Michelle Sullivan Communications

Twitter for the small business owner: the why

When it comes to social media, small business owners tend to start with what they know. With half the Canadian population and 169 million Americans using the platform, it’s not surprising that North American small business owners tend to turn to Facebook when they decide it’s time for their brand to make its first foray into the social media space. But what about Twitter? The microblogging platform, where posts are limited to 140 characters and conversation streams are built around #hashtags, has its own charms.

There are great reasons for investing your small business marketing time and energy into Twitter.

 

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Builds reputations: companies and brands who engage on Twitter and truly become part of their niche communities can gain a very interesting level of visibility within their target group. If your focus is selling purple sparkly unicorns, you can tap into the purple sparky unicorn lovers’ community on Twitter and engage directly with its members. It’s an efficient way to build your visibility and reputation in order to reach a market of potential customers.

Learning curve: Twitter provides insight on how your customers are responding to your products and services. Consumers have voiced their opinions about brands for centuries. The difference today is that those opinions and conversations can be tracked and analyzed through social media. Twitter is particularly suited for this, as 99% of accounts are open, and their content public. Whether or not you and your brand are active on Twitter, turning your attention to what is being said on the platform is an excellent way to keep on top of what’s being said about you, your competitors and your industry.

Access to influencers: Tools which let you scan Twitter bios to identify users interested in your niche are invaluable to building your network. You niche’s influencers will quickly rise to the top, as they are quoted through retweets. Even more than Facebook or many other social networks, Twitter gives you access to influencers. After all, even the Pope and the American President tweet. As do that doctors specialized in that illness you’re interested in, that history professor specializing in a field of study you’re passionate about or that mommy blogger you’d kill to get to test drive your product. Twitter lets you engage with these people – whether they reply all comes down to how charming you are or how successful you are at piquing their interest. Social networks can only open doors for you, after all. The rest comes down to you.

A customer service powerhorse: Companies like American Airlines, Jet Blue, KLM, Virgin and Rogers have all understood the potential of Twitter as a customer service platform, and are investing heavily to ensure that they respond to customer questions in a timely fashion that will ensure that they surprise, delight and most importantly retain their existing clients, while impressing potential ones. Free and premium monitoring tools help customer service departments manage the social flow, capturing those opportunities quickly and efficiently. Premium services like In The Chat, Hootsuite and CoTweet provide dashboards that help you drill down to relevant content and engage directly with clients who need your online support.

Converts into sales: staying focused on the objective and using tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck to segment accounts of interest is a strategic way to speak directly to influencers and your customer base in a way that will resonate with them. Provide people with useful content and advice, demonstrate your abilities and build your credibility and they will come to you when they want to buy a purple sparkly unicorn, or whatever product or service you’re selling.

« But 74% of online adults use Facebook and only 19% use Twitter! » *
It doesn’t matter if 100% of online adults use Facebook if you can’t reach them. As a small business owner, your goal is to move beyond your own network to influence people in other networks. This is the only way your brand will gain traction. Some industries may naturally do well on Facebook, if only because of the kind of relevant content they can create. For most small businesses however, the reality is that unless you’re willing to invest ad dollars into Facebook, you’ll be putting a lot of time and energy into a platform that doesn’t belong to you and that won’t deliver a good ROI because of the way it is designed.

Twitter, coupled with your blog, gets you and your content in front of influencers who can make a difference to your business. Twitter users tend to be more directly engaged in niche subjects which interest them, and use the platform purposefully. Reach them, and you’re speaking to someone you can convert into a customer.

That’s the why. In my next blog post, I’ll go over the how. 

* source : Pew Research Internet Project

Réseaux sociaux : saviez-vous que vous êtes un poulet sous vide?

Officiellement installée dans les Laurentides depuis quelques mois maintenant, je lis plus régulièrement les journaux du coin. Une chronique dans Le Journal des Pays-d’en-Haut La Vallée signée Mimi Legault a retenu mon attention ce matin. Mme Legault se désole de la vie « vide » des internautes qui passent leur temps à « visiter Twitter ou Facebook cinquante-sept fois en trois heures. » Elle va jusqu’à comparer ces pauvres individus au poulet qu’elle met sous vide. « Des gens qui vivent dans leur univers tout ratatiné. Sans oxygène. » Bon. J’ai décidé de réagir via courriel. Voici ce que ça donne :

Bonjour Mme Legault,

Votre chronique dans le journal Pays d’en Haut du 21 mai me fait faire un saut, alors je vous écris pour la première fois.

