Archive for May, 2012

Taking Your Startup Back to the Business Basics

Mentoring startups has a lot of benefits: It gives something back to the community and helps other entrepreneurs avoid some of the mistakes that you’ve already made. And it’s also a lot of fun to meet entrepreneurs who are so passionate about their business. Sometimes, though, that passion can make it hard for startups to focus on the business basics, like pricing, market research and finding your niche.

I have had the opportunity to mentor quite a few startup companies in the St. Louis region over the past several years, and it is also satisfying to see the widening of the entrepreneurial community in St. Louis. We just had a business plan competition (the Arch Grants) which gave away grants of $50k to 15 different startups, a few of whom are in the process of moving into town (as part of the deal to take the dough). This is just one of numerous ways startups can raise funds here, as Jay DeLong shows in this video.

The common theme that I keep coming back to is that taking care of the basics of business isn’t always easy. What do I mean by basics? Things like pricing, understanding your market, and making sure that your niche is as narrow as possible. Let me give you a few examples.

Not a Charity
One services firm I know was charging too little. In fact, after getting some mentoring, the company doubled its rates! Figuring out what you charge isn’t easy: I wrestle with this all the time, particularly in today’s down economy. My own rates have fluctuated over the 20 years that I have been in business, and today I still marvel at firms that want me to do work for them at bargain-basement rates or, better yet, for free for “the exposure.” If I wanted exposure, I would go hiking in the mountains. I keep telling folks that I am not a charitable organization; I work for a living, and so should you.

Yes, there are times when I will work for free, but only under very structured and controlled circumstances. For example, I will speak at local community-based organizations’ conferences. A speaker friend I know books up to one pro bono event each month and puts it on her calendar. I like that method; you treat these freebies with the same value as paying gigs. She makes her money selling her books and consulting services from these events.

Sure, setting the right price is more art than science, but you do have to spend some time looking at your competitors and understanding that there is an implicit value in your rate. If you undercharge, you will be undervalued.

If you need help with your pricing, spend time doing testing; see what you can get at different prices from different clients. While this isn’t very scientific, it should give you an idea of how high your should (usually) raise your rates.

Finding Your Niche
Do you really have the right niche for your product or services? One software firm I work with has a very narrow niche for its product, and has done well continuing to focus on what people in that niche need.

But what happens if your niche is evolving? You have to evolve with it.

Typically, startups want to continually find a narrower niche, so they can become the dominant player in that niche. Many new ventures make the mistake of going too wide rather than deep; then you are in different markets with limited resources for each.

The term du jour is “pivot” (which used to mean solving a set of linear equations back when I was in grad school), describing the idea of refocusing your startup business as conditions change and you track your progress. Pivoting gives the impression that your original idea wasn’t sound. Instead, I like to suggest constantly refining your offerings.

Finally, once you establish the right price and the right niche, you need to find the right market for your goods and services. Another firm I know was focused on college-age young adults. When it developed a second service, it designed the new offering around this audience as well. College kids are customers who the company knows and understand. The idea is to leverage their existing expertise, not to try to be all things to all ages.

That kind of focus on business basics is a valuable lesson for any startup.

Socialkik.com the cheapest and most effective source for Social Media Marketing. Click on the following links for your marketing needs:
Buy Facebook fans, Buy Twitter followers, Buy Youtube subscribers and views, Buy Google +1 votes.

The Five Reasons Why Most Facebook Brand Pages Aren’t True Communities

What are the defining characteristics of a community? It’s a topic I’ve been pondering more and more lately. Is it about geography, common interests, socio-economic similarities, or similar viewpoints?

The list goes on and on.

To get to this point, it becomes necessary to define what a community is. According to dictionary.com, a community is a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived itself as distinct insome respect from the larger society within which it exists.

As community managers, it’s our job to manage a brand’s online (and offline) presence. It’s a daunting task that requires us to assume a leadership role, channel the company’s voice, create buzz and drive engagement on and offline to achieve specific goals/outcomes. It’s fairly natural to assume that as the leader, you are building and growing a “community.” After all, there’s X amount of likers, followers, subscribers, doers’, doubters, troublemakers and everything in between, who are communicating in the group. However with most brand pages, this environment is actually fostering a false sense of community.

1. Fans and likers usually don’t just like a page based on common interests (or other community defining characteristics)

Most Facebook fans didn’t decide to “like” a brand’s page because they wanted to be part of an online community. In fact, the two most common reasons to like a brand are if you are a current customer or to receive discounts and/or freebies, according to a study by research firm, Chadwick Martin Bailey. The next most popular reasons are to show support for a brand, to learn more information and to get exclusive content. Couple that with the fact, that more than 75% of Facebook users who like a brand, like fewer than 10 brands total, and you wind up with stiff competition for eyeballs and page “likes.”

