Thursday, March 22, 2012

Advanced Social Media Workshop Tips and Tricks from the VTSBDC and e-commerce vermont

Pat Ripley, presenter from e-commerce VT
     This morning I'm at an advanced social media workshop presented by Pat Ripley, State Broadband Adviser and e-commerce liason to the VtSBDC.  He provides workshops like this around the state to large and small communities helping Vermont businesses with their web presence, social media and media marketing efforts.
      We're located in the beautiful TW Wood Gallery at the VCFA on the Vermont College campus.  Pat's sharing both basics and best practices for small and large businesses to work with sites such as facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIN, Hootsuite, Google + among many.
      Sitting in the audience are business people running retail businesses, service firms, small and large non-profits all seeking to learn and energize their social media activity.  I'm here because I'm a self-admitted social media explorer.  I tend to try out new services, be an early adopter and spread myself thin with less focus than maybe is helpful.  I'm here to find more coherence in my business strategy.
     So in the space of the first 45 mins we've done an overview of the social media universe, how old style "Push style" advertising where businesses push out via traditional media with advertising where you're telling people about your business versus "Pull Style" interactions where relationships matter.  Pat's mantra is it's all about building and maintaining relationships whatever the media source.  He shared data people trust advertising 14% of the time while personal recommendations and referrals garner something like 90% or more of the time.  People trust other people's opinions.
     For me this resonates with my belief of how I try to work with various social media sites.  Rather than blindly voice updates about how cool and great your business is it's a lot more engaging, fun and real if you share information you actually find compelling which other's might enjoy or find useful.  It's the cosmic bank, where sharing and giving is intrinsic to success.
So it's all about relationships and creating quality interactions.  Not quantity.

