Saturday, March 26, 2016

Is Technology Ruining Our Customer Relationships?

I'm taking a step away from my usual "how-to" article this week to ponder a topic which was brought to my attention recently: Is technology hurting the relationships small business owners have with their clients/customers? It may sound counter-intuitive being that we can get "in touch" with someone via about 20 different methods now. "Text me", "PM me", "email me", "hit me up on Twitter"; whatever happened to "let's grab a coffee sometime"? Has the internet and social media actually hurt the way we connect with our customers? 

And before I go any further, I am speaking as a small B2B business owner. Not everyone has the need or opportunity to meet with their clients for coffee or lunch. If you sell erasers for a living, you probably don't care about how your customers are doing other than if they are making a lot of mistakes and they need your product! This also isn't written for the multi-national Fortune 100 sales rep. I'm talking about the little guy who covets each and every customer he (or she!) has.

Now don't get me wrong - I make my living being on the computer and I appreciate all of the wonderful technology which exists today (My phone usually isn't more than three feet from me at any time!). What I'm talking about is allowing our relationships with our customers to be "digital" and taking the humanity out of it.

Social Media experts will tell you that you need to talk to your audience as if they are sitting at the table with you. So why not sit at the table with them! Oh, right - it's inconvenient, time consuming, and you only reach one person at a time. As a B2B small business owner, there is nothing more important to me than connecting with my clients on a human level first, a business level second. That is how you build a trusting relationship.

I recently met with a long-time client of mine for coffee. We spent the better part of 3 hours talking about everything from his web site, a new idea he has for a business, our kids, our wives, how the food was at a local restaurant - you get the idea. The fact of the matter is that we both engaged on a human level - not just about business. And he knew that I wasn't there strictly to get money out of him.

Bottom line is that I've done this countless times with him and he has spent thousands of dollars with me. I know that when he is ready for his new business, I'm the guy who is going to be sitting down with him (over coffee!) and hammering out all of the details for his new site and literature.

Another example is a client of mine whom I've never met face to face. I know - if you've never met her, how does this fit in with the "lose the technology crap"? It's not about the technology - it's about putting the technology in its place.

This client and I communicate very regularly via email, but I still keep a human touch without getting too personal. She recently asked for my opinion on which laptops to get her college-age kids for Christmas because she knows I'm a computer nerd (said with the utmost respect). Why? Because she trusted my opinion. Did I make any money on the time I spent looking at the specs she sent me or the time it took me to email her back - not a penny. What I did make was a connection to her beyond her business and a stronger bond with my client. That is worth every second I spent on helping her.

Now don't get me wrong. I just completed my Social Media Marketing Specialization through Northwestern University (shout out to Prof. Randy Hlavac! Awesome class!) and I use every technology at my disposal which can help my business. Social media and the internet allows businesses to reach out to customers they never dreamed they could have. My point is if you have the need and ability to make contact with your customers, don't let the ease and convenience of technology make it impersonal. You will gain a much stronger bond with a face to face (especially over great coffee!).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Work or Play? Intro to Using Gamification in Social Media Marketing.

While Social Media Marketing can be extremely effective, its imperative that companies move beyond two-dimensional campaigns for a more interactive user-experience. Gamification has proved to be a highly successful way to do this, and social media has developed into an outlet where user-experience marketing can quickly be implemented and seen by consumers. To put it simply, gamification incorporates fun and an element of competition to a marketing strategy. All of that is great, but is it right for you?

Why Use Gamification?

For most brands, users probably don’t want to engage with your social posts unless they hate them, love them or are getting a deal out of it. Robert Nissenbaum of Tactical Social Media explains it like this:
"We’re all intrigued by fun, but can it lead to more business? If you read the statistics on how many hours people spend playing games, with every subsequent generation spending more time and money, then you’d say it makes a lot of sense. For instance, Millennials spend 1.47 hours a day playing games, according to the Wall Street Journal."
But Gabe Zichermann, Editor of, gives the definitive reason:
"Games are the only force in the known universe that can get people to take actions against their self-interest, in a predictable way, without using force"
In the world of marketing, the gamification technique is used by brands to incentivize objective completion; typically to make unappealing offers seem fun or make an audience stick to something they’re already fond of. It’s also used to form an emotional connection with the audience and spark engagement as opposed to simple awareness. But, gamification is not a silver bullet for a bad strategy.

To be used effectively, gamification has to fit the theme, has to fit the brand, and it has to be aligned with what the brand stands for. If it’s generic, it’s not going to work. If it’s aligned with something that people are already talking about, it’s a great strategy to use for engagement and retention.

How can you make it fun for someone to respond or participate? By making it feel more like a game than a social media campaign. A solid game will tempt you to continue playing it – to unlock new players, to receive rewards, to get ahead of your room mate! But is gamification right for every business or brand?

