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People don’t make friends with robots: Give your business a personality

By Alexandra Reid

It takes humans many years to learn the intricacies of how to be social. We are not born knowing that it’s inappropriate to put our elbows on the table at dinnertime, talk back to our elders or utter the word “neato” in any party setting, lest we set ourselves up for mocking. It takes a wealth of life experiences -some crushing, others passionate and a few victorious – as well as years of education to teach us about who we are and how we should interact with others in order to navigate our way through life.

Social media rose to prominence in just a few years. Yet, despite its rapid arrival, it has become a rich forum of experiences, thoughts, ideas, opinions and advice as many people learned very quickly how to transfer their life skills over to these online forums in order to develop genuine relationships with others.

Businesses as well as individuals are trying to establish a presence in social media. However, many of them are having a tough time building authentic relationships with their online audiences. Part of the reason could be that they’re not attributing an authentic voice to their avatars. It may also be because they’re only interested in getting fans, friends and followers in the most trivial sense. Or, perhaps it’s because people don’t respond well to brand promotion in their social spaces. To be successful in social media, you need to express the human side of your business and learn about the online communities within your marketplace.

The following best practices present you with an opportunity to make your business stand out from other businesses participating in social media.

Determine your goals

Being successful in life requires you to develop clear goals on what you aspire to achieve. The same idea can be applied to your business’s social media strategy. In order to know if you are achieving your goals, you need to decide exactly how you plan to measure success. What do you hope to get out of social media? Are your goals lead generation, brand awareness or customer service? How much time and money do you plan to invest in social media? All of these questions need to have definite answers before you begin your business’s social media activities. Agencies such as inmedia can help you ask and answer the right questions.

Develop your brand’s personality

It is important to decide how your business’s voice will sound online in order to ensure that your audience develops a positive relationship with your brand. This voice needs to be consistent, authentic and confident. Just as in life, being kind and polite are not requirements, but they certainly encourage good people to want to socialize with you. To maintain consistency in your voice, it’s a good idea to appoint one or just a few people either internal or external to your company to be this voice. inmedia has a community manager that can be this constant voice for your business.

Learn about your community by listening to them

Just as in any real life social situation, people are attracted to those who share a conversation. No one likes the guy who beats his chest, and only talks about himself. At the outset of your social media activity, you should actually do more listening than talking. You need to first determine your point of view and what you plan to contribute to the conversation. Then you can begin to learn about your audience. Determine the social media channels that you should use and design your sites according the audience you want to reach. You need to spend a lot of time listening to the communities in your marketplace within these forums to figure out exactly what they need and want. Once you figure out your point of view and the wants and needs of your online communities, you will be able to provide for them, and they will listen.

How about you? Do you make friends with robots, or do you prefer real people?

Four ways social media can benefit the B2B revenue cycle: part 2 of 2

By Alexandra Reid

To everyone who stopped by on Tuesday to read part one of this series, welcome back. For those of you who are just jumping in, you can read part one here. In summary, I examined how social media could benefit the entire B2B revenue cycle by enabling businesses to attract and nurture anonymous prospects and maintain and develop customer loyalty.

Today, I’ll explain three other ways that social media can benefit the B2B revenue cycle, namely by facilitating social validation, inbound marketing and advertising.

Social validation

A huge number of prospects are directed to businesses through word-of-mouth recommendations. According to a Wall Street Journal study, 92 percent of respondents have more confidence in information found online than they do in anything from a salesclerk or other source. As social networks allow individuals to vote, rank and comment on products and services online, they play an integral role in influencing B2B purchasing decisions through social validation. Always bear in mind the important role that word-of-mouth recommendations throughout your social media activities can play in helping to increase the credibility of your brand and to dispel the uncertainties of your prospects during the buying process.

Engaging a community around your brand through social media is an excellent way to encourage individuals to speak well of your products and services and highly rank them within their networks. Note that the key word here is “engage,” not “broadcast.” Your community will be immediately turned off of your brand if you use social networks to broadcast only your own messages. Instead, spend time listening to the comments and conversations of prospects, customers and other individuals in your marketplace, reflect on helpful and relevant suggestions that could potentially solve their queries and respond in a timely and respectful manner.

