Best Blogging Practices for Small Businesses

For the final topic of this series we will discuss the advantages of blogging for your small business.  Blogging does a couple of things for your business and social media.  It enables participation and relationships around your business, industry and customers.

HP Case Study
Let’s use a case study for HP.  HP sells a number of complex products, many of which need product details along with some type of customer support to help navigate through those details.  This is a case where blogging helps fill a need by breaking down complex information or topics into simple streams of content customers can easily find, understand and relate to.  HP took the approach of executing several blogs that were product and or category specific vs just one blog.  They now have over 80 executive blogs with topics ranging from storage and mobility to small businesses.  Blogging has become a successful medium for HP given it creates dynamic interaction between its executive’s stories, customer comments and executive follow up on customer comments (Li & Bernoff, 2011).

For example when Microsoft introduced Windows 10 a number of customers were having problems with their printers.  Reports began to circulate on the web that Vista printer drivers were not working.  Vince Ferraro (HP Vice President) took note and decided to post a solution for the printer problem on his blog.  The post resulted in 26 blog readers posting comments and further questions about the problem.  Mr. Ferraro of course answered every posted comment from readers along with providing a second blog post with more detailed solutions offered.   This created an environment where other bloggers were posting direct links to Mr. Ferraro’s blog posts which quickly resulted in the highest result search for google under “HP Vista printer problems”.   So think about it, customers could now go and do a google search and find an answer to their problem in all of 5 minutes vs having to call in for support.  Think about it, the simple act of blogging allowed Mr. Ferraro to reach out to thousands of customers through talking and responding to just a few customers.  Blogging if used correctly can be a powerful addition to your company’s social media marketing mix (Li & Bernoff, 2011).

Li & Bernoff’s Top Tips for Blogging

  1. Start with listening. What does that mean and how do I do that for my business?  What listening means is to start monitoring other blogs within your industry, that includes competitors and other influencers within your market.  What are they saying?  What topics are hot?  Are any blogs mentioning your company in a good or negative way?  Identifying and answering these questions will narrow down what your blog might have to say or address (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
  2. Establish a goal for your blog. Is your blog to be used for customer support? Announcing new products and or services? Or PR and responding to news stories?  Will you need just one blog to serve your goals or will you need several as in the case for HP mentioned above (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
  3. Practice, practice, practice. Initially spend some time writing five to ten posts before letting them go live.  You will quickly gauge how much time will be needed for supporting creating blog content while also having the chance to review if you’re going in the right direction with your topics.  If you find you can’t pull together at least 5 posts to start with then blogging may not be for you (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
  4. Be transparent. Remember from our last discussion we talked about the importance of honesty and transparency online.  It will take your company far in building authentic relationships with your audience (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
  5. Create a Marketing Plan. This can include press releases in local trade magazines, email campaigns sent out to current customers introducing your blog and or campaigning through mediums such as google adwords.  Other tactics can include going back to some of the blogs you used for monitoring and adding comments to relative stories with a link back to your own blog (Li & Bernoff, 2011).

I want to tell you that there’s so much more to learn about best practices and tips for blogging which can help take your business to the next level, so check out Li & Bernoff’s Business Week Bestseller “groundswell”.  It’s filled with tons of valuable lessons, case studies and practical execution of social media tools and strategies small businesses new to social media can use.

I want thank everyone for all of the comments and support for this blog series!  Best of luck and keep me posted on how you’re doing!

 

References
Li, C., & Bernoff, J. (2011). Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Social Media Risks for Small Businesses

You’ve been doing the research on expanding your business to social media.  That includes identifying your goals, identifying your target market, identifying the best social platform to meet your goals and identifying the best metrics to use for measuring success.   We’ve talked a lot about why it’s so important to get your business onto social but now let’s take a look at some of the risks.

To delete or not delete, that is the question…
A great question of concern for small businesses is whether or not to delete feedback or problems posted from customers on platforms such as Facebook and or Twitter.  This tactic comes from the fear in believing that customers who come to your Facebook page will turn away because of reading a bad experience or complaint from another customer.  Let me say that deleting such comments is risky business as it can give the appearance that your brand is trying to hide something.  It takes away an aspect of transparency, trust and honest relationship with your customers.  Before resorting to such tactics think about how your customers will feel, respond and look to your company based on reading a bad experience from a customer which was responded to with empathetic customer support and a solution for correcting the experience. In that scenario customers will see that you have the capacity and transparency to take care of them.  This results in greater trust and a healthier relationship with your audience.  Are there severe cases where a customer complaint should be deleted?  Yes, but use good judgement in making that decision.  A case where things may have gotten verbally abusive, absolutely.  But a case where a customer is clearly and rightfully upset, frustrated or disheartened about a brand experience, you owe it to your brand and your customers to socially hear, support and share a resolution for that customer’s experience (Goldman, 2012).

