Getting Down to Business with Constant Contact, Social Media, and Daniel Nuccio
May 31, 2011

Last month I had the opportunity to attend Constant Contact’s “Get Down to Business” seminar in Chicago.  Not only was I able to meet with a variety of people working in social media, or at least implementing it for their businesses, as well as see presentations from several top people in the industry, but I was also able to attend a special lunch with Steve Robinson, Gail Goodman, and a small handful of respected guests and loyal Constant Contact customers.

Now, trying to sum up a morning-long seminar with about half a dozen speakers, followed by an hour and a half lunch in only four to eight hundred words would be a bit of a challenge, and I know I surely would have to leave a number of things out. Therefore I will just present some highlights, and interesting pieces of information I learned, or had reiterated to me, that I believe may be beneficial to those I share them with. Some are deserving of full length blog posts, which, if you are one of our loyal readers, you may see in the future, while others are just small golden nuggets.

Everyone’s doing it…or at least soon will be. The numbers show that more than 160 million people are tweeting while 500 million people actively use Facebook. And, according to Sprout Social’s Justyn Howard, in the near future, more small businesses will have a Facebook page than a website. Similar numbers Howard presented at the seminar indicated that in 2005 marketing efforts typically consisted of TV commercials, emails, phone calls, and face to face contact, whereas today, many of those older forms of marketing are being overshadowed tweets, check-ins, and Facebook status updates

Get involved where your clients, prospects, and potential customers are involved.  If you do not know where they are involved, ask. There is no point in using LinkedIn if everyone you either have or want to have a business relationship with is on Twitter, and vice versa.

Social bookmarking sites are dead…or at least soon will be. The only people who still use them are diehard social bookmarking site users. Unless you know your clients or prospects are diehard social bookmarking site users, don’t waste your time on Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, or the others.

When you do get involved, be a concierge, not a salesman. There is a commonly used analogy in social media circles that going on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media site is like going to a cocktail party. When you arrive, you do not go to a bunch of random people saying “My name is Mr. X.  I sell Y. This is why Y is so great. Would you like to buy Y?” Instead, you mingle with people. You join the conversations already going on. Many of these conversations may have nothing to do with business. But, while you are mingling with people, you are building a certain level of rapport with them, and, when they need Y, or know someone who needs why, they will be more likely to think of you.

Social Media is not a quick fix! If your business is failing or has a bad business plan or has an ill developed sales process, social media probably can’t save you. Implementing social media takes time. Again, it is about relationship building, not selling!

People trust third party recommendations more than they trust you! There is a lot to be said for the idea of social proof. But, put simply, when you say good things about you, you come off as a salesman who will say what he has to make a sale. When others say good things about you, such as those you have been building rapport with through your social media tools over a period of time, they come off as satisfied customers, and are seen as more trustworthy, or at least less biased.

People are terrible at measuring the indirect effects of social media…probably partly because doing so can be difficult…if not near impossible. I am aware of how this sounds…It sounds like an easy out for any social media consultant not doing their job properly or investor in a bad social media tool trying to convince others things aren’t so bad, and unfortunately the above can be used this way. But, at the same time, simply taking a look at whether your business is doing better now compared to before you implemented a social media program may not necessarily give a clear answer given the myriad of factors that can influence success or failure. Now, I suppose an experiment or quasi-experiment can be done, things like the number of retweets you get or the level of activity on a Facebook page can be measured, and new clients/customers, can be asked or surveyed about how they found you, but, at the end of the day, activity on a social media page is not always converted into new business and even when asked, your new client/customer may not be able to tell you that they received your contact info after a friend recommended you after checking out your website after seeing a tweet of yours retweeted by a different friend.

