Archive for the ‘business’ Category

Screenshot of a section of the LinkedIn Answers page

My favorite place on LinkedIn isn’t even in the main menu. You have to click on “more” to find the LinkedIn “Answers” section, but if you do, I think you’ll find it worth your while.

Answers is a service LinkedIn provides so that members can ask questions—on any number of topics—and receive answers from other members of the community. Answers is like a free Help Desk for all your business needs. It’s staffed by volunteers—other members who take the time to answer questions—but these volunteers also happen to be experts (well usually) in the topics for which they provide answers.

According to LinkedIn’s Answer FAQ:

LinkedIn Answers is designed to allow professionals to exchange expertise. Members with greater than 5 connections are allowed to ask up to 10 questions each month.

As a business reference, Answers is invaluable because it gives you access to specialists in areas ranging from accounting to Web development, but if you answer questions it can also help you enhance your personal brand.

Answers as a research tool: the most common use

If you’re working on a project and unsure about the best way to do X or Y, Answers is a good place to look. To start, go to the Answers section and search on some keywords related to your question. Answers has been online for a few years now, so someone may have already asked and answered your question. If that’s true the answer you need may already be there. You may find it either by browsing through the question topics, or by doing a specific search.

For example, let’s say you’re a marketer. You want to drive more traffic to your site and want to know what you can do to get on the first page of search results for Google. In that case you might type “get on front page of google results” in the search box and be presented with this list of questions.

As you scroll down the list you’ll notice a question quite similar to yours, “How do you answer the question: How can i make my site appear number one on Google, to those that know nothing about SEO?” If you click through to that question you’ll find answers that explain more about how sites get to the better spots on Google and also learn that getting to #1 really shouldn’t be a goal unto itself.

If that (or the other results) answers your question, then you’re all set. If not, then you can ask your own question addressing your specific concerns. Over the course of the following days you should receive several answers that meet your needs.

Answering questions supports your personal brand by demonstrating your expertise

If you clicked through to the Google question you’ll have noticed that there were 12 answers in total, 2 of which were listed as “Good Answers” and one of which is marked as the best answer (in this example, the best answer was mine). After you ask a question you are encouraged to select which answers were good and best. When you do this, the people who answered will get credit for providing a good or best answer and that information will appear in their profiles showing they have expertise in the topic(s) to which you assigned the question.

These credits for expertise also appear under someone’s name, when they answer questions, so that the questioner and others can see whether or not they have a proven track record in the topic. This system offers an incentive for people to not only answer questions, but to take care to answer them correctly.

Answering correctly is critically important if you want to earn a best answer. Many knowledgeable people area already answering questions, so to compete you need to be thorough. Here are a few suggestions that should help you improve your answers:

  • Read the question carefully. If you peruse it too quickly and don’t answer precisely what is being asked your answer could be wrong and you may look foolish.
  • Don’t answer a question unless you are sure that you know the answer and are well-versed in the topic. If you are less experienced in a field you may not realize how much you don’t know. If your answer isn’t based in sufficient experience it may be shot down by someone who knows more, and again you may look foolish.
  • Don’t answer questions that have already been thoroughly answered. If you have a new point to add, that’s fine, but if there is nothing more to contribute, just pass this one by. Agreeing with everyone else won’t add any value to the discussion.
  • When applicable include links to Web sites that offer further information to support your answer. If you blog, feel free to link to your own blog entries. I do this a lot and it also helps drive traffic to my blog. Just make sure that the articles you link to are clearly related to the question and will provide the questioner with more information on the topic.
  • Read the other answers carefully. Note when you agree with someone and correct misinformation if you find it. When pointing out the mistakes in other answers, be gracious and polite. Your role is to clarify the information so the questioner gets the best information; it is not to mock other participants.
  • Play nice and don’t taunt the questioner. Some questions will seem utterly inane. You may think that even a 4 year old should know the answer, but to someone just getting started in a field their beginner questions are legitimate. They really want to know something that you already know. So just try to be patient. Some questioners may be off-base. They may pose questions to drive traffic to their sites or they may produce spam. Use your best judgment, in most cases the best thing is to just ignore these.

I’ll readily admit that I like having those stars next to my name for providing best answers. It’s a nice way to show that I have knowledge in topics like web development, blogging and Internet marketing. But in the process of answering questions I also learn from others and begin to connect with fellow users who may add me as a contact, ask me additional questions or even ask me to submit a proposal for a project.