It is also important to understand that even brands with big communities have their critics. Despite what many people believe, opening up your sites to receive criticism is a good idea. As I mentioned in a previous post, you should not be afraid of “bad” comments, because if they’re not saying it to you, they’re likely saying it to someone else. By engaging with these critics, you are better equipped to make things right. Furthermore, by allowing individuals to rate and review your products on your website and social media sites, you’re demonstrating that you value transparency and are open to criticism, which are great ways to show your prospects that you can be trusted as a vendor.

Inbound marketing

This practice focuses on getting found by prospects through channels such as social media, word-of-mouth recommendations and search engine optimization, or SEO. Inbound marketing is particularly valuable because prospects coming through these channels are usually already interested in the brands they are seeking. Businesses that actively engage in social media increase their chances of turning prospects into qualified opportunities on two fronts:

First, because search engines rank sites based on traffic volume, businesses that actively engage with online audiences through social media have higher SEO. The higher your page rank on search engines, the easier it is for prospects to find you.

Second, once these prospects have found your business, social media plays another role in addressing their perception of risk during the buying process. Providing prospects with information outside the traditional sales or marketing context can help dispel their uncertainties about your brand.

Advertising

Social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook offer tremendous opportunities to advertise your brand organically through status updates. Although some businesses have deemed social networks to be a big waste of time for employees, teaching your employees how to responsibly manage their social media presence among various sites can actually be good for business because you can access a wider audience through your employee’s connections.

Each time you have an important announcement to make about your business, or you publish new content on your corporate blog, get your employees to Tweet it, or mention it in an engaging way on their Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. As these status updates are likely to be posted from personal accounts, it is a good idea to have someone oversee this process. A community manager can be useful in both educating your employees on social media best practices and overseeing social media activity. inmedia currently has a community manager for hire who can help you with your businesses’ social media endeavours.

In promoting your brand through social media, it is imperative that you be transparent in your intentions and only share content that engages your following and encourages interaction. For example, instead of simply broadcasting your business’s achievements, ask your followers a question related to the achievement to encourage their response. Make sure someone qualified is available to receive and offer comments to these responses to develop an intriguing conversation.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any additional suggestions on how social media can benefit the B2B revenue cycle?

Four ways social media can benefit the B2B revenue cycle: part 1 of 2

By Alexandra Reid

As online activity rapidly moves towards social media, it seems that B2B is beginning to catch up with its B2C cousins in getting onboard. According to a Forrester study, 77 per cent of B2B technology decision-makers are now active in social media. With the immense opportunities that social media provides businesses for brand building, customer relations and lead generation, social media platforms and tools are becoming increasingly unavoidable if B2B businesses are to maintain relevancy within their marketplaces. Although online marketing through more traditional digital methods like email, pay-per-click advertising and dissemination of press releases are all still part of the marketer’s toolbox, social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Slideshare are responsible for an increasing amount of the B2B interactions on the web.

However, the great majority of B2B businesses are still novices when it comes to social media, as another report shows that 73 per cent have less than two years of social media marketing experience. With limited experience comes fear of the unknown and avoidance of social media tools that might appear to be more complex. As reported by eMarketer, half of business-oriented marketers are avoiding blogging and Tweeting altogether. As prospects are more likely to get word-of-mouth recommendations by clicking through to third-party reviews or blog postings, avoidance of any widely used social media tool could cause you to miss out on leads, important comments about your products and services and the ability to establish thought leadership in your industry.

In this post, I’ll explain how social media benefits the B2B revenue cycle. On Thursday, I’ll discuss how social media is integral to facilitating B2B social validation, inbound marketing and advertising.

Social media attracts and nurtures leads throughout the entire revenue cycle

Starting before prospects are even recognized as leads and continuing on long after they become customers, social media plays an integral role in attracting and maintaining patrons of your brand. The modern practice of lead nurturing, which involves building relationships with qualified prospects regardless of their timing to buy, has added a highly personal and interactive layer to the earlier practice of reaching out to every prospect regardless of their level of interest or qualification, via mass marketing, advertising and branding. Today, B2B buyers are using social media to inform themselves about products and services much earlier in the buying process and to negotiate sales on their own terms and timelines. It is therefore vital that sellers incorporate social media engagement into their entire revenue cycle.