A Case Study & Questions
Back in 2008, musician Dave Caroll had his $3,500 guitar broken while flying with United Airlines.  He tried to use traditional means of customer support with no success and then decided to take his complaint to social media.  He posted 3 music videos to Youtube based on his experience with the airline which went viral capturing over 10 million views.   After 3 – 4 weeks of the video American Airlines stock dropped by 10%, a loss of $180 million.  Based on the video tactics of Mr. Caroll the airlines did offer to compensate him for his loss.  His response to them was to donate it to charity as by this time for him it was no longer about the money.  Instead, it was about the principle of not being heard as a customer the first time around (Wilson, 2011).

The irony in this case was the company or brand who made his guitar saw an opportunity and took it.  Along with their sympathy and support they sent the musician a brand new guitar.  The company, Taylor Guitars, ended up making their own Youtube video about how unhappy they are when guitars are damaged and how to get in touch with them for repair services along with the best practices for packing and traveling with a guitar (Wilson, 2011).  A smart company!

Was it really worth American Airlines not taking care of Mr. Caroll for his loss early on?  What did it possibly cost them as a brand?  Was it worth the bad publicity?  Let me know your thoughts!

The moral of the story? 
Social Media is powerful.  It can either make or break your business.  As a small business know that it’s ok to make mistakes that may show up on social platforms.  Don’t wait until those problems become bigger problems and don’t try to delete them to make them go away.  Be transparent, honest and supportive.  Your social audience will reward you for it.

 

References
Goldman, J. (2012). Going Social: Excite Customers, Generate Buzz, and Energize Your Brand with the Power of Social Media. Saranac Lake, NY, USA: AMACOM Books. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com

Wilson, R. (2011).  A public relations disaster.  Blog.  Retrieved from http://sentium.com/a-public-relations-disaster-how-saving-1200-cost-united-airlines-10772839-negative-views-on-youtube/

Small Business Be SMART with Social Media

Social Media and Large Corporations
It’s 2016 and a simple google search for “social media corporate success” reveals ongoing lists of various articles showing how large corporations like Coca-Cola, McDonalds, IKEA and more are successfully using social media to creatively engage with their audiences and build their brands.  For example McDonalds designed a Twitter social media campaign for Super Bowl 2015 where they gave away free products like a Toyota Camry.  The campaign created a lot of buzz for McDonald’s and according to some Marketing Analysts actually created more buzz than all of the other Super Bowl advertisers (Martin, 2015).

But I’m not McDonalds and don’t have a McDonald’s budget! What can I as a small business owner do to make social media work for me?  What’s the current state of social media among small businesses?
Yes.  I hear you!  And these are great questions.  First, I want to reiterate how a large percentage of small business are still missing out on the advantages of social media.  This could largely be due to small business owners not having the time to use social media for themselves and so may be opting to not use it for their own businesses.  Other reasons could include business owners not really understanding what a social media conversation looks like and so may not be opting to take the time needed to see what online users may be saying about their business and or business industry.  Factors could also be that business owners are separating social media out of their traditional marketing practices. Regardless of the reasons, I think if you ask any small business owner about the importance of traditional word of mouth marketing for their business all would agree that word of mouth is critical for keeping their businesses successful.  What some small business owners may be missing is the understanding that social media is nothing more than an electronic version of traditional word of mouth advertising (Lentz, O’Leary & Sheehan, 2011).

Tools Small Businesses Should Use to Improve Their Social Media Presence
Second, set and review your business goals.  Decide whether you want to use social media as a platform for increasing your sales, increasing customer service and or increasing engagement with your target audience.  Choosing a goal will help determine which social media platform will be the best fit for you.  It will also help to identify what metrics will be the best for measuring social media success.  Ultimately goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed (Lentz, O’Leary & Sheehan, 2011):

  • For more information on how to apply the SMART method for business goals click here.
  • For examples on how to apply the SMART method to social media business goals click here.

Let’s say that one of your goals is to improve Customer Service given happy customers are eager to spread the word about your products and services.  We’ll use an example case study from Hootsuite for small business Herschel Supply Co. based in Vancouver, Canada.  This retail company specializes in back packs, bags, travel goods and accessories.  Their target market consists of global consumers which are tech savvy and fashion oriented.  One of their main goals was to improve Customer Service.  How would they do this? What social tools would be necessary to accomplish this goal?  Ultimately they decided on the social management tool Hootsuite which would allow them to monitor online conversations about their business (Cisnero, 2014).

