David vs Goliath: What Can SMB’s Learn From Big Brand Social Media?

July 2, 2010

David vs. Goliath PupsWe love the work of Social Media Examiner here at Above The Static, with their most recent feature on WWE‘s adoption of social media just one example of their insightful case studies.

It got us thinking, though, how do the lessons presented from a case such as this apply to us SMB’s, with minimal brand clout and lacking an army of raving fans?

When it comes to social media, the strategies for building an effective brand through web presence development need to be adjusted. The platforms available certainly allow us to compete with the Goliaths of our respective fields but, like David, we still need to pick the right tactics to win.

So let’s look at the take-away points from the aforementioned article, this time from the perspective of a small-medium size business owner:

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  • Go where the fans are

Big brands have already done much of the work to build a fan base through other channels, so naturally their goal in adopting a new medium focuses more heavily on finding this existing group. For smaller organizations, although a dedicated core may exist, it’s more a case of seeking out prospective fans, engaging them, and converting to Ken Blanchard’s Raving Fans. Ideally, your current community will advocate you initially and help to attract the new members to get the ball rolling.

Furthermore, the chance to identify dissatisfied customers of larger brands offers a vital new channel to smaller competitors. By monitoring their social media output and engaging them in discussion, perhaps providing advice or a solution to their issues, we can prove more communicative and flexible than the big boys. Inject a dose of local knowledge that larger names often lack and you’re on the way to leveling the playing field.

  • Stick to your story line

SMB’s still need to build their brand and remain on point with their chosen message, so sticking to this with social media content is a similar requirement.  The approach certainly differs, however, as a local focus and showing off the advantages of a flexible local company are often key to defining a successful smaller brand. Having your community back up your claims of superior service and better understanding of your area’s needs also goes a long way to growing your social media community. Providing regional content via blogs and shared news items only increases your ability to point to local ties and expertise.

  • Protect your identity

Established brands will have to deal with this immediately, as customers view social media as an ideal outlet to complain about their service issues. This is less likely to plague SMB’s initially given the reduced customer base, though the opportunity still exists and getting the required monitoring systems in place early on allows us to address any negative press before it has a chance to spread too far. We wrote more on this subject earlier this year in our Listening Stations post.

The message here for smaller organizations is two-fold: 1) From the very beginning, understand that social media makes communication a two-way street, in which our clients have as much ability to discuss our activities as we do, and 2) Bigger brands are far more susceptible to unhappy customers and, if they’re expressing this dissatisfaction online, you can find and engage them. If done sensitively, with the individual’s needs at the heart of your communication and action, this can be an excellent way to develop new business and position yourself as a preferable, more flexible alternative to your larger competitors.

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So we can see that although SMB’s will use the same social media tools and platforms as the big brands, we need to approach them from our own angle, advocating the advantages of using smaller providers. This may include the local factor, ability to be more flexible and  responsive to the needs of the community, friendlier customer service, or any number of factors that give us greater maneuverability than the big players in our field.

Don’t be discouraged by the daunting success of some large brands using social media. The tools really offer a great opportunity to reach out to new and existing audiences alike, creating a more level playing field using the same platforms. So pick the right battles and bring down Goliath one converted fan at a time!

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Have you been successful in identifying unhappy customers via social media and addressing their needs?

What other benefits do you think smaller brands offer that the Goliaths of the industry simply can’t keep up with?

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Photo courtesy of Feeb


7 Ways To Prove You’re The Expert’s Expert

June 17, 2010

ExpertiseSo you know that your knowledge is second to none and that you’re the maven of [insert subject here]. But how do you communicate this to those new to your efforts, especially within the limited personal contact of the digital realm?

Although it’s true that working relationships built up in person have a natural trust associated with them, the social web offers more and more opportunities to develop such relationships on the basis of demonstrated knowledge. Additionally, your reach is much extended beyond your own region, making productive, beneficial  connections with the perfect associates more accessible than ever.

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All very well, but the original question was: how?

In this post we look at seven steps you can take to begin building  an online repository of your expertise, helping out others who can benefit from your knowledge, and connecting with those elusive contacts that may not have been available to you outside of social media.

