Make Facebook more effective for your small business with one simple step

No doubt if you’ve played around with Facebook company pages for your little photography side-hustle, or even your big business, you’ve wondered why it is so stagnant. I mean, you had your little honeymoon period when you first announced it, and all your friends who felt obligated to like it did their duty. But now one “like” a week isn’t cutting it. What to do?

Spend a little money.

“But I’m on a low—like zero—budget!” you protest. Well, no. No one is on a zero budget. You pay for what has value to you; the electricity bill, gas in your car, that lovely latte with whipped cream.

When I say a little, let’s borrow from Dave Ramsey and call it Baby Step 1. But this is my Facebook promotion baby step 1: Spend $7 on Facebook promotion.

Do you have $7?

Assuming the answer is “yes” (if not, you don’t even have a side-business, you have a really cheap hobby), then lets use it, and get maximum value out of it. Using a little game theory, you can really put that $7 to work. I’ll give you a strategy…

…in my next post. Which is now available: How to plot your first Facebook Promotion

This is for Technorati: 6KE6KEY4TZUX


Who Really Has Time for Social Media in the Professional World?

Before you’ve tried it, it sounds easy. You just sit down, maybe even with a service like Hootsuite, configure your company Facebook page and schedule a couple posts. No sweat, right?

But then you notice, the posts kind of look alike and, a week later, they’re getting no attention.

So you up the game a little bit, do some googling, see what’s trending in cat pictures, and before you know it you spent an hour writing one post.

Out of a new sense of panic you find a Youtube video and a meme to fill out your schedule. Still, little or no interest generated in your audience.

But you are a professional: You have customers to keep happy. So Facebook takes a back seat while you do what puts food on the table. A month later you’re talking to another professional and Facebook comes up in the conversation. With the mental image of the whopping 3 likes on your company page (two being you and your spouse) you say, “Yeah I tried that, but it didn’t really work.”

From that moment on, if you see a local business with 3,000 likes or even a major company with over half a million likes, you feel a twinge of resentment. How can they do it? You think. It has to be their big budget. You console yourself. But then you read an article in a trade magazine and,  oh great, there is a sole-proprietor in your industry that has 30,000 likes and booming business. HOW?!?!?

If you want to be on a success trajectory in your social media. you have two perfectly legitimate choices:

1, you could take the time to educate yourself more on how to do your own successful social media, and carve out some time to organize yourself and establish a production rhythm.

Or 2, you could hire it out.

You may have just read number 1 and said ‘that’s time I don’t have.’ then read number 2 and said ‘…and that’s money I don’t have.’ I’m here to tell you you’re wrong on both points.

I can tell you you’re wrong because I’m not making a bent penny from this blog post.

First of all, you can do it yourself if it is really a priority. That means doing some reading, organizing some content sources, and preparing set time to write and schedule content and to reply to interaction. Also a must is a small budget for promotion. You would be amazed how far even $50 per month can take you.

Regarding contracting out to an agency, it will still require some of your time and attention. There is no getting away from the fact that your business is the topic of the content and that you will have to provide some information and maybe photos to an agency. However an agency is well trained and methodical, they have content curation, they have brand monitoring, they have fancy software, they have content specialists who are pretty fast at delivering quality content, and they know social  media really well and usually have the numbers to prove it.

Hiring out doesn’t eliminate the need for you to make some of your own posts, or respond to interaction, but it takes the heavy lifting off your shoulders and usually grows your following at an optimal rate.

How much it costs depends on your budget. There are definitely recommended budgets, and you will get more when you spend more, but often a service plan can be tailored to your budget. Think about $500 per month as a starting place. If you can commit $500-1000 additional for campaigns, it would be money well spent.*

*Obviously I can’t speak for any agency. Prices and quality may vary substantially. I know at least one agency that recommends $9,000 per month. Again it is money well spent but not many small businesses can afford that. Don’t be ashamed of a small budget. Agencies balance their time over several clients.

As a side note, if you are tempted to try an agency for just one month. They have heard that a hundred times, and they will tell you what they have told everyone else 100 times. You can do that, but social media is relationship building. A short run is more like 3-6 months. Social scales exponentially, so by using them for one month or two you are actually robbing yourself of the highest value months.

So now like any smart businessman you’re thinking, $500 per month for three months, plus one big campaign… $2,500. If you’re starting to think you could hire someone part time for minimum wage for the same money, abort thought! Remember that in hiring an agency they are trained, researched, practiced, have professional accountability and development, and are tooled up.