Seed nurturing

Before you even have the contact information of qualified prospects, they are educating themselves on your products and services by coming to your website and social media sites to read third-party reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations. Use this opportunity to build your relationship with these prospects. Offer them free and valuable content through corporate blogs and social media sites to draw them to your products and services.

It doesn’t matter that you’re enabling these prospects to remain anonymous by offering this content without requiring contact information in exchange. Providing valuable content will build up your readership and attract quality prospects that will initiate business deals when they become interested. Engage them by actively commenting and responding to comments related to your marketplace across multiple social media sites. For example, LinkedIn offers immense opportunities to engage in specific marketplaces through their Groups and Answers categories. The goal is to establish thought leadership and credibility and begin to develop relationships among prospects in the online community. If properly nurtured, these prospects can become inbound leads. Agencies such as inmedia can help you create the content required to establish thought leadership among online communities and attract qualified prospects to your brand.

Prospect nurturing

Social media can also be used for building and maintaining relationships with known prospects. It is important for maintaining your brand’s relevancy that you constantly monitor social media conversations and engage with prospects across multiple social media platforms. If you come across comments or conversations that express a negative sentiment towards your brand, you can use this as an opportunity to interject and offer solutions as a means of damage control. You can also gain a better understanding of the buying potential of prospects by comparing their attitude towards your brand as expressed through social media to other engagement activities such as email, downloads, web page visits and click-throughs. Agencies such as inmedia can help you with the social media activities required to nurture prospects.

Customer nurturing

The relationships of existing customers should also be nurtured through social media as they offer huge potential for consistent as well as new revenue. You should use social media to reaffirm customer purchases during the critical time between the purchasing decision and the official closing of a deal. Creating fresh, quality content and maintaining relationships with customers through actively commenting and replying through social media can also help you cross and up-sell additional products and strengthen customer loyalty. Throughout this process, you should be listening to your customers’ online conversations for new needs, endorsements and even disappointment with your products or services, as it is likely that many of your existing customers aren’t going to tell you these things directly.

How is your business using social media to attract prospects? Do you have any case studies that you would like to share? Do you agree with these points, or do you have your own suggestions?

The top five best practices of social media for business, part two of two

By Alexandra Reid

In a previous post, I outlined the first three of the top five best practices of social media for business. In summary, it is important that you research and develop a social media strategy, dedicate enough time and resources and remember the three R’s: Respect, reflect and respond. In this post, I discuss the remaining two.

4) Measure your social media activities to determine business value

In measuring your social media efforts, it is imperative that you begin by establishing your goals or benchmarks. There are no universally applicable benchmarks to strive for, only your own aspirations for establishing or furthering your brand through social media. Without clear benchmarks, you have no way of determining what kind of data you need and have nothing to compare your data against.

Most businesses are interested in measuring how their social media presence has contributed to an increase in leads, sales, brand awareness and loyalty, and how it has aided their customer service. This is accomplished by analyzing the results provided by measurement tools. A simple Google search will turn up a plethora of measurement tools that can measure your social media account’s total page views, connections, engagement, referrals and conversions. I will discuss how to analyze this data to compare your businesses’ social media success against benchmarks in an upcoming post.

5) Follow through once you’ve started and stick with it

You’ve set up your social media accounts and tried your best to establish a presence but for whatever reason failed to succeed in hitting your benchmarks. Let me make one thing very clear: This does not mean it is quitting time. Abandoning your social media accounts without providing a reason will appear to your community that you are ignoring them and reverse whatever advancements you have made in developing a positive reputation for your brand on this channel. An outdated business blog or Twitter account conveys that your business is having difficulty managing its social media interests and staying on top of key issues in your space. Because your foray into social media was well planned and well thought out, your community active and well defined and your business processes aligned with keeping content current and relevant, your reasons for ceasing communication on this channel should be compelling to your community. If you were persuaded that social media was going to help build your profile, and provide you with a good communication channel with your audience, what changed to convince you otherwise? Perhaps your experience would make for a useful case study on social media.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with these points? Are there other practices that you think should have made the top five?

