Social Media 101: A Guide for Small Businesses

Originally published on October 1, 2013 on QBSBDC.com as the second of four blog posts in a series designed to help small businesses, and those that serve them, be successful.

Nearly 80% of active U.S. internet users visit social networks and blogs, according to the SMB Group’s 2012 SMB Social Business Study. This explains why social media marketing is commonplace and effective for most large companies.  At the same time, only 28% of small businesses using social tools identify themselves as applying social in a ‘planned, strategic way.’

Small businesses that use social media in a strategic way are more likely to be satisfied with results than those using it in an ad hoc way. Social media can give a small business the boost it needs to advance to the next level. In fact, 42% of small businesses using social media reported an increase in leads or traffic to their website.

What does it mean to be a strategic user of social media? Here are five best practices worth exploring: 

Step 1: Scope out the competition

Spend a little time on the most popular social media networks and check out how your competitors use those sites. Where do they post? What do they write about? How often do they post? Next, set up your own accounts and start experimenting.

Step 2: Explore customers’ use of social media

Discover how often your customers visit social media sites, what information and experiences they seek, what tools they prefer and what kinds of information they share. 

Step 3: Research what people are saying about you

As you become more familiar with social media, look at how people engage with your company online, including positioning, credibility and following on social networks.

Step 4: Ramp up gradually

Start slowly and then maintain a steady pace. If you begin by posting frequently and then peter out to nothing, your fans could lose interest.  

Step 5: Have a game plan and chart progress

Create a series of posts to cover at least three months of social media activity. Think in terms of upcoming holidays, seasonality, your own promotional calendar, and other time-linked events. This will help keep the content fresh and relevant to your audience.

Of course, you should update your scheduled posts if there is a newsworthy event, showing you are in tune with what is going on. Always respond promptly to social media messages about your business to demonstrate that you are listening to customers and engaged.

 

NYEXPO Panel: Using Technology to Drive Innovation & GROW Your Business

Thanks to all of you who came to our panel yesterday at NYEXPO,  Using Technology to Drive Innovation & GROW Your Business, moderated by Ramon Ray, Regional Development Manager, NY/NJ Infusionsoft and Editor of Smallbiztechonlogy.com, with panelists Shashi Bellamkonda, Sr. Director, Social Media, Web.com and Adjunct Marketing Professor at Georgetown University, and yours truly.

What a great event–I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Several of you asked for copies of the presentation, so I’m posting it here. For anyone who didn’t attend, our panel discussed the ground-breaking technologies–cloud, mobile and social–that are changing how small businesses operate, market and sell. I shared some market research and perspectives, Shashi provided social media guidance, and Grant gave us a great demo of the latest tools and gadgets that you may want to check out.

Enjoy and please let me know if you have any questions!

SMB Tech Tidbits: Focus on Social Collaboration!

This week I had a chance to attend the 2012 Enterprise 2.0 conference  in Boston, which focuses on social business and collaboration solutions. This edition of Tech Tidbits features a roundup of some of the more interesting collaboration and social apps aimed squarely at small and medium businesses (SMBs) that I was able to speak with at the show.

But first, I’d like to share three key trends that surfaced very clearly at the event:

  1. More vendors are paying attention to SMBs. Until recently, many vendors were putting the lion’s share of their attention on large enterprises. But several vendors I spoke with are focusing either exclusively or primarily on SMBs.
  2. Vendors are starting to understand that moving from traditional to a social collaboration represents a major cultural shift for most companies. They are trying to ease this transition with easier to use apps and services to help companies cross the chasm.
  3. Social business and collaboration vendors are moving beyond using their platforms to share information. They are connecting collaborative activities with business processes–both internally and with external customers, partners and suppliers. This should make all of these solutions much more interesting to SMBs looking for more actionable and practical ways to use collaboration platforms.

The solutions below are good examples of some or all of these trends in action!

Broadvision showcased Clearvale, a newish (launched in 2010) cloud-based social networking platform which lets SMBs create separate social networks for employees, customers, partners, suppliers or whoever–but manage them together as a whole–kind of like circles in Google+.  Clearvale “hybrid network” approach lets administrators set up different permissions for different types of users, and create collaborative workspaces that are either public or private.

Clearvale includes analytics to measure and track social network use, and an incentive system to encourage and reward user participation. Clearvale comes in two editions. Clearvale Express is the freemium version, which includes basic collaboration capabilities, file sharing, and activity streams for a single network. Clearvale Enterprise adds collaboration tools (blogs, wikis, forums, polls); mobile access, LDAP and OpenID authentication, developer APIs, and the ability to customize the app for your business. It also features one-button integration with Microsoft Outlook (unfortunately this is not yet available for Google Gmail). System integrators, telcos or others can also private label Clearvale for their customers via the PaasPort reseller program.

