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


First Steps Into Social: The Veterinarian

June 28, 2010

First steps into social media

Are you taking your first steps into social media?

In a new post series, First Steps Into Social will focus on specific industries and seek to provide some starting points for those new to (and perhaps overwhelmed by) the world of social media.

Setting up the platforms, such as a Facebook page or Twitter profile, is often the easiest part of stepping into social. The big challenge lies in creating regular, engaging content that will draw in your desired audience and build a community around your service or brand.

This series aims to offer some practical starting points that you can apply directly to your business, when we focus on your particular sector. With that in mind, please get in touch with me on Steve [at] RiseAboveTheStatic [dot] com if you want to bump your industry up the list for this series!

Note that these points are intended as thought starters rather than complete ‘how to’ guides (for that we’ll need to talk to you in much more detail and create a full strategy….let’s go!). Further discussion and new idea contributions are very much welcome and encouraged in the comments section, or on our Facebook page.

To kick things off, today we’ll take a look at some first steps a veterinary practice might take to move into social media content:

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  • Ask your clients if you can post pictures of their furry friends on Facebook. Even better, encourage them to ‘Like’ your page and post their own pictures, building your community and engaging them by showing off their loved one(s). Focus on  praising the pet and wanting to highlight/share their special qualities with others, much as our clients at Big Creek Pet Hospital are doing on their BCPH Facebook page.
  • Provide health alerts, product recall details, current items of news, and other information that you believe would be of value to your existing and potential clients. The American Veterinary Medical Association‘s Facebook group is a great example of providing an outstanding information resource. You may choose yours to be more locally focused, treatment-based, or whatever mix you feel is most relevant for your audience.
  • Use a blog or Facebook note to provide specific stories about patients, staff, or other areas of practice itself. Give readers an insight into the caring, professional environment your facility offers. This could also be achieved in the form of a tour, using pictures and/or video to highlight the quality of care.  Olathe Animal Hospital in Kansas is a wonderful example of a veterinary practice providing a regular glimpse into their daily life via  Facebook.
  • Write more detailed pieces on a blog about current pet health issues, recommended treatments, seasonal concerns etc. As we highlighted in 7 Ways to Prove You’re The Expert’s Expert, this gives an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge on topical  subjects in your field, at the same time as drawing attention to crucial issues of the moment. As summer arrives, for example, many pet health writers are focusing on tips for keeping dogs and cats safe in the hot weather, such as this piece from the ASPCA.
  • Create video content for areas that are more suited to visual learning, such as methods for training a dog to learn a new behavior. Sites like YouTube and Vimeo, as well as cheap video cameras and production software, now make video production an achievable goal for almost anyone. It also adds an extra dimension to your content, which can then be shared across other platforms and even embedded as a part of your own website. Specialist dog training company Hand In Paw has a great series of videos on their YouTube site, as well as another excellent example from Big Creek Pet Hospital in this guide to brushing your pet’s teeth.

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As with all social media content, success lies in providing an alluring blend of topical pet health information and fun interaction with those who have the cute furry family members we hold so dear.

The beauty of social media in the pet world is that owners are often so enthusiastic to share the wonders of their dog, cat, or other loved one, that all it takes is a nudge from you to ask them to do so. So, as their dedicated pet carer, why not try to come up with creative ways to allow people to let others enjoy their pets as much as they do….almost!

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Pet health professionals, what tips would you suggest for others trying to offer valued, entertaining content through social media? What successes have you had that you can share?

Pet owners, how can your veterinarian do more for you by providing web resources and communicating with you online? What do you need from them?

Photo courtesy of ValP


Tips For Trending: Joining the Popular Conversation Without Spamming

June 21, 2010
Zombie Trends

Are you watching the trends?

We’ve all seen the spammers on Twitter, surrounding their garbage links with trending topics in the hope that someone will accidentally click or, better yet, be attracted to their message. It’s irrelevant and clutters up the stream for the real trends we’re examining.

But what about those of us seeking to combine a current topic of interest with our own subject matter, raising interest in both?

