Best Buy has their employees engage in Twitter streams. IBM and Intel are encouraging blog participation. Big business is embracing social media in a big way. So what does this mean for you as a small business owner? How can you leverage your best assets–your employees– to spread the word about your brand without damaging the reputation of your business?
Whether you like it or not, your employees are engaged in social media activities tied to your business. If they have a LinkedIn professional profile or include work history on their Facebook page, they’re already representing your business online. While this might be of concern, there are advantages by having more feet on the ground spreading the message of your brand.
For example, your employees can leverage their social graph by Tweeting your blog posts, answer questions related to your business on Quora, or connect to the right decision makers on LinkedIn.
Imagine social media is at a cocktail party and your employees are there with current and prospective clients. What do you want your employees to say, and how can you use this medium to generate more business? Adrian Dayton, a social media consultant from Buffalo, NY, suggests encouraging those employees who are already good networkers to be more active, and emphasize the importance of relevancy. “Make sure your employees post comments people want to read.”
He advises having a transparent discussion with your employees about how everyone should behave online. Develop a working consensus on best practices, including how to act, where your business should participate, and what information should be conveyed back to you. Think of it almost like a storefront; how your employees behave in front of customers should be an example of how they should approach the digital environment.
Jaime Gracia, owner of Seville Government Consulting in Washington, DC, suggests taking it a step further by formalizing your expectations. He says that when an employee is identified as working for your organization it’s important to “set policies on how employees use social media and how they reference their employers on social sites.” You may want to create a best practices guide for your employees to reference.
In taking a look around the web, here are some helpful tips used by the world’s leading brands that can apply to any size business:
- Be a good listener: Don’t sell your product, understand the needs of the community and provide value.
- Respect the opinions of others and engage in a professional manner: Comes down to the golden rule, treat others how you want to be treated.
- When in doubt, do not post: If you have reservations about what you’re writing, hold off and secure approval.
- Be responsive and follow up quickly: Think of social media as real-time conversations, make sure you’re not only proactive, but respond back in a timely manner (within a few hours if possible).
- Admit mistakes and be the first to respond to them: Because the Internet xis permanent, it’s best not to spin information. Admit you’re wrong; the community will respect you for this.
- Always identify who you are and the company you represent: If you’re speaking on behalf of your employer make sure you acknowledge who you are, your role, and what your company does. This helps gain legitimacy in the conversation.
- Stick with your area of expertise and provide a unique individual perspective: Comment only on issues you have the knowledge to speak Remember social media is about people, not companies.
- Give credit where credit is due: Remember to protect confidential and proprietary information. It’s important to cite other sources, but also be cognizant of information that should not be released externally.
Social media can be overwhelming for a small business owner, let alone their employees. Start small by encouraging your employees to tweet or share company blog posts and press releases. Another idea is to have employees connect with each other on social networks such as LinkedIn or Twitter; that way you’re growing your sphere of influence. Set up team discussions related to this topic. Remember, social media shouldn’t just fall to you.
Don’t ask yourself whether it’s wise to have employees use social media, but ask about the risks for not participating. How is your competition taking advantage? What potential customers are you missing? How will potential customers understand what you’re about if they don’t know who’s working for you?
Derek Reese is a social media advocate who works with a variety of businesses on implementing their integrated marketing solutions, as well as consulting on social media best practices. Find him on LinkedIn and on Twitter.
According to Apple, there are 350K iPhone Applications, with Android catching up fast at over 100K. With such an array of options, what are the BEST to make you more productive? In this post I will examine six I use on a daily basis.
So what makes a good application? I find it bridges mobile with notebook/desktop/cloud/offline, providing a seamless experience that allows you to easily find the information you’re looking for and/or store it for later use. Of course, it’s something used on regular basis and probably will be missed if removed.
One of the biggest challenges I face in my day-to-day routine is time management. There’s so much information coming at you, especially when it comes to news/information related to your industry. You don’t want to miss these messages, but it also can be difficult to read these right away. I find Instapaper to be an amazing solution because I can quickly bookmark articles/webpages and convert them to “text” format so I can read them later. While traveling or commuting, I can easily pull these articles at my convenience, instead of having 20 browsers open at the end of the day.