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The top five best practices of social media for business, part one of two

By Alexandra Reid

Earlier this year, it was predicted that 2010 would be the year that social media goes mainstream for business. Nine months or so later, this statement has proved to be partially true. Companies both large and small have flocked to social media platforms as ways to engage online audiences, listen to their patrons and drive sales. However, while major brands such as Dell, Ford, Comcast and Starbucks have devoted significant resources to develop far-reaching and long-term social media programs, it appears the majority of smaller businesses are still hesitating to get on board.

A University of Maryland study revealed that the adoption by small businesses of social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Foursquare, has doubled in the last year to 24 per cent from 12 per cent. This increase is quite drastic and signals the growing influence that social media is having on everyday business activities. However, the overall number of small businesses taking on social media activities is still relatively small, suggesting that many are struggling to implement social media tactics on their own.

Despite whatever fears or excuses these businesses may have, it is to their detriment to ignore the benefits that social media can provide for their businesses. In terms of marketing reach, an online study of 37, 600 Internet users in 54 countries revealed that 61.4 per cent of active Internet users managed a profile on at least one social account. Furthermore, over the last year, the proportion of net users connecting with a brand in social networks has increased to 30 per cent from 20 per cent, demonstrating an increase in demand from customers that their favourite brands be active users of social media sites.

As it is my job to teach businesses how to develop and implement successful social media plans, I thought I would offer some guidance to those businesses that I haven’t had the pleasure of working with yet. Here are the first three of my top five best practices for businesses interested in participating in social media. Next week, I’ll post the remaining two.

1) Research and develop a social media strategy

Before embarking on your social media activities, you need to observe and listen to your competition and target audiences. To develop a community around your brand, it is important that you gain a keen understanding of the types of topics being discussed, the language and style of dialogue being used and the individuals who are leading the conversations in your market. Search for these people and relevant conversations by entering keywords that represent your market into the search boxes on various social media sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Foursquare. It is also important to search the blogosphere, which you can do through search engines such as Technorati, BlogCatalog and Google.

In developing a strategy for your social media activities, it is important that you understand that social media accounts should be approached collaboratively. All accounts must express the same vision and must be maintained and updated equally to avoid mixed messages being delivered about your brand to your audience. Your online presence should be far-reaching yet connective to help channel audiences to your products and services.In developing your strategy, you must determine your audience, goal and action plan that should involve the adoption of management and measurement tools to compare results against benchmarks, which I will further explain later in this post. Agencies such as inmedia can help you develop a social media strategy for your business.

2) Dedicate enough time and resources

The purpose of developing a social media action plan is to generate a large and active online community around your brand. Make sure you are prepared to manage this community when it develops by determining how much time and resources you will need to commit to the project. You need to choose the social media platforms on which your business should be active, who will be in charge of managing the accounts, what type and how much content you will need to produce, how often you will post content and the tools you will use to manage your community.

Hiring a community manager to take on social media activities on behalf of your brand is a great way to ensure continuous participation. Agencies, such as inmedia, that have new media capabilities can help with this. In dedicating the time and resources, it is important to consider the “return on avoiding pain” as an additional measurement to ROI: one of social media’s greatest assets is the ability it provides brands to intervene in times of crisis for damage control and reputation management.

3) Remember the three R’s: Respect, reflect and respond

In any sort of dialogue, whether it’s face-to-face or digital, respect is of utmost importance in ensuring that all commentary is sincere, insightful and sound. You must listen to your audience and encourage a free-flow of opinions. Don’t be afraid of “bad” comments because if they’re not saying it to you, they’re likely saying it to someone else. By being informed about criticisms, you are better equipped to make things right.

Reflect on all comments to ensure you reply in a respectful and helpful manner. You should use this as an opportunity to show off the human side of your business, so make sure you are transparent in your objectives and identity. You must never, ever, be salesy when communicating through social media, even though your social media goal may be to increase sales for your business. Instead, offer helpful advice and information that indirectly adds value to your products and services. Engage with your community to encourage their loyalty.

Respond to comments with timely and interesting content to establish thought leadership and brand awareness. Provide your followers with the most direct form of customer service. Through social media, you have the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of millions. Get over your fears and take it on with confidence.

Let me hear your thoughts. What practices are you following as you develop your business’s social media activities?

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