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5 Easy Ways To Improve Your Online Community

June 25, 2010

Filed under: General

Most individuals I speak to seem to feel that getting involved in online communities equates to having to spend all your time online and besides, how do you determine what works best for you?

Rishad Tobaccowala of VivaKi has developed a useful exercise for figuring out your brand's perceived identity and personality. He suggests you begin by choosing a few key words that best describe your brand, under the following three categories:

1. Niche
What makes your brand different, and what attracts folks to its niche?

2. Voice
How does your brand "express" itself?

3. Story
What story sits behind the formation of your brand and its ongoing role in the marketplace?

Going through this exercise may help sharpen your brand's voice—and boost its social presence. Social Media Consultant, Roderick Low, has outlined below five ways you can easily improve your online community:

1. Make the community prominent
Don’t hide your online community behind a link. Bring it right up to the front page. Anything less, and you aren’t giving your community the respect it deserves. If you are serious about your online community, prove it by giving it serious exposure.

Show that you value the opinions of your members by featuring their content alongside your own editorial content – you are equal partners in this.

This goes further than just proving your commitment to the community. It puts the community in front of eyeballs. A lot of the time, visitors won’t even notice a link to your community – so put it where they can see it if you want them to join and get involved.

2. Keep it simple
You don’t need fancy features and a glamorous site design. Most of the time, these are simply distractions. Keep things simple. There is nothing wrong with basing your community solely on a forum. You don’t necessarily need a full range of ’social networking’ features. People need to be able to communicate – it’s as simple as that. They can do this with a basic forum.

Fancy designs are often just an ego stroke for the organisation that commissioned them. Remember, an online community isn’t about you – it’s about your members. Strip everything back and keep it basic. Your community may not look glamorous, but it will be far more likely to contain activity and member engagement.

3. Tell me why
I come across a lot of online communities that don’t explain or outline their purpose. As crazy as it sounds, there are a lot of people building communities without actually making it clear what the purpose of the community is.

Sometimes this is obvious from the name – but even then, I need to know why I should join your community rather than one belonging to your competitor. Ensure that all visitors to your site know why they should be joining and getting involved in the community. Keep it short, simple, snappy and accurate.

4. Be active
As a community manager, you need to be active in your own online community. You can’t be a matchmaker unless you get to know members of your community. You can’t learn from your members if you don’t know who they are.

Lead by example – get stuck in and enjoy the community. If you aren’t active or if you aren’t enjoying being active, your community has a problem. Fix it.

5. Build relationships at home and away
Some people who contact me stress that they are highly active in their community – in fact, sometimes they are its chief contributor. Of course, a community isn’t a community if there is only one person doing the talking. If this is happening to you, it’s an indicator that you need to be more proactive.

Just because you’ve built an online community doesn’t mean people will flock to it. You need to get out there and find members. Fortunately, that’s never been easier. Your potential members are out there writing blogs, telling the world what they are doing on twitter, and networking on Facebook.

Don’t stalk these potential members, and don’t spam them. Get to know them. Comment on their blogs, provide value. It’s all about what you can do for them – not the other way around.

For more insights and valuable tips & ideas, follow SPINN Media on Facebook and Twitter.

Tags: social media, community, communicate, networking

Small Businesses Shouldn't Take Social Media for Granted

June 15, 2010

Filed under: Social Media

Social Media is everywhere these days. A recent report however shows that when it comes to small and medium-sized businesses, social media is still a missed opportunity.


Here’s an excerpt from this post that first appeared in the American Express OPEN Forum for Small Business. The 2010 Business Monitor United States report commissioned by UPS, indicates that in spite of all the positive press that social media gets and all the use cases we’ve seen emerge over the past few years, small business owners are taking social media for granted. When done right, social media can be a valuable source for customer acquisition, retention and satisfaction. Here are a few reasons to help drive the value home. 



Information is There for the Taking
Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to the web. Ignoring, avoiding or just not looking at what people are sharing online about your small business or your competitors is just plain lazy.


Now more than ever people turn to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, Yelp and a slew of other sites to share information and make it publicly available. As such, there’s a wealth of information that existing customers, future fans and online detractors are putting into the public domain, and there are a plethora of tools to make it easy for you to follow along.


The customer that tweets about a poor experience, the guy that leaves a tip about a venue on Foursquare, or the woman that tweets about being overwhelmed by an event she’s planning, are all real humans sharing real bits of information that if ignored could translate into missed opportunities.