A few of these contacts have become regular “pen pals,” as it were, with whom I regularly trade information and ideas. We also follow each other onto other spaces such as Twitter and Facebook. While I may have started answering questions to further my reputation in my field, I’ve gained far more than that in the process.

Perusing Answers for professional development and idea generation

Like anyone else, I don’t have all the answers. Web development and social media are fields that are constantly evolving. To keep up I need to read a lot. While I get a lot of information from blogs and other sources, I also learn from LinkedIn. When I peruse the questions in these topics and read the various answers I’ll often find new tips and suggestions offered by my peers. This is a great way to learn about best practices and gain other useful insights.

As a blogger I’m also always looking for the next article idea. Sometimes I have a large list of topics I want to cover and other times I’m stumped. In particular though I want to write about the subjects that are of most interest to my target audience. Answers is a good place to find these. When I see that several people have been asking questions on a specific topic, it lets me know that this is something I should probably write about.

Conclusion

Whether you have a problem to solve, or have the time to help others, LinkedIn Answers provides a great way to participate more in the LinkedIn community and to forge new connections. Give it a try, go ask (or answer) a question today.

How to Build Your Business with LinkedIn Answers

Related Information about LinkedIn

For businesses, Twitter is a tool to make and maintain connections in order to raise your profile and win new business. This would include interacting with current clients as well as potential ones.

All posts on Twitter are known as ‘tweets’ and all tweets are limited to 140 characters.

Each tweet a user posts appears in date order on their profile page, with the most recent at the top. Profile pages (unless made private) are viewable to everyone, even those not logged in to Twitter, and are usually Google indexed, meaning that some tweets will appear in search engine results.

Emily Cagle's Twitter page

‘Following’ a person on Twitter means subscribing to have their tweets appear on your homepage ‘feed’. The more people you follow, the busier your Twitter feed.

The @ symbol is used to denote a person’s username e.g. @emilycagle. Referencing a person in this way within a tweet is equivalent to using the To or CC fields in an email.

How does Twitter work?

Activity on Twitter typically takes the following forms:

1) Comments/news without a link

This means all of the content is housed within the tweet. It doesn’t direct the reader elsewhere.

tweet with no link

2) Comments/news with a link Directs the user to another web page containing further information.

tweet with a link

3) Retweets (RTs)

This is where a user reposts another user’s ‘tweet’.

There are currently two ways to do this.

Here @BusinessZone is being retweeted in the ‘old way’:

retweet with no comment

‘Old style’ RTs often have a note added to them (in this case in after the ‘<’ symbol):

retweet with a comment

‘New’ RTs are performed using Twitter’s recently introduced RT button.

Here is a tweet after the RT button (visible in the bottom right hand corner) has been clicked:

new retweet confirmation box

Once ‘Yes’ is clicked, the tweet will be resent out to every one of your followers who doesn’t follow the original sender:

retweet result using new button

Here it is the small square arrow symbol at the beginning of the tweet that signals it is an RT, while the ‘Retweeted by’ entry at the bottom shows which user(s) chose to share the tweet.

With this new form of RT, there is no option to add a note, which is perhaps while the old form survives.

4) Conversational tweets

These are often made up of a combination of the above, but are directed between one person and another:

Conversational tweet

If your tweet starts with a particular person’s user name, only users who follow both you and the person you are addressing will see the exchange in their Twitter stream.

Clicking on the ‘in reply to’ link in grey under this type of tweet will show you the tweet it was sent in response to, allowing you to follow the conversation in a thread.

Why should businesses use Twitter?

If you are on Twitter as a business, you will have two main goals:

  • To be known, liked and trusted as a resource and as a product/service provider
  • To drive traffic to your own site (or to other social media profiles)

In order to achieve the latter to any significant degree, you must also achieve and maintain the former. The only way to do this is to engage in all of the ways listed above, and to do so consistently.

Smart businesses use Twitter to create a helpful, friendly persona that shares the links of others as well as their own and is know to give comments and support, rather than just sharing for personal gain.

If the you don’t already have an account, it’s simple to set one up by simply visiting the Twitter sign-up page.

join twitter

You will need a photo of yourself, or your company logo, and an email address.

Identity

Consistency is key in building a strong social media identity.

Ideally, you should aim to develop a style guide and strategy document which outlines some basic rules anyone tweeting under the company banner should follow. It should state how tweets are to be structured and presented and set out the subjects to be focussed on and what messages you are trying to get across.