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  • Write varied and unique content on your own website via a blog. Include practical advice for your readers and, once you have a good block of popular content, create a ‘Best Of’ section of your blog and link to it now and again from other platforms and blog posts. Check out our advice on creating alluring content to get started.
  • Search and answer relevant questions on LinkedIn, Answers.com, Yahoo! Answers, and any other site where people gather to search for the expert knowledge you have to impart. Niche sites for your specialist area may be more appropriate, if you find too many responses on the larger sites.
  • Speak or provide informed opinion at a relevant event. Twitter is full of individuals arranging ‘tweet-ups’, as well as dedicated sites like MeetUp offering specific categories, making it easy to find the right level and subject for your area of expertise. By finding these via social media, you can also connect with attendees before and after the event, whether you’ve met them in person or not.
  • Host a webinar via a site like Webex or GoToMeeting. Many offer a free trial so you can find your feet and select the site you prefer. This gives you a chance to offer some free advice to those with an interest in your field, gathering a community around your expert opinion and storing it online as a reference point for anyone that is unable to attend. A webinar can also be marketed more like an event, making it easier to spread on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Create a podcast or video guide. Recording is now simple enough that good quality output can be made from a PC or digital camera. As the spoken word and visual elements of these media offer a more human connection to your content, they bridge some of the distance we discussed early and can appear more authoritative. This simple guide from Best Internet Marketing can get you started in podcasting.
  • Request referrals and testimonials from those who have had the most positive experiences working with you. You can be recommended as an individual on LinkedIn, ask for a review on business listings like Google Maps or Yelp!, or simply post their enthusiastic comments on a specific section of your website for prospective customers to read.
  • Offer free consultations to show what you can do for a specific individual or business, without committing them to anything. The no cost aspect is a great way to attract new interest in your services, while the one-on-one nature helps to focus in on the exact needs of those you’re working with and communicate more clearly what you can help them achieve.

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How are you using the social web to demonstrate your expertise?

What difficulties have you found in standing out in a crowded environment such as LinkedIn Answers?

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Cartoon coutesy of Geek & Poke


The Social Media World Cup

June 11, 2010

World Cup 2010 LogoThe 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off in South Africa today – the first time the competition has ever graced the continent – promising a month of varied footballing styles and unrelenting competition grabbing the headlines.

Social media is frequently in the news these days too, with the big players defending their positions and fresh new talent popping up to challenge their dominance. This set us thinking: which national soccer teams would best represent the giants and minnows of the new media world?

To celebrate the beginning of this great tournament, here’s what we managed to come up with!

YouTube (Brazil) – Easy on the eye and always a serious player in the social media game, YouTube will still have to prove that it can bring home the gold this time around.

Facebook (Italy) – Current world champions despite scandals and controversy. Bold in the face of criticism, with a stoic defence that has seen off all challengers to date.

Twitter (Germany) – Often discounted by cynics but with solid structure and undeniable form, much like the saying about the Germans goes every 4 years: You can’t write them off!

Myspace (France) – Once proud champions now barely hanging on to past glories. With much of the original talent gone or fading, an injection of new blood is needed to restore form and pride.

LinkedIn (Argentina) – A potent mix of hard-nosed business and natural flair, yet often in the shadow of some of the more recent winners. Could be about to take their unique style to the next level.

Bebo (England) – An originator of the game, extremely popular domestically but rarely translating this to success on the international stage. Can they turn their long dry run around with a revitalized performance this year?

Foursquare (Spain) – Talented, flamboyant recent challengers hoping that success elsewhere will translate on the biggest stage this year.

Google Buzz (South Africa) – On home turf but lagging behind most of their competitors  despite resources. Can they turn it around for the fans?

Orkut (U.S.A) – Have been around long enough to be considered established now but have more recently failed to reach their early Noughties highs. Has their opportunity come and gone?

[EDIT: Here are a couple more from some keen-minded readers!]

Flickr (Portugal) – Flashy and well-supported but do very little to justify it! [Courtesy of Tom McKenna]

Plaxo (Slovenia)- Small and competent but few supporters and no chance of winning! [Courtesy of Malcolm Birkett]

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That’s our two cents worth, now it’s your turn!

Who will you be supporting over the next month at the World Cup?

Tell us your soccer-related stories and if you’ll be using your favored social media sites to keep up to date with all the action. Connect with us on Facebook or Twitter (hashtag #worldcup) as well.


Balancing Social Media: Time Management For A Superior Web Presence

June 7, 2010

Time Ticks By: Managing your social media marketingTime Ticks: Managing your social media marketing scheduleLast week we started to look at how someone overwhelmed by the myriad social media options can begin to assess where best to spend their time. This week we’ll begin to put some meat on the bones of the options you’ve chosen to focus the most time on.

Before leaping into the task at hand, however, it’s a good idea to take stock of the time available for working on your social media marketing. Today, the question we’re focusing on is:

What time management techniques can I apply to ensure my social media efforts stay aligned to my objectives?

