another handled outgoing communications to clients and scheduling matters. Yet another handled their Facebook page. I've run into this before. I had a gourmet food client last year that I wrote product descriptions for, and this client spent so much time trying to get hold of her website designer, it made my cringe. She could have flown to Europe and back! Not only that, but she did not have access to her own site to make updates on her own if needed. Yipes.

My Solution: Try to consolidate vendors as much as possible, and also educate her staff on the various programs they had implemented, so they were less dependent on third parties. I will provide coaching services to both my client and her staff in a variety of communications areas, so they become more well-versed in social media and online tools, and can handle more outgoing communications on their own. This will also provide a more integrated look and feel to her brand.

*Loyalty to Old Systems That No Longer Work
While there was some definite frustration on the part of my client as to her current systems, she seemed hesitant to break from them fully. This is understandable, but at some point, she's going to need to assess whether these systems are still effective and sustainable for her business.

My Solution: A thorough assessment of current tools and methods, in order to make adjustments and changes to those which are no longer working. This also involves checking for redundancy in the current system, and making sure that any new systems that are implemented target problem areas and fulfill a role that is not already being addressed.

Now, onto the Question and Answer...

1. How do I get people to sign up for my FAN page?
There are several ways to highlight your FAN page. Most of us have a personal Facebook page that we started with. You can invite friends from your personal page by going to your FAN page and selecting the "Suggest to Friends" link on the upper left.Your friends from your personal page will pop up, and you can make individual selections, or Select All. It's also important to include the FAN page link in all your communications, including your e-mail signature, newsletters, website, business card, etc. In the case of my client, I will also suggest she highlight her Facebook link in her waiting room, so patients waiting in the reception area can easily see it. The client has already made a few videos, but going forward, all her videos need to have her social media links highlighted. You can also integrate with your address book and invite folks from there.

2. Why are blogs recommended over websites?
Blogs offer content that is refreshed at least daily, if not several times a week. This is great for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), as Google loves fresh content. A static website without new information is not going to have any SEO value, and will get lost online.

3. Isn't Linked In just for jobseekers?
Not so. Linked In has introduced a lot of great tools over the last few months, to make their platform even more interactive then it has been. Two features I really like are: the ability to follow companies, which in turn makes it likely that they will follow you back; and, the Advance Search feature, which enables you to research individuals by position and job title so you can create highly targeted queries and establish direct connections. Businesses can see who the major influencers are and direct message them to introduce themselves, find prospects, or get referrals.

4. I have a newsletter, but I only send it once a year because my readers aren't responding to it. 
But I should keep doing this, right?
E-news marketing can be complex, and also requires experimenting with your audience. But don't let your audience decide your strategy for you. Publishing only once or twice a year is ineffective with newsletters, and a minimum of once a month is recommended for top of mind awareness. You should survey your readers to find out what content they are looking for, and beef up your content so you are publishing stories relevant to them. You can also include promotions and coupons, but keep these limited, so your readers don't feel like your pitching them all the time. Many high profile companies such as Ben & Jerry's and even Stonyfield's, discontinued their e-newsletters this year, and it caused quite a stir in the online world. But I'm a firm believer in the value of your list, as these are your primary stakeholders. Make sure your e-news program include social media sharing features, so they are easily forwarded. I like Constant Contact, (I'm a Business Partner), and over the last year, they have made huge strides in integrating social media into their platform. Keep an eye on your metrics - most good programs will tell you your open rate, unsubscribe rate, etc., and try and actively recruit back in former users who may have stopped reading, but sending them a unique promotion or targeted email.

5. How Can I Use More Google Tools?
Google has two very important tools that are quick and easy to set up. I recommend setting up a Google Alert, with a filter for your name and your company name, so you know right away how your brand is being perceived online. I also recommend setting up a Google Profile, where you can list your business, all your social media, and other information.  This provides even more enhanced visibility online.

6. There's not enough activity on my Facebook FAN page, what do I do?
There are 3 key factors for increased FAN page activity. One is customized Tabs, which offer your visitors a unique offer they will not see anywhere else. Creating a customized Tab requires using the Facebook Code language, in addition to deciding what unique offer you want to highlight. Second, commenting on other people's Walls as well as on the Newsfeed stories that come in, shows your community that you are active online and interested in others. Third, make sure you adjust your settings so that new visitors arrive at a Welcome Tab or similar customized tab, and not your Wall, which can be busy and confusing the first time around.

7. Do I need to be tweeting in addition to everything else? I'm so busy. 
It's not necessary to jump into Twitter, particularly if you don't have a strategy. However, I do find Twitter helpful for market research, as there are so many great tools for Search and automation, as well as geolocation. So if you have the staff or a consultant like me and want to explore, go for it. I also find that tweeting is a good way to connect with a lot of folks fairly quickly, even if it is a busy platform. It's also important to use Twitter differently from Facebook and have a separate feed, so as to keep your community interested.

8. Another company is handling my website so it's under their domain name, but my name still comes up in Search anyway, so it's OK, right?
Not so much!  Having your own name or at least a category that reflects the kind of business you do is very important in search, as this is how people will look you up. Also, if you don't own your domain name, you're at the mercy of a third-party system that may not be around for the long-haul. There is also an image issue. If a business doesn't have their own domain name on their site, it suggests that they aren't serious about what they do. In a tough economy, you don't want to lose  out to the competition over something so easily fixable. Many web site programs offer you the option of setting up your own domain name, as do web hosting services such as Go Daddy and Blue Host.

So, it was quite a day yesterday, and I'm looking forward to coaching my new client, who is similar to many small  businesses out there. What say you? What are you most pressing social media and communications concerns, and do you think you have fallen into a trap? Comment here....

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