You might choose to create an account under the company name, with several people responsible for tweeting, rather than as an individual. If so, you should ideally select a ‘face’ of the firm (e.g. the person overseeing work with small businesses).

To allay concerns that this may be disingenuous, this individual can be presented as the manager of the account, and it can be made clear that they are not the only one at the organisation that tweets.

Gaining followers

Gaining followers is a slow process that builds and gains momentum over time. Obviously, you will want your followers to be predominantly from your target audience of prospective clients.

At the outset, the profile of this audience would be agreed so that social media efforts can be targeted accordingly. Twitter is not a numbers game, so the aim is to get a relevant, interested following, rather than simply a large one.

Initially, the quickest way to attract followers is to follow others. However, while there is a certain etiquette that says you should follow back genuine people who follow you, it is not compulsory. This is where conversations come in.

Putting the social in social media

Now you know how to tweet, the conversation can begin. Remember, you are not simply looking for excuses to promote your wares, you need to engage with the people you follow (through comments and RTs, for example) to make yourself known and heard.

Twitter search

First off, you might try using the advanced search function on Twitter, which will allow you to search for other users based on keywords in their recent tweets. This technique can also be used to identify and target people in particular regions.

twitter advanced search

A particularly useful way to identify interesting tweets and users is to search for ‘hashtags’ (e.g.#wales), which are used to mark tweets as belonging to a particular topic:

tweet tagged with a wales hash tag
Clicking on a hashtag brings up all the recent tweets that have included that tag. This helps users find information of interest to them and can bring qualified traffic to your Twitter profile.

Lists

Twitter’s List function now offers yet another way to find relevant people to follow. Using Listorious, you can search by keyword to find ready-made lists of Twitter users who share a common interest (see this Mashable guide to learn more about setting up and using Twitter Lists).

Match services

You might also want to try third-party services like MrTweet. Mr Tweet performs an analysis of the common attributes of those you are already following in order to help you find more like them.

Your little black book

Finally, once you get going, you might wish to gather up a list of current clients and associates and then follow as many as you can find on Twitter. You may also wish to put out a notice, or include a note in your next newsletter, to let clients know you are now on Twitter and where they can find your profile.

Managing your stream

Twitter itself is relatively easy to use, but as you follow more and more people, you may find that the level of information you receive becomes unmanageable.

You might find that you are:

  • Losing focus – facing too many tweets on different subjects
  • Losing value – finding that you are not interested in much of what is being posted
  • Losing out – missing tweets from people that are important to you

Twitter Lists, as described above, offer one solution – allowing you to create separate streams for different interests or to reflect different social groups (work, family, friends), but to deal with an ever-growing stream, many people use third-party apps such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to manage their accounts.

Such apps allow the user to create columns displaying different information. Not only can you have your home feed, mentions and DMs on one screen, you can also add extra columns to display only certain friends’ tweets, while another column might display tweets containing your chosen key words from any Twitter user.

Management

Unless the manager of your firm is going to be the one doing the tweeting, it is probably not realistic to have every tweet signed off by a member of the firm.

A system that works well is to create a system of categories whereby it it clear which topics and types of tweets could be made without sign off and which could not.

Typically, the sign off process will develop over time and can be designed to work alongside existing processes at the firm.

Measurement

Using Twitter measurement tools such as Twitter Analyzer and Twitter Grader you can get a good sense of the level of influence and reach your account possesses. Again, use Twitter’s own search facility to get a regular overview of the comments made on Twitter about your brand, including responses and RTs.

If you have analytics in place on your website, such as Google Analytics or Get Clicky, you will be able to see where traffic is coming from, and therefore get an idea of how much interest your social media campaign is generating.

If you are fairly au fait with analytics, you can begin to use these stats to be responsive in your strategy (e.g. focussing on the type of tweets that prove most popular).

I’m not going to give a target number of tweets or follows here. The first step is to simply make sure you are listening and responding every day, with an emphasis on quality, not quantity. Some days will be busier/quieter than others depending on the material worth sharing or commenting on that day, and the number of conversations you find yourself having.

Still confused?

If you’re struggling to get started, this video should help:

Good luck, and do let me know how you get on.

So how did Jozy Altidore and Ryan Babel score social networking own goals? They spoke out of turn on Twitter, when they should have left their legs to do all the talking — and here’s what we can learn from their exploits.