2. The vast majority of fans don’t participate on Facebook pages.

One of the biggest misunderstandings about Facebook is the assumption that once a person “likes” your page, they are going to keep coming back for more. A “like” on a page doesn’t guarantee that they will ever come back to that page and participate or even read any updates. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. According to an AdAge article, only one percent of fans on the biggest brand pages actually engage with the brand at all.

3. It’s a one-sided conversation

Going right alongside that, the few fans that stay actively involved on the page often don’t feel inclined to post updates or comment. Most of them are just casual observers or lurkers. This leads to a one-sided conversation led by the brand, or frankly no conversation at all. 82% of brand pages are updated less than five times a month, according to a recent study by Recommend.ly.

4. Numbers still matter.

Many brands are still very interested in the numbers game. No matter how many times a community manager, specialist or strategist vouches for quality over quantity, there’s always going to be push back to expand the messaging to a larger audience. Brands will often do whatever it takes to get more. Many of these tactics are counterintuitive to the core community-building strategies.

5. Gimmicks, expensive apps and games drive a lot of the action

So, how do brands up their numbers? Often times, they create gimmicks, such as games, contests, other fancy Facebook apps and pump hefty media budgets into Facebook ads/sponsored story campaigns. Some of these apps are quite effective. Yet, all they are doing is creating a false sense of community to help a brand spread their message further.
All of these are marketing tactics that are “forced upon” anyone, who expresses interest in the brand. It’s not a natural progression in a community sense. In a true community, members stumble into the group and then start talking with one another, usually naturally and without any real incentives.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing that brands are more likely to market instead of build community on Facebook. When done right, marketing on Facebook can be quite effective. That’s evident from Fortune 50 companies all the way down to mom and pop shops. After all, it’s all about creating an overall marketing strategy that understands your core business goals, and then using the most effective channels and tactics to achieve them. Facebook is one of the popular channels to spread awareness, get people talking about you and your products, increase conversions, drive offline actions (like event attendance) and even increase sales. However, if you’re trying to build a community around your brand through Facebook, it might be time to reconsider those strategies.

Is your brand page a community or a one-sided marketing channel?

Socialkik.com the cheapest and most effective source for Social Media Marketing. Click on the following links for your marketing needs:
Buy Facebook fans, Buy Twitter followers, Buy Youtube subscribers and views, Buy Google +1 votes.

Google, Big Data & What it Means for SEO

In Google’s recent earnings call, the question was posed, “If you think of the future of Internet search 3 or 4 years out, how important will the social signal be and how important (will) personalization be?”

CEO Larry Page responded by explaining how he might search for one of his friends who had a common name.

“For the first time, the search box isn’t really searching a string…it’s actually searching for that person that I know,” Page said. “Having real feedback from users…is very useful for search…we have a lot of those signals already, but we can always use more…we can always use better relevance and we can always use more data to generate that.”

Page’s response reveals two insights into how Google is thinking about big data:

Page’s anecdote is a direct reference to Google’s increasing focus on enhancing the search experience by leveraging semantic content.
It provides insight into how Google values the social web: as data – a means to an end; not as an end in and of itself.
What Does Big Data Mean Anyway?

Generally speaking, big data refers to the processing and analysis of large data sets to support better real world decision-making. Here is what makes big data both timely and unique:

Increased data generated by individuals via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Migration of data from local storage to the cloud, where it can be more easily shared and analyzed in aggregate.
A growing acceptance of openness and transparency, resulting in increased access to institutional and organizational data.
Increased potential for analyzing distinct data, resulting from the growing adoption of data standards.
Increased access to infrastructure needed to process large datasets.
Why Does Big Data Matter for SEO?

Big data has always been relevant to search marketers because Google is the original big data company. They have become the institution they are today by analyzing enormous sets of data, making automated inferences, and providing intelligence back to consumers. By studying Google’s methodology and applying their findings, search professionals have been intimately involved with big data for quite some time.

Google is a big data company. The future of search is going to be informed by the field of big data. This is important to understand.

Framed in this context, what can search professionals expect?

The Continued Evolution of Content Into Data

Content is published information. For a search engine to make sense of content, a lot of work has to be done. Data, on the other hand, makes analysis easier for search engines and brings them one step closer to an eventual answer.

Already, Google has begun using semantic information to analyze content and structure search results through rich snippets.

Socialkik.com the cheapest and most effective source for Social Media Marketing. Click on the following links for your marketing needs:
Buy Facebook fans, Buy Twitter followers, Buy Youtube subscribers and views, Buy Google +1 votes.