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  • First and foremost, define objectives for your chosen activity. Have these clear in your mind, or written down next to you, as you go into your work. Ask yourself every 5 or 10 minutes: “Is what I’m doing working towards my end goal?“. For example, if you’re writing a blog entry and reading around its subject the answer is yes, it’s providing fuel and motivation for your own content. If you’ve wandered into another subject area though, however relevant it may be to your business, it’s not contributing to the work at hand. Bookmark for later and get back on track!
  • Schedule time for specific work and avoid distractions from it during that period. Even with concrete goals in mind, there are so many online and real world distractions in our day that it’s no wonder we get pulled away. When this occurs, it takes time to refocus and get back on track, which can detract from the quality of work or, worse still, leave it unfinished and abandoned. The 9 Guiding Principles to Social Media Time Management provided by Amber at Altitude contains plenty of great tips for managing these disruptions, as well as tools to make your life easier to that end.
  • Equally important to scheduling a specific period of time is to find a routine that works for you. If your social media work can be tacked on to another daily activity that complements it then you should find it much easier to come back to regularly and get into the habit of doing so. For example, if you’ve identified building networks on Twitter as a  key objective, then monitoring conversations, sharing content, and communicating with others on that platform should naturally follow the morning plunge into your Inbox.
  • Once time is set aside and a routine established, another potential  challenge can crop up in the form of writer’s block. What’s the use of sitting down with this time if all you end up doing is struggling to think of content? That’s where noting down previous ideas as they come to you and setting up a content calendar comes into play. This excellent Social Media Examiner post on Quality Content sets a perfect plan for overcoming this particular hurdle.
  • Even with clearly defined objectives, some of the activities you’ll undertake towards developing your web presence will seem much less tangible than others. How can 45 minutes spent listening and responding on Facebook be explained away as ‘productive’, whether to yourself or your boss? This makes it important to set quantitative measures for your work, as Chris Brogan‘s Priotize Your Social Media Efforts post discusses. We’ll look at doing this in more detail later this week. In the meantime, what suggestions do you have for others to quantify the more nebulous side of social media?
  • Be aware of the various uses of social media and avoid letting your chosen platforms become a daily chore. You need to be motivated when you go about creating your own content, sharing that of others, and generally engaging with communities, regardless of the platform. As this Business Week article on Time Management in the Age of Social Media discusses,  these activities can easily become a sinkhole for your valuable time if not checked on occasion.

So it’s key to get yourself into a time bound routine that sees you well placed to immediately get going on your activity. Keep yourself on track by regularly referring back to your objectives and set up robust quantitative measures to ensure you’re activities are paying off.

Most of all, make the time you spend on social media something you look forward to and watch the productivity and results come naturally!

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What techniques do you use to keep the time you spend on social media productive?

Have you used other online platforms to better manage your web marketing? If so, which tools and how do you make them work for you?

Photo courtesy of Disco~Stu

Time Management in the Age of Social Media


Platform Overload? The Social Media Balancing Act

June 3, 2010

Platform Overload

Are you carrying too many platforms?

Simply dipping a cautious toe into the overflowing pool of social media and web platforms can be enough to overwhelm some users. With the scope of the large, established platforms and myriad niche sites for a given industry, knowing which to focus on and how to sync them all together are key areas for consideration before committing to offering content on each.

A well thought out strategy will help decide what you want to get from your social media efforts and how best to utilize time spend getting there. From today and through next week, we’ll be looking at the first questions to ask yourself before taking the plunge. Today:

How do you want to engage your target audience?

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For the most part, it is considered that an existing business or artist has already defined the type of people that are interested in their message. This was a requirement long before any new media was a consideration and will continue to be critical wherever technology takes us. The methods by which we connect to our audience, however, are ever fluid and the options far wider today than ever before.

Do you want to show your expertise on a particular subject and build trust in your authority on such matters? As often advocated by social media specialist Chris Brogan, people learn to rely on online opinions of those  demonstrating a clear, wide-ranging knowledge of their field. So if you can write well on your speciality and offer helpful thoughts/advice, then starting a blog will be the perfect way to showcase your expertise.

Another way to offer your expert advice in a non-sales pitch manner is to answer questions for people on sites such as LinkedIn or Answers. By searching for and solving requests relevant to your knowledge base, you not only establish your insight to the questioner but also to those following the responses and your activity in general. This positions you for future questions and, quite possibly, future business when a more in depth need arises.

For a more direct approach, the demographic information and targeted advertising of Facebook is often a cost-effective method to reach those in your field or region that may not be aware of you yet. In this case, maintaining an informative and resource rich Facebook page will be an important part of developing your web presence.

Otherwise, if the sheer jungle of Facebook seems too deep to penetrate initially, you may decide to spend more time exploring and becoming a part of the community on relevant niche sites. The message boards, forums, and comments sections of websites related to you are a great place to meet and network with others interested doing business or seeking assistance in your field. This also allows you to target the most appropriate sections of such communities by commenting on their articles and discussions. Furthermore, you often cut through the first step of searching for an engaged audience, as by their very nature  the concentration of your efforts on such sites is focused directly at the target market.