Jozy Altidore and Ryan Babel

Aside from a recorded interview, or people willing to be a witness to what was said, attributing words to a particular person has always been open to question. So what’s changed? Twitter, as just one example, but social networking as a whole. Why? Because now the accused is the author.

Letting the side down

Take for example Hull City and US international striker Jozy Altidore, and Liverpool FC and Dutch forward Ryan Babel. We’re led to believe that they’re professionals, but as I’ve said before, professionalism is not to be confused with talent:

“A huge salary is not a sign of professionalism. Nor is a insulting the competition, getting blind drunk in public, beating up your girlfriend, illicit affairs, gambling addictions, abusive behaviour or questionable TV appearances.

Professionalism is about being dignified and composed in the face of adversity. Being aware of your influence and using that influence in a responsible and measured way.”

For both Jozy and Ryan, publicly criticizing the decisions of their respective managers caused a lot of problems. So, what can we learn from their exploits? First of all, let’s look at the fall-out from their unguarded comments comments:

  • they undermined their own standing, bringing into question their professionalism;
  • they undermined the authority of their managers, damaging what trust and respect they’d earned;
  • their own team mates might now think twice before speaking in confidence with them, knowing those comments could also become public;
  • their own standing and position within their teams was damaged, leaving them with challenges off the field, as well as on;
  • they hardly endeared themselves to their fans, their fellow professionals, or the public at large.

Setting aside the football and / or even sport-specifics, this kind of lapse in judgment could easily occur in an customer-facing business (which, by definition, most sports are), if team members aren’t properly briefed beforehand.

Now, there’s nothing any business can do to prevent their staff from starting their own fan Page on Facebook, or having a Twitter profile, but what they can do is be clear about what they expect from them and what the likely consequences will be if those team members do not adhere to the rules of the game.

A lesson in team work

In my ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, security specialist Paul Maloney has already provided some sound advice for dealing with the negatives of social media.

  1. Start with the training — show employees what damage thoughtless comments on a social network can cause to them, their colleagues and the company.
  2. Guidelines — detail the things you expect them not to post about, and the things they can post about.
  3. Useful examples — use the example of a guy called Kevin Colvin (a bank intern who’s indiscretions caused him great personal embarrassment and eventually cost him his job) to demonstrate the personal impact, his photo appeared in major newspapers around the world, potentially damaging his future career prospects.
  4. Refresher training — follow up the training with procedures and guidelines to ensure everyone has the same understanding. The policies should detail the consequences of ignoring them, which could be potentially career-ending.

Ultimately, this is about managing people as much as it is about encouraging them to express their skills. To paraphrase world cup winning manager Sir Alfred Ramsey, as a manger, you might not always pick your best best players, but you will try to pick your best team.

So my ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, is now starting to earn its keep. As of today, the Emily Cagle Communications website and blog goes live. So what’s that got to do with my ebook? Emily is a reader turned client.

In the end, it’s not rocket science; I give advice and help where I can. Emily downloaded my social media ebook and then came back with a few questions about her website, and since I’m a web designer and developer, I was only too happy to accept her work.

Emily Cagle Communications

Emily had already made the decision to start a company blog, but her concern was that the website and blog would look like too very different animals. As you’ll see from the end product, the two flow into one another seamlessly, as if they were made for each other.

But it’s not all one way — Emily is now bringing her not inconsiderable public relations’ services to Octane, hopefully helping me grow my business.

It must come as little surprise to know that both Emily & I are thrilled with the end result, which you can read more about in my case study on the Emily Cagle Communications website. But this is only the beginning. We’ve both been working on planning a long-term social media strategy, making the most of the key technologies out there, like Facebook and Twitter to help promote her business.

If you think your business website could do with face lift, a tuck, a trim, a complete overhaul, or maybe you’re looking for a little more social media know-how, then get in touch straight away and let’s see if I can help!

British insurance comparison website Compare The Market have something of a hit on their hands with Aleksandr Orlov, their mongoose mascot and face on Facebook. Clearly, cute sells, and can also go viral.

Aleksandr is a cute Meerkat character and founder of Compare the Meerkat, a fictitious company, pretending to be mildly annoyed that the two companies are being confused as being the same.

Right now, Aleksandr is fronting Compare The Market’s Page on Facebook in fine style, with over 350,000 fans. But why?

