Freelance Camp

Posted on February 11, 2009. Filed under: Business, Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , |

San Antonio recently played host to the Freelance Camp. It was my first experience of an unconference. For those of you not familiar with the concept here is how it works:

All the attendees are encouraged to be session leaders. A timetable is put somewhere accessible, each person that wants to lead a session puts their topic against a time and room slot. After about 5 mins you have yourself a schedule of sessions that people can attend.

I didn’t have a lot of faith in this as a concept when it was explained to me. My guess was no one would sign up to do anything and there would be a hundred people just sitting around chatting. Wow was I wrong. It was an extremely energetic day. I found myself leading two slots. The great thing about this is you act only as an enabler. The whole point of these sessions is that everyone in the session has something to share and that we can all learn from each other.

I came away very energized, very tired and full of lessons learned.  Big thanks go to Luis Sandoval and team for making it happen.

The two sessions I led were Big Tools for Small Business and Finding Time for Social Media. I hope you like the videos.

One of the tools that I talk about in the first session is Qipit.  Using that tool I was able to capture the notes from each session:

Big Tools for Small Business – View the notes here

Social Media Map – View the notes here

Without giving too much away, watch for one of these Camp’s coming to Austin soon!

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Blogging for Small Businesses

Posted on November 5, 2008. Filed under: Business, Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , |

20px|Windows Live Logo Windows Live Writer

 

As part of my work as a Marketing Communications consultant I am often asked about the usefulness of a company blog for a small/medium sized business.  The questions usually center around the cost in terms of resources, the subject matter and the frequency of posting.  Many small / Mid-sized companies dismiss the idea of a blog as being a burden that has no return on investment for the company or at least too little to be worth the effort.

The 3 W’s

So what is the answer?  As with any form of communication, the company must ask itself “Why, What, Who?”. Why are we going to engage in this particular format? What are we hoping to achieve? Who will be our authors & audience?

These are important questions to ask, and answer, before embarking on any form of marketing communication and in particular on a company blog.  Typical answers might be:

  • Why – because we need another channel of communication, we want to be seen as a voice or even THE voice in our industry, to build credibility with our customers and prospects
  • What – Increase sales leads, increase traffic to our website, increase awareness, improve our company profile
  • Who – In-house marketing team, In-house Subject Matter experts, Outsourced writers: Prospects, Customers, Market Researchers, Journalists, Competitors

Having answered these questions and created a sense of why, what & who there comes the more detailed work of gathering subject matter, authors and deciding on a publication guide. 

Giving your company a voice

Deciding on the company voice in advance is crucial.  Does it fit with the rest of your communication? Does it fit with your audience?  If the majority of your current communication is very formal in style, should you suddenly produce a blog that has a very laid back tone? Probably not.  However, it is important to remember that readers of online material have different expectations than those consuming printed materials. They expect the points to come across quicker, in smaller bites and for the entire post to be scanable so that they can pick out what they want to read.

Frequency is usually the biggest challenge for most small / mid-sized companies.  Some companies set themselves up for failure by trying to commit to a target that they simply cannot meet given the resources that they have available.  Saying that you will have two posts a day 5 days a week, and assigning one person who has other duties is a recipe for disaster.  A more realistic schedule for companies is two – three times a week.  Less than this and readers will lose interest, trying to achieve more than this without dedicated resources is extremely difficult to maintain in the long term.

What to write

A good approach to adopt is to develop a schedule around the posts so that if you are posting three times a week, say, Monday, Wednesday, Friday you always publish the same type of information on those days.  This makes it easier for your readers to adopt and easier for your writers to produce.  A schedule might look like this:

  • Monday – Opinion editorial by CEO on previous weeks Industry News
  • Wednesday – Solution focus – Companies that have solved problems in your Industry
  • Friday – Round up of the Industry news from that week

The Opinion piece can either be written by the CEO themselves or more likely ghostwritten and then approved.  The solution focus should not become a “pitch” for your companies services, nor should you use it to detail your solutions being implemented – save that for your case studies and other marketing pieces.  Use this section to provide information from your strategic partners and customers.  Explain what you are doing, get them to contribute, if appropriate get them to guest author pieces for you.

