Are You Linked In?

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the June 2008 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

The Web has opened up a whole new world for individuals and businesses alike. Today, anyone can have a Web presence, can access information, can make purchases, and can interact with others online. This last bit is particularly exciting though.

Who would have ever guessed that the Web, a tool that allows us to do all these things without ever having to leave our homes or offices or come face to face with another individual, would become a major social arena? Yet the “social media” sector is growing in leaps and bounds, connecting people of all ages and interests.

Social media stretches across many different areas and is nearly endless, with new venues appearing every day. For now, let’s focus on one that could be very important for strengthening and furthering your career or business. There isn’t enough space here to do much more than scratch the surface, so let’s just touch on three key aspects anyone can use to take advantage of LinkedIn.com, a free online networking site for professionals.

Connect & Reconnect

LinkedIn is all about relationships. The foundation that LinkedIn is built upon is in connecting with people you know and meet, and reconnecting with others from your past work and educational experiences. Once signed up, you can search for names of people you know, search by employer, college or university, groups and associations, or even upload your contacts to cross-reference against LinkedIn’s member database.

If you are the type that has a hard time networking, even though you know you should, this could be just what you are looking for. What’s powerful is that once you are connected with someone, you can see who else they are connected with. LinkedIn provides an unprecedented view into the direct and indirect connections we have with others. Whether you are looking for someone to connect with for a new job or a company to partner with, LinkedIn can help illuminate a path that might be more powerful and easier than trying to get through the front door.

Be Seen

LinkedIn gives members’ a lot of control over their information. Members can elect what information to provide, and determine whether that information is public or just visible to those they have connected with. While everyone needs to determine this for themselves, the more information provided and made public, the more valuable LinkedIn will be as a tool. The more public information there is, the greater the chances that your profile may show up in searches, increasing the chances of making a valuable connection with someone else.

Reach Out

Like all social media venues, participating and interacting with others is an important element to LinkedIn. The easiest way is through the Answers section, which allows members to ask and answer questions. This interaction may lead to new connections and also serve as a way to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise.

If you are just getting your feet wet in the social media arena, then LinkedIn is an excellent place to begin. Its professional focus makes it beneficial to individuals and companies alike. There is so much more to LinkedIn that just couldn’t even be touched on here, so I encourage everyone to visit the site to learn more. Once you start using LinkedIn, you may find it so useful and important that you’ll want to add the URL to your page to your business card! See you on LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com/in/brianrbrown.

Maximize your LinkedIn experience

  • Add as much of your work history and education as you feel comfortable.
  • Make as much of your information publicly available as you feel comfortable.
  • Participate in the different areas of LinkedIn and be sure to revisit the site at least once a week to see what is happening within your network.
  • Be sure to add links back to your own website and blog if you have them. And select “Other” when adding them which will allow you to change the default “My website/company/blog” text to the name of your company or whatever you would like.
  • Be sure to customize your “public page” URL with your name or other text that others may search for you with. Not only does it make it easier to tell to others, it may further help your page to show up in search results.
  • Checkout the “Profile Views” to get an idea on who may have been checking out your profile.

Being Blog Worthy

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the August 2008 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

Are you plugged into the blogosphere? Do you follow bloggers you enjoy reading, and maybe even participate on their blogs by sharing your comments? Has your company built up a following with its own blog? If not, then you may have some catching up to do.I’m sure some of you have just come to the realization that you need a website, so hearing that you need a blog may not leave you dancing for joy. The good news is, depending on your business, Web site needs, target audience and goals, you might decide that your Web site should in fact, just be a blog.

What Are Blogs?

Blog, for those who aren’t quite up on their Web lingo, is a Web log. Okay, that still doesn’t mean much. Originally, these Web logs started out like online diaries with entries that visitors could read and comment on. Blogs have come quite a ways since that definition.

Now blogs are more than just a person’s recounts of events. Bloggers still include individuals sharing their lives and stories, but they also include companies, shared-interest groups, non-profits, and so on, sharing thoughts, ideas, tips and information. Anyone can blog, and while not every business has to blog, most should at least consider it.

Why Your Company Should Blog

Blogging opens up an unmatched channel for communication with your target audience. Good blogs convey a sense of direct communication between the blogger and the reader. Allowing readers to comment and replying to comments creates an opportunity for participation and interaction.

The interaction of blogging can help companies, at least through the blogger, to connect on a more personal level with their audience. The blog puts a human face on the company, giving it a voice that is more personal and less business. Or at least it should.