Avec tout le respect que je vous dois, c’est avec regret que je constate que vous véhiculez des préjugés banals de gens qui ne connaissent pas les réseaux sociaux mais qui se permettent quand même de se prononcer sur le sujet. Vous imaginez des gens seuls, dans leurs sous-sols, s’isolant de la communauté environnante pour échanger avec des étrangers. Sachez que non seulement la grande majorité des gens utilisent les réseaux sociaux pour entretenir des liens qui existent déjà, mais que les rencontres virtuelles entre inconnus se transforment plus souvent que vous ne le croyez, de toute évidence, en rencontres réelles.

Je m’offre comme exemple : mon réseau est largement composé de contacts professionnels. Depuis quelques mois, j’en ajoute d’un domaine qui n’est pas encore le mien, ayant l’intention de faire un virage professionnel prochainement. J’ai rencontré certains de ces « inconnus » lors d’un congrès après avoir fait un premier contact via les réseaux sociaux, mais certaines relations demeurent virtuelles, les individus étant dispersés aux quatre coins du monde. Ils m’offrent un accès à leur expertise qui m’est précieux. Pour le reste, Facebook m’a permis de renouer avec des amis d’enfance et du secondaire … je vais visiter une de mes plus grandes amies d’enfance à la fin du mois. Nous nous étions perdues de vue, mais nous nous rendons maintenant visite depuis 3 ans. J’ai pu découvrir et tisser des liens avec des cousines du côté de mon père irlandais. J’en ai rencontré une à Toronto il y a un an, et je rendrai visite à une autre lors de mon voyage en Irlande cet été. Facebook me permet aussi de maintenir un contact avec un cousin irlandais de qui j’avais très peu de nouvelles autrefois. Nouvellement installée dans les Laurentides, les réseaux sociaux m’ont permis d’échanger avec d’autres résidents et d’en faire la connaissance. Hier seulement, une jeune femme de Val David et son père, résident de Sainte-Adèle, se sont déplacés chez moi pour récupérer un baril – ils en ont fait la demande dans un groupe Facebook et j’ai répondu en leur offrant le mien. De nouvelles personnes rencontrées que je n’aurais peut-être pas connues autrement. Et j’en passe.

Les réseaux sociaux permettent aux gens de se réunir autour d’intérêts communs. Que ce soit via Facebook, Twitter, les blogues ou balados, peu importe notre intérêt (le tricot, l’environnement, les chants marins) on peut trouver quelqu’un avec qui partager notre passion même s’ils sont à l’autre bout du monde. Nos voisins ne partagent pas toujours nos intérêts, vous voyez. Contrairement à ce que vous puissiez croire, un accès aux réseaux sociaux peut souvent permettre aux gens de _briser_ l’isolement.

Je ne dis pas qu’on doit passer tout son temps devant son ordi. Au contraire. Comme dans toute chose, un bon équilibre est de mise et on doit tendre la main vers les inconnus qu’on croise sur le trottoir, dans nos écoles, dans nos lieux de travail pour faire de nouvelles rencontres. Mais de là à comparer les gens qui profitent de liens qu’ils peuvent tisser grâce aux réseaux sociaux au poulet que vous mettez sous vide … aie … c’est vraiment faire preuve d’un mépris que je trouve désolant.

Divulgation : j’étais la première consultante en relations publiques au Québec à monter une campagne médias sociaux pour une entreprise. Je me baigne dans les réseaux sociaux depuis le début du phénomène. En fait, ce n’est pas la première fois que j’écris sur le sujet de journalistes qui comprennent mal l’attrait des réseaux sociaux. Je vous invite à lire ma réplique à Lise Bissonnette et Natalie Petrowski. Un billet qui date de 2010.

Si jamais vous décidez de vous lancer sur les réseaux sociaux, je vous invite à vous joindre à moi sur LinkedIn ;) Au plaisir de faire votre connaissance, que ce soit dans le monde réel ou « virtuel ».

Bonne journée

Michelle Sullivan​
​Sainte-Adèle​

 

L’Office de la langue française, Delilah’s, a teapot and a tempest

Are you a Quebec businessperson? Have you been following the Delilah-in-the-Parc affair, and wondering how you can be sure your page on Facebook meets Office de la langue française du Québec requirements? Or do you just want to be sure you’re catering to both your francophone and anglophone customers in the best and most efficient way possible? You’ve come to the right place. This blog post provides you with a step-by-step guide to help you navigate Quebec’s linguistical waters when you’re on Facebook. It’s easy. All you have to do is take avantage of Facebook’s language targetting capabilities when posting your content. Problem solved.

This step-by-step guide is available on Slideshare here:

A little background:

Last Thursday, English language media across Canada exploded with the news that a small clothing boutique owner in Chelsey Quebec had received a letter from Quebec’s French language office stipulating that her largely English language Facebook page had to provide content in French. The store owner seemed flustered, stating in interviews that she had always conformed to language regulations but didn’t see how she could make it work on Facebook. After all, posting in French, then in English, would mess up her page, bilingual posts were unmanageable … and how on earth could they expect her to control the font size? Spokespersons for l’OLFQ stated that they had responded to a complaint, were entering into new territory with social media and definitely wanted to ensure that French was used online as well as off by businesses operating in Quebec.