Social Media Marketing: Strategy to Commerce

For companies trying to make sense of social media and online marketing, it’s important to take a step back from all the “TwitFaceBlogTubeIn” mania for a second and look at the nature of how these things are going to work for the overall business.

There are many questions that need answers: ”Should we develop a strategy first before engaging?”, ”Should we experiment and develop a strategy as we go?”, “Will it ever be OK to ask customers if they want to buy directly within social channels or will we always have to tiptoe around the subject?”

Here are a few considerations to help answer those questions and establish the framework for a sustainable and successful social media marketing program.

Social Media Strategy: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Having some idea of what measurable goals and business outcomes you’re after is essential for planning resources and forecasting outcomes. This is true with any kind of marketing and is certainly the case with social media.

I polled a number of industry smarties on social media strategy vs. tactics and while there was some distance between the approach Guy Kawasaki preferred and that of people like Chris Brogan, the consensus was that developing an approach is essential for planning, implementation, accountability and measurement of success.

The formation of a social media strategy is a ripe opportunity for creativity and certainly shouldn’t get in the way of getting started. Gaining consensus about social strategy within a corporation could easily create a bottleneck. A strategy that calls for experimentation with iterative improvement in the context of overall goals, approach, tactics, audience and an effort to measure success is more likely to be implemented and gain support.

Social Media Marketing Tactics: The best mix of tactics needs to tie into the plan for reaching business goals. Whether it’s “Better engage with our customers” to “Filling the top of the sales funnel”, an understanding of audience preferences and behaviors will lead to the right tactical mix.

A lot of companies take the path of least resistance and go for what I like to call, “The Social 5-Pack” of: Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, YouTube and LinkedIn without thinking through tactics. For example, one common question often I hear is, “Is a LinkedIn group a better use of time and resources or a Facebook Fan Page?”

What the marketer might want to ask is, “Where do social networking vs. blogging vs. microcontent vs. media sharing fit in the context of our social media goals?” Then do the research and implement a listening program to discover which social networks, media sharing sites or blogging communities the target audience is present and participating in. That homework will answer the question about Facebook vs. LinkedIn and any other social communities where customers spend time.

Social Media Process: “Companies who start with implementation are at risk”, is a great quote from Jeremiah Owyang in his recent post, “A Pragmatic Approach to Social Business“. There he lists a checklist of 8 steps that form a process for approaching social media. Jumping into tactics can send a company in a very unproductive direction. Working through a strategy, tactics and developing processes leads to efficiencies, scalability and social engagement that is true to the business goals.

We’ve published a social media checklist that can serve as a prompt for companies to gather the information necessary to make smarter decisions about how their organizations can incorporate social media in their marketing and communications mix.

Process with social media marketing is important for a variety of reasons ranging from quality assurance to accountability. How can an organization scale its social media efforts without some kind of processes in place? Redundant processes can often be automated by software. Processes also outlive internal social media subject matter experts who move on to other opportunities.

From a personal process perspective, take a look at Tac Anderson’s daily routine as a social media strategist, which he calls a “workout”. In addition to planned activities and tactics, there’s room for putting out fires or handing spontaneous situations. In the end, a routine or process helps keep social media marketing tactics on track over time.

Social Commerce: Social Media that Leads to Sales: Question – What’s the ROI of Social Media? Answer – What’s the ROI of having a phone system in your office? That phone systems facilitates communications for a wide variety of reasons that are important to the functioning of the business from product/service inquiries to hiring new employees to customer service.

Social media in a business sense, is technology that facilitates communications, sharing and connecting brands with customers. For the most part, people buy from those they like and social media helps build, maintain and improve those relationships.

So how does social media influence or result in sales? A helpful post on BarnRaisers summarizes several studies that show exactly that. Click on the link to see the post (How Social Media Drives Sales Relationships). I’ll also summarize them here:

Facebook – “The top reasons people press the “Like” button on Facebook is to have a sales relationship with a brand – either to receive promotions & coupons (40%), get updates on upcoming sales (30%) and show their support for companies (39%).” – ExactTarget 2010.

Twitter – “For over 40% of the time people are on Twitter, we spend it learning about products and services, listening to what others have to say and giving opinions. That explains why over 20% of the time we’re on Twitter, we’re ready and willing to buy directly off Twitter.” – Edison Research 2010.

Social Networks – “For every hour we spend on online, we spend the most amount of time on social networks, almost 15 minutes of every hour. Roughly half of the time (approx 6+ mins), we are seeking out products and services and looking to have a sales relationship with brands.” Nielsen 2010.