Spread the word

As with anything else that you produce you want to get the word out that you have a blog.  Firstly, link to it from your company website.  Make sure that you inform your existing customers.  Add the link in your company emails.  As you develop your voice, contribute to other company blogs in the comments.  Don’t use these as an opportunity to promote your blog, but rather to develop your voice and authority in the industry.

If written and promoted properly a company blog can add a new and useful dimension to developing your company’s image both with existing customers and prospects.

Do you have a company blog? What lessons have you learned about creating and maintaining it?

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Twitter for Small Business

Posted on November 3, 2008. Filed under: Business, Social Media, Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Social network

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Social Networking is the buzz these days.  Big brands are investing heavily in Customer / User generated content.  Dell reportedly has 34 heads dedicated to brand management in the Social Networking sphere.  With sites like Twitter, Plurk, FriendFeed and others generating a whole industry of Social Networking consultants small & medium businesses might feel that once again the big guys are going to corner the market.

This of course couldn’t be further from the truth.  Small & Medium businesses have always known that customer feedback is the core of their business.  They usually have a much more personal relationship with their customers than the big brands.  Most Social Networking tools are simply trying to replicate that “personal” feel that people look for from smaller enterprises.

Small businesses have used networking tools for a long time, whether its national based professional organizations or local Chamber of Commerce small & medium business owners and leaders have generated business and brand awareness through these direct tools for a long time.

So do small & medium businesses have to be bothered with online social networking tools?  I say definitely.  But they don’t need the vast array of expensive tools and consultants that the bigger brands are investing in.  They most likely already have the skill set in house – good listeners, people who are responsive to the voice of the customer.  After all its harder for a small business to come back from a bad customer experience because they are dealing with a smaller customer base to start with.

Communication Tools

First decide how you are going to send your Tweets.  You can start with the basic Twitter interface but you are likely to find that you out grow this quickly as you increase the number of people that you are following and as your own following grows.

If you want to stay using a web based interface then I recommend using iTweet. It has a better organized interface than the original and allows you to view more information on one page than the original.  However, if you are ready to move away from a web interface then you are better off exploring either Twhirl or TweetDeck.  Having used both I have a preference for Tweet Deck, but you will find your own reasons for using a particular tool.

Where is everyone?

Ok so now you are able to Tweet. Great what next?  First you should find people to follow.  The best way for a small business to do this is to use to Twitter Search.  The advanced option is where you want to focus your efforts. This allows you to make selections based not just on keywords, which of course are important, but also on the type of Tweet – was it a positive comment, a negative comment or a question, Geographic location, did it contain a link.  By using these options combined with phrases that are unique to your business you can find people who are talking about your business.  Having found them you can follow along for a while before you start joining the conversation.  Small businesses are good at this type of communication.  Listening twice as much as they speak (you have two ears & one mouth).   Once you start to understand the way in which Twitter conversations happen you can expand your ability to find conversations that make more business sense.  Tools like TwitterBeep which allow you to set up email alerts for particular keywords. 

So how do all these tools come together into a cohesive Twitter plan? The communication tools will allow you to start joining the conversation.  The search tools allow you to find people to followers and the alert tools allow you to find conversations that matter to you.

As a test I set up alerts to find Twitter conversations where people were asking for recommendations for a Mechanic in Austin (where I live).  Twitter search returns results 15 to a page.  I gave up counting after 8 pages of results!  Had I been a mechanic shop, I think I would have found enough new business prospects to keep me busy for at least a week of Twittering.

Brian Solis maintains a great list of Twitter tools that will get you started.

Are you a small or medium business that is having success using online social media tools?  Share your story here and let everyone know what worked for you and what didn’t.

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