Business owners, managers and communications professionals looking to boost their team’s social media skills will be interested to learn that McGill University’s School of Continuing Studies is offering a new certificate program called Digital content and community management. And guessed who helped design it? (hint: MOI!). And guess who will be launching it on September 18th? (hint: see hint #1). I’m thrilled to be teaching the program’s kickoff course, Current Trends in Digital Communication. It’ll feature dynamic industry speakers and great discussions that’ll be of interest to social media beginners and seasoned professionals alike.
I have some fantastic speakers like CT Moore, Adele McAlear and Ligia Pena lined up to talk about everything from digital marketing and SEO, to community management, to social media for non-profits … with a few surprises up my sleeve …
Having followed the evolution of a similar course offered by friends like Martin Waxman, Eden Spodek and Donna Papacosta at UofT, I’m expecting a mix of communications professionals with limited social media experience, with more than a few experienced community managers thrown in (because sometimes a little piece of paper called an attestation or a certificate helps with HR and pay raises). Because of this, I’ve designed a course that will be of interest to communications professionals at any level. And since this is a continuing ed. course, we’ll be able to pull from real-world experiences. Should make for a fantastic laboratory! I’m looking forward to the conversations we’ll have.
The class provides an overview of current uses of internet-based media (websites, blogs, social networks) in public relations, direct marketing, internal communications, fundraising, consumer relations and reputation management. Participants will leave the course with a firm grasp of best practices, and will be able to implement social media tactics based on strategic considerations.
Registration for this 10-class, 6-week course is now open.
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.
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 doctor 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 or not 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 is 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
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?
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.
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?
Social media is like your exercise routine: the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. Hitting the gym for a few hours a day and working with a personal trainer may get you the abs that are the envy of all your friends, but sometimes all you have time for (or even desire for) is a quick walk after dinner to get the blood pumping a little at least. As much as I encourage my clients to invest fully in their social media initiatives, I also want to be sure that if they’re not willing to do as much work as I’d like, that they’re still covering the basics.
What do you do in the social media space when all you want to do is the very minimum?
Make your web content visible. As attractive as that flash website may be, it won’t win you many points with most search engines. Your existing clients already know how great you are … your prospects are the ones that need convincing. But first they have to find you. Great website content is dynamic, relevant, informative, easy to digest and, most definitely, optimized for search. Keep keywords in mind when you review your content. And if you must use flash, be sure to be aware of its limitations.
Make your web content shareable. Even if you’re not willing to step up your social media game by investing in a blog, you should be making what web content you do have shareable. Visitors to your site will be able to spread the good word on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ or any one of a number of social networks with one easy click. Plugins like ShareThis, AddThis, Digg Digg and Sociable are just some of the options available to you and your web developer. Give your website visitors the tools they need to become effective brand ambassadors.
EgoSurf. Social media is just as much about listening as it is about engaging with communities. Not all companies are willing or even able to put the time and effort into really getting the most out of social media, but no company can afford to neglect its online reputation. Ignoring client comments will not make them go away. You may not want or be able to engage with your customers online, but just hearing what they have to say about your company, its products and services and the quality of your customer service will provide you with valuable insight. In Mad Men days, agencies used to run focus groups. They occasionally still do. But more and more they’re showing their clients that in the age of social media, the real focus group is already out there and just begging to be listened to. So be sure to monitor what’s being said about your company and brands online. A number of free and premium tools are available to you, from something as basic as Google Alerts, to Social Mention, to platforms like Radian6, Sysomos and Nexalogy.
Squat. You may not want to tweet just yet, but you should consider staking your claim. Most social networks allow you to open accounts with your company or brand name. Pepsi’s Twitter account is @pepsi. Nike’s is @nike. Simple, clear and most of all obvious to anyone searching for the Pepsi or Nike presence on Twitter. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to find you. You also want to prevent anyone else from hijacking your company or brand name. If Pepsi hadn’t staked their claim early, soft drink detractors could easily have opened a Twitter account using the brand name. As the obvious go-to Twitter identifier for anyone searching for Pepsi’s account, the detractors’ account would have been in a position to do some real damage to the brand. Just ask BP. You’ve invested time, money and energy into building your brand’s reputation. Now’s not the time to neglect it. Better an unused Twitter account reserved in your name than your brand’s social media presence in the hands of someone else. Protect your reputation and stake your company or brand’s social media claim before someone else does.
These four tips cover only the absolute basics. Effective social media requires an investment of time and energy. If you’re not willing to put much effort into social media, you can’t expect it to do miracles for you. But do the minimum, if nothing else. Doctor’s orders.