In the case of the person with the poor experience, if it’s your business being discussed, offer to step in and fix the problem. If it’s a competitor, offer to let the person try a comparable product free of charge. When it comes to Foursquare, acknowledge great Foursquare tips, even if they’re not for your own business. If you can help the woman who’s overwhelmed, do it, even if it is just by responding, “is there any way I can help?”


As a small businesses owner, it’s your responsibility to use these bits of public information to build relationships, improve customer service and enhance your products. 



Simple Works
Finding the right way to use social media can be daunting, especially when there are so many examples of big brands pushing the limits of creativity and possibility when it comes to their Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare initiatives. Often times the big guys forget that it’s the simplest of gestures that can have the greatest impact. But simple works.


On the simple side of things, just take the time to acknowledge customers that mention you. Did someone tweet about dining at your restaurant? Did they check-in at your venue? Did they share a story about your small business on Facebook? These actions that take place in the public domain are all opportunities to connect with a current or potential customer and make them feel special.  


Responding is easy — a simple “thanks for stopping by,” or “how can we make your next visit better?” tweet can go a long way and even make someone’s day. Yet, it’s something most companies take for granted. People like to be recognized, but often times they’re never presented with an opportunity to associate restaurants, stores and other venues with the people behind him. You can create that opportunity by recognizing their patronage, which in turn should help ensure that they return for a future visit.


Another simple thing you can do is post signage — on your website and in your store — to indicate that you’re social media-friendly. The Express retail chain has their chief marketing officer’s Twitter handle printed on all their bags, which works to reinforce that the company cares about person-to-person connections. Take that idea and apply it to your own business. For that extra touch, make stickers, punch cards or window decals that showcase your small business’s online personality and reinforce that you’re interested in conversations with your customers.



Your Size Works in Your Favor
Starbucks is the perfect example of an early adopter brand that understands social media, and yet their size prohibits them from engaging with every customer that walks in the door.


As a small business, your size is your friend in social media channels. Use your small size as an advantage and respond to each and every person that mentions you. Since you’re working with a smaller customer base, you can also build customer Twitter Lists to separate different categories of customers into groups, which should help you offer more personalized customer service — something the big businesses don’t have the time or resources to support.


Here’s an easy example: Who are your most frequent customers? Make a Twitter List called “Regulars,” and add your regulars on Twitter to it. 


In doing so, you’re associating patronage with prestige. Your efforts could even inspire semi-regular customers to frequent your business more often just so they too can get added to the list. This tactic might also serve as a catalyst for one regular to connect with another, though you could also facilitate customer-to-customer connections with introductory tweets. So if a customer tweets for a recommendation, you could respond with something simple as, “@customer1 good question, I like the cheesecake but @customer2 really loves the custard.”


These types of personal exchanges highlight the advantages afforded to small businesses using social media. Need more information on how you can get started with Social Media? 

Contact us for a free discussion.

Tags: social media, customer, small business, business

Take Your Facebook Fan Page From Wimpy to Wow

June 2, 2010

Filed under: Social Media

Facebook is probably one of the most cost-effective and powerful mediums around that can help your brand connect with its target market.  Dean Rieck is a direct-marketing copywriter and consultant, and publishes the popular Direct Creative Blog and Pro Copy Tips. Here’s an excerpt from an article he wrote recently about how you can get the best bang for your buck from your Facebook fan page.

If you're a business using Facebook, you've probably set up a fan page. Fan pages are specifically designed for businesses and brands that want to connect to customers and prospects on a large scale.

A fan page lets you grow as big as you want, send updates to an unlimited number of fans, and keep the focus on the organization without revealing the administrator behind the scenes.

But once you have your page set up, how do you maximize your fan base and get the most out of your page?

Some social-media gurus think that "old-school" marketing techniques have gone the way of the dinosaur and won't work on Facebook or other similar platforms. I disagree.

Yes, you have to nix the hardball language and deal with people on a more personal level, but common marketing methods can still give you an edge in social media, especially on Facebook. After all, good marketing isn't medium-specific. It's about clear, direct communication.

So let's look at how you can use some proven marketing techniques to take your page from wimpy to wow and start attracting more fans, encouraging more interaction, and getting more benefit from your Facebook fan page.

 

1. Advertise your page
Forget the "Build it and they will come" mantra. If you want people to know your Facebook fan page exists, you have to tell them.

At a minimum, link to your page from your website and blog. Put the link high on your Web page, especially in hot spots such as the masthead or at the top of the right or left column. Include a Facebook icon to call attention to the link.