The time lost in finding your unqualified worker, setting them up on a computer, and them getting up to speed to the extent that your social media is on a positive trajectory (if that ever happens) will be to the tune of weeks if not months.

Agencies want to retain your business just as you want to retain your customers. They will do their level best to return value for your investment because they want to keep you as a customer.
It doesn’t matter which route you take, so long as your actions are substantial enough to yield real returns. Anything short of that is indeed “not working for you.”

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When Did Social Media Become An Entire Department?

It’s a really funny Jack-in-the-Box commercial: A keyed up young woman bounces into an office copy room and rambles on to Jack about pictures and trends that culminates with her snapping a selfie of them. The Jack character says “Let me guess: the new social media intern?” and instructs her to make copies, which leads her to mistake the glass scanning surface of the copier for a touch screen.

jack_box_sm_intern

Tee hee. I laughed. I watched it again. I laughed again… hey It’s funny!

But I’m afraid that stereotype is becoming the impression a lot of experiences managers and executives have of social media experts. I could be very offended at the several implications the commercial made, but I guess I’m too lighthearted for that. If she was my social media intern she’d be way too busy to make copies. Also, the commercial has a modicum of truth. Five years ago social media was just on the major uptake with a lot of companies and a lot of the available pool of “experts” were just hipsters clinging to first-generation iPhones.

But the industry has matured a lot in a very short time. Just as we saw “webmasters” in the 90’s go from being one 40-somethings man who plays Dungeons and Dragons to a wide array of web specialists, we’re seeing the same phenomenon in web content (including in itself Social Media). A few years ago a company had the social media expert. But now, thing’s they’re-a changin. Let me give you a quick peek.

The overall trend is the Publishing companies of yore are now being replicated in social media agencies and companies with agency-sized social media departments.

But with this is a further realization that there is a union with web content, and that the latter has been largely neglected over the past decade. So now both are being brought into focus as the industry matures.

I’m going to take this from the bottom up because these teams exist by reason of the tasks they perform:

Content & Engagement is what we think of first when we think social media experts. These people sit around and think of everything fun, clever, juicy, informational, and sometimes promotional to publish. Under this general umbrella they perform three major tasks: 1. They find, collect, and monitor news sources and trends. 2, they schedule some content while rapidly producing timely content. 3, they respond to positive comments.

Then we have brand monitoring. These people are the bloodhounds of the internet. Their software is always looking for any mention of the company. But beyond that, they also monitor competitors and may be authorized to communicate to customers of those competitors on social media.

Customer service has a chair between brand monitoring and engagement. They field the complaints and escalate them accordingly, usually within the mechanisms of the conventional customer service department, though some companies are merging their entire customer service departments into social media.

Akin to brand monitoring are the lead gen agents. They scour the interwebs for people seeking the products/services offered, or those dissatisfied with the competition. They employ strategies to soften a prospect and develop them as a sales lead when appropriate.

Finally there is the gray-area position of web marketing. This isn’t strictly a function of social media (it’s part of e-commerce) but because of the many options for advertizing and various promotions on social media, there is a very real connection.

In a larger company or agency these roles are staffed by teams, each with layers of middle-management and possibly even one or two executives. It is easy now to imagine how a larger company or agency can keep 30 people busy, and why having one expert is as inadequate as having one webmaster would be now.

Companies like Delta Air Lines, Symantec (Norton), Dell, and Gatoraide have impressive “mission control” type arrays for their monitoring efforts alone. I gotta get me one of these!

dell-social-media-listening-command-center-3
Photo from cnn.com


Assumptions Wanted: Dead or Un-Alive

In my blog post Online Content: Dogs Are Not Horses, I began by mentioning the danger of assumptions. I’m here to tell you they are more dangerous than they think.

Assumptions are not just the poison pill of outdated marketers and executives, they affect everyone, even, yes even, the social media expert! Yes, I catch myself making assumptions regarding social media content or strategy that seems intuitive to me, but I later learn is counter-productive.

Snap! Is there any hope for anyone?

The answer is in the long fancy term: mitigation. We make so many decisions and judgement calls there is no way to eliminate them. Who in any industry can achieve that? But we can educate and challenge ourselves so that we have the fewest assumptions of anyone in the room. That’s a good start.

How?

Read. Read and read and read. Read this super-fantastic yet redundant blog. Read books with a better than 4-star Amazon rating.