     We've learned the difference between our personal facebook pages and our business facebook pages and how page formats are transitioning towards timelines rather than the traditional format currently used.  The new format focuses on strong visuals and less about words, and also allows visitors to see a chronological timeline of interactions.  I like how the up top on the new format easy to see photo albums and other media are located above the timeline area.  My business Arocordis Design, I can easily post new project information seamlessly.  Sorry Blogger but I'm finding the facebook interface way easier to use in real time.  Time effective etc, fluid.
      After that Pat covered Twitter and how it's more of real time site where all of the microblogging posts of constantly changing information is really helpful to connect to new information and make connections.  Whether you sign up to Twitter with your business name or a personal handle, a great place to start is to seek out Twitter friends who post interesting things and follow them, observing the stream.  After a while try posting yourself and sharing content.
      Participating with Twitter is really interesting.  I've created business opportunities by Tweeting to folks and engaging in conversations back and forth which resulted in face to face meeting and cross my fingers eventual project work.  Again, it's all about creating interactions which matter and cultivating relationships.  Tweeting is also kind of fun.  Life is short.  The other thing I've synced my Twitter feed with my LinkedIN profile and my business facebook page easing the confusion of having to post multiple times in multiple sites.  Believe me helps reduce social media chaos and optimizes my time online.
      Pat shared about using hashtags with keywords in Tweets.  It's a way to post information on a specific subject area or topic which may be trending.  Or if you live in Vermont you can put #VT or #Vermont or #802 and the tweet will be part of the information stream which will show up with all of the other Tweets on the subject.
      From Twitter Pat went to LinkedIn the pre-eminent professional networking site and spoke how it's a great site for Business to Business interactions, seeking new employees and searching for jobs.  About three or so years ago Company sites were able to be created allowing businesses to post jobs, company events and activities.  For my professional services business LinkedIn is really helpful.
      For me a powerful function is LinkedIN Groups.  Like company areas, Groups are gatherings of like-minded business people who focus on some particular issue.  Some groups are totally open some are invite only.  I belong to numerous Vermont based groups like local chambers, business groups.  I also belong to ones aligned with my professional interests on a national and international basis.  Here a few groups for example; TED (Technology Design and Education), CoreNet Global Workplace, US Green Building Council, Architect Magazine, Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, CIOW (Creativity Innovation and Organization at Work).  I've used the Groups function to seek answers to tricky questions relating to products and equipment I specify in my work.  This also helps in building professional relationships across timezones and geography.  It helps personalize the social media experience.
      Pat covered other sites like Hoot Suite, Pinterest and others for added functionality to aggregating information and multiple social media site activities.  Tweet Deck is similar to Hoot Suite.  They help you manage your social media work across multiple channels.  These systems help simplify the work it takes to engage in social media.
       In regards to creating social media strategy for your business Pat shared there are busy times of the day in your time zone during the week around the noon hour.  One the weekend its early and late in the day.   It's helpful to plan your posts throughout the week knowing search engine optimization (SEO) favors content rich posting with pictures, videos, drawings along with text.  Share posts which relate to your business whether helpful information from industry articles, tips and tricks, best practices to solve difficult business challenges.  For my business it might be about focusing on workplace design, green building, residential design etc.  For a car repair shop it might be talking about how to take care of your car, doing preventative maintenance, fun car stories, perhaps business promotions like food shelf or Toys for Tots etc.
      Overall, it's important to develop a strategy to follow throughout the days of the week.  Maybe it's one post a month, a week or a day.  Pat says your posts will be more effective if you're consistent, (perhaps 3 days a week) on Facebook, blogs.  For Twitter posting throughout the day is helpful. But spacing them a couple hours apart is better than bunching them up.
      Whatever you post should stay within your core marketing and business values.  Be careful in retweeting, reposting articles you only read the headline of and not the content.  You may be sharing content you don't want to.  Take care.  If it's not something you'd like to say in person to the other person or business maybe reconsider saying it.
     Whenever you interact online realize I say you're building your personal and business brand.  Whatever you say, do, where you visit, articles you read, like, comment on, however you interact it all adds up over time.  Remember you're building relationships not pushing products.
      Some common social media mistakes Pat mentioned are not keeping your content on your sites current, be careful of speciality sites, don't push products and services rather promote rapport and credibility first.  People will promote you without being asked if you take that route.  He also said, don't overextend giveaways and free advice.  After a number of interactions be sure to ask for their business. I really like that!
      Pat shared it's important to analyze your interactions through various SEO sites which measure quality, quantity of online activities.  On facebook, there's an integral analysis tool you can click on to see your reach and varying aspects of interactions.
      However you measure interactions it seems to be about conversions, the kind of desirable behaviors driving business interactions valuable to you are the core metrics for measuring.  Whether it's four clicks deep into certain pages on your website, product purchases or clicks to mortar service engagements, or for us a services firm, face to face engagements.
      You can use external services like StatCounter to track multiple sites or Google Analytics. These data rich tools help you better understand your most popular posts, most energetic keywords, best times of day for interactions, which search engines direct traffic to your site.  For we have viewers from all over the world.  With Google Analytics, I can click on various continents and see push pins of where pageviews originated.  This also works for the US and here more locally in Vermont.  You can drill down to your local region and see cities and towns and IP addresses which viewed your content.
       Back to best practices, specifically with facebook, Pat shared some Facebook research which said users who shared photo albums or video content will be 2X more likely to be seen and heard as well as show up in SEO results.  You have got to build that 90% trust factor by building rapport and connection.  With the new timeline feature you must be careful not to put images which have calls to action such as "Get it Now" or "Tell your Friends".  Pat also shared "facebook covers must not be false, deceptive or misleading, and must not infringe on third parties' intellectual property."
      If you want to highlight unique facebook posts you can "pin" your posts signifying that post is more important.  You can also "highlight" posts or create "milestones" for your business which allow you to track key posts charting key milestones in your business.  Perhaps if you shared slide shows on a post a series of images would show up horizontally making deeper impact. Pat shared Hubspot, located in the Boston area, does a great job with their facebook page, timeline.  There's also online facebook video tutorials sharing how to optimize the timeline.  I'll find it's link and share it later.

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