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

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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


Three L’s? Once Again, They’re All Location

April 6, 2010
Where are you?

Where are you?

Coming into the New Year – and continuing through the SXSWi conference last month – location-based social networks and tools have been the hot topic amongst early adopters.

In addition to the early leaders Foursquare and Gowalla, fresh names such as Loopt and Brightkite have emerged to compete, along with the existing major platforms Twitter and Facebook adding or planning location-oriented updates. As much as “what are you doing?” was the key question a couple of years ago, “where are you doing it?” is the inquiry many new services are hoping we will be eager to answer in the coming months and years.

But is the focus on geolocation services simply the next fad to occupy the burgeoning ranks of social media enthusiasts? Though concerns around privacy and security have naturally arisen, there are various possibilities – particularly for small businesses – in being able to sync location details with existing and potential customers alike. Here we nod to some of the possibilities:

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  • Serendipity – How often have you found yourself in a new city…or even just  a new part of your own town…wishing you knew a great place to eat or grab a good coffee? If a potential customer has the ability to log into their mobile device and find your business near their location, you’ll want to make sure you have a presence on these services and some great reviews to lure in new business.
  • Save On the Go – Paper coupons can be a pain to obtain, plan, and hold onto until shopping day arrives. In much the same way as a hungry diner may decide where to eat based on location reviews, a shopper may simply tune into their local coupon offers right after they finish work. If that’s your store, 50 cents off a Coke may win you a full week’s shopping for a family.
  • Flash Mobs – Granted, you don’t want the kind of flash mob that’s full of teens aggravating one another (or do you?!), but what about an unexpected party arriving for a beer and staying for the night? If small groups are checking into your bar and posting it to a service like Foursquare, as the service (or those like it) expand then there exists the possibility for this to become the next text invite. Except now every one of their friends is invited to join. And you want the invite to be to your location.
  • Reward Loyalty– Sure, reward memberships are nothing new, but the ability to tie them into promotional e-mails, texts, and even hourly offer notices is a much more powerful tool than a cashier asking “do you have a club card?” Cards can be easily left at home or misplaced, but customers will generally carry their mobile devices to most locations. In a similar way to the potential of mobile coupons, if you can reward and update your customer regularly (and creatively)  enough when they’re in your area, you have the opportunity to become their preferred vendor. Hey, maybe then they’ll even write a great review of you for the new ones…..

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Of course, this only scratches the surface of some of the possibilities for location-based social marketing. Not all of these benefits will require giving away ones location to the public at large, which may aid in the uptake of certain new services. Others will require a careful sell to ensure users that their location information is as securely displayed as possible.

We will continue to examine the possibilities of these services as the trend develops into established businesses. If anything, we certainly believe that this one has legs and will spawn some exciting concepts that change the way we do business, offering great opportunities to early adopters.

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As a business, how can you envisage using location-based social networking?

As a consumer, would you consider offering your location – whether privately or to the public – as a means to get better deals?

What are your general feelings towards giving away more and more of our personal data to publicly read online services?


4 Ways to Fire Up Your Facebook Fan Page

January 28, 2010

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Earlier this month, one of our suggestions for those just setting out on their online media journey was to create and develop an engaging Facebook Fan Page.

But how can you best utilize a standardized platform with

the potential to reach several hundred million people?

Got Facebook Fans?

In this post we focus on some specific actions that can be taken to transform the familiar – and slightly dull – wall of updates into an interactive forum full of compelling information and discussion around your chosen subject.

Fire Up Your Facebook

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1. Any landing you can walk away from isn’t always a good one.

For most users, the Facebook wall is the first impression (or landing point) they see of a fan page. As this is an ever present sight on both personal profiles and fan pages, it doesn’t stand out and rarely communicates a summary of what you offer or stand for.  So what can you show your first time visitor instead?

Any tab of your Facebook page can be set as the landing point for your visitors. Add to this the ability to create your own customized tabs with the Static FBML option (something helpfully explored in this how to by Snipe.net) and the possibilities for an eye-catching, informative first impression are greatly expanded.

Musicians, for example, may choose to display the artwork and details of their latest release, as well as a link to their bio for those wishing to dig deeper. Alternatively, a music tab from an application such as iLike could be the landing point, placing the songs front and center. As the latter is one of the main issues for musicians when considering increased use of Facebook – in comparison to Myspace, which traditionally places music at its core – taking a step like this can significantly improve the standing of their Facebook fan page for promoting and converting first timers to fans, via the music.

Other organizations may choose to emphasize some other compelling content on their fan page, whether a video, informative article, or a discussion around a new product or service. As well as providing a more eye catching landing, it also offers more control to the page admin as to how their visitors move through their content, which is often a major concern of those just starting out with online media, particularly social networks.

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2.  What’s in a name? Create a Facebook page vanity URL.

Another confusing element of starting a fan page can be where to direct potential fans, as the web address (URL) for these pages starts off quite large and unwieldy. Though embedded text links or abbreviated linking can assist online, attempting to communicate this URL over the phone or in print can be more frustrating.

By far the best option is to amass over 25 fans and create a custom (or ‘vanity’) Facebook URL, which can often be something as simple as Facebook.com/yournamehere. Initially this issue requires a workaround until the fan count is reached but, once up and running, this step makes your fan page much more memorable and easy to access.

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3. Two’s company, three’s a crowd. Engage the crowd.