Analyze. Let your reporting tools confront you. If you went down the wrong track, it’s more professional to admit (to only yourself if you’re lucky) you were wrong. Label your assumption as an “experiment” and call it conclusive: that you eliminated a possibility and are pursuing another, because you are.
It’s not always easy. There have been times I’ve looked at the statistics and started to experience the 5 stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, remorse, and acceptance. Your ability to confront your own assumptions will determine whether you are a professional in the truest sense, or a mistitled lackey. The key isn’t to always be right the first time, but to have the right response to feedback. That can require courage, but will have positive career implications for you in the long run.


Online Content: Dogs are not Horses

I see it again and again; an executive, or a manager, or a sole proprietor, making an assumption about their social media or web site content. Often they follow a pattern of logic, steeped in sometimes decades of experience and best practice. The problem is, it’s best practice in their area of expertise, not content.

Let me tell you a true story. For a couple thousand years civilization has been very focused on horses. They were for a very long time the means of getting around. When you went a-courtin, you would borrow your dad’s Mustang to impress the girls. Generally anyone who was interested in transportation knew at least a few things about horses, and probably a lot.

Now we’re in the age of the automobile, and horses, while still abundant, are the thing of niche enthusiasts. Many of these same enthusiasts also breed the higher lines of champion dogs, which led to something that negatively affects dog’s in general to this day: their quality was and sometimes is based on physical features of horses.

This illustrates a classic rift in experts. The equestrian dog breeder can point to extensive knowledge acquired over dozens of generations. The relatively new experts who explore dogs as dogs see progress in a different light. They have the advantage of specialization without equal benefits of general or multi-generational experience.

This brings us back to our crusty old marketing managers, some of them multi-millionaires, having built companies with billions in revenue, staring down an upstart web content editor with starkly different ideas. If the old school wins, you get something that is neither a dog nor a horse and everyone loses. Often this is exactly what happens, and the company deems the web and social projects as ineffective, not realizing they guaranteed that result before the project started.

The key is a mutual respect. The seasoned executives must grant the freedom and have the patience to let the professional content producer to their job according to their specializations’ best practice and strategy for maximum long-term results. Content creators should look to veteran executives and managers for business experience and understanding of their industry.


You Are Branding

It has happened to me more than once: someone hands me their plain white business card, with blocks of text confusingly jammed in all four corners. Perhaps, because they know what I do, they feel the need to add this disclaimer, “It’s just a plain business card. I haven’t branded it yet.”

But they have. They just don’t realize it.

Branding is not your business, yet it is part of all your business. It is like an ever-present adjective: always describing your business without actually being it. Every type of interaction with your customer is branding. Every graphic, every piece of printed material, the sign, the landscaping, the interior decor, even phone conversations (and god forbid automated directories) reflect the company’s brand.

These don’t sometimes make an impression on your customer; they always make an impression on your customer. It may be mild or unmotivated, but it is still defining of you.

That plain white business card is branding. The blandness, the lack of effort, that is the brand. That is what it communicates to people. No disclaimers can change that. And the more you invest in those business cards, the more you print, the more you put in people’s hands, that is brand equity. Don’t invest equity in bad branding.

The good news is, a lot of competitors do it badly also. If you take the time to ensure you have a strong and consistent brand (in addition to great products and service) you will put yourself in a smaller, more elite league of competitors.


The Peril of Just “Doing” Social Media

An integral part of management is to define and delegate tasks. In any size organization this practice is critical to the overall function. This is all the more true if third-party vendors are involved. While the granular approach is fine for many operational aspects, it is suicide to a social media effort.

If social media is isolated in the company it loses the support channels needed to be effective. Why? Because social media isn’t a task like driving a truck or processing forms, it redefines the type of relationship you have with your customers. Also, because social media is very much the voice of the company, the integrity of your reputation depends on the company backing up what that voice says.

“..social media isn’t a task like driving a truck or processing forms, it redefines the type of relationship you have with your customers.”

As a mental exercise, think of the Press Secretary for the President of the United States. In a sense their job is simple, yet due to their exposure for and association with the President, they get a lot of attention from the executive. The social media content producers must develop content that is consistent with the company’s message and values, but their words are only as meaningful as the company’s actual practice.

Social media has a tight feedback loop, so failure to have vertical integration will manifest quickly and painfully as people use their own social media reach to amplify real or perceived inconsistencies between their expectations and your delivery.

At this point there may be a temptation to dampen the messages you send through the social media channels. Resist! Being tepid or defensive will show through your marketing messages. If you seek to be a dominant force in your market you must take pains to ensure the customer is very happy.