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There are plenty of ways to join the popular conversation without coming across as gimmicky or, worse, another merchant of spam. Here we offer some tips on walking the line of trending topics:

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  • Always map out the links between your own subject and the trend. There should be at least some foundation for your mentally connecting the two in the first place, but if it’s a stretch then don’t force the link as this will show up in your content.
  • If the trend is a pop culture subject, in most cases you should keep the connection light-hearted and fun, avoiding direct self-promotion. Think of it more as an opportunity to temporarily relax the tone of your content, in between more formal and/or promotional posts.
  • Offer insight into both sides of your content. Don’t just make a tenuous link to a trend to lure in a wider audience, then ignore what brought your new folks to you in the first place. Research the trend as well and link to other interesting sources that will add weight to your interest in the popular subject.
  • Following from that, whenever possible be passionate about the trend to which you’re connecting. When you create based on subjects that inspire you, it’s another way to deliver alluring content. Your passion will be translated to the content and further remove any suspicion of being a gimmick.
  • To strengthen the connection of your subjects, research the keywords and phrases associated with the trending topic. In much the same way you want to attract the search traffic for your own area of expertise, you need to give the search engines as much as possible to work with when people search content for the popular subject.
  • Further to the last point, research hashtags  being used on Twitter around the trending subject. There are usually a number surrounding any given and you should use only the relevant ones that resonate well with your content. Again, avoid any misleading tags or keywords when promoting your content, to avoid spam connotations and a frustrated audience. This helpful post explains the use of hashtags.
  • Only use this approach to content creation from time to time. Unless pop culture and news is your business, not everything you create around your own speciality should be connected to a trend. Overuse of this method again leads to suspicion of bandwagon jumping.

So, be passionate about the trends you connect your own work to and create your content in a way that respects both subjects, adding value to the variety of viewers your efforts will attract. Keep it relevant and light on the sales pitch (if any at all), then promote it the same way.

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What are your thoughts on connecting with trending topics?

How do you approach content creation differently when doing so? What works and what is still spam?

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Useful links for trending topics:

Digg

Twitter Trends & Search

Google Trends

Yahoo! Buzz


Cartoon courtesy of Scott Hampson


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


A Global Audience: How Musicians Can Play For Fans Around the World

February 4, 2010

All musical artists, whether bedroom singer-songwriter or pop sensation, want to connect with fans around the world.

Can you reach a global audience?

Though the web initially made it much easier to get word of music to those thousands of miles away, actually playing it live to these lovers of your art has proven elusive. A cursory glance of any artist’s Myspace page or message board will testify to this, littered as they are with requests to play to a couple of folks in Helsinki and their lone (but obsessive) fan in New Zealand.

The beauty of ever-expanding bandwidths and reliable high speed connections, however, means that the days of saying “We’d love to but…..” to some of your most enthusiastic advocates can be a thing of the past.

Sites like YouTube and Vimeo are excellent platforms for building a video marketing/promotion campaign but for live web casts there are other, lesser known sites that savvy artists are now using to engage with their fans, transforming geography from a barrier to a unique aspect of fan interaction during these performances. Any artist checking out uStream.TV or JustIn.TV will find a simple but effective platform from which to build a live event that can be attended by anyone with a reasonably quick and reliable connection.

Last weekend I watched New York based singer-songwriter Lucas Kane Hall play from his apartment to fans both here in the USA and all the way back in his native Australia. Gathering around a common factor – the live music – fans were able to discuss their location, post comments on the performance to each other in real time, and vote on their favorite songs of the set (a beautiful ode to nostalgia for a more innocent time, 1985, won, incidentally). Despite the distance, such events offer fans a chance to connect and form experience-based communities in similar ways to a live show. In actual fact, it could be said that this increases due to the nature of web interaction and the tendency of people to be more open to communicating via this medium.

We will cover the use of specific sites in more detail in future posts, as well as the wider phenomenon of creating video content to promote music online. For the moment, we would love to hear your opinion on these sites and the opportunities live video broadcasting presents.

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Have you staged an event on one of these sites? What was your experience like and how did your fans react?

Do you see opportunities to take the concept further to promote your music to a global audience? What are your ideas?