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I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

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Are you part of the SMB trends for online activity?

Before reading the statistics below, think about your online activity as a small business.

Are you using online activities more or less than last financial year?

Have your online activities changed in the last year? For instance, are you using Twitter more and Facebook less?

Do you use social media more or less than your competitors?

How important is your website to your business and gaining new clients?

All good questions that can help you assess your time and marketing efforts, and make decisions about budgets and software needs.

So what are other SMBs doing online?

This post was inspired by two different sets of data – mainly because they are so different.

According to MYOB’s July 2012 Business Monitor Survey, online transactions, email marketing and social media use have all dropped during the last quarter.

On the other hand, the Sensis eBusiness Report (August 2012) shows an increase in social media and website use by SMBs over the year.

Interesting isn’t it?

Were the surveys so different or has the last quarter thrown the overall pattern for the year?

Social media use

From the Sensis report, I can tell you that…

41% of medium businesses use social media

27% of small businesses use social media

68% of SMBs in cultural, recreational and personal services sectors use social media

21% of SMBs monitor and update their social media presence daily, with 39% doing it at least weekly

For those on social media, the breakdown is:

usage trend graph for social media

Social media usage move up and down

  • 86% Facebook
  • 32% Twitter
  • 25% LinkedIn
  • 12% blog
  • 5% YouTube
  • 4% Google +
  • 2% MySpace
  • 1% Pinterest

Do you spend most of your social media time in Facebook or Twitter? I know I do!

The MYOB report showed that…

5% of SMBs used Twitter compared to 6% in March quarter

15% of SMBs connected via Facebook, YouTube or Google + – it was 18% in March

19% Victorian SMBs (the biggest social media state apparently!) used social media compared to 24% in March

 Websites and online transactions

Like MYOB’s spokesperson, I am glad to see an increase in the number of SMBs with a website – 38% now have a site compared to only 36% in March (interestingly it was 40% when I posted about this in April 2009).

Yet only 24% of SMBs use search engine optimisation to promote their business (it was 31% in March). How much time and effort do you put into SEO and keeping your website fresh and valuable?

72% of SMBs with a website said the website improved the business’ effectiveness – a 4% increase for the last year.

Look at these drops found by MYOB:

  • accepting clients’ payments online dropped from 25% to 19%
  • running email marketing campaigns dropped 26% to 24%
  • buying products/services online dropped 37% to 24%

What impact do such drops have on your business?

With the trends – or not?

So is your business like the majority or minority of SMBs in Australia?

Can you make use of this data to make improvements to your business and your marketing strategy?

Just to confirm, I am on social media…

Tash & Word Constructions on Twitter          Word Constructions on LinkedIn             Tash & Word Constructions on Facebook

Building your social media profile the nice way

build nice connections in social mediaIn my latest newsletter, on Facebook and Twitter, I have mentioned some great advice I heard from Gihan Perera in a webinar a couple of weeks ago. Namely,

do something nice for someone on social media every day.

Such a simple concept with the potential benefit of making people feel good and remembering your positively, and giving you inspiration to maintain your social media presence (without being a sales pitch). It also makes you feel good, expands your creativity and shows your generosity.

Not sure of how to do this?

Nice social media activities

Here is a list of things I have thought of, but I’m sure you could add more to this list…

  1. retweet interesting tweets
  2. leave comments on blog posts you read (hint hint!)
  3. answer questions on LinkedIn, even if its just your opinion rather than your expertise
  4. give someone an online testimonial (LinkedIn is great for that, but why not try Facebook, twitter, Tumblr or their own website? Or maybe compliment them in many places!
  5. answer questions in a forum
  6. share the link to a great blog post or article
  7. write a blog post and link back to someone else’s blog or social media profile
  8. if you see an opportunity to promote someone, do it (for example, if a relevant site accepts recommendations or links, suggest someone else)
  9. give support to someone in a forum
  10. ‘pin’ someone’s image or infographic
  11. introduce people in your networks (via email or through platforms like Facebook and Twitter)
  12. add a comment or favourite a YouTube video or a Slide Share presentation
  13. share  a random link with your social media audience – show support for a charity, a good resource or someone who needs a boost
  14. forward an enewsletter to someone who would appreciate it

I’ve created a pdf of these ideas but I will update it next week when I have more ideas added to the list – share your ideas as a comment and I’ll include your name with your ideas.

