Social Media for the Intermediate User
March 22, 2011

Not too long ago I attended a social media seminar hosted by Constant Contact and presented by their regional director for Illinois, Steve Robinson at an Ing Direct Cafe in Downtown Chicago. Despite spending a little time brushing up on some basics, this was not Social Media 101, but an interactive discussion for intermediate users on how to use social media the right way.

At the event we talked about how many social media sites can be, and are being used as places of commerce, and as tools to market ones products and services. According to Constant Contact’s statistics, 51% of small businesses use Facebook, 29% use blogs, 27% use LinkedIn, 26% use Twitter, and 16% use YouTube. But, as any social media consultant will tell you, it is not enough to just use them. No, what is important is that you use them well.

You cannot have a static social media page. In fact, you really shouldn’t even have a static website any more. No, you need to have a social media page where you actively connect with, converse with, and disseminate valuable information and content to others while building and strengthening relationships with them. Through these pages you can reach out to fans, customers, and prospects, and build your network by sharing relevant, valuable content, and reaching out to and engaging more people. By doing this you can increase repeat business, as well as online referrals in the form of others sharing your content making online endorsements.

Unfortunately many people will never really get involved. Why? They psych themselves out knowing they’ll never have millions or even thousands of followers. They are unmotivated or uninterested in writing thought leadership articles. They think they will never have the dedicated staff to do it right. Or they feel they don’t have the time to stay current.

But what these people forget is that it is not about the quantity of your followers, but the quality. And, for those who feel unmotivated to write thought leadership articles or feel they lack the staff, ability, or time to do social media well, they may wish to consider hiring a consultant or content manager.

That said, if you do get involved, you may wonder how you decide which tools to use. Well, fist ask yourself where your customers, partners, suppliers, and competitors are. If you do not know, in most cases you can simply ask them. Also, use different media’s together.

Now, once you are setting up your pages, be sure to look professional, to take advantage of all the features each site has to offer (or at least the free ones), and to make sure that you properly brand your pages. Also, post some starter content to drive people to your pages or at least to make the pages look active. This can consist of company information, tips, practical advice, opinions, links to archived newsletters, polls, event announcements, blogs reviews of your products or services, articles, discussions, etc. Then, once your pages are up and your starter content is in place, announce your presence with an email with a strong call to action, ideally using an email marketing service such as Constant Contact. And, once you get going, be sure to be an expert, trade useful information, offer valuable insights, and engage your audience.

The Joy of SPAM!
September 4, 2010

Spam is never a good thing. There are spam blocking tools and plugins, but the good ones can cost as much as $50 per month, meaning if you are a social media director, content manager, consultant, intern, etc., and cannot yet charge that for an hour, you will be sorting through plenty of spam by hand.

When you manage a website it can be a hassle, eating up maybe an hour of your time per month, for some, probably more as they are forced to sort through dozens of alleged comments every day from people writing in agrammatical, broken English things like, “So Great! I need some infos in this post for my rapport de stage. Can i have your contact please?” Fortunately these are easy to spot and can be deleted quickly, especially if they link to a site that sells Ukrainian prescription drugs over the internet. But what do you do when you get a comment like this?

“Great post! I’m just starting out in community management/marketing media and trying to learn how to do it well – resources like this article are incredibly useful. As our company is based in the US, it?s all a little bit new to us. The example above is something that I be concerned about as well, how to show your personal genuine enthusiasm and write about the fact that your item is helpful in that situation.”

No the English isn’t perfect, but perhaps the man who wrote it chubby-fingered a key or two on his BlackBerry, or wrote it while waiting for a train in a hurry, or, as Rich recently wrote on his Facebook page when someone pointed out a run-on in one of his comments, he “didn’t know the grammar police were out [that day].” Maybe the person who wrote it really is new to America and views us as a valuable resource and is truly reaching out to us. His English is better than that of most Nigerian princes who are willing to give you a fraction of the $12 million they need to store in an American bank account until certain troubles blow over at home! But, then again, he left this comment on a blog post announcing we have a new website. How that article is helping him learn to do business better in the US, I do not know. Therefore, it was “Move[d] to Trash.”

Yes, it takes a bit of a trained eye to do this task, not a very trained one, but a trained one nonetheless. And when you’ve been doing it long enough, there are little joys you have to appreciate. What are they? The very obvious Spam comments! Here are a few that we hope bring you as much pleasure as they brought us, with their original grammar intact, and added commentary from your friendly, neighborhood social media director.