A blog will also give you greater opportunity to share information or carry on discussions that you might not include on your current Web site. Where your product or service pages may be more sales and feature focused, a blog post gives the opportunity to share more general thoughts, or specific ideas or tips on using a product, or even the opportunity to solicit the readers for their input on what features they most want in a product.

Regardless of the industry or topic, if you do a little searching online, you are bound to turn up a blog covering it. When considering a blog for your business, remember that any topic is blog worthy as long as there are readers who share an interest in the topic. Success in blogging comes when a blogger writes about something they are passionate about, in a way that also connects with the interests of the readers.

Blog Basics

  • Generally best to setup a blog on your Web site, rather than on a new domain or one of the blogging services, that way your entire site will benefit from any links to the blog.
  • Blog posting goal should be at least 2 posts a week, and 4 to 5 would be even better. Posts don’t have to be long, just interesting to readers.
  • Don’t use the blog as just another advertising or sales channel. Focus on building rapport and interest with your audience.
  • Communicate with your audience through the comments, but also by seeking out other blogs of mutual interest and participating there as well.

Leap Onto the Web

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the February 2008 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

If your business doesn’t have a website yet, then this month’s column is especially for you. And even if you do have a site, it may still be worth the read. If you’ve been holding out on making the leap to the web, well it’s time to move past that. Web access is available in more businesses and homes than ever, and thanks to smart phones like the BlackBerry and iPhone, people have access to the web 24/7, just about anywhere they are.Let’s talk about this thing called “web design.” We’re going to bypass the do-it-yourself discussion. If you want to play around on your own with a hobby site or site for your family, great, but don’t jeopardize the image of your business while trying to learn web design — there’s much more to it than just understanding a little HTML code.Businesses will either have staff on hand or, more likely, will outsource the development of their site. It is very important to understand up front that graphic design and web design are extremely different things. Layout and graphics are only one part of web design — just go to a web page and right-click your mouse, and select “View Source.” As you can see, there is a lot more under the surface of a web page.

A little self-education is important to be able to talk intelligently with potential designers or your own staff. Since there isn’t enough space in this column to go into this in detail, here are seven important basics that you may want to consider and learn more about on your own. And over the next few months, we’ll tackle some of these in more detail.

Web Standards – developing websites around recommended technical best practices.

Table-less design – not relying on HTML tables to control the visual layout of a web page.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) – separates presentation from content and can dramatically reduce the amount of code per page, enable greater visual consistency across a site, and simplify styling and even visual layout changes to an entire site.

Accessibility – making a site accessible to as many users as possible; including the blind, visually impaired, those with motor-skill challenges, etc. — which also includes search engine spiders.

JavaScript and Flash usage – these technologies can provide great functionality, but can also hinder users and search engines, even preventing them from using your site.

Content Management System (CMS) – allows site owners to manage, edit, and update their sites on their own. However, there are many systems available, each with their own complexities, pros and cons.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – while actually outside of the web design arena, SEO is an area of search marketing that deals with making a site optimal for search engines and helping to get site pages to rank higher in search engines. Designers that focus on web standards, accessibility, CSS, and table-less designs may indicate a better understanding of SEO, or at the very least, may help get your site part way there.

While this little run down is just scratching the surface, hopefully it helps to get the ball rolling. Today, having a website is expected and running a business without one is akin to having a business without a mailing address or a phone — although without one, you may never know how much business you lost.

5 Tips to getting the most out of your website

  • Be sure to add it to all literature: business cards, letterhead, sales materials, etc.
  • Running an ad through traditional marketing? Create a special landing page on your site and include the URL to that page in the ad instead of your homepage. Then you can track the amount of traffic and measure the effectiveness of the ad.
  • Get a lot of the same basic questions over and over? Add an FAQ or information section to your site to help field these.
  • Get links to your site from business partners or organizations you are in.
  • Your website as an investment in your business. You’ll only get out of it what you put into it, whether that is time or money.

Reputection: Protecting Your Online Reputation

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the October 2007 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

Last month we started a discussion on reputation management, specifically, one aspect called reputation monitoring. Reputation monitoring is really the task of keeping our eyes and ears open and setting up automated information delivery networks to help with monitoring what is being said about us online. Already it is probably coming to you, the question of what to do now that you’ve “monitored?”

Reputation protection, or “reputection” if you will, is the ever important other half of reputation management. How we handle the negative information we come across during our monitoring can however, have an even more damaging and negative impact than the original information.

When we come across negative mentions, whether they be on a blog or in a forum post, or even directly on another website, there are some definite dos and don’ts. The first and foremost rule is to stop and take some time before doing anything. What we don’t want to do is to immediately launch into a response, especially as our immediate response is probably not going to be well thought out and is more likely to be very reactive, defensive, and quite possibly attacking.