Tash & Word Constructions on Twitter          Word Constructions on LinkedIn             Tash & Word Constructions on Facebook

Social media predicts stuff

Grasping at possible future options

Which option will be our future?

I have just read a great article* by Amy Birchall about social media being used to predict the future.

A researcher at Illinois University, Kalev Leetaru, was able to ‘predict’ events such as the Libyan revolution, Osama bin Laden’s location and the Arab spring revolts by monitoring conversations and trends on Twitter. (This made me think of the TV show Person of Interest which is based on a machine predicting the future!)

Extrapolating from that and other observations, the article discusses how social media can be used in many fields to predict things – giving warning to health authorities about epidemics for instance could be very important. Obviously, marketers and advertisers are interested by this as they can predict trends and position themselves accordingly.

It has also pointed out how valuable it can be to target the right (read influential) people can be. The example given was to immunise 96% of people for community immunity – or immunise the most connected 30% for similar results. In business terms, work at promoting yourself to 96% of your market, or to the 30% that influences the rest of the market.

With hash tags and various data monitoring and mining platforms available, it is possible to use social media to research your market and tailor marketing to suit. Have you used social media to decide on a strategy or campaign? Do you think it helped you make good decisions?

 

* I would love to link to the article for you but I can not find it online – Management Today does have a website and lists a number of articles but not this one unfortunately. I could upload a photocopy of the article but that would breach copyright so I won’t!

Replying to blog comments

Speech bubbles are part of conversationBlogging is part of social media and is about communication. The only way it can become a conversation, however, is to encourage comments about the posts in the blog.

Comments are sometimes just as acknowledgement that you are reading the post but often people leave comments that enhance what was written in the post – the conversation and comments can sometimes teach  and entertain as much as the post itself.

So here are some basic guidelines to replying to comments:

  1.  in your own blog, a key to encouraging more comments is to reply to every comment you get. It can be a short ‘hello’ or thank you’ but it shows you appreciate comments and the people behind them
  2. always be respectful and polite in comments – you don’t have to agree every time but respect the fact that others have a different opinion to you
  3. before replying to a post, read through the existing comments – apart from the fact you may learn something, this gives you the opportunity to discuss the issues with others and to not just repeat a comment made by someone else.
    If here are a LOT of existing comments that you don’t read, acknowledge that to show you have noted that and may be repeating what someone else has said.
  4. When replying to another commenter, make it clear that is who you are talking to – threaded comments make this easy but otherwise use the person’s name
  5. it isn’t always possible, but try to make your comment interesting and useful – give a personal example or opinion about the topic, answer a question asked in the post or give some additional, relevant information. This expands the conversation, builds your credibility and makes it less likely your comment will be considered spam
  6. if you  write guest blog posts, treat it like your own blog – aim to reply to every person who comments on your post. You have written the post as the expert so need to be available to answer questions; blogs are about people and community so it comes across as arrogant to not reply to people discussing your ideas. From a business perspective, doing guest posts is about building relationships and expertise, so not answering comments is loosing an opportunity.
  7. never make a comment an ad for your own business/services/products. It just annoys people and makes it likely your comment will be deleted as spam. Give tips and advice, mention you have expertise and link to your site but remember that  this is someone’s blog, not your personal ad directory, and that people don’t read blogs and comments for ads.

From comments you’ve seen and blogs you admire, are there any other guidelines to add to my list?

Social media choice

Which social media platform(s) do you find useful for your business?

Twitter or Facebook?

I have seen a number of discussions on this topic recently, in blogs and forums, and most people have answered in favour of Twitter or Facebook, with some being against the other. Other sites get little mention or are listed as additional channels.

It intrigues me that people still consider Twitter to be about what someone had for breakfast and won’t look at it while swearing by Facebook as a business tool. Both sites can be used seriously or frivolously – you can choose to not like/follow anything you think is nonsense.

