Many issues swirl around the topic of health insurance when it comes to small business. It’s a subject that plagues small businesses and threatens to slow the real growth needed to pull out of the recession. Small business owners have long been penalized in the effort to offer insurance to their employees and those with pre-existing medical conditions don’t have the option of jumping in and starting a business for fear they won’t be able to acquire insurance they can afford.
I was asked to help select a handful of questions that represented the most pressing issues from the hundreds that were submitted and I can tell you this issue is an emotional hot button for business owners.
Here are some highlights of the questions from LinkedIn members.
A pretty common question these days is “which social network is the best?” – And to that I usually say – “the one that helps you meet your marketing objectives” – and in that regard, many are great, but for different reasons.
I really like some things about LinkedIn. It has always tended towards the service oriented professional, in my opinion, but it has plenty to like in the brand asset optimization world that all businesses live in as well. My advice for most business owners is to find a social network or platform that seems most suited to your business objectives and dive in pretty deep, focusing more casual attention on the others, at least initially. Going hard and deep into one network, like LinkedIn, is the only way to gain the momentum delivered by consistent work and engagement.
So, when it comes to LinkedIn – here are 5 tips to get more
1) Your Profile
This is a great brand asset so don’t waste it. Make it informative and optimized for search.
Add a photo – nothing says nobody’s home faster than the default icon
Links with Anchor text – link to your blog, products, workshops, etc. through the “other” tab and you can add anchor text for the link
Be descriptive – use the “Summary” to tell your story in a compelling way and add lots of keywords in the “specialty” section
Keep it active – LinkedIn has a status update feature, much like Facebook and twitter, that you should update routinely
Link to it – put links to your profile in your email signature and other online pages. Optimization is a two way street.
The image above shows the links on my profile with carefully selected anchor text that links to pages on my site. LinkedIn is one of the few social profiles sites that allows this.
2) Give to Get
When people view profiles one of the top features is something called recommendations. While these may feel a little fluffy when you read them, lack of them can be a competitive issue. You should acquire some recommendations and I find the best way to get them is to give them. Choose people in your network that you’ve worked with and write an honest statement of recommendation. Don’t be surprised if you receive some in return.
3) Show What You’ve Got
An overlooked feature on LinkedIn, in my opinion, is the Question and Answer function. By jumping in and answering questions thoughtfully you can demonstrate a given expertise while potentially engaging contacts that are drawn to your knowledge. The key phrase is thoughtfully answering. LinkedIn even has a rating system to reward people who give the best answers with some added exposure.
The flip side of this tip is to ask thoughtful questions. This can be a great way to get useful information, but it’s equally powerful as a tool to create conversations, discussion and engagement with like minded connections.
4) Lead a Group
Anyone can launch a group on LinkedIn and lead discussions and networking on a specific topic of interest. If you take this tip to heart and put some effort into a niche group you can gain added influence with your network, but groups are also open to the LinkedIn universe as a whole and some folks find that this is one of the strongest ways to build their network. Building a group around an established brand is also a great way to bring users or customers together.
5) Repurpose Content
Since members of your network, and those of the larger LinkedIn community, may only experience your brand on the LinkedIn platform, it’s a great idea to enhance your profile with educational information. This is best done using some of the 3rd party applications that LinkedIn has collected for this purpose.
BlogLink – displays your latest blog posts on your profile
Box.net – allows you to create links to files such as resumes and marketing kits
Slideshare – embeds slideshow presentations and demos
Company Buzz – scrapes twitter for mentions of your brand or other topics you assign
Some organizations, particularly those searching for employees, might really benefit from the new Customer Company Profile offerings. Using Custom Company Profiles, a company can provide a rich, multimedia overview of careers offered, through a variety of modules including recruitment messaging, employee/recruiter spotlights, jobs, polls and videos.
Engagement is the buzzword of choice when social media experts get together to pontificate. And while I agree that engagement, and ultimately action, is the payoff of social media, few social media experts talk about how it’s really created. Engagement is not really created by being a nice, genuine, caring and attentive sort of chap on twitter. It’s hard to create much momentum in any kind of social network without some of those qualities, but true engagement, engagement that leads to customers and partners, is created with content. Or, perhaps more accurately, engagement is created with engaging content.