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How do you spread your time across the various social media?

Could your current schedule benefit from a review & exploration of new online avenues?



Jump Start Your Online Presence For Success In 2010

January 11, 2010

jumpstart

As a New Year begins, many will review the work of the previous twelve months and search for ways to enhance their performance  during the months to come.

For those with professions closely connected to the web, a productive and cost-effective measure will be to develop a strong presence across social networks.

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With a seemingly inexhaustible supply of online platforms to utilize, however, this activity could prove far more difficult to begin than one might expect. In an effort to set you off on the right foot, we offer the following suggestions for jump starting your online presence in 2010:

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  • START A BLOG

blogger-logoBlogs provide an outstanding and relatively simple platform from which to promote your activities. Whether used as an extension to your existing website or as a main site in its own right, a blog allows you to deliver information on products and services, share your expertise in your field, build a community interested in your updates, and keep in touch with customers and fans.

As an added bonus, your increased online output and links to your name and services will assist in your climbing the search engine rankings, making it easier for those with an interest to find you online. All of this from a platform that is generally free and no more difficult to use than a standard word processor.

TRY THESE: Blogger / WordPress

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  • BROADCAST YOURSELF ON YOUTUBE

YouTube_logoOften overlooked as a part of the social media community by businesses and artists alike, YouTube has the potential to access an extremely large audience, many of whom will have a keen interest in your activities. With over 300 million people watching worldwide – and 98.8 million of those in the US alone – it’s a community that should be right up there with Facebook as one you seek to engage.

Part of the hesitation is perhaps down to the relative difficulty in creating content for your own YouTube channel, as video is obviously more time and equipment intensive than simply writing a blog entry or posting to Facebook. With the proliferation of camera phones, webcams, and inexpensive digital camcorders, though, creating video content that is both entertaining and broadcasts your message is easier now than ever before. There are also plenty of enterprising young companies and individuals out there to assist your inner Spielberg, so reaching out to your network should be all that’s required to have you on the digital airwaves in no time at all.

TRY THESE: YouTube / About.com: How to get started on YouTube / Small Business Trends

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  • FIRE UP YOUR FACEBOOK PROFILE

Facebook_logoAs you may have observed, Facebook is no longer the exclusive outpost of college students finding another outlet for their procrastination. With over 300 million users now registered worldwide and the fastest growing demographic in 2009 being those aged 35-54 (broad, but telling nonetheless), the most well known social network of them all is another platform on which you are sure to find an important audience.  With its fairly rigid structure for company and artist profiles, however, it can be a challenge to make your page stand out and encourage return visits.

It can be a chore to locate the various tools that will make your page *pop* but it will be worth the effort when your audience lingers, then returns regularly, because your content and features stand out to them. Standard elements such as adding videos, photos, and links to your own sites are a great starting point, after which you should investigate adding applications to include interactive features like polls, games, and many more that keeps your audience engaged with your community.

TRY THESE: All Facebook Tips / Mashable’s 30+ Apps for Facebook Business

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  • DEVELOP YOUR PERSONAL BRAND

linkedin-logoWith the rise of social media, the dividing  line between business and personal activities has become increasingly blurred. Individuals have become their own businesses – or at least their personalities are inextricably linked to their organization(s) – and companies presenting themselves on networks like Twitter and Facebook are required to inject a more personable side to their interactions. All of which makes it an outstanding time to build your own personal brand.

Accessing more professional platforms such as LinkedIn provides outstanding opportunities to connect with other professionals both in and out of your chosen industry. Joining groups, participating in industry discussions, updating others on your current projects, and attending real-world member meet ups will all help to expand your business network and learn from those with knowledge you require. At the same time, you can do the same for those you connect with and build a reputation for expertise in your particular field. And, of course, you never know when that casual discussion online will turn into a critical connection that you couldn’t progress without. Dig your well before you’re thirsty, as someone wise once stated.

TRY THESE: LinkedIn / Personal Branding Blog

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Picking up on some (or all, if ambitious!) of these starting points will lead to a great many opportunities to expand both online networks and reputation, if taken up with enthusiasm and an open mind to the possibilities of each.

It is important to maintain an ongoing presence on any online platform, of course, keeping content fresh and discussion active to encourage return visits and converting your audience to a fan or client. If you have questions on any of these suggestions or success stories of your own, we would love to hear them in the comments or via e-mail.

Have you taken steps to develop your online presence so far this year? If so, what have you done?

What areas of your social networking and online media management should you prioritize for the coming year?