Consider Why You Want to Gamify

Yes, gamification is an intriguing buzz word. No, it isn't right for every business. Dustin DiTommaso, the Experience Design Director at design studio Mad*Pow, recommends that businesses looking to gamify their products or services ask themselves three critical questions before moving on:
  • What is the reason for gamifying your product or service?
  • How does it benefit the user?
  • Will they enjoy it?
If you can answer these questions with confidence, if gamification seems like a good fit for your business' product or service and if the users enjoy it, then move on to exploring your business goals. DiTommaso recommends exploring the following three questions:
  • What are your business goals?
  • How do get the users to fulfill those business goals?
  • What actions do you want users to take?
If this exploratory phase yields positive feedback, your business is ready to move into user research. Here is an article from (written by Erica Swallow ) which gets into more depth about deciding whether gamification is right for your brand: Is Gamification Right for Your Business? 7 Things to Consider.  

Tip: Player Motivation

 The S•A•P•S method is a proven means of providing player motivation:

Image Courtesy of Randy Hlavac - SMM Specialization, NU/Coursera

    • Status - Status is the relative position of an individual in relation to others, especially in a social group. Status benefits and rewards give players the ability to move ahead of others in a defined ranking system. Examples: community leaderboards, public badges, personal leveling
    • Access - Access rewards give the players the opportunity to interact in a private or special way with a company or brand that they would otherwise never get and others are not privy to. Examples: early head start on new offerings, exclusive content or contests, special meeting with company representative or corporate function
    • Power - Power rewards give players a modicum of control over other players in the game for personal or community gain. Examples: serving as a moderator for forums or events, naming rights for new badges, game events, rewards, etc, ability to donate resources to new players from a mentor position
    • Stuff -  Stuff rewards are physical or digital things you give players for playing your game. Examples: hats, koozies, money
    Studies have shown that Stuff Rewards are the most expensive and least effective rewards in the SAPS system! They are the easiest to procure for companies, but have the lowest return. Often players will leave the game after they have received their "stuff".

    Case Study

    While you can find thousands of examples of gamification in use today, here is one from 2013 when Audi launched their A3 Sportback -
    In the first half of the year (2013), an eighteen-wheeler truck drove through South Africa carrying a brand new A3 Sportback.The eighteen-wheeler’s route was navigated by the tweets of hopeful South Africans. The campaign’s premise was that the truck’s final destination would be whichever city in South Africa generated the most tweets. Once there, three randomly selected tweeters would have the chance to exchange their own car for the new A3 Sportback.
    The campaign caused a social media frenzy. By logging into the campaign’s microsite, fans could submit their information and help guide the truck to their city – a modern, social take on the standard computer racing game. Ultimately, fifty thousand tweets guided the Exchange truck to Johannesburg, where three lucky finalists were given the chance to compete for the A3.

    During the three-week campaign, 11,310 people entered the contest. Within five hours of launching the campaign, Audi South Africa was trending on Twitter, and interest for the A3 Sportback on the Audi website tripled.

    More Resources

    These articles are a little dated, but are every bit as relevant today as when they were when written:

    26 Elements of a Gamification Marketing Strategy (April 5, 2012 by Debbie Hemley)
    5 Questions to Ask to Build an Effective Gamification Strategy by Mario Herger)

    I would like to give a special "shout-out" to a few individuals who's work inspired or contributed to this article:

    Randy Hlavac - Marketing instructor at Northwestern Medill IMC Business
    Joey Strawn - Director of Integrated Marketing at ISM
    Dustin DiTommaso - Experience Design Director at design studio Mad*Pow

    Images courtesy of  Pixabay

    Sunday, March 13, 2016

    Social Media Marketing Strategies - What They Are and How they Work.

    Strategy can be defined as "The art and science of planning and marshaling resources for their most efficient and effective use". When dealing with social media marketing, it is crucial to understand the three basic types of overall strategy - Engagement Marketing, Social (Nurture) Marketing, and Social IMC (Using virtual private communities). Next I'll explain what they are and give examples of which one may be right for you. Let's get started!

    Engagement Marketing

    This strategy is used primarily to draw attention to your brand or product using Social Media channels. And while that may seem to be the answer for everyone, Engagement Marketing is an anonymous interaction between you and your audience and is not used to build customer relationships.

    Key Points:

    • Focus - Social Network Channels

    • Goal - Short-term engagement

    • Relationship - Anonymous

    • Usage - Most markets (Especially lower price point products)

    • Engagement - Content RULES! (Go viral!)

    • Branding - General brand positioning

    • Desired Actions - Viral actions

    • Metrics - Measured with channel metrics (Likes, Follows, etc.)

    • Product Purchase? - Intuitive (higher sales MAY be attributed to Engagement campaign, but is not definitive)

    Your company can benefit using engagement marketing if your goal is to gain brand awareness and do not need to build a relationship with an individual customer. Your goals would be measured in channel metrics (Likes, Follows, Retweets, etc) and ROI can be harder to substantiate since sales can not be directly tracked by engagement.