The company also features a 90-day “social enterprise transformation” program to help customers map relationships and business processes to Clearvale. Pricing depends on the number of users, and discounts kick in based on the level of activity. I like the idea of this program, as it acknowledges the fact that becoming a social business takes more than turning on a cloud app, and it puts skin in the game for both the SMB and Broadvision.

Citrix recently acquired a company named Podio, which has a social collaboration platform designed to help businesses “get work done.” You can work with employees, clients and partners in dedicated work spaces. In addition to an activity stream, collaboration tools, and permissions, Podio has an app marketplace (which currently has about 600 free apps) that users can plug-in to address specific needs, such as competitive tracking, lead management or planning an event. Or you can build your own, no programming skills required.

One of the things I really like about Podio is that it integrates out of the box with Google Apps, Gmail, Google New Feed, and Facebook–tools that many small businesses in particular already rely on. Podio is also fully mobile-enabled for Apple IOS and Google Android devices.

Citrix also recently purchased ShareFile for enterprise-grade file storage and sharing too. Podio integrates with ShareFile as well as with other popular file sharing services such as Box.net and Dropbox. Podio is available free for the first five users, who get full access to all functionality. After that, pricing is $8/user/month.

IGLOO takes the approach that businesses need interconnected “hubs” or social networks for different groups, whether different internal business units, customers, suppliers or partners. With IGLOO, each business unit can manage their own individual network, and IGLOO is working on providing the ability for users to publish content across multiple networks. In addition to the ubiquitous activity stream, IGLOO features a full roster of social networking tools, including IM and DM, different ways to create and share content, personalization capabilities, document management, search and a rewards and badge system. And it integrates with several key applications, such Microsoft SharePoint and Salesforce.com as well as Microsoft and Google personal productivity tools.

Visitors to IGLOO’s  site can complete a short form requesting a free trial, IGLOO contacts the individual (often within minutes, at most 1 business day) to learn more about their requirements. From there, IGLOO sets up a custom collaboration environment based on one of its 8 social business applications (each application is preconfigured, but also customizable for the user).  Then IGLOO gives the user a guided tour of this environment, sharing insights and best practices on everything from configuration to driving user adoption.

DoubleDutch debuted Pride, a new, free mobile collaboration app. You can use Pride to post and share short, microblog entries about what you’re doing. Pride has some built-in smarts to help identify patterns and connections and fill in some of the details for you. You can download Pride on the Apple’s iTunes app Store and Google’s Play Store. According to DoubleDutch CEO Lawrence Coburn, the sweet spot for Pride is companies with 5 to 50 employees.

DoubleDutch also has positioned itself as an enterprise mobile apps maker. Pride shares some of the functionality of DoubleDutch’s Hive mobile CRM app, but Hive also addresses sales specific needs, such as tracking the stages of a deal from lead to closed business.

Pride is a more general tool that could be used by marketing and business development executives to share their activities and keep up with those of their coworkers. The solution also provides some nice analytics so you can see where people are spending their time, so you can make adjustments if needed. Pride is an easy and lightweight way for teams to stay on the same page. It doesn’t have a full-blown desktop version yet so it could be frustrating for users that want to use it via both mobile and desktop devices.

Tech Tidbits for SMBs: Yahoo! Marketing Dashboard and InsideView

While it’s tempting to paint the “SMB market” with one broad-brush stroke, the term actually represents very fragmented terrain. You can slice and dice it many ways–by company size, industry, degree of technology savvy, type of customers the business sells to, and more–and end up with a dizzying array of “SMB” combinations and permutations.

With that in mind, this edition of Tech Tidbits features a couple of interesting digital marketing solutions that reflect this diversity. Maybe one of them can help your company. If you use or try any of these, please let me know about your experience and outcomes!

Yahoo! Marketing Dashboard

If you’re a small business looking to grow your business , but are dazed and bewildered by the gazillions of options out there, and have a hard time managing disconnected marketing services, you’re not alone. SMB Group Research shows that most small businesses cobble together different tools for different sources and then get frustrated because they can’t tell what’s working and what’s not.

If you face this problem, you might want to check out Yahoo! Marketing Dashboard, which Yahoo! launched earlier this month. Marketing Dashboard pulls together a few core tools into an integrated marketing management dashboard designed for small business owners–not marketing pros.

