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27 Small Businesses Will Simply Become More Naturally Social

small business georgetown coThis past year brands large and small rushed head on into social media marketing. They had to learn about all things Twitter, hire social media consultants and create special social media metrics and budgets. Now that hype surrounding the next new thing has settled a bit, businesses are coming around to the understanding that social media isn’t a department or separate marketing tactic. In fact, It’s not so much a tool as it is a behavior. And as such it can and should permeate the whole of the business.

Trapping social media engagement in the marketing department and demanding a tradition ROI measurement structure is a mistake. Social media activity and behavior can help facilitate communication and connection with your entire collaboration universe: prospects, customers, suppliers, partners, and employees and as such should be freed from the limited thinking. I’m not saying you shouldn’t demand a return on anything you do, but I am suggesting that you explode the notion of social media as one segment of one department.

My guess is the most successful small business will simply become more naturally social.

Here are few ways social media behavior is applied throughout.

HiringLinkedIn is the one the leading tools used by organizations these days to find job candidates. Scanning social media participation of prospective hires is a great way to access their social skills and (one of my new favorite terms thanks to Tara Hunt @missrogue) wuffie factor – a bit of a social media graph that can demonstrate what one values.

Training – Using social bookmarking tools like delicious or Instapaper you can easily create reading lists of information your entire team, customers in various industry segments or strategic partners should read to learn and grow.

Awareness – Social media has become a tremendous lead generation tool when used as a way to create awareness about valuable, education based content. Facebook Ads, for example are a great tool to employ to point out your upcoming webinars.

Public Relations – One of the best ways to achieve media coverage these days is to build relationships with journalists using social media tools. Most every journalist has a blog, leave comments and participate in their conversation. Create a Twitter List of key journalists for your industry. Create Google Alerts for those same journalists and start building relationships – that’s how you get covered

Referrals – Giving and receiving referrals was, is and remains the first and ultimate social behavior. Making a referral publicly, in a forum like Biznik, is a great way to demonstrate your belief in the power of giving. Reading and leaving ratings and reviews on sites like Yelp! is another great way to start the referral machine.

Strategic Partners – Finding strategic partners to work on projects or simply share the work of marketing to a target group is a great strategy empowered through social media tools. You can easily find businesses to connect with through networks like OpenForum or LinkedIn and then use a tool like MeetUp to co-host an event. (Disclosure: I am a contributor to OpenForum.)

Internal News – Using a tool like Yammer, Posterous, or even well formed hashtags on Twitter is a great way to communicate with a team and highlight content that should be seen by that team. Setting up RSS feeds and alerts for brand, industry and competitive mentions is another simple way to make sure everyone knows what’s going on and being said.

Lead Conversion – Adding a customer or prospect’s social activity to a CRM record through tools such as ACT! 2010 or Batchbook is a great way to discover the wants, needs, interests and challenges they face. Carefully reviewing that information can lead to ways to deepen relationships and even uncover unmet needs. It’s funny how often we sell something our existing customers are asking for but didn’t we had!

Customer Service – Countless organizations have turned to Twitter as way a to communicate with customers in need of some help. I think the serving of customers in public offers a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate how well you take care of business.

Research – I get great information every time I ask a question on LinkedIn or put up a quick Involver application poll on Facebook. The speed of this kind of research and the conversations that can erupt offer incredible opportunities to learn and connect.

Inspiration – This one can be hard for some get their head around, but I can’t tell you how ofter I’ve turned to my RSS reader to find inspiration for an idea, content, and even just as a way to regain my focus. In fact here’s my list of 10 places (mostly social) I turn to for content inspiration.

SEO – In case you haven’t heard, social media and SEO are pretty much hitched. Simply building profiles in communities such as TED or BusinessWeek Exchange can help you claim search real estate and provide those valuable links back to your primary web site.

Testing – I’ve seen authors test book titles, businesses test pricing and logo designs, and professionals test various service offerings in Facebook and Twitter. The immediate and often quite informed feedback of a carefully built social network is an extremely useful tool.

Sourcing – Has anyone used XYZ software? I need a good WordPress designer. These kinds of requests go out all day long in social networks and have become one of the primary ways I make buying decision and hire professionals for projects.

Help Desk – Social network communities can provide incredible amounts of help for the most specific kinds of challenges. Let’s say you can’t make a computer network connect. One tweet can provide the answer. Let’s say you need some Photoshop tips, a quick trip to the Behance Network will likely turn up dozens of design software resources.