As more brands include commercial offers in the social experience they provide for customers, those customers will become increasingly comfortable with the notion of social commerce. At the same time, more social features are being added to ecommerce websites. In the way that blogs and Twitter accounts are expected features of brand websites, so will social commerce functionality.

Building a flexible strategy that considers business goals and the people to engage will help marketers identify the best mix of tactics for their social media marketing program. Developing processes from a corporate and an individual standpoint will help sustain, not stifle, social engagement activities in the long run. Start by building community and relationships. Listen, respond and create value. Monitor and analyze for opportunities to implement social commerce features, but don’t rush it.

How have you incorporated social media into your business processes? What are you doing to create more sustainable social participation within your organization?

Socialkik.com the cheapest and most effective source for Social Media Marketing. Click on the following links for your marketing needs:
Buy Facebook fans, Buy Twitter followers, Buy Youtube subscribers and views, Buy Google +1 votes.

Google News Gets Deeper Ties to Google+

Google News has a new look, and it’s not just cosmetic. Besides adding larger thumbnail photos that dynamically expand when users click on topics, the news-aggregating service now has stronger ties to Google+.

In a blog post about the change, Google says “Many news stories inspire vibrant discussions on Google+, and today we’re starting to add this content to both the News homepage, and the realtime coverage pages.” The feature brings Google+ conversations from your circles, journalists and other “notables” right to the Google News homepage. It can also be turned off if you just want to see headlines.

Google News also now has buttons for users to get “realtime” coverage on a topic. If you’ve ever clicked through on a Google News topic in the past, you may have been frustrated by the seemingly random selection and organization of the stories presented.

“Realtime” presents the topic stories in a more organized way. Once you click on it, you’ll see news articles about the story at the top, listed more or less chronologically. Below that, in-depth articles, opinion pieces and “highly cited” posts are presented under their own headings.

Finally, every topic now gets a similar treatment on the main Google News page, with a top story, more headlines, in-depth/highly cited articles, and a large thumbnail. For topics other than the first one, however, the user must click a button to expand the topic to see anything other than the top story.

Socialkik.com the cheapest and most effective source for Social Media Marketing. Click on the following links for your marketing needs:
Buy Facebook fans, Buy Twitter followers, Buy Youtube subscribers and views, Buy Google +1 votes.

10 Ways a Start-Up Can Use Social Media to Market Itself

1. Craft a brand position rooted in a customer benefit.

An awful lot of young companies do a good job of describing a product’s features rather than synthesizing them into a single benefit. A simple handle, either expressing what a brand stands for or declaring its point of difference, will serve you well in everything from appearing in search results to being remembered.

2. Take your message and content to your consumer. Engineer your presence.

You may want a website where you fill orders, capture data, or simply demonstrate your product, but you shouldn’t assume your customer will instantly come to you. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube are all basically free tools. You need to go where your consumer lives online. If your customers, prospects, and influencers are there, you should be there: listening, engaging, sharing, and helping them.

3. Find inventive ways to create or gather content.

For starters, make your website into a blog. Fresh content, the ability to post comments, and pages that get linked to will add to your online visibility. No doubt it’s challenging and time consuming to generate enough content to populate your network and blog, but there are smart ways to go about it.

First, whatever you’re doing, write about it. Report on your progress. Second, come up with a daily question you’d want someone to ask and respond to it in a blog post or video. Third, save time by collecting content from others. Place your product or service, even in beta form, in front of people willing to blog, make videos, and tell stories about it. Aggregate this content to your blog or video channel. Fourth, conduct polls or ask questions about a related topic and turn these results into future posts as well as “news” you can release to both bloggers and press.

4. Get on Twitter and use it actively.

It takes time to build a large Twitter following, but it’s a quick way to connect with industry influencers, bloggers, and press that might matter to you.

No matter what you sell, someone on Twitter is having a conversation about it. It’s your chance to listen, respond, and engage with potential enthusiasts. More importantly, on Twitter there’s a willingness to help each other that you just won’t find anywhere else. Perhaps it’s because re-tweeting information is virtually effortless, or that people practically vie to share new finds, or that users feel a sense of obligation to those who follow and promote them, but for whatever reason, you’re likely to find people who are willing to help promote your brand on Twitter, presuming you learn Twitter protocols and give more than you take.

5. Connect your customers and prospects to each other.

One of the best things you can do as a young company is to foster word-of-mouth conversations among your earliest customers. Whether you do it on Facebook or on your own site, it’s important to invite your customers to talk to each other and share ideas. Allow them to guide one another on how they use your product or service. Not only will you have the opportunity to learn what people like and don’t like about your product, you may end up with a bunch of people you can ask to help you.