A tempest in a teapot. Why? Because Facebook provides a simple solution that satisfies l’OLFQ. How do I know? I asked. And after some explatation of Facebook features and a little back and forth, l’OLFQ confirmed.

L’OLFQ publishes its guidelines for business owners online, in a document called « Bonnes pratiques linguistiques dans les entreprises. » Clause 4.4 speaks to social networks. Unfortunately, the clause isn’t particularly clear, and only provides some examples, not directives. It appears to offer the following French-only case study as an example of best practice:

Au Québec la Financière Sun Life (…) a d’ailleurs créé, pour l’entreprise et ses propriétés, des pages Facebook et Twitter purement québécoises, et exclusivement en français, afin de créer un dialogue vivant.

I wrote to l’OLFQ requesting clarification. That correspondence is available here. To sum it all up, l’OLFQ agrees that if Facebook page managers use Facebook’s language targetting functionality in the way brands like Fido do, they meet Quebec’s language requirements. This means that French content will display when the user has his or her Facebook settings set to French, and English content will display when the user has his or her Facebook settings set to English.

L’OLFQ does not hold businesses responsible for the conversations their Facebook fans may have on their page … meaning they don’t need to ensure that discussion is being held in French only … they only need to ensure that the content they themselves publish is available in French. Which then allows a business to also provide that same content in English.

Check out my Step-by-Step guide to OLFQ compliance on Facebook for all the details.

Do you feel more confident in your OLFQ compliance now?

 

LinkedIn for the small business owner: the world’s your oyster

I’ve run some interesting one-on-one coaching sessions for independent consultants and small business owners recently, with a particular focus on Linkedin. Here are some of my top tips for small business owners who have decided to leverage this social network to increase their notoriety and position themselves as specialists in their field.

1. Be strategic when building your profile
Think SEO (search engine optimisation) when describing yourself. Rather than « President, Michelle Sullivan Communications », for example, I’ve put myself in the shoes of LinkedIn users who will use the platform’s search tool to find a PR consultant with a social media background. For this reason, my profile reads « PR consultant, social media specialist, speaker, trainer. » This is how I’ve positioned myself in the market and these keywords speak to the kind of mandates I’m hoping to attract. This will evolve as my business priorities change and, luckily, LinkedIn provides the level of flexibility needed to ensure my profile is always up to date.

2. Don’t limit yourself: LinkedIn is much more than a place to post your resumé
I’d wager a good 80% of LinkedIn members miss the boat on the platform’s social networking potential. They limit themselves to building their profile, as if it were an online resumé. They fail to explore LinkedIn’s ability to connect them with people they already know, not to mention people they’d like to get to know: potential clients, mentors and professionals who could help open doors. Take the time to explore the network to see how it can help you make the kinds of connections that will grow your business. Become part of the community, so it can start to work for you.

3. Become an active member of a LinkedIn group
One of the best ways to increase your notoriety and broaden your reputation through LinkedIn is by actively contributing to group discussions. As always, resist the tempation to join too many groups at first in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Your goal is quality, not quantity.

I recommend joining 3 types of groups at first:

  • a group of your immediate peers
  • a broader group of peers
  • a group consisting of your target market

By joining the group of first-degree peers, that is to say of professionals who practice in the same field, you enter into an exchange of ideas that will be beneficial to your professional development while increasing your notoriety within that group. As you contribute intelligently to discussions and begin to be perceived as a valuable resource, you’ll attract the attention of peers who, while they may more often than not be competitors, could also potentially be collaborators or refer you to clients when their workload doesn’t permit them to take on new mandates. Most importantly, you’ll engage in interesting conversations that will feed your professional soul.

Joining a broader group of peers, who practice in the same general field but who don’t offer exactly the same services as you puts you in an even better position to develop ties with people who could refer potential clients to you. As you make valuable contributions to group discussions and become known within this circle for your expertise and the niche service you provide, you increase the possibility that group members will allow you to tap into their network. They’ll be able to point potential clients in your direction when a mandate doesn’t interest them or doesn’t quite fit their specific service offering.

Finally, joining a group that includes members of your target market, and building a reputation for yourself as the go-to person in your niche area of expertise is a great way to drum up new business. You’ll be able to stand out from the crowd and grow your reputation as a specialist in your field, able to provide a valuable service to group members. A warning however: tread carefully, as you certainly don’t want to build a reputation as a spammer. Contribute only relevant content that will be valuable to the group. Shameless self-promotion is not the way to win respect or clients.