I know you’re likely sick of me talking about the need to create lots of education rich content, but there’s just very few ways around it as a typical small business. Some exceptions, marry into lots of money and buy super bowl ads, get Miley Cyrus to wear your product on stage, or get Michael Arrington and Robert Scoble to argue publicly about the merits of your feature set – baring these, think content creation.
When it comes to effective social media use, I personally push towards using a great deal of energy and activity to create awareness for your content. So, of course if you’re to take this advice, you’ve got to have lots of content. Many people do little more than create small talk on social networks and then wonder why they can’t get an ROI for time spent. Most small businesses will be far better off if they look at their status updates on LinkedIn, Facebook and twitter, not as a way to tell the world about what they are doing (unless it’s creating content), but as a way to shed light on valuable content housed either within the particular social network or elsewhere online.
This means uploading videos to Facebook, creating events, such as webinars and optimizing them using the Facebook Events app, uploading PowerPoint presentations to Slideshare and using the Slideshare app for LinkedIn, and creating a quick hit point out of your latest blog post and pointing to it on twitter. Thatâ€™s how engagement leads to orders.
Iâ€™m not suggesting that you donâ€™t also have to make referrals, point out other peopleâ€™s great content, and provide great answers to questions posed on that network â€“ thatâ€™s just smart networking, regardless of the platform, and itâ€™s also an important trust building function. But, at the end of the day, if someone, looking for a solution, canâ€™t find that you have in detailed, multi-format, education based content, then social media participation for business purposes can feel like a big fat high school mixer.
So, if you’re one of those that’s determined social media is a big fat waste of time, then I’m suggesting that what you’ve really discovered is that your sparkling personality isn’t enough to make social media pay.
I wrote a post earlier this week describing ways to optimize your social media profiles to enhance your ability to draw traffic to your web site pages. The holy grail of a link back to your site from a popular social media site like LinkedIn is one that allows you to add your own anchor text to a link – so instead of the URL that the link points you add keyword rich terms to describe what the link points to. This helps search engines understand what the page is about and is a key in getting ranked for that term.
I had several requests to demonstrate how to add links with anchor text to LinkedIn profiles so I did this quick demo below.
There are many reasons to get more involved in social media sites. Content creation and discovery, lead generation, and networking just to name a few of the benefits. However, even if you’re not ready to jump in with both feet and create fully a engaged presence on popular social media sites, you should still take the time to create and optimize profiles on a number of sites as a way to control more web real estate and, in some cases, create high value links back to your primary web pages.
I contend that the three most important factors for SEO and small business sites are 1) high quality, frequently updated content 2) properly formatted HTML and 3) high quality links back to your site. Social media sites are an increasingly positive way to get some on #3 knocked out.
This idea of creating backlinks to your web site is one that gets debated plenty in the SEO world and quickly erodes to a discussion about nofollow links. Without getting hyper technical, nofollow is a link attribute that tells the search engines not to follow a link, thereby not passing any value from the hosting site to the link destination. Nofollow was created primarily to slow spammers from posting links in blog comments and any other place they could for the sole purpose of getting back links. Consequently, many of the links you place in your social media profiles automatically receive the nofollow attributes and don’t carry the weight of twitter PR9 back to you site. Here’s Google’s take on nofollow
Search engine optimization has changed dramatically over the past few years.
The shift is from one of web page optimization and link hounding to content and engagement optimization. In short, search engine optimization and social media are now undeniably intertwined. It has become extremely difficult to achieve any measure of success for important keyword phrases without the use of social media. (Of course the flip side to that is organizations that take advantage of social media can dominate, particularly within industries slow to adapt.)
With so much information online about people and companies it’s become quite common to simply “Google” someone when you want to know more about them. From a business building standpoint it’s good practice to own as much of the real estate that pops up under you name on page one as you can.
Social media profiles, like those on Facebook or LinkedIn are great candidates for just such a practice. Google, however, has started playing around with a new tool called profiles and this last week made it very public. Anyone who can create an account on Google and verify their real name through a screening routine can now have a personal profile page on Google.