    Social (Nurture) Marketing

    Nurture marketing, as the name implies, involves building a "private", longer-term relationship with your potential customers and helping them throughout the consumer life cycle. Using social media for this strategy involves gaining your target audience's awareness and getting them to engage content on your website, such as signing up for email campaigns or newsletters.

    Key Points:

    • Focus - "Private" relationships

    • Goal - Longer-term engagement

    • Relationship -Reactive/proactive

    • Usage - Higher value target markets

    • Engagement - Content based engagement

    • Branding - Branding through content

    • Desired Actions - Move audience from awareness to consideration to purchase

    • Metrics - Implicit and explicit measures to identify persona (You nay have collected some basic info you can tie to sales, email address for example).

    • Product Purchase? - Likely product purchase is known

    When using the Social Marketing Strategy, your business needs to provide help and guidance so that when your target audience is ready to purchase you have built up a trusted relationship with them and they are comfortable with purchasing from you. Goals and ROI can be tracked much more efficiently because your marketing strategy can be tied directly into your sales metrics.

    Social IMC

    Social IMC is defined many different ways, but for this purpose I am using the term to describe the process of using Private Virtual Communities to "market" your brand and products. This strategy involves your target audience becoming a member of a private network (which is sponsored and managed by you) and engaging in relevant conversation with like minded people.

    For example, let's say that you own a garage specializing in high performance, classic muscle cars. Your marketing strategy can be to build a private virtual community where enthusiasts can post pictures of their cars, get help with mechanical issues, locate parts, etc. When the time comes that they need a PRO to help with their latest project, you are a trusted source who has been there for them by sponsoring and maintaining that awesome website!

    Key Points:

    • Focus - Community relationships

    • Goal - Long-term engagement

    • Relationship - Proactive

    • Usage - Highest value/high opportunity markets

    • Engagement - Community empowerment

    • Branding - Tailored brand positioning

    • Desired Actions - Community and product actions

    • Metrics - 1 to 1 database and behavioral, social, business metrics

    • Product Purchase? - Product purchase is known

    Social IMC is a much longer commitment and requires more of an initial investment to bring to realization, but the customer relationships and ROI can be well worth the initial output. Being that you will get relevant information during the sign up process, audience activities and sales metrics are easily tracked and can be tied in directly to other marketing campaigns. Just remember that the purpose of using the Social IMC strategy is to provide your target audience with a sense of community. Be there for them when they are ready to purchase, but DO NOT oversell or you will lose members!

    Which is best for me?

    To answer that question you need to review your social media goals and evaluate not only your target audience, but what resources (personnel, IT, funding, etc.) you have available. Compare your goals with the key points listed above for each strategy and think about what type of campaign you could do within that particular model. And no matter which one you choose to do, track, analyze, and edit as you go!

    All Done!

    Many of the subsequent articles in my blog will talk about topics which go hand in hand with what we've covered over the past 6 weeks, so be sure to check back next Monday when we will talk about Gamification - what it is and how can it help drive engagement.

     I would like to give a special "shout-out" to a few individuals who have truly impacted my approach to Social Media and have inspired me by sharing their ideas and thoughts to the rest of us:

    • Randy Hlavac - Marketing instructor at Northwestern Medill IMC Business 
    • Andy Crestodina -Web Strategist and co-founder of Orbit Media
    • Rebekah Radice - Award Winning Social Media Writer, Strategist, Author, Speaker. 
    Images courtesy of  Pixabay

    Sunday, March 6, 2016

    Part 5 of "Social Media for the Small Business Owner" - Tracking and Analysis

    At this point, you are pumping out great content to your target audience on a consistent basis. Now what we need to do is track and analyze your engagements so you know how your content is performing. With a few tips and some useful tools (some of which you are already using), we can make this crucial process very painless. Let's get started!


    Knowing how your audience is engaging with your content is a key part of your Social Media Strategy. Without the proper information on how your content is being received, you can waste a lot of manpower by not delivering exactly what your audience wants. Fortunately, there are some pretty easy tools out there to help you accomplish this.

     Google Analytics

    If you are hosting your content (such as a blog) on your own web site, Google Analytics is a great free tool to be using. Once you have entered the Google Analytics code into your site's HTML, the service will measure pretty much every metric of a page visit:
    • where your visitor came from
    • how long they were on that page
    • where they went from there
    • whether a visitor is sharing the content on social media or clicking on an ad
    • keywords people searched for that brought them to your page
    • demographics
    As KISSmetrics points out, one of Google Analytics’ best features—especially for retail sites and marketers tracking purchases—is the Goal Funnel, with which you can set up a string of URLs that a consumer clicks through when purchasing an item. You can find out not only how many people are going through the process of making a purchase, but also how many are abandoning it at a certain stage. This information will allow marketers to adjust their strategies and make the purchasing experience easier for the consumer.

    It may take a little while to get used to the interface and features of Google Analytics, but once you do it will become an invaluable tool to help your marketing progression.