Let’s assume for a second that everything that is posted is completely untrue… launching in with a biting retort only makes us look like a big bully and may even cause more readers to question whether the comments on the blog are true than may have otherwise. Always remember, while we as individuals may be posting the response, it will be seen as the company responding, which carries an immediate view of the big guy versus the little guy.

Now you may be thinking, “I’ll just post a response as one of our customers instead.” Technically this is probably true as we may well be a customer of our company as well as employees, but posting as such will not be seen that way by others. This approach can get ugly fast when others comment, asking or even insinuating that we probably work for the company to begin with, at which point we may decide to tell a little white lie, and deny it—after all, it is just our word against theirs. This might work up until the point where the blogger shows that our comment posts have originated from an IP address that links back directly to the company that we claimed we didn’t work for.

As you can see, the slope on which our online reputations lie can get awfully steep and awfully slippery pretty darn quick. So what are we to do when it comes to protecting or reputations online? There is only one road, and it is the high road. We must employ a gentle approach that shows respect, even if the recipient—especially then—does not truly deserve it. In the end, while the online world and reputation management may have thrown us into new waters, this idea of reputation protection should be a familiar one. Many of the reputation protection issues come down to good old-fashioned customer service.

7 “reputection” reminders

Remember:

  • To take time before choosing an action or responding.
  • To decide whether the negative mention even deserves attention.
  • To consider whether any action should be public or private. However, the other party may decide to publicly post anything we say to them privately, so all interactions should still be handled as if they were public.
  • That responses need to remain open and positive, never attacking, possibly even avoiding a defensive position.
  • To never use deceptive practices. Anything we do or say can be linked back to us and our company, and probably will be done publicly.
  • That the situation may not be one that can be resolved; some people may have ulterior motives and may not be satisfied with anything we do or say.
  • That negative comments online may be an opportunity to acknowledge a customer’s bad experience, that we are willing to acknowledge our own mistake, and show how we go out of our way to take care of our customers.

** Special Online Bonus: Check out the handy Online Reputation Monitoring Beginners Guide put together by Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim. **

Got a Rep to Protect? – Reputation Monitoring

As appeared in the Presence Pointers column of the September 2007 issue of “Business Watch” magazine.

Would you be surprised to learn that you have a web presence already, even if you don’t have a website? Of course, you should have a website already anyway… perhaps this will give you another reason for doing so.

Reputation monitoring is an area of growing importance thanks to the ease of publishing on the web. Reputation monitoring isn’t just for businesses, but is equally important for non-profit organizations, clubs, groups, as well as individuals. Monitoring your reputation is all about knowing what’s being said, where it’s being said, and by whom.

The web has raised the bar all around—making it even easier for those who want to express their thoughts or opinions about you, both good and bad. The benefits and power of the web isn’t just for those expressing those opinions and over the next few paragraphs, you’ll at least get started down the path of reputation monitoring.

The scope of monitoring is nearly infinite and you’ll have to decide what meets your needs. As you can imagine, this has grown into an industry and you may decide that you need to outsource this task to a service provider like NameProtect, located right here in Madison (no affiliation or endorsement implied).

It might be good though to start monitoring on your own to at least get a better understanding before deciding to outsource. The first realization you need to make is that the little store on the corner needs to be aware of its online reputation just like the big corporate giants. The good news, though, is that the web can help you do this—even if you are just a little store on the corner.

Monitoring can range from automated searches or basic manual checks, to complex, detailed monitoring across hundreds or thousands of sites. Most businesses or individuals can cover a lot of monitoring-ground quite easily just by using the search engines. Create a list of key brand terms to monitor, such as company names (including variations), brands, product names, key personnel and names of those with extensive public contact, and your domain name (e.g., domain.com).

As you can see, we’ve really just scratched the surface. It is impossible to get into detail here as every business and industry is unique. But you should now have a better understanding and some ideas on how to get started. Of course, reputation management is a whole other topic.

Protect Your Rep Quick Tips

  • Perform periodic searches for key brand terms in GYM (Google, Yahoo, MSN), reviewing results at least 3 pages deep.
  • Setup daily alerts for key brand terms at google.com/alerts/ and alerts.yahoo.com.
  • Check opinion and review sites like epinions.com, complaints.com, and ripoffreport.com.
  • Monitor and participate in forums and message boards that relate to your industry or your location.
  • Monitor and participate in blogs that relate to your industry, but also keep an eye on the blogosphere as any blogger may decide to blog about you. Check the blogosphere for key brand terms at sites like technorati.com, icerocket.com, and bloglines.com.