6. Develop relationships with the right bloggers.

Every start-up in the world wants that article in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. But the fact is, the right bloggers might be more influential for a number of reasons. They have loyal readers. Their references or links to your site will drive up your search rankings. And these days, it’s more likely that ideas will bubble up from the blogosphere to the mainstream press than vice versa.

7. Start Crowdsourcing.

There is no shortage of services – companies like crowdSpring (design) or Tongal (video) — to help you source affordable content from designers, videographers, writers, and others. But there’s an even better reason to crowdsource. You allow your customers to participate in the creation of your brand. If you want a great example, take a look at how HBO seeded True Blood. Instead of advertising, HBO shipped samples of synthetic blood to popular videographers and bloggers, who, of course, couldn’t resist making videos or posting pieces about the mysterious liquid. You may not have anything as cool as fake blood, but you can still learn to think this way.

8. Read Brian Halligan’s Inbound Marketing Book.

Even if you have a product with enough mainstream appeal to justify paid advertising, consumers today spend more time searching than watching. You want to be found. Inbound Marketing covers all of the basics you’ll need to know to make your content Google friendly.

9. Give stuff away for free.

Take a look at what HubSpot does: free tools (Twitter Grader and Website Grader); free webinars (Science of Social Media, 7 Simple Ways to Get Leads from LinkedIn); free eBooks (The Essential Step-by-Step Guide to Internet Marketing, An Introductory Guide to Building Landing Pages). If you sell food, give away recipes. If you’ve invented a sleep monitor, offer free tips on better sleeping. Free content generates awareness, builds loyalty, creates newsworthy topics, and spreads word-of-mouth. Remember, in this day and age, what a brand does is far more important than what a brand says.

10. Make the time, build in the role, or hire the right partner.

As folks like Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk have proven, you can do all this yourself if you have the right time, energy and commitment. If you can’t muster that, give this role to one of your first hires. If you’re less than comfortable identifying that person within your own company, (hint: it’s not an intern or a kid right out of school; Digital Natives may know all the technology, but they often lack the strategic chops and the ability to create truly compelling content) retain the services of a public relations agency with real experience in social influence. Make sure that if you go this route, you ask for case studies as evidence that the PR team assigned to your business actually practices what it preaches.

Socialkik.com the cheapest and most effective source for Social Media Marketing. Click on the following links for your marketing needs:
Buy Facebook fans, Buy Twitter followers, Buy Youtube subscribers and views, Buy Google +1 votes.

Yahoo! Sees Small Business Dashboarding Need

Leave it to one of the web’s mainstays to truly being to solve the digital marketing dashboard problem! Yahoo! (of all companies) unveiled a sweet small business dashboard product today. It’s Yahoo! Small Business Marketing Dashboard pulls together web analytics, Pay-Per-Click and other paid search advertising, e-commerce, social media monitoring, directory listings and more into a single reporting home.

Long the lament of the online digital marketer and lip-service goal of every social media monitoring and management solution out there, the unified dashboard has been a pipe dream for many a digital marketer for years. Some platforms offer a glimpse at what one could be. Few have pulled one together that is definitively good. Yahoo! has made a better-than-most effort here.

Yes, it’s geared toward small businesses. But this platform is powerful enough and built do pull disparate sets of data together into one place. Certainly, if you’re a Yahoo! Small Business customer, you’re going to love it. But even if you’re not, you may want to check this platform out. Don’t fall out of your chair on this one, either: The core product is free.

Not that it doesn’t have its limitations. The social media monitoring component (which they call reputation management) is very light and only offers you views of the last two mentions without upgrading to a paid version of the solution. I worry about it’s integrity in terms of providing you with enough and accurate data … it’s too simple in its set up to indicate that it’s good enough compared to many social media monitoring solutions. Still, with the upgrade (which starts at $9.99 per month), you can get access to similar data for competitors, too.

Even with the free version, you get access to directory listings and monitoring, email and SEO campaign monitoring, and all in an interface and tool designed for the business owner, not the marketing or tech geek.

The bottom line is that Yahoo! has tapped into a market need here. Yes, it’s focused on the small businesses, but even the large, enterprise companies I’ve spoken to recently are still frustrated with having to pull disparate reports together manually. No one seems to be solving this problem for much of anyone. And then Yahoo! comes along and does it.
Who’d a thunk it. Good on ya, Yahoo!

Socialkik.com the cheapest and most effective source for Social Media Marketing. Click on the following links for your marketing needs:
Buy Facebook fans, Buy Twitter followers, Buy Youtube subscribers and views, Buy Google +1 votes.