Herschel Supply, Co. concluded that the best way to improve customer service would be to try and respond to all questions found online, including those that didn’t mention their business.  They accomplished this by setting up search streams in Hootsuite which would allow them to monitor online conversations through the hashtags of #Herschel and #HerschelSupply.  With a specific goal in mind and choosing the right tool to support that goal Herschel Supply Co. was able to improve customer satisfaction by 20% (Cisnero, 2014).

So remember start with SMART and apply that method to your Social Media plan.  Then do the research on what tools will support your goals.  By the way, Hootsuite is an excellent social media management tool.  Definitely check out their website for more information on their products and how to use them.  And definitely check out their blog.  It’s got great information on the best social media tools to use with your goals in mind (Cisnero, 2014)!  Click here for more info and let me know how it goes!

References
Cisnero, K. (2014, Jun 30). 3 small businesses that found social media success.  Hootsuite.  Retrieved from https://blog.hootsuite.com/small-business-social-media-success-stories/

Lentz, S., O’Leary, S., & Sheehan, K. (2011). Small Business Smarts : Building Buzz with Social Media. Westport, CT, USA: Praeger. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com

Martin, J.  (2015, Mar 25).  12 standout social media success stories.  CIO. Retrieved from http://www.cio.com/article/2901047/social-media/12-standout-social-media-success-stories.html

Is your Business still not on Social Media?

Social Media Marketing, what is it?
In a nut shell Marketing is the promotion of a product or service designed to increase sales and revenue.  Social Media is any digital or online platform where one individual connects and or communicates with many.  Online platforms can include blogs such as this one, company or personal websites, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube as well as mobile messaging applications and much more (Kabani, 2013).

Why is Social Media Marketing so important for my business?
Social Media is where the people are, your potential customers and users of your products and services.  Between 49 – 90% of individuals using Social Media platforms have a made a purchase based on someone within their network recommending a product or service. Believe it or not up until 2013 only 25% of businesses had a Facebook page (Kabani, 2013).  By the spring of 2015 Facebook statistics revealed that 41% of small businesses now had a Facebook page (Smith, 2016).  But what about the other 59% of small businesses with no Facebook presence and does your business fall into this percentile?  These businesses are missing out on lucrative opportunities for building their brand as well as connecting and engaging with potential customers.

What is Twitter and why should I use it?
Twitter is a social networking service.  To be more specific it is a microblogging social network.  Say what?  If you’re business is new to social media don’t let the term scare you.  This just means that whatever message you post as a business must be short and simple, under 140 characters.  There are several perks and opportunities to using Twitter for growing your business (Zimmerman & Ng, 2012):

  • It allows your business to build a community and or following of loyal customers
  • Find new customers
  • Have a conversation with your customers
  • Ask your customers questions
  • Provide your customers with customer support
  • Find out what people are saying about your products and services
  • Give out perks
  • Promote your brand visibility and content

What about Facebook? 
The goal of Facebook is simple, it is to promote your brand.  Not only is brand promotion incredibly important but with social media platforms like Facebook, brand promotion becomes more affordable that traditional means of advertising like Television, Print and Radio. For example, Coca-Cola uses Facebook for brand promotion with over 30 million followers.  Coca-Cola is able to reach more customers through one Facebook update and or message vs a television commercial.  Facebook provides much of the same opportunities as Twitter.  It allows you to build your brand through community through interactive content and customer engagement.  It’s a fantastic medium that allows your customers to feel a part of your brand.

Which one should I start with?
The answer to that question truly depends on your target market.  Most businesses appear to start with Facebook based on the platform’s popularity however your target audience might actually be spending more time on Twitter. It’s a case of research, research and more research.  You must research which platform your target audience is using and start with that!  Sproutsocial.com has a great article based on Twitter and Facebook demographics that may help you get started, click here (Jackson, 2015).

More Resources
In future posts we’ll go into more detail with some of the challenges you might face with Twitter like keeping messages under 140 characters and more.  In the meantime Forbes has a great article on getting started with Twitter, click here.   Facebook also has a great beginner’s video for setting up a business Facebook page. You can view the video and getting started steps here.  Check them both out and let me know how it’s going.  Until next time!

References
Jackson, D. (2015, Sep). Facebook vs. Twitter: which is best for your brand.  Retrieved from http://sproutsocial.com/insights/facebook-vs-twitter/

Kabani, S. H. (2013). Zen of Social Media Marketing: An Easier Way to Build Credibility, Generate Buzz, and Increase Revenue (3rd Edition). Dallas, TX, USA: BenBella Books, Inc.. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com

Smith, C.  (2016, Jan 27).  By the numbers:  90 amazing Facebook page statistics.  Retrieved from http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/facebook-page-statistics/

Zimmerman, J., & Ng, D. (2012). Social Media Marketing All-in-One For Dummies. Somerset, US: For Dummies. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com