“I knew I had been correct. My friend and I placed a bet about which web site was superior. I believed your webpage was much better created, but she believed this post on trendy style suggestions was much much better. We rounded up 5 family memebers who experienced not observed either web site prior to to study them each more than. Majority chose your internet site. Thanks for maintaing an excellent website.” We at Randolph Sterling are proud of this honor. We are glad to help people win bets when we can through the quality of our website, and are happy to know that at least three of this person’s “5 family memebers who experienced not observed either web site prior to to study them each more than,” liked us better than the site on “trendy style suggestions.”

“Why have you deleted my comment? It is in fact useful unlike a lot of the comments posted here… I am going to post it again please dont get rid of it as some individuals will find it really useful. Hey guys i would like to tell you about this great system i’ve been using over the last two months called ****. This is probably mainly for the website administrator and also any one else intrested in making money or beginning to publish blogs. Personally, i made approximately $3000 because of this in my first month. It basically is a system that generates blogs for yourself 100% automatically that gets you plenty of visitors to your site directly from google along with other search engines. Don’t take my word for it… Check their website out and i guarantee they will hook you in. Its just amazing!” Odd that he is accusing us of deleting a comment we never approved, but we appreciate is moxy.

“With all the doggone snow we have had lately I am stuck indoors, fortunately there is the internet, thanks for giving me something to do.” This was written from someone in Pennsylvania…this past July. Need we say more?

 

The End of Summer Is almost Here
September 1, 2010

Here we are, the “end of summer” as the kids get back to school, summer vacations have been taken, and it is back to the old routine. But wait a second, I went out for a walk this morning to just reflect a bit on 2010 so far and it was already in the 80’s with high humidity…are you sure that summer is ending?

I had a great summer. I probably traveled a bit more than I would have preferred and my softball teams didn’t quite win as much as I would have liked, but I had a great time none the less. Summer for Randolph Sterling, Inc. was pretty good too, I’d have to say. Every day, I am lucky enough to learn something, and this summer (well 2010 actually) has been no different. It may be the most simple of lessons that stuck with me the strongest, but it was remembering that relationships are key in doing business. It has been said before by many people that people buy from people they KNOW, LIKE, & TRUST.

It used to be that trust was built by going door to door, shaking hands and getting to know your prospect face to face. The “house call” if you will. Then the salesperson’s world changed as the calling card gave way to the cell phone and people saw that they could call more people than they could see. Not as personal. But still pretty effective.

Next came email and wow, I can send the same message to all of my contacts at once—how efficient. What’s next, but Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, LinkedIn, eNewsletters, and people all over the world knowing exactly what I think about a topic instantly!

It seems that each level of “improvement” in reaching our target contacts has made us more efficient, but has also taken us further away from that personal interaction. So why is it that this year has been so good for us? Well two reasons, actually. First, we realized pretty early that no one of these solutions will help us bring in the clients we want, so we developed an approach that allowed us to integrate all of these into our sales processes; allowing us to reach prospects many different ways but always in the way they would like. Second, our clients realized that there was no “magic bullet” either, so we have been doing a lot to help them find the right mix of marketing and sales to work for their team and the individuals who comprise it.

What are you doing to find new clients? Are you doing the same old thing and hoping for better results, or are you trying different approaches and evaluating the results? Let us know what you are doing and how it is working, or if you would like help developing or implementing a plan. Please don’t hesitate to call us…or visit us, email us, hit us up on Facebook or Twitter, or see us at a networking event!

Happy Labor Day everyone. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and then, get right back to it!

The Importance of Specific Social Media Goals
August 3, 2010

Back around the holidays I was at a party where I met a social media skeptic, who put me in one of those situations where I was given minimal information about a business and thirty seconds to explain how implementing the social media could vastly improve every aspect about it.

The business was a small medical office where this woman worked with maybe one or two other doctors. That was all I had to go on.

My response at the time was to rattle off a number of clichés about controlling the conversation about her business, increasing its visibility, letting people get to know her better, presenting herself as an expert in her field, etc.

She was unimpressed and our contact at the party pretty much ended there.

In retrospect, I can understand why she was unimpressed. I rattled off a list of clichés she had probably heard before, that ultimately had little relevance to her business (although, in my defense, I will say she should have given me more to go on, such as what she specifically hoped to accomplish).

Generally speaking, if you are a family physician running a small medical office with one other person, how much does controlling the conversation about your business really matter? And, although the number of people using the internet to do research on their doctors is probably more than one might initially think, I believe the question of how much Twitter, Facebook, and amateur blogs come into play (as opposed to specialized sites for grading doctors) is open to debate.