4. Write recommendations for others … and don’t be shy about soliciting some for yourself
Social networks like LinkedIn work best when the principle of giving back is applied. Take the time to go further than the simple one-click endorsements LinkedIn promotes and leverage their recommendation tool to recognize the quality work of professionals you’re happy to refer to others. These short letters of recommendation will not only be appreciated by your contacts, they will increase the chances that they may return the favour. But your role shouldn’t be a passive one. Reach out to past clients and colleagues and ask them to take 5 minutes to recommend your services through LinkedIn. If you’re a speaker or trainer, grab the list of participants before you leave the venue and reach out to them on LinkedIn, following up with a new connection to ask for feedback on the workshop they attended. The platform does a nice job of making all of this easy, so take advantage of the opportunity to solidify connections and make them work for you.

5. Leverage your network
You have your eye on a potential customer? Someone who doesn’t yet know how valuable you could be to their business or organisation? Use LinkedIn to see if and how you’re connected. LinkedIn will reveal the identify of people who can serve as intermediaries. Building connections through LinkedIn is very easy for you and every intermediary able to introduce you to your future clients, so don’t be shy.

Understanding the power of LinkedIn’s ability to connect you with the people who matter is an important step towards building your credibility online. Do this, and the world’s your oyster.

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 How have you been using LinkedIn to grow your business?

5 steps to choosing the right social network

Like a kid in a candy store, once you’ve committed to social media you’ll be tempted to grab a handful. Don’t. Resist jumping onboard the Facebook and Twitter (and LinkedIn, and Instagram, and Pinterest, and .. and … and) bandwagons just because those networks are getting good buzz in traditional media. Take a breath before succumbing to the pressure to be « where everyone else is ». Social networks are expensive. Yes, you heard me, expensive. Subscription (generally) doesn’t cost anything, but social networks are very resource greedy and before you know it you’ll be spread too thin, frustrated and wondering where the return on investment is.

And you want to feel like you’re getting a return on your investment of precious time and energy.

So what’s a small business owner or marketer to do?

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Follow these 5 steps before deciding which social network is right for you:

1. Identify your target audience. Who is likely to purchase your product or service? Who is likely to identify with your content enough to share it with decision makers? Which social networks are they on? That’s a great place to consider starting. But you’re not done yet.

2. Benchmark. Identify competitors and colleagues with a presence on social networks. Where are they and what are they doing? Are they enjoying success through their social media initiatives? Do you think you can compete for attention with them there? If so, you might consider opening an account on the same social network. After all, laws of proximity that apply to commercial bricks-and-mortar spaces can also apply to the online world and being where your target audience expects to find you is an important consideration. That said, have you also considered niche networks? After all, opening a presence on Facebook or Twitter can be the equivalent of opening a store in the Mall of America or West Edmonton Mall. You’re likely to get lost in the fray. Lesser known niche social networks might be just the thing to stand out from the crowd. You’ll have access to a smaller group, but if they’re more relevant to your area of interest, the return on investment could very well be higher. After all, if you sell purple-sparkly-unicorn-ribbons, you want to be among purple-sparkly-unicorn-ribbon lovers. When it comes to choosing a social network, your strategy will depend upon your level of notoriety, your industry, your needs and your capacities.

3. Have you attached enough importance to your own web properties? Social networks are great for building links with your community and driving traffic to your website. This, after all, is home. Is your website up to snuff? Is a mobile version available? Are you blogging yet? Going off to play in Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey’s playgrounds is great, but before you do be sure your house is in order and you’re doing everything you can to build credibility through your own channels.

4. Check your ego at the door. Social media is not for the reluctant. If you’re going to join the party, you need to make sure you’re not on the defensive or fearful. Be open to different ideas and criticism. You need to begin to see negative comments as opportunities. Opportunities to thank for feedback, explain your position, clarify misconceptions and, where appropriate, offer an apology.

5. Be realistic about your bandwidth and abilities. Is communication your forte? Are you willing to set aside a considerable enough amount of time to market your products and services? The amount of time and pleasure you’re likely to give to and take from social media initiatives is going to be a determining factor in your success online. Rather than launching your brand presence on 10 social networks at once, begin with and get comfortable with one, moving onto the next when you’re ready. You’re more likely to stay the course if you pace yourself.

Follow these 5 important steps and you’ll be on your way to social networking bliss.

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Before I let you go, a word to the wise and a hat tip to one of my previous blog posts : opening an account in a social network in order to squat in your brand or company’s name is good practice. It prevents others from claiming your brand name before you do. But there’s a difference between reserving your spot and moving forward with social media. I’m speaking in today’s post of initiatives that go beyond this basic point. Countless business owners and marketers embark upon the social network adventure only to give up quickly after a few tweets or posts on a branded Facebook page. Don’t be that guy.

How are you going about choosing the social network that’s right for your business?