I often come up with my best ideas on the go. Before Evernote, I used to scribble down these ideas on a napkin, credit card receipt or in a notebook, or other places where they are easily lost. Evernote allows me to keep those ideas organized in a central location that I can access at a later time. What I like about this application is that I can take an idea I’ve started on my smartphone and continue working with it on my computer because they’re synched together.
Dropbox provides a central storage point and nice back-up system for files you’re working on. Plus it works well with large files. For example, your team might be working collaboratively on a project. Rather than wasting time and requesting the latest version (and waiting for that version), you can speed up the process by going directly into the file. Also, if your smartphone has limited memory or needs back up, you can easily move/copy files to Dropbox.
Your calendar is your lifeline and the good folks at Utilitap have improved the iPhone calendar by offering you a weekly view, as well as full calendar support (Google/Outlook). Most importantly, I find the drag and drop functionality to be useful for someone on the go. Let’s say that your client suddenly wants to change tomorrow’s meeting to the following day. Instead of opening the event and manually changing the time, you can now “drag and drop” to the new time.
Trip-It is terrific because you can build itineraries without having to input information- it does the work for you. For example, let’s say you have a trip to Atlanta on Tuesday. You booked your flight/hotel/car rental on different days via different e-mail addresses. What’s amazing is you can e-mail each one of these to Trip-It and they will create a profile for the trip. So when you get to the airport, you know what flight to take, find your car rental when you land and drive to the right hotel, all without wasting time trying to find various e-mail confirmation numbers.
While Google maps are great for finding a client’s office; if you’re on the go and need to find a coffee shop, restaurant or dry cleaners now and not familiar with the area, Yelp is a great resource. The service enhances Google Maps by pairing product reviews with location-based search. So not only can one find what restaurants are good nearby, you can filter by price, cuisine, or distance. Once a suitable venue is located, Yelp uses Google Maps to produce directions.
With new applications are being developed everyday, I’m sure this list will change quickly. What ones are helping your productivity?
It’s 5:00pm. You’ve completed an amazing presentation in Midtown Manhattan and are gearing up to head to Grand Central Station so you can catch your kid’s soccer game. You check your Blackberry to make sure everything is okay at the home office when low and behold you receive an e-mail from the client asking for supporting documentation for your proposal. You can’t send a response via text and you’re too far away from your office. What do you do? You need WiFi NOW!
Conventional wisdom says find a Starbucks or use a FREE WiFi app locator. Being a road warrior in Manhattan I find the WiFi dicey. As much as Starbucks is everywhere, it can be often crowded and difficult to concentrate (same goes for McDonald’s). You can try one of the dozens of hotels in Manhattan, but some offer free access and others don’t. Some of the parks offer free access (i.e. Bryant Park) but with winter temps around 30 degrees who wants to work outside? What’s the “on the go” executive to do?
What if I were to tell you there’s a viable solution with 32 locations in Manhattan? What if I also said that they are quiet and give you ample room to work? Best of all it’s FREE and you don’t even need to be a member. Would you be interested? The solution I’m talking about is the New York Public Library. Near Grand Central Station alone there are 3 locations, all with high-speed internet access. It’s a great place to duck in if you need a half hour to be productive.
What’s best about the New York Public Library is that you don’t need a membership to gain access, don’t have to fight others for a table or even purchase a cup of coffee.
It can be your office away from the office.
If Rip van Winkle woke up today to discover Twitter, I’d be pressed to say he’d be amazed at how boring people are. Do you really care that someone is “grabbing a cup of coffee” or “stuck in traffic”? Besides all the noise (Forrester Research in September 2010 estimated 72% of posts are not even viewed), what’s the relevancy? Beyond the pointless posts, Twitter is game-changer and something a business development professional should pay attention to. At no time in human history has there been a platform that conveys human thoughts and shared knowledge in real time. You’re probably thinking while it’s great that millions of people are expressing their thoughts, how does this increase sales? In this post I will examine further.
I find the more information you have about a client, the more fruitful the conversation. I suggest using Twitter to listen to what your prospect is saying as well as how others perceive the prospect’s company. Think of it as your ability to listen to what’s important to them both personally and professionally. While a company’s website might give you insights into their objectives, tweets from executives can give you valuable information into what’s important to them. Company tweets bring major projects directly to your attention, giving you a reason to engage in a conversation.