My personal experience is that business people share a lot of information and resources on Twitter while Facebook is great for products and consumer services that people can relate to in ‘their time’ rather than in ‘work time’.

I heard it summed up nicely by Tom Webster (of Brand Savant) recently when he said (paraphrased) “Facebook is for sharing with people you know while the other platforms are for sharing with people you don’t know.”

Benefits to business

As a B2B business, having my information shared widely is valuable so Twitter suits  that need. I also like reading what other B2B people share as I can learn from it. Reading what friends share on Facebook may be interesting or fun, but generally doesn’t teach me business skills or knowledge.

One set of  statistics* I found interesting is:

Comparison of social media platforms for B2B and B2C results

B2B 39% & B2C 53% have acquired a customer via Twitter
B2B 41% & B2C 67% have acquired a customer via Facebook
B2B 61% & B2C 39% have acquired a customer via LinkedIn
B2B 55% & B2C 63% have acquired a customer via their business blog

It clearly shows that LinkedIn is more about professional links rather than leading to consumers. But more relevant for now is that Facebook works much better for B2C than B2B, and Twitter and Facebook have produced similar results for B2B users.

Those figures also make it obvious that a blog is still a very useful tool for both B2B and B2C – with the advantage of complete control of the blog and content (social media platforms can and do change).

Your social media experiences

How do you use social media as a consumer/client? Where would you look for a business in social media?

What results have you seen from social media for your business?

*From HubSpot State of Inbound  Marketing Report 2011 (2012 version due out soon)

Understanding is important

Do you think there is a significant difference between understanding a task and being able to do it with skill?

I would never pretend to be able to write and design a PDS for example – I hire a professional designer for the design aspects of the job – but I understand many aspects of making it effective (such as using white space and images to make it appealing, avoiding ‘orphans and widows’, being consistent in fonts and headings, and adjusting things to work with page breaks and spreads).

Likewise, when dealing with an architect, I can state functional uses of a space and know that they will match function, materials, space, appearance and reality (i.e. not every idea is really feasible!) I understand the project and outcomes but leave the expert to draw up the plans.

understanding is joyous and uses our brains, whether for social media or not

Marketing and social media

A recent IBM study about marketing professionals showed that only 12% consider social media expertise as critical to their personal success in the next 3 to 5 years. Ross Dawson points out the concern with this figure – how can marketers maximise social media for the business they market if they don’t understand it?

I know I understand social media and its power much better since I started using it. I even remember wondering about the value of blogs and making time to read blogs – until I started this blog and realised it’s potential and how useful other blogs can be.

I think it is ok to get someone else to write your blog posts or monitor your mentions on social media. But understanding these media yourself is important. Why?

  1. if you understand, you can check the people you hire are doing their job
  2. if you understand, you can fill in if your expert is absent for a little while
  3. if you truly understand, you can find ideas and inspiration to maximise use of these media (for example, instead of just tweeting and reading tweets of those you follow, have you searched for leads on Twitter?)
  4. if you understand, you can integrate your brand and message throughout your business – including running campaigns across multiple media
What do you think – do you have to understand something before bringing in an expert to do the task for you? Should marketing people, in particular, understand social media?

Care for your brand

Your brand is the sum of every interaction your business has with someone – it’s not just having a nice logo and a pretty website.

With social media, I think  many people forget this connection between brand and every interaction.

I just saw a tweet offering tips on building a ‘complete business empire’ which I would only trust from a professional with business experience and knowledge. However, the picture associated with that Twitter account was not part of a professional brand – the rear view of an almost naked woman is perhaps more suited to a different profession…

So is the tweeter not business savvy at all, and perhaps even a con selling nonsense, or is someone mixing their personal and business profiles online?

In general, I think separate personal and business social media profiles is the best way to keep your brand on track. Or be very careful that anything you put online works with your brand – for example, I have only one Twitter account so it is always appropriate for my business persona and I never tweet anything I wouldn’t say to a stranger or prospective client. In comparison, I use a personal page on Facebook for friends and a business page for connecting with clients and people interested in clear communications.