There are no social media experts…just people who might know a little more and have a little more experience. Everyone who works in social media knows this. Anyone who says differently is likely doing so either due to ignorance or deceit. Now, again, this is not to say that there are not people who know more or have more experience, and if you are hiring someone to help you with social media you should be able to reasonably expect (or demand) that they have a certain level of familiarity with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, that they know which sites are being phased out, and that they know how to use some of the more prominent social media management tools like Hootsuite and TweetDeck, but, that said, there are changes being made to all the major social media sites quite frequently, and new social media sites, management tools, and other various instruments to make any number of social media related tasks easier are being developed everyday, and even people like Steve Robinson, Gail Goodman, and Justyn Howard, among countless others, will admit that there is always more to learn.

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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 Reluctant Social Media User
October 9, 2010

Having seen The Social Network over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think about the early days of Facebook, or at least my early days with it. When I first heard of Facebook, it was the spring of 2005. I was about to finish up my first year of college and a friend of mine from high school, who I hadn’t heard from in awhile, was pestering me about how I needed to join this cool new site that would allow me to post a bunch of information about myself to share with the people from college I saw every day, as well as the people from high school and middle school I didn’t bother to stay in touch with, and, in return, I could view the information these people were posting about themselves…and, as added benefits, we could post funny messages on one another’s “walls.”

My reaction was one of disinterest. If I wanted to speak with one of my friends from high school, I had their phone numbers and email addresses. If I didn’t, I probably wasn’t that close to them to begin with. If I wanted to talk to someone from one of my classes, I could talk to them when I got to class.

But, my friend protested, Facebook would allow me gather information about my friends before actually talking to them so I would know what to talk to them about before actually talking to them…and I could “poke” them, and maybe even marry one of them as a joke.

My reaction was still one of disinterest, but my friend was persistent, and one night while I was bored I decided to check it out and after taking the time to set up a profile and give it a chance I was overwhelmingly underwhelmed. What was the point of it, I wondered. I’m a private person. I don’t want to share my every thought with everyone and I don’t want to read theirs. But, because everyone else was doing it, I felt I sort of had to at least set up a very basic profile. I filled out a fair amount of information about myself, my interests, my likes, and contacted the dozen or so people from high school I was friends with in real life and looked up a few people from middle school I sort of regretted falling out of touch with at the time…But then what? I left the account inactive for several months until the Fall semester when I unsuccessfully tried using it for dating purposes, learning the hard way that just because someone is a petite redhead in their profile picture, does not mean they are a petite redhead in real life (perhaps more about this if I see Catfish)…then I let my account sit inactive again, only occasionally updating it every few months when I saw a really good movie or when I wanted to do a little research on one of my classmates.

And that’s the way it was for years until I saw an online posting for a social media internship with Randolph Sterling, Inc. and figured that it was time to really update my account, as well as do copious amounts of research, both in a hands on fashion, and by reading blogs like Mashable and Spin Sucks, ultimately finding that much had changed in the years my account was inactive. To sum up these changes, Facebook had  grown up. Unlike MySpace which could never shake its reputation as a place where people went to promote their failed bands and find semi-anonymous sex, while broadcasting their immaturity, Facebook had become a place for adults. It could now be used as a tool to search for news, similar to what Twitter was, and it allowed pretty much anyone to promote their businesses through pages, ads, and groups.

Anyway, now it’s my job to tell people 15-40 years older than me that they too need to get involved before their business competition does, and do so by trying to sell them on the idea that through Facebook and similar sites they can implement an indirect sales strategy in which they implement the social media to build relationships with prospects and clients they otherwise would have no excuse to stay in contact with, a strategy that, so far, is working pretty well for us at Randolph Sterling, Inc.

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!

Do You Know What You’re Doing Online?
August 8, 2010

Back when I was in college I was fairly active with a few groups that dealt with issues related to science education. I ran the psychology club at my school for a number of years, bringing in three or four speakers per semester that would speak on such topics as getting into grad school, autism, the social psychology of mind control and love, the psychology of religion, the evolution of behavior, and an endless number of other subjects. I was (and technically still am) a member of Psi Chi and had the opportunity to represent my school’s chapter at the American Psychological Association’s conference in Boston in 2008. And after I graduated I met a number of people affiliated with non-profit science education groups that operate at the national level.