Brainstorming – When I’m wrestling with an idea for an article, book or strategy I’ll often put some form of the idea out for discussion on Twitter and engage some really smart people who follow me in discussions that can lead to some pretty interesting validation or other conclusions. It’s a fascinating process. Of course you can also create public Mindmeister mind maps and draw in even more brainstorming collaboration with employees, customers and partners.

What ways have you found to apply social behavior to your organization?

Image credit: vbsouthern

55 7 Simple Truths of Social Media Marketing

social mediaThe first truth I need to reveal is that the idea for this post is a bit of a response to a post by Sonia Simone of copyblogger titled – The 7 Harsh Realities of Social Media Marketing. Sonia and I sparred a bit over the fact that “harsh realities” and making all this sound hard is something that keeps some small biz folks from diving in the way they should. Yes, it’s work, but what about marketing isn’t?

First, understand that I think Sonia is brilliant and copyblogger gets a daily visit from me, but – using social media to grow your business just isn’t that harsh and it doesn’t need to be that hard. Okay, it’s new and there are some new names to learn, cultures to understand and lingo to get comfortable with, but the fundamentals of marketing are the same, only the platforms have changed.

Here’s my 7 Simple Truths of Social Media Marketing

1) Listening is the best way to develop strategy

Everyone knows they should develop a social media strategy before diving into to every network they can. The problem is, few can tell you how to do this because any real marketing strategy is highly personal and involves your customers, market, competitors, suppliers, products and services. The best way to approach discovering a strategy for your social media participation, and perhaps all of your communications, is to listen really, really well. Social media is one of the greatest listening tools on the planet. Your customers are telling you about their fears and hopes, they’re telling about what they like about your products and dislike about the competition, they’re telling you what they wish someone would make – and now you can hear it. If you do nothing but set-up listening stations, using free tools like Google Alerts and Twitter Search, you can get an enormous return on your time invested.

Once you spend time listening to your market, understanding how people use blogs and just what seems to work and not work on LinkedIn you may be more prepared to develop a marketing strategy, once that based on achieving marketing objectives, than ever. Don’t skip this step for tactics!

2) Nobody really wants to read another blog

I’m fond of telling anyone that will listen that every small business should have a blog. I don’t say that because I think your customers are itching to grab a cup of green tea and fire up what you wrote in your blog today. In fact, if you polled most of your customers and inquired as to whether you should write a blog, most would tell you no. But, those same customers go to search engines like Google and Bing every second of every day looking for answers to questions, suppliers in their town, and ways to solve pressing problems. And when they do, guess what most of them find, that’s right, blog content!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t write incredible stuff, with a long term goal of attracting lots of readers – when these readers start linking back to that content your search results will soar – what I am saying is, write what people search in your market and your town, educate with your posts and you blog will pay off faster than any other online play.

And it that weren’t enough blog software, like WordPress, is so user simple and feature rich that it’s the best way to run your entire web presence.

3) It’s kind of a real estate game

While I started this post off talking about the virtues of a solid strategy, there is a bit of a real estate grab that comes on the front end of getting value from social media. There are many profiles that you can claim and optimize, even if you don’t quite yet know what your development strategy is, and you should claim them. Creating spokes of branded and optimized content in sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Slideshare and YouTube has become standard SEO practice, but don’t forget about taking the time to build very rich profiles on sites like Biznik, BusinessWeek’s Exchange, OPENForum, and BizSugar. (Disclosure: I write for OpenForum)

Your profiles in these outposts will serve as content real estate that you control and can help fill in the gaps when someone Google’s You.

4) Sell awareness and the money will follow

A lot of people will tell you, and perhaps you’ve experienced it first hand, that you can’t sell using social media sites. Let me ask you this, have you ever really have much luck selling anything to anyone just because they happened to be standing in front of you. The only difference is social media makes it easier to stand in front of someone. You can’t really sell anything to anyone until you’ve built trust. The most effective way to build trust in any setting is to show someone how to get what they want and allow them to come to the conclusion that you have something they might want to buy.

Social media, just like the most effective advertising, is a great place to build awareness about your content: blog, white paper, seminar, workbook. If you do that, and your content builds trust, social media is a great place to make money – think of it as another version of 2-step advertising.

5) Networking hasn’t really changed

I really believe that effective networking on social media sites like Biznik, Facebook, or LinkedIn greatly resembles that of effective networking at in person Chamber or Association events. The key difference being one of a style of engagement and perhaps a different set of follow-up steps.