As far reaching as social media networks can be for broadcasting to your audience and potential clients, by far its greatest power lies in attracting this crowd – your Facebook fans – to your content and engaging them to become a part of it.

Facebook allows you to include links, photos, videos, polls, and plenty of other media to expand your fan page beyond a simple wall of service updates. Share an article with a link and compelling picture, encourage your fans to read it and comment back with their related opinions and experiences. Design competitions aimed at having them upload their own content involving your product or service (for example, a photo of them having fun using a product at home or a video testimonial on their successful use of your services) and ask them to tag their personal profile so that the message spreads to their friends as well.

Unsure what kind of content your fans might enjoy? Place a poll on your page to ask them and encourage their comments after doing so. Anything that gets your fans invested in and a part of your page, rather than just an audience member. The added benefit of this lies in the increased activity associated with your page as fans interact, raising your visibility in both personal user feeds within Facebook, as well as externally for search engine rankings as they index the site.

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4.  Got any plans tonight? Add events for your fans to attend.

One of the key social aspects of using personal profiles on Facebook is the ability to see what events friends are attending. Anyone can create an event and invite their connections to it, as well as requesting they pass on the invitation to their own network. If approached in the right way, this can boost awareness and attendance of the occassion as the news is quickly passed from user to user and a buzz grows. In addition, the date and time is placed in the user’s Facebook calendar and a reminder appears next to their personal news feed as the big day approaches, helping even the most disorganized of fans to keep you in their plans.

Event pages also offer the equivalent of a mini fan page, on which attendees can discuss it and post related content. Organizers can then interact and encourage this activity, once again building anticipation for the occassion and increasing the activity associated with both the event and the fan page behind it. Musicians can discuss set lists, special merchandise they will be selling, song requests, and all manner of topics that get fans even more excited to be a part of the whole thing.

Keep in mind too that events need not be restricted to set dates and times at a physical venue. Special offers and promotional periods or the release date of a new product or service can also be set up as events to raise awareness. These require a little more creativity in getting fans to RSVP their attendance to a non-physical event, but the same logic holds that if the organizer is able to create compelling content and engage their fans to interact, then excitement and an attendance base for such events can be built.

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These are just some of the sound starting points from which you can create an exciting, engaging fan page. A place where your audience feels informed and involved enough to transform themselves into particants, interacting with others interested in your message and offering their own insights and knowledge to further increase the appeal for new visitors to perform that much sought after ‘Become a Fan‘ conversion.

And the fact that this increases visibility for you in all the places you need to be seen? Well that’s something that you’ll just have to deal with, right?

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Have you moved beyond a standard page to really fire up your Facebook fans? What steps have you taken to achieve this?

What limitations do you see on such Facebook pages that restrict your use or, worse, prevent you from joining at all?


Clash of the Titans? Blurring the Boundaries Of Traditional & Online Media

January 18, 2010

Watching the movie industry’s HFPA Golden Globe Awards over the weekend was a hit and miss affair, from the usual schmaltzy self-congratulation to real, heartfelt appreciation of talent. What particularly caught the attention here, however, was during the commercial break and how it relates to the blurring boundaries between traditional media marketing and its newer online sibling.

Tug_of_war

Is the media tug of war coming to an end?

It occurred during an advertisement for the new romantic comedy When In Rome. If you follow that link, you will probably be conscious of the fact that it takes you through to Facebook rather than a dedicated movie or organization site. It not only struck a chord, but raised a number of reflections as to the choices media and marketing teams are now faced with as the online social networks proliferate.

To step back a second, this was a prime time commercial for a Hollywood release, aired during a major movie awards ceremony and with just 30 expensive seconds to spare. The marketers made the choice to direct the millions viewing to a third party marketing space, as opposed to a site over which they have full control and design rights. For the time being, these control issues remain the foremost concern for many with a more traditional marketing mindset. Barriers that frequently relegate online social media to cast extras rather than the leading lights of marketing campaigns.

Avatar on Facebook

Avatar on Facebook - Over 950,000 fans & counting

Yet the lure of the 100 million plus Americans on Facebook and 18 million or so that frequent Twitter, not to mention the possibilities on YouTube and other platforms,  is increasingly compelling.  Especially when nearly 1 million of said Facebook users have felt strongly enough about box office record breaker Avatar to become a fan and interact with the flash community that has formed within its corner of that site. For those willing to spend time  and creativity putting social media at the core of their campaigns, the rewards seem to be limited only by the user base of their chosen platforms. And those bases continue to grow on a daily basis.

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CNN Tweets

CNN breaks news on Twitter....or vice versa?

Nor is this enthusiastic adoption of online social media by marketers limited to the movie industry. Increasingly, traditional media reporting on television and in print references sources on Twitter, often as the primary source for their story.

From trivial celebrity announcements to worldwide catastrophes like the tragic earthquake in Haiti, reporters not keeping a close eye on their web browser may well miss the opportunity to break a story. Or at least break it on their traditional platform after social media has done so online.

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In future posts we will examine this phenomenon in more detail across a variety of industries, particularly the beleaguered music business, for which online social media is rapidly becoming the channel to connect with and engage their customers. For the moment it is heartening to see savvy marketers embracing such platforms as a valued component of their overall marketing mix, blended with traditional television and print campaigns to grab the attention of a wider audience.

Have you noticed specific examples of traditional media engaging social network communities? If so, what were they and how effective would you judge them to be?

What are your thoughts on tried and trusted marketing practices when compared to the options presented by social networks and online media?