Since I began my career working with social media, I have been asked to and have offered to help some of these groups, usually pro bono since I know they don’t have a lot of money and I agree with their goals. In doing so I have noticed them making a number of mistakes that are all too common.

For example, I have noticed that some, or at least their affiliates, use poorly designed websites they seldom update as their primary means of reaching out to people through the internet, and sit around wondering why they are not making more connections. I have also noticed a fair amount of reluctance on the part of some of these groups to get involved in the social medial, often hearing that the social media is “still new” and that they would rather wait and see where it goes before they act. When they do get involved in the social media, I’ve noticed that many have done so half-heartedly, using it as a one way means of communication, assuming that if they make one post a month and put up a couple of links people will just flock to them. And when they seek or receive advice, I’ve noticed they are slow to implement it, and don’t even always do so completely.

Now, this is not an indictment of any of these groups, but examples of unfortunate social media practices that turn people off to it or convince them that it’s a passing fad that will soon fade, or something more than a fad that has no real value. And this kind of poor implementation of the social media is not unique to a handful science education non-profits I happen to know people at, but across practically every industry you can think of.

Some things to remember are that the social media is not new, an inactive website or social media account is as good as no website or account at all, and that these mediums are not one way, but are intended to encourage and foster conversation.

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.

 

One Year and Going Strong
July 26, 2010

It’s been about year now since I joined the Randolph Sterling team.

At the time, Randolph Sterling lacked any social media efforts beyond Rich’s personal LinkedIn account. The company website was out-dated, although still on par with many small to mid-sized businesses that I came across while partaking in my job hunt. And I was working as an academic research assistant, a job that entailed doing everything from data entry and statistical analyses on SPSS to grinding up fruit flies to extract, isolate, and replicate specific sequences of their DNA.

However, although such work can be fun, and will look good on my CV if and when I decide to pursue a graduate degree in experimental psychology, that kind of work also tends to be inconsistent and not very practical in terms of work experience.

Therefore, I felt it would be beneficial to explore other opportunities in the mean time because (1) if it is a few years till I return to academic study I would like to have regular work that does not involve a name tag or a green apron, and (2) even if I entered grad school tomorrow, I would still likely need a job, preferably one without a name tag or green apron.

So, I started looking for openings in marketing and advertising, thinking that both are essentially highly applied sub-fields of psychology loosely based on principles and concepts from studies in social psychology, perception, and cognition. What I found though was not very encouraging.  For the most part it appeared that unless you were a computer programmer or an SEO specialist, or had three years of relevant work experience and an MBA, all that was really open were low level telemarketing/sales jobs that involved working 40-60 hours per week for considerably less than minimum wage, at least for the first few months. There were also a few office assistant positions which gave me some hope of something to apply to as a last resort, but luckily it didn’t come that because I found a company in my area looking for a social media intern. That company was Randolph Sterling.

After speaking with Rich a few times on the phone, I finally met with him at a nearby Panera. He saw potential in developing a social media program for his company, but, at the time he was relatively unfamiliar with blogging, Facebook, and Twitter, and didn’t have the time to handle much of that stuff personally. Following a second meeting at Panera, I was hired for a six to eight week trial period.

Since then quite a bit has changed. Not only do we have active Facebook and Twitter pages, but also blogs, now hosted on our new website, and a growing email marketing campaign through Constant Contact. Also, as anyone familiar with his blog or regular Panera stories knows, Rich has become incredibly active on Facebook, and in blogging. And, as for myself, my brief trial period was extended well beyond those six to eight weeks, and in that time I feel I have learned quite a bit about the social media, as well as sales and marketing. I’ve learned to use quite a few new social media tools and soon may even get more involved areas of the company beyond our social media efforts.

 

What’s Your Swag? Strengthening Your Social Media Network
April 27, 2010

After months of listening to and trying to figure out what a social media is, how it can be used, what’s a twitter, who’s face is in a book and what am I linking in, I thought it might be time to try and catch up with the rest of the world.   I knew going in it was going to be tough to get me up to speed in 2010, but a man has to start sometime.  I mean, I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn, but I really don’t know what to do with them, and more importantly, how to use them to my advantage.