    We've talk about this tool before, and hopefully you are using it to shorten your long URLs. What we didn't talk about though, is that tracks every time someone clicks on your links, making it a perfect free tool to use for analyzing engagement on social channels like Twitter and LinkedIn. will report how many clicks your link generated, when people clicked it (down to the hour), which platforms people used to share the link, and even a map of your link’s geographic distribution of clicks (which is helpful for optimizing and targeting your content in the future).

    Below is an example of’s geographic distribution:

    Social Channel Dashboards

    Just about all Social Media channels have some type of analysis tool built right into their dashboard. If you are just starting out and only use one or two channels, why not use the free tools that are built right in? Twitter, for example, has a really comprehensive analytics tool for tracking everything from impressions and engagements to followers.

    Social Dashboard Managers

    Many dashboard managers also have built-in tracking and analytics features, but some of them require a paid subscription. HootSuite will give you one report for one channel, but you are required to pay for more in depth reports or for other channels hosted on your dashboard.

    Everyone has their favorite tool to track their content engagement, the important thing is to find a couple and use them religiously! If you are taking the time to create the content and post it, take the time to track it! Remember: It's all about listening to your audience. This is their feedback to you.


     The reason you want to track all of your engagement is so that you can analyze the results and make adjustments when necessary. Do you have a post with strong content, but it just isn't getting the engagements you expect? Try adjusting the headline and track it for a period of time. Getting better, but still not there? Replace the image you are using and post it again. Most experts agree that making incremental changes and tracking in between is the best practice for optimizing your engagement.

    Don't be discouraged if your content isn't perfect right out of the gate. It almost never is! Even the pros edit and tweak their blogs and content posts after they are published. Besides, you never know how something is going to be received until you put it out there!

    All done!

    This will be the final segment in this particular series. I hope everyone enjoyed the journey of going from "How to Get Started" to this final article. I thoroughly enjoyed putting together all of this information for you and getting it on "paper" for you to use. Many of the subsequent articles in my blog will cover topics which go hand in hand with what you've learned over the past 5 weeks, so be sure to check back next Monday when we will talk about types of Social Media Strategies and which is best for your target market.

     I would like to give a special "shout-out" to a few individuals who have truly impacted my approach to Social Media and have inspired me by sharing their ideas and thoughts to the rest of us:

    • Randy Hlavac - Marketing instructor at Northwestern Medill IMC Business 
    • Andy Crestodina -Web Strategist and co-founder of Orbit Media
    • Rebekah Radice - Award Winning Social Media Writer, Strategist, Author, Speaker. 
    Images courtesy of  Pixabay

    Saturday, February 27, 2016

    Part 4 of "Social Media for the Small Business Owner" - Post Frequency & Timing

    Okay, you now have a social media strategy, know who your audience is and where they are, got your tools, set up your channels, and crafted your awesome content. Way to go! Now to find the perfect time to post your content to maximize it's impact with your audience. 


    "What is the perfect time to schedule my posts?" The perfect time is...a unicorn. It's a myth - doesn't exist - no rainbows, no shiny white coat - nada. What you need to ask is "What is the best time for my audience to see my post?".

    That is a different question entirely, but is still very tricky to answer. If you know your target audience and you know where they are engaging on Social Media, you can narrow it down to a good guess. After that it becomes a matter of tracking your results and adjusting your schedule

    I have compiled a list of Best & Worst Times from several different experts, but it is just a guideline. Knowing when your audience is active is always your best option. 


     The simple answer for frequency: Post as often as you have engaging, entertaining, or useful content to share. Keep track of engagement and followers to make sure that you are not over-posting and discouraging your audience. The chart below is recommended frequency - again, compiled from several sources. If you post more or less and disagree, that's ok. If you are in demand with your audience, post as much as they want you to! Just be sure to listen to them.


    Now that we've gone over time frames and frequency for your posts, I want to stress how important it is to organize and maintain an Editorial Calendar and a Post Calendar. These two tools will be crucial to achieving your social media goals. I will briefly explain each and give you links to templates which you can download to help get you started.
    • Editorial Calendar - Allows you to visualize the content you will be creating and keeps you on track by setting goals and deadlines.
    • Post Calendar - Allows you an overview of when, where and how often your content will get posted. Also great for tracking and A/B testing your posts (more on that next week!).
    A quick Google search will net many free calendars of both types (many require email sign-ups). Here is a link to HootSuite's free library of SMM templates to get you started:

     Example Schedule

     So, you've determined your audience is mainly on Facebook and Twitter and you want to start posting content to reach them. You should be prepared to post this much content:
    • Between 21 and 70 post/week = 46 average per week = 6-7 per day
    • Of those 6-7 daily posts, 4 should be Curated, 2 should be Created, and 1 Comical (amusing or inspirational works too) on average.
    • Between 3 and 21 post/week = 14 average per week = 2 per day
    • Of those 14 weekly posts, mix in 7 Curated, 4 Created, and 3 Comical throughout the week.
    Of course, you should come up with a post plan which fits you. I personally have days with all created content (Monday - to launch my new blog post and Sunday to review my blogs prior to Monday's new release) and days with all Curated content (Wednesday and Saturday), with a mix the rest of the week.