For social media and damage control, this means a fast response to complaints by people who actually have the authority to resolve the issues. Also, don’t view the complaining customer as the problem, but rather analyze the circumstances of their complaint and see if employ training or policy adjustments are needed.

Taking the high road and driving for customer satisfaction, based on a responsive relationship to your customers, is the way to ensure you’re not just “doing” social media, but “being” and engaging and caring company.


Why No Business Can Ignore Social Media

It’s not always laziness. A lot of business professionals are caught up in being successful. It’s easy to be too busy making money to devote effort to social media. The thing is, when someone is thinking like that, they are only thinking about engaging prospects and turning them into new customers.

But that is only half of what social media is.

The other half is darker: People complain. The internet, specifically social media has given the consumer the megaphone. A decade of reputation building can be undone in 24 hours by an angry customer. So a key aspect of social media is risk mitigation, and that does demand attention, even in good times.

So how exactly do you mitigate risk in social media? Hint: don’t ignore people. Many people just want to be heard. They may calm down or be gratified even if you don’t fix the problem, just by knowing you care.

Think of a real-life situation. Someone stands up in the middle of a little league game and starts loudly voicing complaints about your company. What would you do? You would probably address them directly, get them to calm down, and take the conversation elsewhere. That’s exactly what you do in social media.

Pro tip: a lot of “what to do” in social media comes right from what you’d do in a similar physical situation. I self-servingly call it JD’s Law of Normalcy.

This is often a good time to practice some form of Positively Outstanding Service. Where in the past, POS usually only secured you loyalty from a customer and maybe their inner circle of friends and family, POS can now ripple through the internet, bringing inestimable returns.

So make it public that you care and that you will address the person privately. That shows everyone you care and may plant a seed of doubt as to the validity of the complaint. Then through private messages (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) or whatever method of communication, handle the customer as you would any complaining customer. Bear in mind that whatever the outcome, good or bad, they may tell the world of that too.

Set up your pages and profiles as per my article How to Not Use Social Media, and set notifications. Also Google your own company name from time to time, and have other people with interest keep an eye out for trouble for you. Listening and timely response is the only way to manage risk in the world of social media.


How To Win Over a Competitors Unhappy Customers

You see it one day in your news feed. Someone you know to be a customer of one of your competitors are complaining bitterly. ‘This is my chance.’ you think to yourself. You gleefully tweet back that you understand their frustration and would be happy to treat them right. Boom, one point for the home team. Easy win, right?

But you never hear from them. What happened?

I’m just going to call it JD’s Law of Normalcy: Treat online interactions like in-person interactions.

Imagine there is a girl (or guy) you always liked, but they were with someone else. Then one day you find them alone, weeping, and sure enough they just had a break-up. Would you put an arm around them and say “I’m sorry you’re sad, but I’ll be your new boyfriend”?

No, you wouldn’t. So applying JD’s Law of Normalcy, you wouldn’t do that online with prospects either. It just comes across wrong. Too opportunistic, too predatory, even if you have genuine motives.

So what should you do?

Again, apply the LoN. You would comfort that person, and leave it there. Your concern is solicitation enough in that circumstance. The same is true online. Show that you’re listening, show you care, and leave it there. Walk away. Definitely take future opportunities to engage them without being too direct. You see where this is going now.


Tone is Everything

A well dressed man is screaming into his cell phone, angry about something going down at work. His wife steps out on the walk beside him, at which point he ends the call, kisses her on the temple and says “Hey babe, ready to go?” in his for-her-only voice.

With a shrill holler and a whistle he heralds a cab. Once inside he uses his firm command voice to instruct the driver where to go. Once underway, he dials a friend and cheerfully invites him to a dinner event.

In less than sixty seconds one person expressed himself in five distinct voices. He’s not unstable—he’s human. His communication fits his listener.

But when it comes to written communication, too many companies seem comfortable with the idea of their voice sounding like the Encyclopedia Britannica. Some consider an air of formality as “professional” or “safe”, not realizing it is only as professional as an internal memo, and is neither safe nor competitive.

I’ve heard things like “Google can use silly error messages because they are so big.” seemingly oblivious to the fact that fun system messages was part of the initial appeal that led to Google becoming a giant.

For your marketing you have to use your sales voice. You have to be friendly, inviting, personable, even a little vulnerable to get that relationship established. If it’s so acceptable on the sales floor, why not on your Facebook page?