Take a look at the number of comments and “likes” (votes of appreciation) each of his updates get and you’ll see that they have a hit on their hands.

Aleksandr Orlov 1

Aleksandr Orlov 2

Rather cannily, Compare The Market know that they need a better bridge between Aleksandr’s Compare the Meerkat and themselves, or they risk just coming over too strong on the commercial front, which is why they have the Compare the Meerkat spoof website, littered with videos, bloopers and the option to join their Page on Facebook, as well as following Aleksandr on Twitter, who has nearly 12k followers.

According to Alexa (not the most accurate assessment of web traffic by any means), the Compare the Meerkat website is ranked in the top 25k, with several thousand daily visits, while Quantcast doesn’t (as of writing) have enough data to go on, most likely because the website is too new.

And according to Michael Litman writing for Mashable about the Compare the Meerkat campaign:

“In the first 3 days of the campaign over three quarters of the monthly quotes target had been achieved. The year on year uplift in quotes was 45% and vitally, over 50% of the site traffic in the first week was going directly to comparethemarket.com. Finally, the number of quotes is up by 90% on the same period last year.”

Sadly, he doesn’t provide a source for his data. However, I suspect the figures to be a favourable reflection on the success of Compare the Meerkat’s .. I mean, Compare the Market’s social media marketing campaign.

As for the viral aspect, that’s a little more difficult to pull off and remain genuine. There have been some notable examples of viral marketing horror stories. Not even the big boys are exempt or immune, as Sony discovered with their ham-fisted stab at “yoof”viral marketing.

I suspect Compare the Meerkat succeeds because of the non-commercial nature of Aleksandr’s updates, which are usually casual, light and funny. Plus there’s the cute Meerkat being pushed into tens of millions of living rooms all over Britain. People want to share this stuff, which then becomes self-sustaining after a while.

Replicating the viral aspects is always going to be the hardest challenge of all, since the backbone of the campaign is the animated Aleksandr and the videos, which aren’t cheap to reproduce. But the rewards are huge. Even for someone like Compare the Market, the kind of exposure they’ve attracted would have cost considerably more via more mainstream marketing channels.

Using social media to manage your message

In terms of planning and execution, as social media marketing goes, this one went all the way to eleven (a reference to another spoof, of the heavy metal kind). All of the ingredients were there, from the micro-website, to the Twitter and Facebook profiles, as well as the official video on YouTube.

As I see it, there are some basic, entirely reproducible ingredients for social media marketing success:

  1. Tight integration between the various channels (website, blog, Twitter and Facebook profiles, YouTube video etc).
  2. A consistent theme and brand image of you, your business and your core message.
  3. Keep things moving and remain fresh, with plenty of updates, news etc.

So what can we take away from this? I guess most of you won’t have the kind of budget or resources these guys have at their disposal, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from their efforts — just remember that Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are all free to use, which counts for a lot.

In reality, there are few shortcuts to success. And while social media may be tipping that balance in our favour, there’s still a lot of work to be done when planning, building and then executing your social media marketing campaign.

Yesterday, over on the Blah, Blah! Technology blog, I talked about the problems faced by even the larger businesses when it comes to social media marketing, something I foresaw sometime ago:

“So even big businesses are struggling to make sense of social media. Why am I not surprised? Because way back in November 2007 I predicted only the top 1% of businesses on Earth would realize the full potential of social media…”

Like anything else, everything is hard until it’s easy! How does something suddenly become easy? Well, yet again, there are few shortcuts, so there’s often nothing sudden about success! And for things to become easy requires hours and hours or effort, patience, practice and the capacity to learn from one’s failures — of which there will most likely be many.

All of this must sound daunting, but if you’re going to follow some of the steps outlined in my ebook: The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, then a reality check is in order.

6 social media myths debunked!

And on that note, you may want take a look at Business Week’s debunking 6 social media myths, which is a great leveling of the most common myths associated with social media, and here are highlights of those 6 myths:

  1. Social media is cheap, if not free. “Yes, many of the tools that can be employed in social media marketing are free to use.” Ultimately, it’s still time and effort, with a lot of planning and preparation. The apparent simplicity of certain aspects of social media — such as setting up a blog for your business, or starting a Twitter account to name but two — obscure the truly massive and amorphous nature of social media itself.
  2. Anyone can do it. “A surfeit of whiz kids and more experienced marketers are claiming to be social media experts and even social media gurus.” The truly great thing about social media is that the entry cost is low. However, without a plan and the social network to further that plan, just like any other marketing channel, social media marketing could be a very costly venture.
  3. You can make a big splash in a short time. “Sure, sometimes a social media campaign can produce substantial and measurable results quickly.” As always, timing is everything, but if you’re looking for immediate success, then you’re either back to relying on paying big money for big ideas, unbelievably good timing, or blind luck!
  4. You can do it all in-house. “Wrong! You need strategy, contacts, tools, and experience — a combination not generally found in in-house teams, who often reinvent the wheel or use the wrong tools.”
  5. If you do something great, people will find it. “Quite simply, that never was true.” You’re back to relying on unbelievably good timing, or blind luck again — hope was never any kind of substitute for planning. Not only must you know your audience, but you must also understand the terrain and the best choice of tools; knowing where your audience is to be found will prove pivotal in the selection of tools you’ll use to engage with those people.
  6. You can’t measure social media marketing results. “You can use a variety of methods, including mentions on blogs and in media; comments on the content; real-time blog advertising results, and click-throughs to your company website.”

For me, the best aspect of social media is the ability to build genuine communities, which persist long after the mail shot and the press release and the advert have since faded from people’s memories.

On the 10-11th of February, the Social Media Marketing Technology blog, in association with Brighter Marketing, will be bundling The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media ebook with their own brand new book, The Brighter Marketing Bible for Small Businesses.

the Brighter Marketing logo

Our ebook will be available as a free download to all those who purchase The Brighter Marketing Bible for Small Businesses ebook over the first twenty-four hours.

Joanne Morley co-founder of Brighter Marketing, a Leeds-based marketing agency and co-author of their new ebook expects a significant number business people across Yorkshire (the north east of England) and Britain to be informed of their ebook release.

“The Brighter Marketing Bible for Small Businesses has been written to help you reduce your stress levels and to save you the time and money you may currently be ploughing into marketing that doesn’t seem to work, no matter how much you put in. Its goal is to give you the knowledge and tools you need to develop a highly effective marketing approach that can help you achieve the results you want from marketing.”

I suppose it goes without saying that this is something of a momentous occasion for me, and Brighter Marketing, too.

So far, there’s been hundreds of downloads of The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media ebook from people all over the world, all eager to learn more about social media. The deal with Brighter Marketing means even greater exposure to my ebook, which has already won considerable praise from many of the people who’ve downloaded and added my ebook to their list of must reads.

Thanks to everyone of you who downloaded my ebook and I sincerely hope you all benefit from what I’ve learned about social media over the years.

In an attempt to avert a “potential PR nightmare” Ford Motor Company read the social media signs and avoided a head-on legal crash, where their reputation would have felt the full force of the collision.

Sure, it’s a given Ford would have won the legal battle, had things gone that way. But in winning the battle, Ford would have risked losing the social media war. And on the web, the survivability of a brand is all to do with winning the hearts and the minds of the very people you’re appealing to. Scott Monty, Ford Motor Company’s social media strategist knew this only too well:

“Ford was threatening to sue The Ranger Station, a fan website run by Jim Oakes that was selling counterfeit products using Ford’s logo. Ford was demanding that The Ranger Station surrender its website URL and pay Ford $5,000 in damages.”

What happened next was all too predictable; Jim Oakes used his social media smarts to whip up a storm of protest against Ford’s heavy-handed approach:

“Ford instantly felt the backlash as the fan community quickly caught wind of the lawsuit and began blogging and tweeting angry comments. Monty jumped on Twitter, followed the chatter and sent tweets to his 5,600 followers saying “I’m in active discussions with our legal department to resolve it. Please retweet.””

And the moral of this story is? Be responsive and attentive to your customers, to your potential customers and to your brand, wherever that brand may be. Because in this day & age, Super Advocates — those that speak the loudest and are the most listened to — come in all shapes and sizes.

The world of marketing is changing. Now that social media has a foothold, the one-way marketing campaign is being replaced by the two-way dialogue between business and their customers.

However, social media is still a confusing buzz word to some, so there’s clearly much work to be done to educate people to the benefits of social media for businesses — which is why I wrote The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media ebook in the first place.

Fighting the good fight and yet one more worthy hand to help carry the social media torch is Salvatore Parise’s recent article on the Wall Street Journal: “The Secrets of Marketing in a Web 2.0 World“:

“We interviewed more than 30 executives and managers in both large and small organizations that are at the forefront of experimenting with Web 2.0 tools. From those conversations and further research, we identified a set of emerging principles for marketing.”