The page editor allows you to upload images, link to multiple websites, and create a rich text bio. There’s even a way for people to click on a link to contact you directly. Not really sure how Google treats those links, but seems like a nice place to have linking to your site. Here’s the link to my profile as an example
But, here’s the real kicker. Once you’ve been verified your profile it may begin to show up at the bottom of page one, complete with image, when someone Google’s you. (See image below) With this prime location, I’m thinking now is the time to get that profile completed and full of great information. Click here to Google me, scroll to the bottom of the page and see for yourself.
Over the weekend I wrote about the need to set-up various listening devices to keep track of what’s being said out there. One of my readers, Michael Leis, commented that he has set-up a one page dashboard type of set-up using Netvibes to avoid the inevitable tabalanche that occurs when you try to jump back and for to all kinds of sites. (Of course the paid services offer this kind of set-up, but if you’re doing on the cheap this is a nice touch.)
I quickly set something up on Netvibes (you could do this in iGoogle, MyYahoo, Pageflakes too) that would allow me to track various Google Alerts, twitter searches, boardtracker searches and backtype searches along with my own Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn activity. There are lots of pre-build widget for things like twitter, but pretty much anything with an RSS feed can be added to the page. Netvibes is easy to work with and this might be a nice way to keep it all front and center.
The best way to increase the number of referrals you receive is to increase your worthiness of receiving them. Part of that has to do with your competence, i.e., how well do you know your stuff? All other things being equal, people prefer to work with experts, not amateurs. But thatâ€™s obviously beyond the scope of a single blog post to cover!
The other part of it is your character. Are you someone that people in your network not only know, but also like and trust? Do your friends and associates trust you to treat the people they refer to you well? Show and grow your character, and youâ€™ll receive more referrals.
Character isnâ€™t just what you are, itâ€™s what you do. There is little that rings more hollow than for someone to say, in one form or another, that they are a person of â€œhigh characterâ€ â€” honest, a hard worker, helpful, easy-going, etc. â€” and then have their actions be inconsistent with that. Furthermore, one of the best ways to build stronger relationships is by helping people actually accomplish their goals.
In The Virtual Handshake, we introduced the idea of â€œSeven Keys to a Powerful Networkâ€, one of which is your character:
Character: Your integrity, clarity of motives, consistency of behavior, openness, discretion, and trustworthiness. This is driven by the reality and the appearance: the real content of your Character, and what each Acquaintance thinks of your Character.
We also point out that:
As an absolute rule, credibility – your Character and your Competence – must underlie your network. A massive network will not aid you if you are selling an inferior product or trying to get a job for which you are unqualified. In fact, a big network will rapidly become a liability, as too many people will be aware of the inferior goods you are peddling. No matter how much your friends like you, they will not recommend you for a job if they see that you are consistently unethical, tardy, sloppy, or otherwise unprofessional.
Thereâ€™s a line from an old church song that I remember from my childhood: â€œIf your lightâ€™s under a bushel, itâ€™s lost something kind of crucial.â€ If you are a person of character, you need to show that, and LinkedIn is a great opportunity to do that. Here are seven ways that you can actually demonstrate your character on LinkedIn, rather than just talk about it.
1. Answer questions well. Donâ€™t just rattle off a quick opinion – put some thought into it. Provide some additional resources. Refer people to an appropriate expert from within your network. Most of the questions on LinkedIn Answers are from people actually trying to solve a problem or accomplish something, not just looking for something to talk about. What better way to be of service than to actually help someone accomplish something?
2. Add value to introduction requests. If you buy into the idea that LinkedIn is designed for â€œtrusted referralsâ€, then you need to participate in that. A trusted referral isnâ€™t just, â€œJoe meet Sally, Sally meet Joe.â€ A trusted referral adds context to the introduction which will help the two people get off to a good start. How do you know this person? How can you recommend them in the context of their request?
3. Make good recommendations. Donâ€™t just wait for people to recommend you and then reciprocate – be proactive. Go through your network. Who among them do you feel strongly about that you could give a good recommendation to for their profile? When you add someone new, do you know them well enough to go ahead and recommend them? Also, recommendations on your own profile are a great way to show your own reputation, and the best way to ask for an endorsement is to give one. And donâ€™t write empty, generic recommendations; write good ones.