    I schedule my Twitter posts to rotate the same content with different messages at different times throughout the week. For example:
    • Blog post #1, message #1 - Monday 8am
    • Blog post #1, message #2 - Tuesday 12pm
    • Blog post #1, message #3 - Wednesday 4pm
    • Blog post #1, message #4 - Thursday 7pm
    • Blog post #1, message #5 - Friday 11pm
    • Same or similar for other blog posts
    • My Curated content only gets posted a maximum of twice per week each unless it's really being engaged or it's a trending topic
    This gives the same content a chance to get viewed at different times throughout the week. It also makes it really easy to track and analyze which messages and content are your best. Scheduling like this also helps stretch out your created content until you have enough to fill out your schedule.

    Using the numbers above and a good schedule, we can break it down to where you would be able to fill the week with only having 2 Created content pieces and 10-12 Curated pieces

    Remember to stay consistent with your schedule. Your audience will come to expect your original content at a certain time on a certain day and you don't want to disappoint them!

     Next Step

    Now you are ready to put everything together, fill out your calendars, and engage your audience! Next absolute necessity you need to learn is How to Track and Analyze your posts. I'll show you how and give you some really useful tools next Monday in Part 5.

    I would like to give a special "shout-out" to a few individuals who have truly impacted my approach to Social Media and have inspired me by sharing their ideas and thoughts to the rest of us:
    • Randy Hlavac - Marketing instructor at Northwestern Medill IMC Business 
    • Andy Crestodina -Web Strategist and co-founder of Orbit Media
    • Rebekah Radice - Award Winning Social Media Writer, Strategist, Author, Speaker. 
    Images courtesy of  Pixabay

    Sunday, February 21, 2016

    Part 3 of "Social Media for the Small Business Owner" - Content Creation/Curation

    In the previous articles we've talked about your social media strategy, your target audience, and what kind of content or messages you will craft for your audience. Today we get into the nuts and bolts of content creation (and curation!). 

    Content Creation 

    Original content creation is the heart and soul of inbound marketing. Original content not only drives your social media plan, but can also aid in your search engine optimization effort by creating more pages to be crawled. Content creation is your company's opportunity to show its knowledge and give itself an original voice.

    Here are a few key tips to keep in mind when creating original content:
    • Tell your story in your own voice - Write a story a human wants to hear and tell it like they are sitting across the table from you. Creating a persona for your brand will help develop trust and loyalty. Stay away from using big words and fancy terms (unless they are terms common to your audience, ie. medical professionals).
    • Use keywords - Using specific keywords in your content and headline will make your material easier to find and more relevant to your audience. For example, if your audience is searching for "creating a social media plan" you could have a title such as: "Here's Why Creating a Social Media Plan is So Important" or "Expert Tips for Creating a Social Media Plan". The keywords are built into your story and will translate into more views and engagements. Check our useful tools section below for ways to search for keywords.
    • Be Visual -  Use graphics and images that are representative of your brand and content. Images can convey your message quickly and be retained for a longer period of time than just text. Images can also create an emotional response to your audience. 
    • Create to the selfishness of your audience - Your audience may not be concerned about you, your business or blog. Rather, they arrived at your content assuming it would offer them something of value in exchange for their time. 
    • "Take 'yourself' out of the equation. Be 100 percent impartial and put the reader's interest first," advises Mark Rushworth, Head of Search at Blue Logic Web, a digital agency. "This will deliver more traction in the long run."
    •  Matt Certo, Principal of WebSolvers, Inc. recommends you "write and promote [your content] to the selfish nature of your audience. Our digital culture has conditioned us to expect answers to our questions that are fast and free.
      What's more, consumers don't want to be 'sold,' they want to connect with brands. [Content] should focus on the consumer -- not the brand. If your audience profiling is specific and your content and distribution is reflective of those findings, you are well on your way."
    •  Remember the 80/20 Rule - The 80/20 Rule (or Pareto Principle) is Content Marketing 101. Ramona Sukhraj of Impact Branding and Design explains it like this: 
    "When planning your content, make sure that no more than 20% of what you’re creating or sharing is promoting your own business or product. Going beyond this can create a very “salesy” tone of voice for your brand, rather than helpful.  
    The more you help your audience (without expecting anything in return), the more perceived value your brand will have in their eyes. So, be sure to keep the majority of your content (the remaining 80%) educational, entertaining, or informative."
    Original content can take on any form which suits the audience you are trying to reach. Some of the common formats are:
    • Blogs
    • Infographics
    • Videos
    • Webinars
    • Podcasts
    • Reviews
    • Polls
    • Lists
    • eMagazines/eBooks
    • Whitepapers
    • Interviews
    • Data/Reports
    What format your content takes is largely dependent on what you and your team are comfortable with and have the resources to produce. Using the same content in a different form on a different channel is a great way to economize your creative efforts and maximize your exposure. For example, producing a "Top 20" list to post on Twitter while creating an Infographic using the same data to post on Facebook. Same content - 2 different channels - 2 different formats.