So what does your twitter or Facebook picture say about your business?

Do you agree that the choice of social media images has an impact on how your business is perceived? I don’t think it’s just me who doesn’t find a woman’s legs a symbol for business knowledge…

Moderating blog comments counts

Moderating comments* left on your blog is just another time-consuming task, right?

It one sense yes it is – if you get a lot of spam it can be very tedious to check comments regularly, and moderating does take time that you may want to spend doing income-producing tasks.

However, there are a number of benefits to moderating your comments rather than just accepting any your spam filter allows through. I was just reminded of this after reading a post on a high traffic blog and seeing an obvious spam comment in amongst a number of real comments – along with no replies to the commenters, the spam just made her look lazy and disinterested.

So my quick list of reasons to moderate blog comments is:

  1. it gives you the opportunity to immediately reply to genuine comments and build your community
  2. you look interested in the blog and its readers
  3. you protect your readers from potentially dangerous links (most spam comments are about getting more links to dubious sites)
  4. you will sometimes find fantastic comments accidentally treated as spam by filters
  5. you can maintain the brand and tone of your comments. For example, you can keep people from using vulgar or hateful language, stop people attacking each other and accept only realistic and appropriate negative comments. You may reject comments completely or edit specific comments to suit if they contain a worthwhile message

Moderating comments is an easy task that you can do at the end of the working day or when you need a mental break, or you could outsource it to save time (but be sure to review yourself to answer comments).

Do you moderate comments or just let them go live?

* Moderating comments simply means looking at each comment and deciding if will go live on your site, or not. There is usually a comments section in your administration area where it is easy to view pending comments and deal with them as you wish.

Reply to blog comments

Well the title says it all really – it is important to reply to the comments left on your blog.

interacting speech makes a blogI just read a blog post today that had a dozen or so comments from various people, including a question for clarification on an aspect of the post topic, without one reply from the blogger. The post was a few weeks old so she’s had time to reply – and the post was actually about how to deal with negative blog comments!

So what happens when you don’t reply to comments people take the time to leave for you?

  1. you look arrogant and rude, especially if you’ve written any questions or invitations for responses
  2. you miss the opportunity to discuss the topic further and get others’ input
  3. you miss the opportunity to show further knowledge, expertise and generosity by answering questions that come up in the comments
  4. you appear lazy and/or disinterested in what your readers have to contribute
  5. you give other people the last word – and if their words are negative it could damage your brand
  6. you don’t give the impression that you want to build a community which is a large aspect of blogging in the first place
  7. you reduce the number of back links from your site (people won’t be inspired to comment and leave links if you aren’t answering them) which hinders your SEO potential of a blog
  8. answering comments and engaging in a healthy discussion often gathers momentum and additional attention (e.g. people share the link via social media and bookmark sites) so a lack of comments may limit your exposure further
  9. you may just miss out on building relationships with some great people – some of whom may become clients, suppliers or friends

So I go back to the title of this post – reply to the comments people leave on your blog. And reply as soon as practical, too.

What do you think when you see a blog without replies to comments?

Hard stuff pays off

I really liked this comment by Hugh MacLeod:

Because Facebook and Twitter are too easy. Keeping up a decent blog that people actually want to take the time to read, that’s much harder. And it’s the hard stuff that pays off in the end.

Besides, even if they’re very good at hiding the fact, over on Twitter and Facebook, it’s not your content, it’s their content.

The content on your blog, however, belongs to you, and you alone. People come to your online home, to hear what you have to say, not to hear what everybody else has to say. This sense of personal sovereignty is important.

Ownership of your content is important, but I particularly liked the acknowledgement that sometimes you have to accept the harder option as it is likely to produce the greater rewards. Sure it s easy to have a static website, fill your blog with others’ content, or post self-promoting or vacuous content on Twitter, but a quality blog will give much better long term results.

Do you think the hard stuff generally pays off more in the long term? Have you ever consciously chosen to do then are stuff to reap the reward unlikely to come from the easier option?