4. Respond in a timely manner. Forward introduction requests right away. The rest, get to as quickly as you can. Iâ€™ll be the first to admit that Iâ€™m pretty slow in responding to invitations and to introduction requests for me if they are just general â€œIâ€™d like to meet youâ€ requests. Itâ€™s not that I think they arenâ€™t important â€” Iâ€™m just plain busy, and I place my existing clients, business associates and family in front of new networking contacts. But forwarding requests I almost always handle within 24 hours, 2 days at the most.
5. Help your contacts learn how to use LinkedIn effectively. Most people donâ€™t have a clue how to get beyond the basics of a simple profile with their last couple of jobs and connecting with a few colleagues they keep up with. Help them! Go through your contacts list and see which people have less than 10 connections. Drop them an e-mail asking them if thereâ€™s anything you can do to help them make better use of the system. Refer them to this blog and the LinkedIn-related Yahoo Groups. Doing so not only helps them, it also helps you and all of your network if more people become actively engaged.
6. Be proactive. One of LinkedInâ€™s shortcomings is that it doesnâ€™t have a mechanism for proactively introducing two people that you know. That doesnâ€™t mean you canâ€™t use it for that. For example, letâ€™s say you meet somebody new and theyâ€™re looking to meet people with an interest in, say, process management. Now, even though you know your contacts fairly well, you may not be able to remember (or even know) which of them have a background in process management, and Iâ€™m betting thatâ€™s not in your contact management system either. But it is in LinkedIn. Search your network. Find the matches. Copy their profile URLs and send them to the new person you met and tell them youâ€™d be happy to make an introduction. Or say someone you know posts on a mailing list or forum that theyâ€™re looking for someone to fill a certain position. Search your LinkedIn network and send them the list of people in your first and second degree and tell them youâ€™d be glad to introduce the ones theyâ€™re interested in talking to. Great networking is proactive, not just reactive.
At a recent social media workshop a participant asked me to reveal my social media routine – how I track, converse, communicate and otherwise curate all my various social media activities. I paused to think about it for a while because I never really considered what I do a routine, but it occurred to me that, in fact, I do have a systematic approach to social media. (No surprise really, I’m a systems thinker and I just do it habitually – ask my wife, I have a system for making the bed and loading the dishwasher.)
I do think that participating fully in social media as a business and marketing strategy requires discipline, automation routines and a daily commitment. Now, you’ve got to balance that with the fact that much of your activity is about building long-term momentum and deeper networks and that doesn’t always make the cash register ring today. So, some of what I do won’t be right for all, but I thought I would share my systematic approach in the hopes this may reveal some tips that make your experience more fruitful. (I won’t take the space in this post to explain what all of the tools are that I mention, I’ve probably written about most, so try my search box above.)
Check twitter via Tweetdeck – preset searches for @ducttape, john jantsch, and duct tape marketing – respond as I see fit, follow some @replies that seem appropriate.
Scan mybloglog – I obsess over traffic, but this reveals trending links and stumble surges in real time so I can react if appropriate.
FleckTweet any blog pages from my subscriptions that I love – this goes to twitter
Bookmark any blog pages from my subscriptions that I love – delicious using Firefox plugin for right click posting – this goes to FriendFeed
Stumble any blog pages from my subscriptions that I love – this goes to Facebook and FriendFeed
Scan Google Alerts for my name, brand and products – in Google Reader as RSS feed – respond as appropriate
Add comments to blogs as appropriate – mostly response types – Google Reader and BackType
Scan LinkedIn Questions from my network and respond when appropriate
Scan delicious, digg and mixx popular and select bookmarks for content ideas and trending topics
Consciously add comments to conversations I want to join – hot topic focused
Join one twitter hot trend conversation if appropriate – search.twitter.com shows these in real time
Check MrTweet for new twitter follow recommendations
Scan Amazon’s upcoming and new releases for authors to interview on podcast (the big names seem more accessible with a book release coming!)
Post a press release with social media links to PitchEngine or PRWeb (this changes depending on what’s going on, but at least monthly.)
Strategize on ways to repurpose and repackage any and all of this in ways that make it more accessible to another audience.
For some this just seems crazy – others will notice some obvious glaring holes in this system – the point though is the system approach. Set your system up and work it, day in and day out, whatever that means for you, and then you will start to understand the vital role that social media can come to play in your overall marketing strategy.
This is my way and one way only – please share your tips for managing the beast!