I was invited to a seminar about LinkedIn and knew this would be my first step.  But, I decided to jump in feet first.  It was amazing some of what I learned.  Could there be 940 million people engaged in social networking?  We don’t just advertise with famous or attractive people telling us to buy something because they like it.  Now, marketing includes converting someone through conversation.  Want to know about a product, go on line.  You can find out whatever you want in a matter of minutes.  Millions of people spend how many millions of hours just writing about everything and anything.  Who would have thought that people have that much time on their hands?  I was asked what I thought my “swag factor” was.  I had no idea what they were talking about.  I found out that the swag is important as it refers to how strong your network is.

Looking for a job?  Social networking is a great way to go.  Need a plumber?  Go on line and find any number of plumbers with multiple recommendations.  Want to find out about your next door neighbor?  There’s a good chance you can read about them on one the social media web sites.  Unbelievable to me what can be done.

This seminar was about LinkedIn and how to use it.  LinkedIn is a professional networking site that helps make key business connections.  An excellent presentation was given by Sima Dahl at Parlay Communications.  She went over how it should be set up and the work that needs to be done to maintain your account.  Me?  I filled out my home page and figured I have done my work.  Now, all I have to do is sit back and wait for all the important people to contact me.  I have to now admit that I might have been a little off on that assumption.

There is far more involved than what I thought.  Do you know you should change your status every week or so?  Seems doing that means all of your contacts will know and maybe take a look.  You need to make deposits on a regular basis.  Deposits?  You should spend time each week responding to requests, recommendations, and changes in the status of others.  And, they want my picture posted.  Ok, if I can use my high school or college picture, it’s a definite go.  But now, I don’t know.  However, statistics show that we like to see what the person looks like that we may be dealing with.  Makes us a little more comfortable.  The picture is still on my list of things to do, but moving up quickly.

This is a marathon though, not a sprint.  It takes time to build a network.  It takes time to maintain it as well.  However, if done correctly it seems that social networking is a way to market yourself and help others in your network as well.  We want to buy from people, not companies.  We are going to feel more comfortable about whatever we are looking for if others tell us it is a good service, product or idea.

Like many companies, Randolph Sterling is getting into social media more and more to spread the word about what we do and how we can help companies be more successful.  Whether we like it or not, this is most certainly the future.  So, if you’re not on board or, like me, just getting started, don’t wait too long to get connected.

So, if you got nothing else out of this little journey on the dark side, remember what your swag is and you want it to be strong.

A Quick Lesson in Social Media from Randolph Sterling’s New Director of Social Media
March 8, 2010

Recently I was promoted to the position of Randolph Sterling’s Director of Social Media (the inside joke is that I was essentially filling that post for the past eight months, and it just felt about time to make it official).

But anyway, with my new position I do have some additional duties and challenges (such as attempting to help sell the occasional piece of real estate through Zillow). One such additional challenge came unexpectedly this past Wednesday when attending a talk Rich was giving to the Midwest Society of Professional Consultants, and I was asked to join him at the front of the room to summarize our social media strategy in five minutes or less.

For those who missed it, here is a summary of the summary:

Rich, Art, and I generate content for our WordPress blogs. We then link to it via Twitter and Facebook using HootSuite to save time, track statistics, and schedule tweets and status updates in advance. We also use Constant Contact for much the same purpose, however with Constant Contact, rather than indiscriminately tweeting to 30 million people who might happen to find us at just the right time, or giving an update to about ourselves to a few dozen people who know us in real life and already consider us to be a friend or colleague, we are reminding people on a list of about 200, who know us, but are not quite yet a friend or colleague, about the services we could provide for them if and when they need them. It’s sort of a way of building and nurturing a relationship with their inbox, just as one might try to develop such a relationship with a prospect’s voicemail.

This isn’t all I do of course, and there are definitely more features to Twitter, Facebook, HootSuite, and Constant   Contact that can’t quite be described here or in a five minute spur-of-the-moment presentation, but I feel this does sum up the basics.

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?