Before you do, act, or respond in any manner on a social media site, ask yourself if it would be an effective response to a prospect you’ve just met at an business event? You know, you wouldn’t go shirtless, with beer in hand to an association meet and greet, why would you post the same on your Facebook profile? This varies to some degree, but not that much.

6) It makes your offline play stronger

One of the things I don’t hear enough people talking about is how much social media can impact your offline efforts. Most business is still done across a desk, but starting relationships on LinkedIn and then building them much deeper over lunch is the killerest combination.

Social media also allows you to more easily and more consistently stay on top of what’s going on in your customer’s world. A growing number of CRM tools, such as ACT2010! and BatchBook make social media activity a part of a contact’s record.

7) A system is the solution

A well run business is a collection of systems. Marketing is a system and one of the best ways to keep social media participation from becoming your full time job is to create systems and process for how you participate.

I know you see people that spend their entire day on Twitter, but you must understand that they fall into two camps a) people who make a living teaching people how to use Twitter, b) people getting ready to go out of business.

It may seem a bit robotic to talk about social media and engagement as a process, but scheduling routines for your blog posting, commenting, tweeting, fanning and friending is a must, just as scheduling the appropriate time for selling, training employees and meeting strategic partners. Here’s a look at what an example social media routine might look like

Image credit: viralbus

8 Network

Marketing Podcast with Biznik

Marketing podcast with Dan McComb (Click to listen, right click and Save As to download – subscribe now via iTunes

I’ve been running with a consistent theme of late that the best use of social media platforms comes from blending online and offline tactics. My guest for this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is Dan McComb the co-founder of Biznik.com. Biznik is a social network that allows people to join and form local communities as well as create and host local events. You can view my profile on Biznik here.

Biznik recently conducted a small business survey in conjunction with iStockphoto and the finding make up a large part of our interview. You can view a summary of the survey findings here

Some notes of interest

  • 33 percent said that the most important reason they started a business was to do something that they enjoyed!
  • 26 percent said they did because they didn’t want to work for someone else
  • 6 percent did it for the money

The biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs? I

  • Reduced income (44 percent)
  • Isolation (19 percent)
  • Long hours (15 percent)
  • Lack of access to health insurance (13 percent)

In this podcast:
The meaning of Biznik

  • Findings from Biznik and istockphoto entrepreneur survey
  • Online support/community for entrepreneurs
  • Using social media to expand business
  • Difference between Biznik and other networking sites
  • Biznik’s growing success

12 Biznik Blends High Tech with High Touch

BiznikFortunately, it’s starting to feel like the wave of social media hype has crested and small businesses can turn their attention to understanding social media “best practices” rather than obsessing over next week’s new tool.

Today’s greatest small business opportunity awaits those who learn to skillfully blend the awareness creating, automating, and filtering aspects of social media platforms with the trust and customer building aspects of education based, face-to-face networking.

Seattle based social media upstart Biznik (well, compared to the likes of Facebook or LinkedIn) has positioned itself as this new breed of network tool. Biznik’s primary target is small business owners and, while they have plenty of real estate to tap, it’s primary objective is to build a social network that combines the best of an online platform with localized community events and human contact.

On a the platform side the tool allows you to effectively build a profile (here’s mine), post articles, invite members to become a part of your network, join and create groups around community or themes, and create and promote local events. (More on this)

On the harder to quantify side, the quality of engagement in this network far outstrips anything I’ve seen and been a part of in other networks. This comes through loud and clear in things like article comments and messages to new members. In some ways, this would be enough to make Biznik a winner for the small business, but it’s the tip of the iceberg, I think, for people who drill down into this a bit.

The fact that Biznik has also created an event platform that is geographically driven presents an unique opportunity. So, now if you want to create a Feed Your Mind Networking Breakfast, like Jesse Wolfram in Mill Creek Washington does, you’ve got a targeted network and a ready made platform. I think it might be one of the best way to optimize social networking and traditional business building

I visited with Biznik co-founder Dan McComb for an upcoming episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast (Dan acts as the online editor while his spouse and co-founder, Lara Feltin, acts as CEO) and Dan confessed that the organization’s West Coast roots led to lots of natural growth in communities like Seattle and Portland, but that there is tremendous opportunity for growth elsewhere. To me this is a platform ripe for community leaders.

While Facebook and LinkedIn are grabbing headlines and remain great places to build business, I think small business folks should join Biznik and start building there as well.