Archive for the ‘help & advice’ 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.

After too much thinking and not enough doing, the Social Media Marketing Technology blog is finally on Twitter!

Twitter logoWhat does this mean to you? Every time I find an interesting, topical social media article I think you’d benefit from, I’ll post that article onto my Twitter feed. It’s that simple.

What kind of social media articles will I be Twittering about? I look for the social media articles with a business slant — the ones that I feel offer practical advice for businesses, or for those who’re totally new to social media and want to know how best to spend their time, money and effort.

So if you’re on Twitter, follow the Social Media Marketing Technology blog right now and let me do all the hard work for you.

Hang on! What if you don’t even know what Twitter is? Thankfully, here’s an explanation of Twitter in plain English.

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…

Maybe you’ve heard about blogging, but you’re unsure how a blog might benefit your business. If you’ve already got a website for your business, having a blog can help in a number of ways.

Probably one of the best methods of spreading the word about your business and connecting with your customers is by having a company blog.

The benefits of a business blog

Blogging is a remarkably simple way of publishing. It’s cheap, it’s easy to do and it’s something that your business can benefit from in so many ways:

  • Higher search engine rankings — generally speaking, a regular stream of new articles is considered appealing by the search engines, who will pay more attention to your blog or website, ranking you more highly accordingly. The more pages you write, the more there is to be found. However, it’s an exercise in quality not quantity!
  • Gaining trust — by writing informative and authoritative articles, over time you’ll build confidence, trust, respect and a sense of “expert status” around your business.
  • A sense of community — you’re engaging with your customers in a conversational style that’s difficult to replicate by other means. And by allowing people to comment on your articles, you’re encouraging those people to participate, giving them a reason to return. In simple terms, a blog is a great opportunity for you and your staff to quickly share ideas, and maybe also get some feedback from your customers.
  • Better communications — a blog is essentially a publishing platform, where you control the content of your articles, and also when those articles get published.
  • Cost effective — in terms of communications, blogging is very low cost but has the potential for a high ROI (Return On Investment).

Is a blog a CMS (Content Management System)?

Maybe you’ve heard the acronym / term CMS before, but didn’t quite know what it meant. Yes, a blog is a kind of Content Management System, simply because you use a blog to manage content!

This very website is powered by WordPress, which is probably the worlds most successful blogging software. There are other kinds of CMS, some of which are very sophisticated. Some of which are even free, like WordPress.

What are the advantages of a CMS compared to a website?

When you have a blog (which, as I mentioned previously is a CMS), you have the option to manage many of the day-to-day aspects of owning a website yourself, such as: adding new pages, editing existing pages, replying to comments, adding images, links to websites and more.

Assuming you have the right tools and skills, your blog can be as sophisticated as most websites.

Much like Google Alerts, Google Trends lets you track and monitor brand names, products, services and people in the news. However, where the two differ is in end result; Google Trends leverages the Google News service to highlight those trends over time, with news activities acting as punctuators on a graphical chart.

Compare brands

You can compare multiple items, such as: “Apple, Microsoft, Linux”, Or: “HSBC, Lloyds TSB, Halifax” for example. You even have the option to export your new-found trends as CSV (Comma-Separated Variable) files, to use in Microsoft Excel, or even Google Docs.

The data used to build the graph is taken from Google’s own search engine. So the number of people searching for the keywords you choose to compare defines the properties of the graph itself. In that sense, you can see the relative popularity of certain people, companies and brands over time.

In the news

By having the news items linked into the chart, you get to see what the sources of certain defined spikes and troughs are.

Each news item is listed to the right of the graph as a link, so you can follow those news items up for yourself, to learn more. Additionally, there are charts for regions, cities and languages. Also, you can refine your search by region and by year, offering even more information about those keywords you’re hoping to learn more about.

Google Alerts are a great way to keep track of brand names, products, services and people in the news. Google Alerts sifts through the news to find anything that matches the words or phrases you want to find.

Reputation Management

If you’re a large enough company with products and / or product brands, or you’re a business with a large presence, you might find that Google Alerts could help you keep track of any conversations where your company or brand names feature.

If you’re lucky, people are saying good things about you, which you could otherwise miss out on. On finding these praise-worthy news items, you can follow them up, thank the publishers and use those news items as testimonials, as well as using them within other marketing materials.

However, there’s also the possibility that people are saying bad things about you or your products. Here’s your chance to engage with those people directly and deal with those issues head on.

Tracking industry trends

As an example, I have Alerts sent to me for: “Social Media” and: “Social Networking”, which helps me keep abreast of changes and of new people, emerging technologies et cetera.

If you’re a marketeer, or a business that needs to track trends, you’ll find Google Alerts to be very useful and complimentary to your broader activities.

Once you’ve chosen what you want an alert for, you can have them delivered to you via email at different intervals, such as right away or as compendium once a week.

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