To power-up your advertising, use Facebook ads, blog posts, banners, and any other advertising to get your page in front of people.


2. Blast out a direct invitation
Don't be shy about it. If you want fans, send an email to your list and say something like, "We'd love you to join us. Click here to visit our page and become a fan." I know some people will consider that too pushy, but why be ashamed to ask people to be your fan?


3. Build your Facebook brand
Mention your page in brochures, direct mail, business cards, email signatures, advertisements, packing slips, fulfillment materials, everywhere.

Your Facebook page is just like anything else you want to make popular. You have to spread the news through every public customer contact point as often as possible.


4. Share lots of company information
Every fan page includes an Info tab where you can provide a clickable Web address as well as a company overview, your mission, and information about your products and services.

But don't settle for filling in the minimum information or feel constrained by the preset categories. Get creative and provide other information as well.

For example, in your company overview you can list links to specific pages on your website, your newsletter sign-up form, other social media, or whatever else you want.


5. Create a landing page with a call to action
Why let people land on a wall that's filled with random posts and comments?

In the application directory, Facebook provides a special application called Static FBML (Facebook Markup Language), which lets you use basic Web markup code to render just about any Web page you want in a box or a tab.

Just install the application, insert your code, and adjust your wall settings so that people who aren't yet fans land on that page when they first arrive. You can give a short description of your organization and ask people to become a fan.

I use that technique for a fan page I run for a nonprofit, and it doubles or triples the number of visitors who become fans.


6. Scream your Web address
At the top left of every fan page, you can upload an image. Most businesses opt for a logo. That's fine, but it is also the perfect location to show your Web address.

Yes, you have your address in the Info area, but there's no guarantee anyone will look at that page. But you know that everyone will see your logo.

So modify your logo image to include your URL in big, bold type. It's not clickable, but it's a cue for people to check out your website.


7. Add plenty of content
Direct-mail experts have known the power of content for years, and the same holds true online. The more information and interactive opportunities you provide, the better your page will be at educating, converting, and retaining your customers.

Post something to your wall at least once a day, though two or three times is better. Also, adjust your wall settings to allow fans to post comments, photos, links, and videos.

You can also use the Notes application to import an RSS feed, the YouTube application to post videos, and the Discussion application to host a mini forum.


8. Push offers, events, and more
You can use Static FBML for more than a landing page. You can add a little shopping area, special offers, coupons and rewards, event or promotional announcements, job postings—anything you need.

Think of your fan page as an extension of your main website. Just be sure to read the terms of use to avoid blunders that could get your page shut down. Facebook deactivates pages without warning or remorse.


9. Do some "direct marketing"
Unlike groups, where you are limited to communicating with 5,000 members, a fan page gives you the ability to send direct messages to an unlimited number of fans. It's like email but shows up in your fans' notification box.

You can use the feature to drive traffic to your page, announce events, or share important news. But don't overuse it. Just as you wouldn't email a customer five times a day, you need to exercise common sense with Facebook direct messages.


10. Solicit email subscribers
Here we go with Static FBML again. You'll find it's the most powerful tool Facebook provides. And if you have an email list, Facebook gives you one more venue for signing up subscribers. Just put the code for your subscription form in FBML to create a tab or sidebar box, or both.


11. Research your fan base
The Insights tool allows you to see metrics on your fans, such as how many comments and interactions you have, the number of active fans you have in various age categories, the growth of your fan base, where your fans live, and more.

It's not a particularly robust research tool, but it does provide a snapshot of how your page is performing. Facebook has announced that more features are on the way.


12. Research your competition
You research your competitors everywhere else, so why not on Facebook? See what they're doing to promote their page and engage fans. Take note of the features they're using, how they interact with visitors, the type of content and how frequently they post, and their growth rate.

There are some very smart businesses on Facebook. Learn from them.


13. Take advantage of every feature
Facebook is packed with tools for sharing videos, importing your blog posts, listing events, conducting polls, starting conversations—hundreds of ways to interact.

If you're serious about making your fan page a destination for customers and fans, take the time to research everything available to you, and use whatever makes sense for your business.

Just because Facebook is social media doesn't mean you have to go limp on your marketing efforts. You just have to play by the rules and use your marketing savvy to energize your Facebook page.


Give us a tinkle if you need help with setting up your Facebook Fan page.

Become a fan, a SPINN Media fan by simply clicking here.

Tags: facebook, social, customer, direct marketing

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