    Content Curation

    The process of content curation is the act of sorting through large amounts of content on the web and presenting the best posts in a meaningful and organized way. The process can include sifting, sorting, arranging, and placing found content into specific themes, and then publishing that information.

    Basically, curation is sharing content you have found and think your audience would like. Curating content helps fill the gaps that form when you produce and promote your own high-quality content. Sounds easy enough, huh? Well, it can be overwhelming without the right tools and organization. Fortunately for you, I have several tools which I have found indispensable for curating content.
    • Pocket (Organization) - An application which allows the user to save an article or web page to the cloud for later reading. The article is then sent to the user's Pocket list (synced to all of their devices) for offline reading. Pocket removes clutter from articles and allows the user to adjust text settings for easier reading. Available for OS X, Windows, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Kobo eReaders, and web browsers.
    • Hootsuite (Scheduling) -  Hootsuite is a social media management system for brand management. I use it daily to track my social feeds and to schedule my posts across various channels for the week.
    • Feedly (Aggregator) - Feedly is a news aggregator application for various web browsers and mobile devices running iOS and Android, also available as a cloud-based service.
    • Klout (Aggregator) - Track your social media "score" and more importantly, find articles to curate based on your interests.
    • Buzzsumo (Paid)- BuzzSumo is a helpful search tool that tracks content on all social networking sites and ranks them based on the number of shares on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest.
    • Social MentionSocial Mention is a social media search engine that searches user-generated content such as blogs, comments, bookmarks, events, news, videos, and more.
    •  Headline Analyzer - This free tool will analyze your headline to determine the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) score.
    While these are just a few of  the ones I personally use, there are hundreds of apps and websites which can help you with content curation (either aggregators, dashboard organizers, or management/scheduling). A quick Google search will give you a bajillion lists like "Top xxxx Content Tools".

    Creation vs Curation

    Remember the 5:3:2 Rule from my previous article? You will (and should) use both methods to promote content. Create original content on a regular basis and use Curated content to fill in the gaps and to further enhance your audiences' experience. Serve your audience as a trusted source. Help them with their problems. Answer their questions. That is what will get them to be customers down the road. 

    Next Step

    Wow! We covered a lot of ground in the 3 segments. Now that you have your content, next item we'll work on is the timing and scheduling of your posts. I'll show you how and give you some really useful tools next Monday in Part 4.

    I would like to give a special "shout-out" to a few individuals who have truly impacted my approach to Social Media and have inspired me by sharing their ideas and thoughts to the rest of us:
    • Randy Hlavac - Marketing instructor at Northwestern Medill IMC Business 
    • Andy Crestodina -Web Strategist and co-founder of Orbit Media
    • Rebekah Radice - Award Winning Social Media Writer, Strategist, Author, Speaker. 
    Images courtesy of  Pixabay

    Sunday, February 14, 2016

    Part 2 of "Social Media for the Small Business Owner" - Content

    Originally I was going to answer "What, How, and When" in this post, but on the advice from some of the experts, I have decided to break these up into 3 separate parts. A big reason why I'm doing it this way is that understanding content and content creation is a HUGE part of your social media strategy. To simplify this topic too much and not cover all of the basics would not be in anyone's best interest.

    What is content?

    Content is by far the most valuable asset your business can use, to not only engage and inform customers, but to increase traffic to your website and dramatically improve search rankings. But what is "content"? Bryan Eisenberg (Facebook) describes content like this:
    "Think of Web content as the public conversation that happens between you and the visitor, whether the conversation is one-way (from you to the visitor), two-way (between the visitor and you), or conversation among visitors."
    So basically, any information which is engaging, relevant, reliable, interesting, entertaining or enlightening in the form of text, image, video or audio can be considered "content".

    What Content to Share

    In Part 1, we discussed the importance of creating a customer profile and knowing what your customer needs. Your content should be based on what your audience finds relevant, solves their problem, or satisfies their needs. The media choice (blog, Tweet, video, infographic) will depend on the channel you are broadcasting your message within (Where your audience is - Twitter, YouTube, Facebook).

    Content marketing experts agree on a few basic practices when creating your content:
    • QUALITY, not quantity wins! - Even if you only post content once a week, make sure it's information your audience wants. Throwing irrelevant junk at them every 3 hours is going to lose you a large portion of your followers!
    • SPEAK to your audience - Have a voice when it comes to your content. Tell a story, make them laugh, be engaging - that is what will keep them coming back for more.
    • CREATE in your own style - Everyone has a style. Be funny, witty, analytical - whatever your personal style is, embrace it and be consistent. 
    • APPEAL to emotions and needs - Your audience wants to feel like the time they spend with you is worth it. Make them laugh, solve a problem (or get them heading in the right direction anyway), hell, make 'em cry if that's your thing. Either way, you are connecting with them and THAT is what's important.