So how do you begin?
I find the best way to start is by following the company as well as key executives employed there. Almost all major corporations and even a great number of small and medium size businesses have official Twitter feeds. This is a great resource to gain understanding of what products they’re developing, offers in market or major news items. A simple way to keep up with what’s happening is the “follow” tab directly on their Twitter page.
Besides the official company voice there are numerous people talking about your prospects in real time (crowdsourcing effect). Try using a hashtag (#) in the search bar to find out what discussions are happening. This should give you trends that you can share with the customer as well as understand some of the challenges they face.
While there’s tons of noise on Twitter, if it’s the right chatter you’d be interested, correct? If you have a robust LinkedIn Network (100+ connections) and are connected to your customers on this platform, I suggest following your already established network on Twitter. Alex Blom, a social media strategist has some great tips on exporting your LinkedIn contacts to Twitter.
Finally you should consider following relevant thought leaders and major industry publications. For example, I follow thought leaders such as Chris Anderson, Kara Swisher, and Bill Gates as well as publications Ad Age, Brandweek, Harvard Business Review.This helps me keep up to date on what’s happening so I can have intelligent conversations with my customers.
Now that you have a robust database of hundreds of people you’re following, what are the best ways to listen to what they’re saying? While Twitter might be adequate if there isn’t a great deal of conversation in your network, it can be laborious if you have a large one.
A few months back the New York Enterprise Report had an excellent post “New Ways to Surf the Social Media Wave”. This should give you some great ideas on ways to manage your social graph. Here are some additional suggestions:
Tweetdeck – The industry standard for managing one’s social graph
Hootsuite – Web based application
If you’re an executive on the go, options really depend on the device you carry. I have a Blackberry, so I find the Twitter Blackberry application works effectively for me. If you have Android or iPhone devices, TweetDeck has created applications that work with these systems.
You’re following the connections most important to you and listening to what they have to say, so what’s next? Once you’ve established your presence, it’s time to engage with your network through tweets. A few years ago I was at a social media summit and the speaker was asked how best to approach Twitter, what he said stuck with me. He mentioned you need to tailor your content to the audience you’re looking to reach. Think it about it from their perspective. Will they be interested in reading your post? What irks you about other posts probably is ditto for your network, so it’s best to keep those traffic jams and cups of coffee at Starbucks to yourself. Focus on information that’s relevant. So what’s relevant? Keeping in mind that Twitter is public forum, I find it’s topical issues, news/information, or any information from your company that can be released externally.
While it’s great to post relevant information to your community, I don’t find the “if you build it they will come strategy” to be most effective. You need to interact directly with your customers.
Re-tweet their posts, mention them directly in your tweets (ie @billgates stated Technology is important in schools, here’s a study). MOST IMPORTANTLY you now have reasons to connect with your customers directly. If your prospect is talking about Topic X and you have a solution for that problem, then you have a reason to fire off an e-mail or make a call since the issue is relevant to them. Make sure you reference their Twitter post. You’ll be surprised at how many people aren’t doing this. Think about it. Twitter can be your golden goose by giving you real time information on what your prospects are thinking. They’re telling you directly what’s important to them. Take advantage of this information.
Stayed tuned for my next post on Facebook best practices.
From time to time I’m going to take a break from my social media findings and have a little fun with this blog. This is one of those times. Traveling around the world over 3 1/2 months, I observed a great deal. Here’s are 15 observations:
1- The British are obsessed with making a proper cup of tea.
2- Norwegian Women tend to congregate in large groups
3- Iceland + Eurovision = Love!
4- Sweden has no TV’s in their Bars, nor Grey Goose
5- Icelandic young adults are down with big band music
6- Early Do-Wop and Rock& Roll from the 1950’s are played everywhere in Europe
7- As well 80’s pop music
8- Latvians love mullets
9- Russians enjoy Smoking
10- Russians hate to accept large ruble denominations.
11- Chinese people love t-shirts with random english words.
12- Mongolian nomadic tribes have modern accessaries such as satellite dishes, cars and cell phones.
13- Russians don’t believe in queues
14- Chinese men are involved parents.
15- Germans are everywhere!