Salvatore offers up some telling, highly praise-worthy and positive examples of how social media can be an integral, cost-effective part of your businesses overall marketing efforts:

“A marketing manager at the company says that, as a way to obtain consumer feedback and ideas for product development, the online community is much faster and cheaper than the traditional focus groups and surveys used in the past.”

Additionally, the transition to social media needn’t be a hill to be climbed by all, but a gradual transitionary learning curve with great promise and potential:

“In one case, a company found a popular blogger who had spoken highly of the company’s brand. Just prior to launching a new product, the company sent the blogger a free sample, inviting him to review it with no strings attached. The end result: The blogger wrote a favorable review and generated a flood of comments. So the company got nearly free publicity and feedback.”

The arguments for introducing social media into your business grow. What’s holding you back?

Social Networking is a great way for businesses to find new people who’re interested in the same things as yourself.

There’s a lot to be said for being connected to smart, resourceful and equally well connected people. If ever you’re in need of a little feedback, assistance, help or even just a spare pair of eyes, a strong social network will help expedite those things.

So here’s a quick introduction to social networking for business people.

What can I do on a social network?

First of all, before we talk about what the best social networks are, you need to think about your goals:

  • Are you looking for industry news?
  • Are you looking for “thought leaders” in your field?
  • Are you trying to promote yourself / your business?
  • Are you looking to build a strong support network?

If you have a company blog, then finding new people to comment on your articles, or to write articles for you could be your goal. Or, if you’re a knowledgeable / creative type, maybe you want to share what you know with others. Or maybe you’re trying to gather a collection of like-minded individuals to help you create something truly amazing.

For you, there may be other goals, but it’s as well to think about and then decide how:

  1. you’re going to approach your goal;
  2. how much time you’re going to commit to those goals;
  3. and finally, how you’re going to measure your goals.

What are the benefits of social networking?

In this case, the benefits are sometimes the same as the goals; finding industry news, thought leaders, a venue to promote yourself or your services et cetera. But there are more:

  • Low cost of entry — most social networks are free to join.
  • Becoming part of an international community.
  • Over time, the prospect of becoming a thought leader yourself.
  • Fast and mostly accurate sources of trustworthy advice.

But like anything else, what you get in return is highly dependent on the effort you put in.

In addition to the benefits, there are some problems associated with social networking, too.

What are the top social networks for businesses?

There are possibly hundreds of social networks out there, but the emphasis really has to be on those that offer clear business benefits:

  • LinkedIn — LinkedIn is an online network of more than 30 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 150 industries. When you join, you create a profile that summarizes your professional accomplishments. Your profile helps you find and be found by former colleagues, clients, and partners. You can add more connections by inviting trusted contacts to join LinkedIn and connect to you. Your network consists of your connections, your connections’ connections, and the people they know, linking you to thousands of qualified professionals.
  • Facebook — “Facebook gives people the power to share and makes the world more open and connected Millions of people use Facebook everyday to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.”
  • Ecademy — “Ecademy is a Business Social Network founded in 1998 now with millions of users of the site each year worldwide. Ecademy is unique as business people connect both online on the web site and offline at networking events and 1-2-1 meetings.”
  • Xing — “The web-based business network XING has grown into one of the leading professional online networking platforms. Business professionals use XING to find useful contacts, important information, new business opportunities, employees and ideas. Based on its members’ level of activity, XING is a market leader in global professional online networking.”

Twitter as a social network

Aside from the more mainstream and business-focused social networks, it might be worth considering Twitter, which I’m sure you’ll have heard plenty about recently.

It’s hard to summarize what Twitter is, largely because it can be whatever you want it to be. Quite unlike LinkedIn, Ecademy etc, there are no formal groups; anyone can follow (befriend) anyone else.

I’ve been on Twitter for several years and it is possible to harness the collective knowledge of your followers to fulfill many, if not all, of the goals outlined previously.
Of course, there are more social networks for businesses, which you’re free to pick, choose and explore.

Being a part of a social network is, for the most part, little different to any real world social network. The only real differences are how you interact with your fellow residents — all you need is an internet connection and a web browser (like Internet Explorer, Safari or Firefox).

By setting out what you want to achieve, how and when, social networking can become a legitimate, efficient and cost-effective means of discovery and promotion for your business…

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