    Rule of 5:3:2

    A very successful formula of what content to post is the 5:3:2 rule. When it comes to social sharing, the 5:3:2 rule is a ratio to follow for a well-rounded social strategy that will keep your fans engaged - and help you build more followers.The formula breaks down like this:
    • 50% Curated content
    • 30% Original content
    • 20% Fun content
    So for example, if you publish 10 posts per week then:
    • 5: Should be content from others that is relevant to your audience.
    • 3: Should be content from you that is relevant to your audience but not sales focused.
    • 2: Should be personal, fun content that helps humanize your brand.

    From the Experts

    Post Planner Editor in Chief, Diana Adams explains it like this:

    "Today, it’s all about user intent, the value of your content and writing for the reader. And not just any reader. Writing for the reader you want, the one you’ve outlined in detail.

    For the best results, think about what kind of content would be most valuable to your audience. In other words, what is their intent? Why did they come to your blog? What kind of info are they hoping to see from you?

    The best way to answer these questions is to really know your audience (your customers and potential customers). What are the struggles they face? What problems do they need solved?

    Once you can figure out how to answer these questions better than anyone else in your niche, your traffic and subscribers will go up up up (and fast)!!"

    Next Step

    So now you know who your audience is, where they are in the Social Media world, and what to say to them. Next item on the To-Do List is to craft your message and get it ready to be heard. I'll show you how and give you some really useful tools next Monday in Part 3.

    I would like to give a special "shout-out" to a few individuals who have truly impacted my approach to Social Media and have inspired me by sharing their ideas and thoughts to the rest of us:
    • Randy Hlavac - Marketing instructor at Northwestern Medill IMC Business 
    • Andy Crestodina -Web Strategist and co-founder of Orbit Media
    • Rebekah Radice - Award Winning Social Media Writer, Strategist, Author, Speaker. 
    Images courtesy of  Pixabay

    Sunday, February 7, 2016

    Part 1 of "Social Media for the Small Business Owner" - Getting Started

    Social media is one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal. If you use it correctly, you can create a strong personal connection with your prospective customers. However, small business owners often make the mistake of diving into social media without a clear plan. At best, this is a waste of time – and at worst, it can lead to a PR disaster. With a clear plan and an investment of your valuable time, Social Media can make a huge impact on your business.

    To benefit from social media, you need to build a clear strategy that takes into account what you’re trying to achieve, who your customers are, what your customers want/need, and even what your competition is doing. As in any good business communications, you need to listen before you speak. By broadening your social listening beyond just your own brand, your audience (and competition) will give you a good idea on where and how you should be active on social media.


    The first step in creating a social media marketing strategy is to understand your own business and where you want to go. What do you hope to gain from your social media marketing efforts? Are you looking to increase sales, or website traffic, or both? Do you want to create or raise awareness of your brand?  Is your goal to build customer loyalty and increase retention? These goals aren’t mutually exclusive, but you should focus on one or two. You’re not going to accomplish anything except wasting a lot of your precious time if you spread yourself too thin.
    • Use the S•M•A•R•T method for creating goals - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time based. For example: If your goal is brand awareness, then you might want to increase the number of times your brand is mentioned on social media by 50 percent in the next 6 months.

    Target Audience

    A successful social media strategy is all about targeting the right people with the right messages. But where are they and how do I get my message to them? Again, this is where listening before you speak comes into play.
    • Make sure you understand your customer profile - Age, profession, income level, hobbies, etc. Make a list of common attributes among your customer base to create a profile of your target audience. Depending on your products or services, it can be general or very focused. For example: Men age 18-40, upwardly mobile with interest in technology or Women age 40-65, higher income range, living in northeast US, love pets.
    •  Research where your audience is on Social - Sounds easy enough, huh? By knowing your customer profile, you should be able to do a little digging into what social media and online communities your target audience engages with. Actually, there are a lot of tools which can help you in this (Some are listed in the next section).