Now (and here is why having well thought out goals is important) if you wish to become a resident medical guru on sites like Twitter and Facebook, then, by all means, join them and get to work. If you’ve just written a book or are hoping to become the next Dr. Oz, then building a fan base through the social media is an excellent idea if you want to take the time (perhaps two or three hours per day) to research the big medical news stories, blog about them, and promote your blog through Facebook and Twitter. But, if you’re just simply hoping to increase your number of patients, how much do you really believe your writings or tweets are going to compel people to come to you the next time they get sick? Some would say quite a bit, but in the medical field that does seem like a tough idea to sell, even before you get to the professional and ethical concerns involved. A better decision in this situation, the situation of the doctor I met, might be to set up a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page as a way to stay in contact with your current patients, and maybe, if you feel enough is going on at your office to justify it, start sending out a monthly e-newsletter using a program such as Constant Contact.

 

The Results are in for Randolph Sterling’s Newsletter Survey!
May 10, 2010

On and off for the past several months Rich and I have discussed sending out a survey to our loyal newsletter readers to see if they felt they were getting the most value out of our newsletter. However, it was never quite a top priority for either of us. There were always just other projects to work on and other tasks to do. Then about six weeks ago we noticed our readership had been down for our last couple of newsletters and decided it might finally be time to put together our survey.

We used used a survey service provided by Constant Contact, the same company we use to help us with our newsletters. To make the process as easy possible we largely used questions from a template provided by Constant Contact in addition to a few original questions of our own. (The only real problem was trying to determine the wording of a particular question where we weren’t sure if we wanted to gauge people’s “satisfaction” with our newsletter, or the amount of “value” they found in it; this might sound like a minor detail, but it was something there was a fair amount of internal discussion over.)

What we ultimately found after the surveys were sent and the results were in was very beneficial, and we thank all those who took the time to answer our questions, and we promise we will do our best to implement your thoughts, suggestions, and comments in our future newsletters.

Some of these findings suggest we should make minor changes, such as sending the newsletter on Wednesdays instead of Thursdays, having shorter article “teasers,” putting in more pictures, and, at least for now, sending the newsletter once a month rather than twice a month. Other results though have helped us make some very important decisions concerning the content we provide. For example, we found that our readers would like more case studies and more articles on industry trends. They also want clearer calls to action. And, they have convinced us to try to bring in the occasional special guest blogger.

Now, you may not see all these changes right away, but we guarantee we are working on them to bring you a better newsletter, one that, to paraphrase one of our respondents, is not just another information source, but something that compels you to act, adjust, and analyze your business.

WordPress vs. Hootsuite: When the Stats Disagree
February 3, 2010

One of the first things Rich, Randolph Sterling’s founder and CEO, asked me when I was hired as the company’s social media intern last summer was whether there was a way for us to track our success. In other words, did he spend his flight from Chicago to Raleigh or Raleigh to Chicago writing a blog post that might as well have been scribbled on the back of a napkin and thrown out when he landed, or did he do something constructive with his time that others would appreciate and find helpful, something that might even lead them to consider paying for greater access to his expertise.

The answer I had back in July was that I did not know of a way to count how many people clicked on one of our tiny urls through Twitter, but I could still keep track of how popular our WordPress blogs were. And, at that time, that was fine. Then I found HootSuite, a Twitter management tool that allowed me to not only schedule tweets, but know how many people clicked on a given link. It was a dream come true.  Then, when HootSuite added a feature that allowed me to simultaneously schedule tweets and Facebook status updates, the dream only got better.

However, something I barely realized at first was that the numbers I was getting from HootSuite for clicks on links to our WordPress blogs were inconsistent with the numbers I was getting from WordPress for the number of views on a given day or for a given post. Initially I dismissed this thinking that maybe there was a minor bug or that HootSuite had counted my own clicks while WordPress did not. But then the discrepancies became more pronounced. I’d log into the HootSuite account and get excited when I saw we had fifty clicks on two or three of our blog posts in less than a day, and joyfully head over to our WordPress account, only to be crushed when I found out that, according to WordPress, we had significantly fewer visitors than what HootSuite had led me to believe. This troubled me for awhile, not only because I knew that Rich logged into our WordPress account on occasion while never going near the more generous HootSuite account, but because to me this was a real problem. In my mind one of the statistical tools I had come to rely on was being dishonest, but which one, and, more importantly, why?

As I would later find out, neither one was being dishonest per se. What was happening was that for one reason or another WordPress does not register clicks from HootSuite, which meant that the numbers from HootSuite were accurate, as were the ones from WordPress, and basic addition could give me our final number in the future (or, as I may be inclined to do, I could continue using HootSuite to schedule Tweets, while using the Shortlink feature to shorten our blog links). And, as it turns out, this is a relatively common problem, and the people at WordPress are working to fix it. But the question remains, what about our Digg, Reddit, and Constant Contact links?