The Dashboard provides a unified view into:

  • Reputation Management, to see the latest online ratings, reviews and mentions about your business from blogs, Yelp, Facebook, and thousands of other sites. The free service gives you the two most recent reviews and/or mentions. Premium (priced at $19.99/business/month for 12 months) provides unlimited reviews and mentions, and the ability to see this info for your competition too.
  • Local Visibility for search engine and directory listings, to make sure details about your business are available and accurate in top search engines and directories (e.g. Yelp, Citysearch, Google, etc.) so that customers find you. The free version pulls in info from over 100 directories, and highlights in red anything that isn’t consistent so you can fix it. The paid version ($9.99/business/month for 12 months) lets you submit business information in bulk to over 100 search engines and directories so that you don’t have to update them individually.
  • Email, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine management (SEM) campaign tracking, to give you visibility and reporting so you know how well your web site, email, and search marketing activities are working. The catch here is that at this time, the service works only with Constant Contact email marketing and  OrangeSoda SEO and SEM.
  • Site traffic, a free service that gathers web site traffic data from Yahoo! Web Hosting, Yahoo! Merchant Solutions, or Google Analytics (depending on which of these services you already use).
  • Online sales, which pulls in order and revenue reporting for companies using Yahoo! Merchant Solutions online store.

Yahoo! has been plagued with many crises over the last few years, but the company still has a vast presence in the small business market, and supports $3 billion dollars in merchant sales. When he briefed us, Yahoo! GM for Small Business, Tom Byun told us that small business continues a key focal point for the company, and that despite the turmoil, Yahoo! is doubling-down to remain a leader in the small business arena.

The solution seems well-suited to small local or digital businesses who need to use digital media to drive traffic into  physical stores and/or to their website. If you are already using one or more of the marketing services noted above, why not take it for free test drive? It could make your life simpler. And if you’re just getting your feet wet with online marketing, this could help you take an organized approach from the start–again, with little risk.

InsideView

Are your sales reps tired of cold-calling? Are you tired of them coming up short on their goals every month? If you are an SMB with a direct sales force, InsideView’s “social selling” solution can help your sales people spend less time doing research to find people and the ice-breakers necessary to start conversations with them, and more time talking to qualified prospects and customers.

What the heck is social selling? In a nutshell, social selling taps into the fact that customers are smarter, more connected and more socially engaged than ever. The Internet and social media make it easy for people form opinions about brands and products–and influence others about them–without seeing an ad or hearing a sales pitch.  With smarter customers, cold calling isn’t likely to work. Sales people need to get to the right customer, at the right time, with the right conversation to establish and nurture the relationships that can lead to sales.

InsideView goes beyond contact management to give reps the richer, more personal information that they need to start and nurture relationships. It harvests structured and unstructured information from over 25,000 sources, including social sites, news networks and research groups. It compares and rationalizes similar information from multiple sources to develop detailed profiles, reports and alerts. Just getting this information in one place would be nirvana for many sales people who I know.

But, you also want to know if all this social selling stuff really pays off. So earlier this month, InsideView announced a new ROI dashboard to help businesses track ROI for social selling activities. The dashboard identifies opportunities that InsideView influenced as they move through the sales pipeline. This enables businesses to gauge the value of InsideView to the building the sales pipeline and generating revenues, and helps sales management fine-tune their tactics to improve results. It’s available now for Salesforce.com, and will be ready for Microsoft Dynamics CRM later this quarter.

InsideView also launched new, customizable Sales Team Activity Reports, which give sales managers a visual summary of how reps are using InsideView, so they can more easily set and monitor social activity goals and drive team performance.

InsideView has a free, standalone edition for small businesses that don’t use CRM–or just want to get a feel for what they solution does. The standalone version is limited but can still provide significant value. But the biggest bang for the buck is for companies that use CRM. Pricing for InsideView with CRM integration starts at $29.99/user/month.

Closing the Business Intelligence Gap for Small Businesses

Most small and medium businesses (SMBs) can relate to Albert Einstein’s famous quote that  “Information is not knowledge.”  Many SMBs have plenty of data, but find it challenging to get the insights from it that they need to run their businesses more effectively and efficiently.

Businesses have always needed the ability to track and measure critical success metrics in a quantifiable way. The problem is that when there’s too much information, people find it difficult to fully comprehend it and make decisions. In fact, more than one-quarter of SMBs in our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study indicated that “getting better insights from the data we already have” as a top technology challenge.