     Tools & Channels

    Now you know where you’re going, but you still don’t know how to get there. There are two distinct types of applications you will use to navigate social media - Tools and Channels.
    • Tools are the programs or website applications you will used to research, schedule, and analyze your social media campaign. 
    • Channels are where you will interact with your audience (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, your blog etc.). 
    For both of these applications, there are a mind-numbing amount of choices - particularly with tools. The channels you use should be based on where your audience likes to engage, so that is more focused. Below is a small list of resources I use and have found to be easy to navigate and very productive (And FREE! Although, as you progress you may want to explore some of the paid options which they have available).
    • Hootsuite - Social Media dashboard. Use to monitor and schedule your posts to your selected channels.
    • Bitly - URL shortener and Link Management/Analytics. Essential to track click-throughs from links you post in your content. Absolutely critical for Twitter.
    • Klout -  Social monitoring. Gives you a social media score to track your progress. Also has content and scheduling features.
    • Social Mention - Social Mention is a social media search engine that searches user-generated content such as blogs, comments, bookmarks, events, news, videos, and such.
    • Blogger - Blog Management and hosting (Google).
    • - Hashtag search engine with data about hashtags.
    • Relay - Online graphic & infographic tool.
    A quick Google search will show many lists of "Top Social Media Tools". The key is to find ones that you can use comfortably and that fill a specific need for you. You may have 5 content research apps, but I would find one dashboard manager and one URL shortener/tracker that you like and stay with them.


    Register and setup accounts 

    Once you find which tools and channels you want to use, you must register and set up your account. Here are a few keys to optimizing your accounts (specifically channels as they are the Social face of your brand):
    • Account Info - Be sure to use your BUSINESS information to set up your account. Keep your personal and business accounts separate. Some may disagree with me on this, but I strongly dislike seeing personal posts on a "business" feed. To me it looks very unprofessional. Also, register all of your account under the same email address for continuity. If you need to, open a separate email such as "".  
    • Branding - Maintain your brand across all platforms you are engaging in. I can't stress that enough! Use your company colors, logo, pictures, profile, etc. across all social platforms. Here is a link to a Social Media Images Cheatsheet which lists all of the image sizes you need to set up your accounts. 
    • Profiles - Be sure to fill out your channel profiles as completely as possible. This info is what your audience will use to decide on whether or not they want to engage with you.  Review and update periodically - add new products, services, etc. as necessary.

    Next Step

    Part two of this process will cover one of the most crucial elements of your Social Media campaign - Content - what, how, and when to post. Being that "Content is King", the goal is to be prepared to engage with your target audience in an effective, efficient manner. I'll show you how in Part 2.

    I would like to give a special "shout-out" to a few individuals who have truly impacted my approach to Social Media and have inspired me by sharing their ideas and thoughts to the rest of us:
    • Randy Hlavac - Marketing instructor at Northwestern Medill IMC Business 
    • Andy Crestodina -Web Strategist and co-founder of Orbit Media
    • Rebekah Radice - Award Winning Social Media Writer, Strategist, Author, Speaker. 
    Images courtesy of  Pixabay

    Saturday, January 2, 2016

    Small Business Owners: 3 Actions Every Small Business Owner Should Take Concerning Social Media

    As a small business owner, you are well aware of the use of Social Media in today's marketplace not only in brand recognition and lead generation, but also in customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. As I was integrating Social Media Consulting into my current Web Design, Management, and Online Services business, I came across two articles written with distinct points of views on if Social Media was right for your small business.

    The first article is written by Hootsuite's Inbound Marketing Specialist Kristina Cisnero and is titled "10 Benefits of Social Media for Business Every Skeptic Should Know" and takes a positive approach on why businesses benefit from having a presence in Social Media. Kristina goes into detail listing 10 benefits a business can gain from properly utilizing social media. Her article provides valuable insights using infographics and provides links to other source material.

    graphic found at
    The second article I came across, "7 Reasons You Should Not Use Social Media For Business",  is written by Kevin Popovic who is Founder & Communications Director of Ideahaus®,  Author, Teacher, Speaker and contributor to Business 2 Community. Kevin took the novel approach to say why there are certain businesses which may not fare well by using social media, which seems counter intuitive for a person who has authored books about about Social Media strategy. That was exactly why I found it refreshing - it didn't overstate or glamorize social media and say that it would work for every situation. He brought up some valid points as to why a social media campaign may not be for your business.

    • Ask "Why?" - Ask yourself "What are my goals and expectations of using social media for my business?"
    • Get Help - Do research online, ask a business associate who uses social media successfully, or seek a professional consultant to help get started and maintain.
    • Stay Strong - Whether you choose to use social media for your business or not, stick to the plan that you have developed for your business.
    Most businesses can gain multiple, long-term benefits by integrating social media into their marketing and advertising strategy, so plan out your goals and expectations, build a solid social media strategy, stick to it and watch your business grow.

    My name is Michael Weaver, owner of Smart Business Solutions which is a web development and management company located in northeast Pennsylvania, USA. I am currently enrolled in the Social Media Specialization course provided by Coursera and Northwestern University. Feel free to leave me feedback or contact me through any of the following: Twitter  |  Facebook  |  LinkedIn

    Upcoming Blogs:
    Social Media for the Small Business Owner - Part 1 - Getting Started
    Social Media for the Small Business Owner - Part 2 - Content - What, How, and When to Post
    SBO: 10 Things You Need to Have on Your Website - Essential elements your website needs to have today (coming 4/2016)
    SBO: 7 Things You Need to Remove From Your Website Today! - Things which may have been okay in the past, but will drag down your site today (coming 5/2016)