And the problem is growing: Scientists report that more than1.2 zettabytes of digital information were created in 2010. What’s a zettabyte, you may wonder? (I know I did.) A zettabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes–yes, that’s 21 zeroes! Online video, social networking sites, digital photography, and smart phone data are all contributing to the data pile-up. If that’s not enough to make your head spin, researchers also predict that the annual rate at which we collectively produce data will soar 44 times over the next decade.

The Gap Between BI Haves and Have-nots

Business intelligence and analytics solutions are designed to help make sense of all of this information. However, many SMBs often view these solutions as too complex and/or expensive. And companies without an accurate, consistent and accessible data source face the additional challenge of aggregating and rationalizing data from different sources.

SMB Group surveys reveal that the smaller the company, the less likely they are to use or plan to use BI solutions (Figure 1).  Our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study showed that while 33% of midsize businesses currently use and 28% plan to use BI solutions, among small businesses, just 16% currently use and 16 % plan to use BI solutions.

Figure 1: SMB Use and Plans for Business Intelligence Solutions

Source: SMB Group 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study

The danger is that relying on hunches and intuition alone can put you at risk of missing trends and market opportunities or spotting potential problems–all of which can hurt business performance.

Some of the warning signs that your company’s growth may be hampered due to an inadequate ability to analyze data are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Warning Signs That Your Company Has a Data Analysis Problem

Source: SMB Group

Closing the Gap

Adding a BI solution on top of disparate, inconsistent and unreliable data is like putting lipstick on a pig.  So you need to start by establishing a core foundation of common, trustworthy and accessible data that’s shared across core business applications and processes. If you already run your business with an integrated business solution that pulls everything together into “one version of the truth”, you’ve already fulfilled this requirement. If not, you’ll want to integrate or upgrade the core solutions that your business relies on to ensure that you have a consistent and unified data source.

With this foundation in place, BI tools, dashboards and reports can help you to zero in on the insights you need to move your business ahead. The good news for SMBs is that several vendors now provide BI solutions tailored to meet SMB requirements and budget constraints. The bad news is that it can be difficult to figure out which one will be the best fit for your business.

While there is no “one-size fits all” solution that will be right for all companies, you can start by determining the core metrics that your business needs to measure. Many of these are likely to be areas that you need to measure and track long-term. Depending on the type of business you’re in, these could include things such as:

  • The percentage of income you derive from repeat customers vs. new customers
  • Times for order to ship, ship to invoice and receivables overdue
  • Time to respond to and close customer service calls
  • Procurement and spending analysis
  • Employee turnover rate

Given the pace of change in your industry, your business goals and the overall economy, you’ll probably want to make additions and adjustments over time as well, so look for a BI solution that can adapt to your needs as they change.

Figure 3 provides a checklist of additional questions to ask as a starting point to evaluate different BI solutions.

Figure 3: Key Considerations When Evaluating BI Solutions

Source: SMB Group

Getting the insights you need from a rising avalanche of information isn’t easy–but it is a critical business success factor. With the right BI tools in place, you can harness the data you have to get the wisdom you need to grow your business and stay ahead of the competition.

 

Slideshow: Highlights SMB Group 2011 Social Business Study

We will be launching a new version of our SMB Social Business Study this spring. In the meantime, we wanted to share some of the highlights from the 2011 study for the small business segment (1-99 employees) to whet your appetite for the 2012 edition!

The 2012 Social Business and Collaboration Study will refresh the 2011 version. It will zero in on how SMB social business trends, and compare 2012 trends to 2011. Sponsorship opportunities are available–please let us know if you’re interested!

Meanwhile, enjoy.

View more presentations from SMB Group

Highlights from the 2011 SMB Group Collaboration Study

The SMB Group and CRM Essentials recently completed the 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communications Study. We asked more than 800 SMB (small business is 1-99 employees; medium business is 100-999 employees) decision-makers and influencers how they collaborate, what tools they use and what their appetite is for integrated collaboration suites. In this Slideshare presentation, we share some key highlights from the study, including:

  • Top Business Challenges
  • Collaboration Culture
  • How Collaboration Culture Affects Corporate Performance
  • Reliance on and Satisfaction with Collaboration Tools
  • Collaboration Budgets
  • Adoption and Plans for Integrated Collaboration Platforms
  • Top 3 Collaboration Platforms Selected by SMBs
  • Top Reasons to Select a Specific Integrated Collaboration Solution
  • Top Reasons for No Plans to Use an Integrated Collaboration Platform
425px” id=”__ss_10389289″> 12 2011 highlights 2011 smb collaboration study

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Click here for more information about the complete study results and how to order.

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